Friday, March 4, 2011

Treasure Beach, Jamaica, 2011

I am just back from my third family trip to an idyllic part of the Caribbean. If you've been following my blog for a while, you may remember I posted about Treasure Beach last year (I wasn't yet a blogger the first year I went to Jamaica). I'm happy to report that this village, on the southern shore of the island, is still a kind of paradise, and Rainbow Tree, the house we rent, is a big part of the paradise (Rainbow Tree sleeps ten, and Rainbow Point, a smaller house at the other end of the bay, sleeps six;

As I noted last year, the highlight of every day at Rainbow Tree is watching the sunset. The large porch affords views from many angles, and the view from the pool is also fantastic. Somehow, for a place where there is supposedly nothing much to do, the days go by entirely too quickly. Between the meals of island specialties prepared by Miss Jenny and Miss Laura; reading; playing games like charades, Pictionary, Sorry!, and cards; and spending time at the pool and the beach (which is just about private), there just aren't enough hours in a day! (Did I mention it is the most relaxing family vacation spot we've ever been to?)

There are excursions you can take -- such as a boat trip up the Black River (where you are guaranteed to see crocodiles), a drive to YS Falls, a trip to Little Ochie for dinner, and a short boat ride to the Pelican Bar, which is on stilts in the water and has miraculously survived several hurricanes -- but the real reason to come to Treasure Beach and Rainbow Tree in particular is to be a part of this wonderful community. This year, we didn't go on a single excursion, but we did have a few meals at nearby Jake's, one of the fabulous hotels in the Island Outpost group, Island Outpost was founded by the legendary Chris Blackwell, who discovered Bob Marley and created Island Records. I absolutely love the Island Outpost properties, which are all on Jamaica (Pink Sands, in the Bahamas, was once part of the chain) and they include Goldeneye, Strawberry Hill, Geejam, and The Caves in addition to Jake's (which was created by Sally and Peter Henzell, who directed the film of 'The Harder They Come'). In addition, I went to the Treasure Beach Women's Foundation shop -- where I bought some calabash lanterns just like those at Jake's -- and the new produce market at Kingfisher Plaza where you can find local, organic produce.

New on this trip is that we stayed one night in Negril before heading down to Treasure Beach. I know the seven-mile beach in Negril is famous, and with good reason: it's a beautiful beach. But with the beach comes some of the stuff we would prefer to avoid, like hustling, so we stayed at Rockhouse (, just south of the beach built into the rock and former coral beds. It was amazing, beautiful, cool, and tranquil, and we loved it! Kids under the age of 12 aren't permitted (my daughter was the only child there, with the exception of an infant who was in the hotel's main restaurant for dinner that night). The staff was incredibly welcoming and friendly, and the bartender at the pool bar (where there is happy hour from 5 to 6) is a master mixologist and very hip guy. There is a restaurant that serves Jamaican cuisine exclusively and another with a more varied menu, and at night, with all the lanterns and candles, it is truly magical. We are definitely returning.

In my luggage were two books that I highly recommend: The True History of Paradise: A Novel by Margaret Cezair-Thompson (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2009). Cezair-Thompson was born in Jamaica and she has woven a tale around real historical events and emphasizes something that I don't think many visitors realize: Jamaicans are not easily categorized, and many Jamaicans have a mixed heritage that can include Scots, Jews, Chinese, Spaniards, and of course Africans.

The other book is The Spice Necklace: My Adventures in Caribbean Cooking, Eating, and Island Life by Ann Vanderhoof (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). I admit it was the gorgeous jacket of this book that made me pick it up at my local bookstore. I was almost hooked, but when I read an endorsement from Molly Wizenberg, of whom I am an enormous fan (do you know Molly? Her book, A Homemade Life, is fantastic, and so is her blog, orangette) I made a beeline for the cash register. Jamaica isn't featured in the book -- Vanderhoof covers only the eastern Caribbean -- but there is much here that is at least similar to Jamaica and I feel it is excellent companion reading. In a nutshell, Vanderhoof and her husband, Steve, quit their jobs in the late '90s and left Toronto to live on their 42-foot sailboat. I love that they named their boat Receta -- Spanish for "recipe" (there are 71 recipes included in the book) -- and I love that when they came back two years later, they decided they had to return. "The entire Caribbean island chain was a spice necklace to us, and we had fallen firmly under its spell." In chapters covering Grenada, Dominican Republic, Haiti, St. Martin, Saba, Dominica, St. Kitts, Carriacou, Petite Martinique, Trinidad, Tobago, St. Lucia, Martinique, Marie-Galante, and Guadeloupe, Vanderhoof imparts the culinary secrets and specialties of each island, and wisely notes that each spice she encounters "has a provenance, a link to the land, a connection to a place and its people. Each wafts a scent that tells an island story." She also shares valuable words of wisdom, like, if you're in the DR, the #1 driving lesson is that if you ask for directions and you're told that you will cross two rivers, "do not assume you will be crossing them by bridge." Not everything in the book is pleasant, like what happened at the Massacre River in 1937 on the border between Haiti and the DR (and which was an eye-opener for me), but this is of course what makes it such a worthy book. I was suprised to learn that Martinique's rhum agricole is the only product of any kind in the French Caribbean to have obtained an appellation d'origine controlee (AOC), and fascinated to learn more about the word 'Creole:' Vanderhoof notes that when the word was used to refer to people, it has meant to describe the descendants of European settlers, usually French or Spanish, in the New World and the descendants of mixed African and European blood. Today, the word is generally used in the Caribbean to refer to people "of mixed descent, and this mixing is at the heart of Creole food. Creole cooking is fusion food, a melting pot of ingredients and techniques. Much of Caribbean cooking is therefore to some extent Creole -- but the word has become most firmly connected to the cuisine of those islands with a strong French influence."

But the best part about vicariously traveling with Ann and Steve is to learn that they've "encountered people who (by our North American standards) have little yet nonetheless insist on giving of what they have -- from the heart, without expecting anything in return...and we are equally amazed by the way people who can't afford to lose even a single dollar (whatever the currency) are willing to trust strangers..."Do unto others," the golden rule says. In some places, it hasn't been forgotten." I'm grateful that Dwight, a Caribbean friend, told her, "Ahhnnnn, you have enough to write a book," and she did. I'm also happy that I can keep up with Ahhnnn at, where she features a great list of foodie souvenirs, photos, her blog, etc., and soon-to-come will be Caribbean travel tips.

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