As soon as you land in Jamaica, be it
in Kingston or Montego Bay, the first thing you will notice is the country’s
soundtrack. It is ever present. Wherever you go, the reggae, dancehall and ska music
will follow. Roll down the car window to see the street sellers with their Rastafarian
artwork and hear the fast and expressive patois being spoken.
If that satisfies your curiosity for
what Jamaica is like, then you may as well find an all-inclusive resort to stay
at. But if you care to discover the real Jamaica, then you should brave the country’s
many pot holes and head to the Jamaica’s south west corner. A 95km drive from the
island’s second largest city Montego Bay or 150km west from the capital Kingston
brings you to Treasure Beach, a small fishing town in the parish of St Elizabeth
that illuminates Jamaica’s colourful communities and varied past.
Treasure Beach’s residents descend
from just a handful of families, and many, like independent tour guide Damian
Parchment, trace their origins back to Scottish fishermen who were shipwrecked
on the coast in the mid 1600s. Parchment leads tailored tours (876-430-7852) to
some of the most secluded places on the island, including the high cliffs of
the Pedro Bluff area, which offer incredible views of the Caribbean’s crystal
clear waters; the Spaniard Caves, which both the Tainos (Jamaica’s indigenous
people) and the Spanish used as a hiding place; and Lovers Leap, a 520m cliff
overhanging the sea from where two slaves once leapt to their death for fear of
Alternatively, if you are an early
riser, you can head on your own to Treasure Beach’s Calabash Bay to watch the
fishermen hauling their first catch of the day. The remoteness felt here could
not be further from the party scene of Montego Bay.
To be truly transported back in time,
though, drive 25km northwest to the town of Black River, a once thriving sugar
port that became a sort of ruin following the demise of the slave trade in 1838.
But with some funding from the National Heritage Trust, many of its 18th-
and 19th-century buildings have been restored. Stay in the rickety Waterloo
guest house, built in 1819, the first building to have electricity on the
island and the first house in St Elizabeth Parish of such grandeur to be owned
by a black man, Dr Frank Ferdinand.
Historian and tour guide Allison
Morris’ family has lived in Black River for six generations and unlike some
other tours in Jamaica, her one-hour stroll through the
town does not shy away from the country’s slavery past.
“The slave trade is part of our
history, we have to mention it,” she said. “Put simply, we are here because of
slaves, sugar and logwood.”
The Logwood tree, whose bark was used
for a long time as a natural source of dye, was one of the main economic drivers
in Black River, and today local guides will take you sailing down the 30km stretch
where the logs were transported and
eventually shipped to Europe. It makes for a beautiful excursion and an
opportunity to meet some of the town’s most famous residents – the crocodiles.
hunted for their skin,
the freshwater crocodiles are now free to roam the banks as they please, often hiding
in the spider-like roots of the mangrove trees, which also serve as a perch for
multiple species of birds.
The parish of St Elizabeth is hugely
green, and despite getting the least amount of rainfall in Jamaica, it supplies
more fruits and vegetables to the rest of the island than any other parish in the
country. Sample the local produce, such as tomatoes, watermelons and carrots, at
one of the monthly
farm dinners at Jakes Hotel in
Treasure Beach, born from a collaboration between the hotel, local food
organisations and farmers.
The dinner is just one of Laura and Jason
Henzell’s initiatives, whose hotel is at the centre of the region’s self-styled
community tourism. From the ackee and saltfish (a traditional Jamaican dish
made with ackee fruit and salt cod) to the banana cake, most of the ingredients
used at Jakes are sourced from nearby farms.
According to Jason, the Treasure Beach
he knows is still the same town his great grandfather fell in love with after
receiving a telegram from his uncle who had already moved there. It read: “Sell
everything. Bring no 9 hardy fishing rod and polo sticks. And come.”
So he did and he never looked back.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the height of Lovers Leap. This has been fixed.