Homegrown Tourism Nourishes a Community.
Jakes Hotel and the Community of Treasure Beach are a beautiful example of what responsible tourism, community tourism or the newly coined regenerative tourism is all about. But when you read guest author, Sandra Phinney's heartfelt story of connection and how she fell in love with the people and place, we think you will realize, as we did, that there is something unique about the tourism experience of visiting this Jamaican farming and fishing village, that makes a visit such a delight. Tourism here is completely homegrown, purely with the intention of creating a healthy and thriving community and surrounding environment. Perfect!
Beloved poet Maya Angelou once said, "Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends."
You may recall our previous story about the Yarmouth Seafood & Wine Extravaganza with "a twist of Jamaica." The grand plan was to have a cultural exchange between Yarmouth and Jamaica in September and October of 2019.
Nutshell: Although our guests from Jamaica arrived the first week of September, so did Hurricane Dorian. Miraculously, volunteers from the Extravaganza Society pulled off major food and cultural events despite it all. And, of course, friendships were forged.
In October, fourteen travellers from Yarmouth went to a way-off-the-beaten-track location called Treasure Beach, on the southern coast of Jamaica (about a 2-hour drive from Kingston or Montego Bay). Whatever my expectations were, they paled in comparison to what I actually experienced.
Treasure Beach is a rare gem. For starters, it's not an all-inclusive gated community. Rather, it's a collection of humble homes, small villas, mom & pop shops, a church, and a few local eateries that stretch along the main drag close to the ocean. Think "village." There are no neon lights or glitzy fast food places. There's not even a lot of traffic. But there is a lot of beauty.
Coves and beaches are tucked all along the coastline. The biggest commercial operation is Jakes Hotel, but it doesn't feel "commercial" despite being the core and heartbeat of the region. Described as funky and Bohemian-Caribbean cool, Jakes' accommodations include everything from modest motel rooms to exquisitely appointed oceanfront bungalows, one-of-a-kind-cottages, and luxurious villas. It's all very genteel (minus the pretensions) and laid-back.
But there's another kind of beauty - the people. Sally Henzell started Jakes. "Miss Sally" is an artist, poet and oozes with stories and charm. Years ago, she opened a small restaurant on the beach. To accommodate guests who wanted to stay over, she built a cottage - then another and another, enlisting help from her son, Jason. Today Jason is the head honcho of the sprawling operation but it's more than just a business; it's all about community tourism.
Featuring L to R: Jason, Miss Lilieth, Maurice
Jason co-founded BREDS back in 1998. BREDS (vernacular for brethren/friends) has led the way for significant advances in the community through education, sports, leadership and life skills. It also started training programs for locals in various aspects of community tourism and continues to empower the community and enrich their livelihoods.
Norma Moxam's eyes light up when she talks about BREDS. As VP of the organization, Miss Norma enjoys sharing the great strides the community has achieved. For example, once they were able to enhance the school with more teachers and school supplies, a library and computer lab, the literacy rate in the elementary school shot up from 43 percent to 96 percent.
Lilieth Lynch is a certified tour guide and operates the Treasure Beach Walking Tours. We had a delightful walk-about, learning everything from a Jamaican folk song to historical tidbits and local lore. En route, Miss Lilieth showed us the Lignum Vitae tree which sports the country's national flower when in bloom. But the tree's larger claim to fame is that it's the third densest wood in the world and has several medicinal properties. Its bark, when soaked in rum, is said to be a natural aphrodisiac.
On the tour, we visited a women's centre operated by the Treasure Beach Women's Group Benevolent Society. I couldn't resist their treasures and came home with one of the signature Starlight Candles made by women in the area using local materials. Later in the day, I had the good fortune of meeting Miss Lilieth's father, Lancelot "Lancel" Graham. His grandmother's 10 children each had a name from a character in a Shakespeare play. Lancel was instrumental, many moons ago, in starting a local fishermen's cooperative. He had stories galore dancing in his head!
Featuring L to R: Miss Norma, Chef Randy, Lancel Graham (In Memorium)
On the other side of Treasure Beach, I met Teo Hill. A welder by trade, he is passionate about birds. His dream is to have a proper bird sanctuary. Meanwhile, he has over 1000 birds that he cares for in makeshift cages he's built close to where he welds. He patiently showed me around and I was able to see everything from macaws to parrots, unusual pigeons--and a three-day-old turquoise cockatiel.
Keep in mind that all these people are within walking distance of Jakes; everyone welcomes you like a neighbour, and are generous with their time.
During our stay, the 20th Annual Hook 'n' Line Fishing Tournament took place, honouring the tradition of fishing in the region (and putting a lot of cash and prizes into local fishermen's hands, again, thanks to BREDS.) On the final day of the tournament, over 1000 people milled around Calabash Bay. Folks swam, drank Red Stripe beer, and swapped stories. It was like old home week, and, of course, some people set up informal cooking stations selling everything from chicken-feet soup to jerk chicken.
Speaking of jerk chicken, spread throughout the region are Cook Shops - roadside stands where the owners pride themselves on their jerked meats and other mouth-watering delectables. Mind you, to classify as real jerk chicken or pork, aside from being marinated in a mixture of allspice, hot peppers, thyme, onion, lime juice and a few other ingredients, the cooking pits need to be fired up with pimento wood. So be on the look-out for Cook Shops. You won't be disappointed.
Treasure Beach is part of St. Elizabeth's Parish, the breadbasket of Jamaica. Fishing and farming are deep-rooted here. Farm-to-table is gaining in popularity as is agri-tourism.
You can also take a cooking class at Jakes Hotel. I lucked into a session with Chef Randy who demonstrated how to make grilled jerk chicken, jerk lobster and veggies. He made a lovely marinade with chopped onion, scallions, scotch pepper, garlic, thyme, and soya sauce. So simple and so tasty - when you know how to do it! If you are hankering for a pizza, Jack Sprats restaurant dishes out a whopping selection and you can swim and relax on the beach while you are waiting. It's all part of Jakes and located next door. Thursday nights feature an outdoor movie. It's a hoot.
One morning, I walked up the road to Pardy's for breakfast where the owner, Maurice, dished out Jamaica's national dish, Ackee and Salt Fish. Commenting on how tasty it was, Maurice said, "I don't cook for tourists, I cook for family."
Another traditional food is Escovitch. The fish is usually pan-fried, then topped with thinly sliced onions, sweet peppers, and carrots that have been marinated in vinegar, along with thyme, garlic, hot peppers or pimentos. It's often accompanied by bammy, a type of bread made from cassava.
I've since made many Jamaican recipes for family and friends and they are always a hit, including jerk chicken - even though I don't have pimento wood.
Return to Treasure Beach
Well, it's time to bring this story to a close and I've barely scratched the surface of this inspiring and magical place. Do yourself a favour. Go. Just go. And be prepared to return. After all, you'll make friends there and will want to see them again.
Interested and thinking of going? You'll find links for booking and tour planning in the Jakes at Treasure Beach Directory Profile. And remember, working directly with a local business to book your trip ensures they and their community benefit from all of your tourism investment!
Editors Note on Homegrown Community Tourism:
Countries have always welcomed international tourism investment with the idea that visitor spending will bring wealth to their hosts. Unfortunately, where accommodations and experiences are not owned and operated by residents, relatively few tourism dollars actually flow into and stay in the local economy. Yes, there is a boost in employment, but it's not necessarily at fair wages and supplies are often sourced abroad or bulk purchased from large businesses with only profit in mind (no farm-to-table or family cook shack happening there). Huge stress is placed on local infrastructure and the environment that's greenwashed with eco and sustainability lingo so that it never occurs to the traveller that their unlimited access to power, water and the beach means that the local village next door has none.
Homegrown community tourism, so well represented by Treasure Beach, Jamaica, is such a wonderful contrast and model for tourism that can and is creating a better more vibrant world.
We hope that you are inspired to search out and support homegrown tourism destinations while exploring surroundings close to home and for your first big journey back into the world post-pandemic. It's communities like Treasure Beach that have suffered the most from the lack of tourism's economic support and yet so deserve to be the future of tourism.