Rum and Reggae? Not Here

March 4, 2012 12:00 am

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OUTSIDE Treasure Beach, on Jamaica's rural southern coast, a half-dozen oxen are blocking the one potholed road into town. When the taxi driver honks, they turn, stare and stand their ground.

But that's hardly a problem. A twisting, two-hour drive through rain forest from the international airport in Montego Bay, Treasure Beach has long drawn travelers who come as much for its inaccessibility as for the black-streaked sand and azure water. The contrast from the rum-and-Rasta Jamaica of package tours is pronounced: no sprawling all-inclusives, no Margaritavilles; just a string of waterfront guesthouses set among local homes and a patchwork of rolling farmland.

Backwater status may be fleeting. "We'll always be a fishing and farming community first," said Jason Henzell, who runs the family-owned Jakes (Calabash Bay; 876-965-3000;, a collective of beachside boho-chic lodgings ($115 to $325 a night for a double room; two-bedroom cottages from $295) that first put Treasure Beach on the tourism map in 1994. "But we need to prepare ourselves for changes." Last year, Jakes inaugurated a private aerodrome to accommodate its increasingly jet-setting guests. Charter flights from Kingston now take just 35 minutes.

Nearby, down a quiet residential lane, a squat, metal-roofed farm shack houses the new Callaloo Butik (Frenchman District Road; 876-390-3949; Inside, flowing original dresses vie for space with hand-painted ceramics and petite embroidered handbags. "I'm a little concerned, of course, that Treasure Beach will become like Negril," said the owner, Sophie Eyssautier, a Frenchwoman who worked for Dior and other Parisian fashion houses before moving here three years ago. "But I think we still have a few years. "

For now, anxieties seem premature, especially along Great Bay, a beach outside town cluttered with open-hulled boats and fishing nets drying in the sun. On the porch of Little Negril Seafood Pub (Great Bay; no phone), a shack set on pilings above the sand, fishermen slap down dominoes while sipping rum. They trace their fair skin and striking blue eyes to a 200-year-old shipwreck, whose legacy has come to define this insular community. "We've all got a little Scottish blood from the castaways," said the owner, Ever Golding.

First Published 2012-03-03 23:01:22

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