“Sell everything. Bring No 9 Hardy Fishing Rod, polo sticks and come.” Lionel Densham – This urgent telegram was the beginning of an enduring love affair between the Densham family and the tiny Jamaican fishing village of Treasure Beach, on Jamaica’s south coast.The geography of Jamaica’s south coast is remarkably diverse.Traces of iron have colored the sand black and their picturesque beauty stand out like little dots against the rocky coastline. The Black River, Jamaica’s longest river sustains 125-square miles of wetlands called the Great Morass; largest wetland habitat in the Caribbean. The Santa Cruz mountain range forms the backbone of this region and is responsible for the dry grasslands of the Pedro Plains.
The South coast especially the parish of St.Elizabeth is considered the bread basket of Jamaica. The soil is maroon red and rich in minerals, especially bauxite ore. Farming is a way of life – so much so – residents’ plant scallion and thyme in their front yards instead of flowers. Tall green stalks of sweet sugar cane stretches as far as the eye can see, shoulder to shoulder, dense as thickets. The Appleton sugar estate, makers of rum and other distilled liqueurs is located here. We drove through the tiny village of Middle Quarters, just outside the town of Black River, which is famous for its peppered shrimp.
This is rural Jamaica; the roads are narrow and in disrepair. Potholes hide like trapdoor spiders waiting to pounce on unsuspecting motorists as they navigate th enarrow roads. Chickens add to the litany of stray animals that act as obstacle course in a daring dance of driving skill and nerves. Clapboard structures paint fading, interiors dim, serve as bar, hangout spot, a place for local gossip; quintessential Jamaica.
From Montego Bay it’s a three hour drive to Little Ochi in St. Elizabeth. Before starting, have the right frame of mind; don’t rush, take your time, enjoy the scenery, your destination is “just around the corner.” I’m planning to drive through Cambridge, then turn left for Santa Cruz, then on through Middle Quarters, Border, Bluefield, and then a sharp right turn at the foot of Spur Tree Hill and down into Alligator Pond.
The pristine landscape is soothing and we arrive in Little Ochi, feeling relaxed and content. Little Ochi is perched in the middle of a mile long “fisherman’s beach.” Local fishing boats are fiberglass, long and canoe shaped with an outboard motor for power. They pull right up on the black sand beach, laden with the days catch. Seagulls ride on the air currents above, as people crowd each boat, haggling over prices and inspecting the catch. The sea, the boats, the seagulls, inject an electric vibe that breaks our reverie and reminds us it’s time to eat.
Little Ochi seafood restaurant. The restaurant which sprawls out onto the beach has an open kitchen and gazebo like huts made from old fishing boats on stilts. A cook approaches and politely asks if we are ready to order. It’s a simple process, you choose.
They have two refrigerators, filled with lobster, conch, a variety of local fish (yellow tail snapper, parrot fish, grunt, goat fish, butterfish, and bonito). He puts my choices in a small plastic bucket and takes them into the kitchen. I had chosen conch, a pound of lobster tails, and a large three pound snapper. After some discussion with the cook, I decided to have curried conch, lobster with garlic sauce and the snapper, deep fried and smothered in escoveitch sauce. As a side, I chose two traditional favorites, bammy (a five inch round cake made from cassava), and festival (similar to a hush puppy, but denser in texture), and a bottle of ice cold Red Stripe beer to wash it all down.
Just remember to pay the cashier before going outside to sit. I asked the cook, to send the food as it was ready, that way we could eat at our own pace. Only thing left to do, sit and soak in the ambiance and of course sip on a cold Red Stripe beer.