By Eileen Ogintz
FALMOUTH, Jamaica — Aeon Cummings, by all measures, has made his Jamaican parents and grandparents proud—select college and business school in the U.S., top jobs with Fortune 500 companies, a beautiful family and house in suburban Connecticut.
He had been “giving back,” all along, seeking out minority candidates for Hamilton College, his alma mater; mentoring business students at the University of Virginia.
Now was time to do more—and more for Jamaica, he said. Cummings explained he has fond memories of growing up in Jamaica until his parents moved him and his siblings to Brooklyn when he was 13. Of course, he came back for visits.
But too many visitors, he explained, never leave all-inclusive resorts, as wonderful as they may be. “We want to put the ‘all’ in ‘all-inclusive,’” he said. That’s the impetus behind Otaheti Travel, named for the famous Jamaican apple.
“The perception is not a reality,” Cummings says. “We want to show visitors the beauty of Jamaican food, culture, music and art.” He hopes to attract many whose families, like his, originally came from Jamaica or have roots here but are now well-heeled American professionals.
That means individually curated trips, whether for families, couples, friends with stays at laid-back inns or villas with knowledgeable guides. Trips can range from $200 a night. The idea is less of a carbon footprint and less on room costs and more on unique experiences. “Think of throwing a good party, it’s natural.” Cummings said. “You can get the same view of the Blue Lagoon whether your room costs $100 a night or $500. It is less about what you can pay and more about what you experience.”
At the same time, Cummings believes, his company can give back to locals–from drivers and guides to artists, chefs and musicians.
And that means always having a plan B—or C at the ready. We were supposed to go fishing at the famous Robbins Bay, a fishing and farming village on the North Coast, with local artist, teacher and fisherman Henry Lowe, who is one of Otaheti’s “local ambassadors.” We were going to cook our catch for lunch.
Plan B – The road to Robbins Bay was in bad shape due to lack of maintenance during the pandemic, explained Cummings, who accompanied us on this adventure. So we opted for another fishing spot near Falmouth.
Another ambassador, Delton Rhoden, aka “Dr. Fun,” served as driver and guide answering every question, whether about Jamaican slave rebellion, bauxite (mined and exported to make aluminum), patois (the mixture of languages the slaves had used to communicate with out their masters understanding and still widely spoken today) or the significance of the school uniform colors (each school has had the same color for generations). Artist and photographer Richard Nattoo joined our group, which included my husband Andy Yemma, son Matt Yemma and his fiancé, Elodie Kremer. It was the first time we had seen them since before the Pandemic.
Rhoden drove us instead to Falmouth, historically the first port where sugar cane was exported and known for its Georgian architecture. Fun Fact: Booming Falmouth had running water and pipes to homes before NYC, in the late 1700s.
We were going to fish with another local, Mushtaq Purrier, who like most fishermen here has been fishing since he was a kid and has been in business for more than two decades. But this wasn’t a typical resort fishing expedition. We went out in a small motor boat, shifting seats to keep weight even. The water was choppy. We didn’t catch anything save one butterfish and about a half dozen baby snapper too small to keep.
But we were glad for the experience to see how local Jamaicans fish. Enter Plan C—and D.
Since we hadn’t caught lunch, we went to Lindsay’s Seafood Joint and Bar, a popular no-frills local spot in Carey Park (near Falmouth), where Chef Mark Lindsay and his wife Kim served us up Conch Coconut Curry, Brown Stew Snapper and Escovitch, another fried—and delectable Snapper dish where the fish is served whole. We drank flavored Red Stripe (the local beer) – melon, lemon and sorel.
“Curry and coconut are always nice,” he said, adding that the coconut curry he served us is one of his favorites to prepare. It was delicious, served with fried plantains and sweet potatoes.
Lindsay’s cooking is so popular that Americans who have homes nearby have invited him to cook for them everywhere from Alabama to Wyoming. Most of his 10 siblings live in the states, he said, but he’s happy with his life here—and frequent visits to the U.S.
We couldn’t have been farther afield from a manicured resort restaurant—outdoors, oilcloth tablecloths, a backyard with Caribbean almond trees and potted herbs Lindsay had planted. And we couldn’t have been happier.
A bonus—a few phone calls and a young woman arrived to fulfill one my future daughter-in-law’s vacation wishes—she had wanted to get her hair braided by a local. But resorts charge hundreds of dollars. Angela Watson, who said she’d learned to braid “as a little girl,” was happy to do the job for $30.
It took a while but we didn’t mind. “Keep the beer coming,” joked Cummings.
Thanks for a great day, Aeon, that none of us will forget.