Our Woman In Jamaica

Denise Gray Gooden




Aromatherapy and alternative lifestyles highlight the Island of Light Center for Holistic Development & Vegetarian Bed and Breakfast


If that famous quiz show "Jeopardy" had a category called "sea, sand and sun," all the contestants would be tempted to answer: "What is Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica?" Correct answer, but pretty limited.

Yes, sure, we do have an abundance of those three elements and it does seem greedy to want anything more than that, especially when your fingers are frozen to your shopping bag and you still ache from that impromptu "rear-end skating" act you performed while running for the bus. But the point is there is so much more to explore and there are so many unusual ways to enjoy a wonderful holiday in all sorts of little-known places all over Jamaica.

So if you ARE tired of the usual sun-soaking, reggae-dancing, souvenir-shopping holiday, you might be in the right frame of mind for the Island of Light. And anywhere that is easily found following directions like "drive up the hill then turn left before the little shop," definitely has the potential to possess that "off the beaten track" quality you are looking for. Island of Light, a vegetarian bed and breakfast located in Retreat, St. Mary, a mere fifteen-minute drive from the contrasting hustle and bustle of Ocho Rios, has that quality and much more.

But "vegetarian bed and breakfast" only tells a fraction of the story. Sally Sherman, owner of the property, came back to Jamaica in 1989 after an absence of three years, craving the lifestyle of beauty and upliftment that she knew she could experience at this wonderfully peaceful retreat which had been her home. Over the years Sally has developed the Island of Light as a haven for people who seek the opportunity for learning alternative lifestyles.

The property was originally part of Prospect Plantation. In fact, the guest cottages were once the home of the plantation accountant and the horses. Nowadays, the four beautifully furnished rooms, with their ivory-coloured pure cotton bedsheets and down comforters, are a far cry from the stables of one century ago. They can accommodate up to ten overnight guests but for those who really want to confer with nature, Sally keeps a couple of tents and a few sleeping bags.

The great hall of the main house, which was built some fifty years ago, has finishings in beautiful dark cedarwood, and all the rooms are airy and inviting. The dining room has just one very large table where everyone dines together like a family. And the homely atmosphere extends into the kitchen. No run-of-the-mill hotel kitchen with formidable metal doors - guests are encouraged to join Joan in the kitchen to learn how to prepare her delicious vegetarian treats. No meat is ever cooked there but no one minds if you want to run into Ochi for a juicy steak.

Sally tries to grow most of what is served right there on the grounds, so feel free to get involved in the reaping as well. And if you are too lazy to help, you can buy Joan's book of succulent recipes appropriately named "Joan's Kitchen," and try the dishes when you get back home.

Island of Light has been the venue of many workshops and retreats, mainly organized by groups focussing on exploring the more holistic or spiritual side of life - from Tai Chi to yoga, from Transcendental Meditation to massage techniques. According to Sally, they have all been very informal and enjoyable. The emphasis is on learning more about your inner self and how you can live a more tranquil and satisfying existence.

There have not been many workshops recently. Most of the visitors have just come to Island of Light to enjoy the beauty and the peaceful atmosphere, lying around in the hammocks and listening to the sounds of nature. There is a massage therapist who can be called in upon request and one of the special pleasures at the retreat is to have Sally set you a herbal bath in the giant-sized tub.

Whatever your reason for needing to escape "the madding crowd", the Island of Light is there to provide you with a way to enjoy a uniquely healing experience that will do much to restore your peace of mind.

And speaking of herbal baths and alternative approaches to life and its challenges, when you make up your mind to escape to the Island of Light, make sure you pack the essentials - the essential oils, that is. What better place to explore the sensations of aromatherapy. It has been impossible to ignore the growing trend towards the use of natural herbs and essential oils in the treatment of just about every human ailment. The skeptics are still inclined to dismiss the concept as a lot of hocus-pocus but aromatherapists like Sharon McConnell of Starfish Oils, remind us that our ancestors had to rely on what they found in their natural environment to alleviate pain and cure certain illnesses and their efforts often met with success. It was only at the turn of this century that chemists took the plants into the lab and identified the chemical components, giving birth to the synthetic drug industry.

"Aromatherapy has been around since the beginning of time," declares Sharon. "The essential oils taken from flowers, herbs, woods and fibers can have effects on our physical and emotional well-being." And Sharon ought to know what she's talking about. She studied under the guidance of aromatherapy "guru" Miguel Cisneros in Florida, and is a member of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA).

Well, whether or not you want to depend on aromatherapy to cure your arthritis, you cannot go wrong if you at least allow yourself to enjoy the fabulously scented line of products Sharon produces from her base in the Waterloo Road area of Kingston. Starfish Oils, established less than two years ago, is the Caribbean's first complete line of handcrafted aromatherapy oils, candles and soaps.

Alongside the more internationally known essences like rosemary, peppermint and lavender, Sharon has blended the tropical oils of pimento, tangerine and jasmine. Her blends are packaged in attractive bottles exquisitely adorned with natural fibers, shells, beads and driftwood. The scented beeswax candles sit in little coconut or bamboo containers and the fragrant soaps are wrapped in decorated burlap.

And they don't just smell nice. Each oil has specific therapeutic qualities, from dispelling anxiety and depression to creating an aura of friendship and togetherness for a gathering at your home. The blends can be used for body massages, in baths or to fill an entire area with a special mood or feeling.

For example, just a few drops of Starfish Oils blend of Peppermint, Rosemary and Eucalyptus in one of their ceramic aroma diffusers gently fills the room with a wonderful "wake-up" aura for a weary spirit. Insomniacs can find relief with Lavender, Orange and Ylang Ylang - perfect for a restful night or just unwinding after a particularly difficult day. And, a sensual combination of the world's most aphrodisiac oils is perfect for creating that special romantic atmosphere. How do you think Cleopatra and the other femmes fatales of years gone by managed to have everyone eating out of their hands?

If you think you might give this aromatherapy idea a whirl, Blue Mountain Aromatics is another line of high-quality products to look for. This line is the brainchild of Susan Ward, and two very talented friends, Carolyn Delisser and June Bellew. Susan is the owner of PATOO, an establishment which retails some of the most exquisite examples of Jamaican art and craft. She is herself an artist, although the demands of her business does not leave her much time to pursue her painting.

Blue Mountain Aromatics actually began about two years ago as a spontaneous idea among three friends to experiment with blending some natural soaps at a home near Newcastle in the misty Blue Mountains. Does a particular scene from Macbeth come to mind? Well that experiment has blossomed into a fabulous array of blended oils, herbal scrubs, soaps, bath and shower gels, pot pourris and beeswax candles.

Every product is handsomely packaged - poured into elegant bottles; couched in attractive soap dishes made from local woods; tucked into little calico drawstring pouches or hand-woven baskets of jippi-jappa straw. Susan certainly knows how to do away with the need for gift-wrapping, but if you need to scribble a note to the recipient of your gift, June Bellew has created a series of botanical drawings especially for Blue Mountain Aromatics and some of these are available on note cards. And in case you are wondering what else they could think of, there are also a number of accessories such as loofas and natural sponges which complement the line of products.

So whether you care for a refreshing shower with passion fruit gel or a few drops of Clary Sage in your bath; whether you need a "pick-me-up" candle or a "calm-me-down" oil; whether or not you are looking for a final cure for Uncle Henry's gout; you owe yourself one gift. A holiday at the Island of Light with the aromatherapy treatment of your choice.


Island of Light
Center for Holistic Development
Vegetarian Bed and Breakfast

PHONE & FAX (809) 975-4268


Denise Gray Gooden can be reached at dendusdim@toj.com