I met the inn-owning former geriatric doc at a sustainable tourism conference in Kingston's Pegasus Hotel, another one-of-a-kind experience well known to Caribbean business travelers. Located opposite Emancipation Park, the Pegasus's glass doors slide open to an atmospheric lobby milling with suited politicos and secret service men slouched in Empire chairs. Downstairs, Rhodes treated me to a cup of Blue Mountain coffee and showed me a small art gallery displaying the powerful Nubian masks of ceramicist Gene Pearson. "I love the vibrancy of Kingston," he said, naming some his favorite things to do in the city, such as visit the Mutual Life Gallery of Gilou Bauer, see the Matalon collection at the National Gallery, attend a service at Shaare Shalom, Kingston's ancient synagogue, and shop at Lavange Limited, an upscale home furnishing store where he buys David Pinto ceramics for his B&B.
The drive from Kingston to Portland parish takes about three hours
via the Junction route -- more if you have to negotiate landslides or
get stuck behind a cement truck, both of which we did, so there was
plenty of time to talk.
Born in Brooklyn, Rhodes reminded me of the Werner Herzog character Fitzcarraldo who was determined to build an opera house in the Peruvian jungle. Against similar odds of the kind a Caribbean country can dish out, he built Great Huts as a monument to his passions, which range from Afro-Caribbean art to his wife, a Jamaican-born actress. The Great Huts collection of fantastical tree houses and log tents sits on four acres overlooking Portland's Boston Bay. The latest structure, a 30-foot circular abode made of stone, is sited on a cliff facing seaward and aptly named African Sunrise ($200/night with kitchen). In classic Rhodes fashion, it incorporates a tribute to those who perished in the Atlantic slave trade.
From Port Antonio town, where we stopped for gas and a chat with a
fisherman hawking yellowtail. Rhodes, who is generous to a fault -- he
thanklessly built and operates Port Antonio's homeless shelter and hosts
shelter volunteers for $10/night -- left me at Great Huts in the
capable hands of Lloyda, who showed me to one of the more modest but
still pleasing huts, which start at $60/night including breakfast. Tents
furnished with a designer's eye are also available for $35/night.
A half dozen of us sat around the open kitchen and common area while the staff prepared a traditional dinner of escovitch, ackee and breadfruit. We could also have had a gourmet pizza or a jerk plate from one of a dozen or so nearby stalls whose vendors boast that Portland is where the dry-rubbed, pit fire method of cooking pork, chicken, fish or just about anything was born.