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It’s early afternoon in Negril, a parish of Jamaica about an hour and half drive outside of Montego Bay. After driving down winding roads through tropical rainforests, it would seem I am in the middle of nowhere (as my father would say “where the devil dropped the shoe”) far removed from the tourist-packed streets and margaritavilles of the island. Seclusion seems to be the intent of Jackie’s on the Reef, one of the island’s first holistic spas.

By any standard, the spa & inn is impressive as it sits on the edge of a reef with the waves slapping against the rocks just feet away from the spa steps. Small crabs scurry across the piers, lush vegetation hugs the massage huts—made of bamboo and coral that had been washed ashore by Hurricane Ivan. An open air bar serves a variety of juices made from locally sourced ingredients.

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The spa is an open-air building where everything from yoga mats to crystal balls are placed lovingly around the open space. The only sounds are that of the nearby waves and birds chirping overhead. It’s Jackie—the founder and owner—that catches my attention, that seems to separate Jackie’s on the Reef from every other oceanfront spa property saturating the Caribbean.

Jackie is older—perhaps in her sixties—but she looks vibrant and seems to be exuding a certain coveted vitality that is so unique to these island dwellers. She is wearing a yellow sarong loosely wrapped around her waist, over a black and white bikini; her skin is dark and sun-kissed, her hands worn but strong, her white hair effortlessly styled into a soft mohawk. Jackie immediately seems the type of older woman I hope to one day become—well traveled, relaxed and with a story worth sitting down and taking note of.

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I ask her where she’s from and nearly choke on my almond fruit juice when she says Brooklyn. Brooklyn! The woman in front of me who is the image of serenity and relaxation hails from the same stressful, fast-paced city I call home. I take a moment to note the differences between us—me with my camera and iPhone, selfie stick and tripod, taking notes as a million thoughts race through my mind. Her languidly standing behind the bar, reveling in the local fruit she used to make the juice, a serene look plastered on her face. It would seem we’re from different worlds rather than a mere $2.75 subway ride apart.

Jackie is a New Yorker through and through; she opened a clothing store in SoHo back in 1972 before she was struck with an unfortunate thyroid condition. After various medications, doctor visits and treatments she thought, what the hell, and took a more holistic approach to her ailments. Trying a variety of organic herbs, affirmations, colonics and methods to both spiritually and physically flush her system resulted in the unthinkable—in six months time Jackie’s condition subsided. It was the first time Jackie realized how much power and control we each have over our bodies and how much of that we have sacrificed on the altar of our self-medicated, work-obsessed lives.

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Jackie purchased land in Jamaica—an island she had visited every year to escape New York and—as she puts it—come “read, write and cry.” It was her hope to open a spa and infuse people with the same holistic principles and practices that had saved her own life. By the 1980s, Jackie had opened her spa and in doing so had opened one of the first holistic wellness centers on the island.

I am sipping on Jackie’s almond-ginger juice while listening intently to her story. It’s the duality of her life that impresses me, the way she is able to seemingly straddle two very different worlds effortlessly. One foot in a city of ambition, stress and drive—a place where people need to remind themselves to slow down and enjoy life—-another foot on an island where relaxation and a laissez-faire approach to things reign supreme.

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I enjoy a “teaser” 15 minute ocean front massage and am lulled into a sort of half sleep by the sound of the nearby waves and the expert touch of my masseuse. I could get used to this. The sense of calm that comes from staying at Jackie’s on the Reef is something I wish could be taken back to New York as easily as a gift shop souvenir. Jackie has brought her dream of a holistic spa to life in the form of this ec0-friendly spa & inn where anyone can escape into a world of sand, sea and serenity.

 

*To book a stay at Jackie’s on the Reef, visit the website here