Even among Jamaicans, the sleepy town of Port Antonio, tucked away on the island’s untouristed northeast coast, carries an air of rough-and-tumble remoteness. But for Jon Baker, the proprietor ofthe Geejam Hotel, in nearby San San, that is precisely the point.
In 1986, Baker was living in London and had just met Ziggi Golding, a Jamaican-German photographer’s agent (Juergen Teller was an early client) who also ran a modeling agency. “For Christmas that year we flew to Jamaica and drove thousands of miles all over the country for three and a half weeks visiting her relatives,” Baker, 51, says. “By the last week, I was exhausted and asked, ‘Is there anywhere on the island where you have no relatives?’ And she said, ‘Oh, yes—Port Antonio.’ So I said, ‘We’re going there.’ ”
What he found was a kind of paradise on earth—a tourist-free time capsule of rum shacks, pristine beaches, and crystalline waters, all set amid lush rain forest (“Where the green stops, the blue starts,” as Baker puts it). There was no scene to speak of, and it attracted travelers looking for exactly that quality. Port A, as the locals call it, was the sort of place where Daryl Hannah stopped Golding in the supermarket to ask where she could find some champagne for her then boyfriend, John F. Kennedy Jr. Within a few years, Baker—at the time a music-industry player with his own label and a number one record (with P.M. Dawn)—decided to put down roots in Port A.
“There’s a guy named Bentley who used to work at the guesthouse we stayed at,” Baker says. “I rang him up one day and asked, ‘Is there anything for sale?’ And he said, ‘There’s this one place…’ So I called the people and said, ‘I want to buy it…No, I haven’t seen it, but I’ll wire you 10 percent immediately and see you in September.’ And that was it.” (Bentley now drives for Baker.)
Today, nine acres of lush banyan, ficus, and juniper trees conceal a luxury encampment of four private cabins and a three-bedroom villa, with a professional recording studio thrown in for good measure. From the start, Geejam attracted a steady stream of movie stars and musicians: Tom Cruise, Scarlett Johansson, Björk, Gwen Stefani, Rihanna, and Amy Winehouse among them. “Right now we don’t have enough rooms, so money alone isn’t going to get you through the front door,” Baker says. “What will is your vibe and what you do.” (A case in point is the artist Banksy, who left behind a dozen of his distinctive works when he was a guest—Baker won’t say when—although all but a handful were painted over in a recent maintenance snafu.) “We want, say, a photographer, an artist, a musician—that’s what I’m hoping will create the kinetic energy to keep the place thriving.”