Category : News
Notes From the Grenadines – PSV From the Inside Out – Silent Voices Behind the Scenes – Part II
The balmy breeze on my sun-kissed skin felt exquisite as we continued on Mr. Victory’s mini moke towards the restaurant. I closed my eyes and tried to visualize the wild and unforgiving place that Mr. Victory (nickname Goatee) was describing as he shared the inside story of how Petit St. Vincent (a.k.a. PSV) was born. “There was nothing here but overgrown forest, dirt, poisonous Manchineel trees, swamps and mosquitoes. We cleared the overgrown brush with machetes and painted our skin with oil to trap the mosquitoes. It took us two years to get electricity and three years to get a telephone here. All we had was a radio in the office.”
We approached the large open air dining pavilion which is strategically situated up on a hill overlooking the sea, where constant trade winds act as a natural air conditioner. Here guests can be found congregating around the huge wooden bar or relaxing at one of the scenic outdoor tables where long leisurely meals are characterized by premium service and world class cuisine. Those who prefer total privacy are encouraged to dine on the patio of their private guest bungalow. Situated directly in front of each bungalow are a yellow and red flag and a hollow bamboo pole. Guests are instructed to complete a menu checklist, insert it into the bamboo pole and hoist the yellow flag. The yellow flag indicates that a service is requested; the red flag informs staff, “do not disturb”.
We opted for breakfast each morning on our private patio, where the bananaquits and hummingbirds serenaded us with their morning songs and cool Atlantic breezes floated off the sea as we sipped our coffee. The delicious lunches were served buffet style in the open air pavilion where we escaped from the midday heat with bottles of ice cold local beer and plates overflowing with assorted meats and fish, crisp vegetables, salads and fresh baked breads. We particularly enjoyed the spicy rum punch as a festive kickoff to the evening meal. Dressed in casual attire and supremely chilled out, we sat late into the evening, feasting on grilled lobster tail, filet of beef seasoned to perfection and rack of lamb so tender it literally fell off the bone. For dessert we most enjoyed the homemade ice cream, chocolate peanut butter pie, crepes Suzette and assorted sorbets.
We continued on with Goatee past the dining pavilion and towards the power station. “This was the second structure to be built on the island,” our new friend explained. He led us behind the power station, where he pointed to a deep recess in the ground filled with stones and debris. “This was filled with dirt and muck when we arrived on the island,” he told us, his dark eyes shining. “Mr. Richardson (Goatee’s late boss and the owner of PSV) instructed us to jump in and clear out the junk. ” He paused, a hint of mischief in his friendly eyes, and a smile slowly spread across his face. “We could not bring ourselves to do the dirty work, so Mr. Richardson went in himself and did the job.”
It warmed my heart to think of Goatee in his youth, eager to work but not quite eager enough to trudge around in a pool of slime and debris. We continued a little further down the path, where Goatee led us to a shady area of thick vegetation. Here he shared with us the story of further hardships, before there was running water on the island. “We collected swamp water in a bucket and waited for the dirt to settle on the bottom before drinking it. Sometimes our eyes stung from the poisonous sap of the Machineel trees. A man created a healing balm from sugar and water to ease the swelling and soothe the sting.” I pictured Goatee as a strapping young man, focused and determined, bending down in the hot sun to collect dirty water out of a swamp, thirst permeating his body as he fought for his future and the future of his children, riding the wake of another man’s dream- a dream that came to define his own life. I felt a surge of respect and admiration for this amazing man and all he has witnessed through the evolution of this island paradise, where so many guests have come and gone, indulging in the simple pleasures we now take for granted but never knowing his story.
As we made our way towards the west end of the island we passed the barbecue pit, where we enjoyed a beachside barbecue the prior afternoon. With the coconut trees providing welcome shade from the midday sun, we tossed down ice cold rum punch and licked our fingers clean after devouring barbecue beef, grilled lobster tail and fresh corn. On Saturday evenings there is a steel drum band at the barbecue pit, where guests dance barefoot at the edge of the sea in the balmy night air under festive white lights and bright stars twinkling in a Caribbean sky. Goatee explained that he designed and built the barbecue pit with his own hands as a surprise gift for his boss Haze Richardson. He carefully selected the location-a sheltered cove where the water is calm and inviting; well protected from random fishermen and other unwelcome visitors passing by in the night.
On the west end of the island a row of private hammocks line the beach. This is the perfect area for sunning, swimming, or just plain relaxing, hoisting a yellow flag and enjoying a private lunch or dinner. It was here that I retreated to my own hammock several days ago to watch the sun sinking beneath the horizon, turning the water many shades of pink and crimson before it disappeared from view. As we made our way towards the east side of the island, the terrain gradually shifted until we passed through a completely uninhabited stretch of overgrown vegetation. This was my favorite part of the journey because it reminded me of how the island must have appeared through Goatee’s young eyes, over 40 years ago. I love the fact that so much of this island remains in its natural form; untouched, wild and immensely captivating like a young bohemian drifter with an unruly mass of windblown curls and a soul aching for adventure.
During my time on the island I enjoyed talking with Lynn, the owner and surviving wife of the late Haze Richardson. I learned of a carefree young woman from Martha’s Vineyard who left a practical career in social work to live among the locals on the nearby island of Carriacou, work as a sail maker and eventually fall in love with the owner of PSV. Their love did not happen overnight, rather, through the course of many years and a slow burning friendship. Of all the many stories Lynn shared with me, I was most deeply moved by the story she told with her eyes; such expressive eyes that tell a thousand tales of her intense love for her husband and the life they shared together.
Lynn spoke of the down to earth vibe and complete lack of pretense that characterizes PSV and distinguishes it from other resorts in the Caribbean. “Here I don’t have to be anything that I don’t want to be. What I love most about this island is everything it lacks.” As we continued our journey with Goatee across the raw and undeveloped east side of the island Lynn’s words resonated powerfully with me- “What I love about the island is everything it lacks.” Sure, if Lynn cared to follow the advice of certain hotel inspectors, she might introduce additional guest bungalows, Wi-Fi, flat screen televisions and artificial air conditioning, but according to Lynn, “If I made those changes I wouldn’t want to live here anymore.”
Our journey across the island ended on the east side, where guests bungalows rise and fall, with some, like ours, situated directly on the beach and others resting on a hill or bluff overlooking the huge expanse of turquoise water stretching endlessly towards a distant horizon. With their position facing east, the bungalows welcome constant Atlantic breezes through their sliding screen doors. They are luxurious and spacious, with Caribbean style rattan furniture, natural stone showers and king sized beds.
With no access to technology or outside civilization, Petit St. Vincent is a wakeup call in a world that suffers from a collective epidemic of information overload and an extreme dependence on artificial stimulation. PSV trades material comforts for the sound of the waves crashing against the shore and the vision of coconut trees casting shadows on the sand while the sunlight reflects off the coral beneath the turquoise sea.
When the late Mr. Richardson passed away very suddenly last year, Goatee was one of the last to know. This is not by accident, rather, due to the fact that Lynn could not bear to tell him. For Lynn, the island is not a business. It is her heart, her soul, and her beloved home, where she lives out one day at a time with her family of Labrador retrievers. If you are fortunate enough to visit PSV, be sure to look for a woman walking her dogs on the beach at dusk, and a man cruising around the island on a mini moke. If you are lucky, she might invite you to join her for a twilight stroll, and he might flash you his heartwarming smile and share a story or two.
Risa Mason-Cohen is a psychologist in Charleston, SC. She guides individuals towards peace and fulfillment by teaching them to trust their inner voice, discover their passion and follow the path of their soul to live, dream and thrive. She may be reached for questions or comments at http://www.risamason.com or email@example.com