Off The Map

If someone said the word island to you, what are some of the immediate thoughts that come to mind? Beaches. Sunshine. Warm, crystal clear, water. Rum drinks in coconut shells. Palm Trees. Snorkeling. Coral Reefs. Fresh fruit plates. Pretty Fish. Paradise. Relaxation.

Well, before moving to St. Vincent, those were some of my exact same thoughts, too. In anticipation of my arrival, my thoughts often traveled to what I now appreciate are just the “perimeter goodies” of the island…the beautiful Caribbean waters and everything underneath and above them. But, what I failed to recognize initially is what I’ve come to fall in love with after 18 months of living here...perhaps St. Vincent’s most beautiful kept secret...The Mesopotamian Valley, and the most beautiful, peaceful, loving home and family, tucked away in the Valley’s foliage.

On a couple of Sunday mornings each month, I try to take a “day off the map” to seek emotional and physical respite…or as my Aunt Laina likes to call it “Our Personal 911 Plan From Life’s Chaos,” and I accompany my friends, Leslie and Winston, and sometimes several others, up to Leslie’s parents’ home in the Mesopotamian Valley. This is an every Sunday, family tradition for Leslie and Winston, so I always feel so privileged to come along. Mary and Martin’s (Leslie’s parents) house is nestled between the numerous mountain ridges and rivers of the Valley, and it is a place I literally refer to as heaven on earth…it has become my “off the map,” while living off the map. Our days are usually filled with leisurely walks to the river, a family-style dinner made of local fruits and vegetables, reading a few pages of a favorite book, meditating in the garden, and chanting our mantras from the roof-top.

The drive there is usually filled with laughter and mountain air flowing through the car with lots of singing from playlists featuring Cat Stevens, The Commodores, James Taylor, and Genesis.  And more exciting than our drive, our arrival at Martin and Mary’s (Leslie’s parents…The Barnard's) is met by seven excited, licking, jumping, and playful dogs they have rescued, loved, and rehabilitated, followed by kisses on the cheek and hugs from Mary and Martin. I liken the feeling of serenity that overcomes me each time I’m there to how Elizabeth Gilbert must have felt during her time spent in India. Their house is absolutely exquisite…an archeologist"s and artist"s dream, as the entire house is filled with exquisite, meaningful artifacts and artwork, given to them by family, friends, and visitors from all over the world. And if you walk the grounds surrounding their house, you’ll find Martin’s citrus orchards, banana palms, and coffee bean field, Mary’s herb garden, chirping tropical parrots, and chickens, and the peaceful sound of the river that complements picturesque views, crisp mountain air, lovely Buddha garden statues, and stunning tropical flowers.   It’s fantastically effortless to take twenty steps in any one direction and forget you are still on earth.

But more magnificent than any of the above is Mary and Martin’s family; they are the most genuine, loving, accepting, giving, and lovely family you might come to know—from grandparents to grandchildren, this same spirit embodies all of them. They are known in their community as gracious humanitarians, agriculturalists, pilots, horticulturalists, artists, sailors, and much, much more. But what stands out most about this family is that, as soon as you walk into their home, they welcome you as if they have known you for a lifetime. They have literally opened the door, not only to their home, but their lives, their religion, and their way of life, to me, a stranger from a foreign land, and embraced me as one of their own. Seldom, outside of my own family and close circle of friends, have I ever felt such genuine love, compassion, and openness to embrace life and all of its inhabitants as I do when I’m in the presence of the Barnard’s.

So, it is with great privilege and pleasure that I'm able to share with you "snipets" from a piece of heaven on earth…some hidden, infrequently-trudged island terrain that occupies a very sacred place in my heart. While pictures do little justice to the true magnificence of this non-perimeter place, I hope they stir some curiosity in your spirit—to explore and seek respite beyond just the warm clear waters of your next island vacation and adventure…especially if that island adventure happens to be St. Vincent! If you find yourself on the warm sands of an island paradise…whether your soul needs renewing through quietness, chanting or meditation, exercise, crisp air, or new perspectives...find time to take a stroll, find your people, and be good to yourself “off the map” off the map, and you might be surprised what your heart and eyes will discover!

Also, for those more curious about the geography of the Mesopotamian Valley, here is a bit of history on the area:

Mesopotamian Valley is Greek for “The Land between Two Rivers,” but to Vincentians, it is translated as “The Breadbasket” or “Mespo." The valley was created by flowing molten lava and rising rocks from volcanic eruptions of St. Vincent’s active volcano, La Soufrière (“The Sulfurer”) or Soufrière, that have taken place through the years…most presently, in April of 1979. “Mespo” remains one of the most cultivated regions in all of the Caribbean as the volcanic soil provides extremely fertile ground with virtually every tropical crop growing, such as: bananas, plantain, breadfruit, nutmeg, arrowroot, coconuts, sugar cane, cocoa, pineapple, callalou, and many, many more. The drive through the valley is accompanied by natural, breathtaking panoramic views of the island—reaching as far as Mustique Island to the Caribbean Southwest and St. Lucia to the Atlantic North. It is filled with mountain ridges rising around St. Vincent’s Grand Bonhomme Mountain, towering 3,193 feet, and rushing rivers, tumbling down to the sea over the rocks of Yambou Gorge.

Share some of your "off the map" places with us on our Facebook Page!!!!