Celebrating the undiscovered charms of Caribbean travel & culture.

Bequia, Grenadines

On-Site Bequia: Pirates you say? What Pirates?

On-Site Bequia: Pirates you say? What Pirates?
Pirate Hideout? by Patrick Bennett
Pirate Hideout? by Patrick Bennett

I hear there’s some big movie coming out that has to do with lovable pirates sailing all over the Caribbean with beautiful women looking for treasure.

You might think Uncommon Caribbean would be all over that kind of thing…

Well, you’d be wrong.

Nope.

Not gonna do it.

You see, flights of fancy are fun, but we here at UC are trying to bring you the real Caribbean, and the real pirates of the Caribbean were the last people you’d drop $20 to spend two hours with… Especially in 3D.

The first clue that might alert you to a real pirate in your midst, even before seeing one, would be the smell. Fresh water and baths were a luxury even in the great cities of London and Paris at the time of the “Golden Age of Piracy”—imagine the utter stench on a person who never bathed and lived in filthy, overcrowded quarters aboard a small ship with no toilet facilities! Never mind that your new pirate friend would come with his own buddies like fleas and rats.

A real pirate wouldn’t really make a great new “friend” either. There’s plenty of stories of Captain Edward Thatch (better known as “Blackbeard”) chopping off women’s fingers when he wanted their rings. Or what about Captain Morgan? One of his preferred methods of torture consisted of hanging a man from his genitals. Might’ve been effective, but I’m sure he didn’t win any buddies with that one.

So, I think we can all agree that crossing paths with a real pirate in the Caribbean would not be the wisest thing to wish for, right?

Unfortunately, I was afraid  I might do just that while sailing around the Grenadines last week!

We had just departed from Admirality Bay, Bequia. I was draining enjoying a bottle of Eldorado 5 rum I’d procured before leaving port a few days prior in St. Lucia. The sun was shining, and we had another excellent day of sailing ahead of us… When, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something strange in the cliffs.

It just seemed so odd. Was I the only one seeing this? No one else seemed to notice there was a bizarre, stone nightmare growing out of the very rocks making up the jagged shoreline and towering into a massive hole in the high, arching cliff. After staring for a while just to make sure the El Dorado wasn’t playing tricks on me, I grabbed captain Kevin and asked him if he saw it too.

He did, but didn’t seem to know too much about it. At least not enough to temper my desire to explore its depths!

So, I convinced our captain to cut the engines and jumped into the dinghy (camera barely protected by an oversized ziplock bag) with 1st mate Nixon ready for some adventure! (Try doing that on a Carnival Cruise!)

Looking for a landing by Patrick Bennett
Looking for a landing by Patrick Bennett

As we motored closer, it became clear there was nowhere to go ashore easily—just slippery rocks with waves lashing against them, occasionally obscuring an army of spiny sea urchins. I wouldn’t be deterred, so we pulled up to a particularly scary patch of jagged rocks that seemed like a spot where I’d only break a bone, cut my skin to ribbons or get perforated by sea urchins if I tried to jump ashore. Nixon goosed the dinghy and hit the rocks with a thud.

I leapt for it.

A huge waved smashed against the rocks… But I didn’t!

Somehow, I landed ashore safely!

No Entry by Patrick Bennett
No Entry by Patrick Bennett

I pulled my camera from its flimsy protection and set about climbing the rocks into the darkness. The whole thing was made of completely random looking rocks barely held together with some “artistically” applied mortar. When brand new, the collection of stone may have resembled a beautifully bizarre edifice, but time hadn’t been kind. Whole sections had been returned to actual piles of rocks blending even more into the shoreline.

Much to the chagrin of my wife, who watched from the safety of our boat, I climbed from room to room, through tight spaces and over precarious precipices capturing photo after photo of these ruins of an apparently insane architect. Uneven bay windows, jagged-edged plunge pools, a room full of rusty, old outboard motors, that weird pyramid on top, the monstrous hole in the cliff ceiling… What the hell was this place?

I didn’t know… So I went deeper.

my ride by Patrick Bennett
my ride by Patrick Bennett

It wasn’t until I started seeing signs of more recent life in the dark recesses that daymares of me stumbling into a bloodthirsty, smelly pirate began creeping into my mind. Very real and truly terrifying visions of my booty being plundered gave me a new sense of urgency. I wasn’t going to take the chance that they’d just bathed and therefore would be able to get the jump on me, so I made my way out of the dark, dilapidated madhouse, waved Nixon back to our dangerous landing and leapt back to safety.

It wasn’t until I got home from this latest trip that I remembered to look up this Caribbean oddity.

Turns out what seemed like a ruined abomination to me at the time, was in fact the dream of a successful advertising couple from New York and Chicago. Like many of us running the rat race in major cities across the U.S., Gladys and Tom Johnson dreamed of a simpler life in the islands. The difference? They made it a reality by moving to Bequia—one of the most idyllic locales in the Caribbean.

After spending some time on the island, they gravitated to this special, secluded area beneath the rock formation with the giant hole in the cliff. Due to some special interplay with the moon and the archway during the equinox, they named it Moonhole. Tom was a former creative director at McCann Erickson, so using his arguably “distinctive” creative prowess, he began to imagine a unique home built right into the rocky cliffside. But you know how these things go: once you start a project for yourself, it’s sometimes hard to know when you’re finished.

Such was the case with Tom and Gladys.

First they built additions, then guest rooms, then entirely separate guest homes. There were no architectural plans, just drawings in the sand and an intention to make every structure take its design cues from the surrounding features of the rocks and land.

Moonhole houses By Patrick Bennett
Moonhole houses By Patrick Bennett

They covered the whole cliff top with structures that look straight out of the stone-age with no electricity (not even generators) for friends and family to live a pure ecological existence. Tom called the village a “Human Preserve”.

But the most interesting part (especially to all you adventurous travelers) is that many of the owners of these undeniably uncommon homes rent them out! Yes, you could stay in one of these strange homes atop the high cliffs on the west coast of Bequia!

Talk about an uncommon Caribbean stay! Just take a look at this one named Moonrise.

Alas, the “building” I explored is off limits, however, due to the very real danger of large rocks frequently falling from the ceiling. Guess I shouldn’t have been wishing for a cutlass or musket when exploring the ruins… And brought a hardhat instead!

Location. Location. Location.

 

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  • http://rumshopryan.com/ RumShopRyan

    Great story Patrick. I’ve seen some photos and some small stories about this place a while back but haven’t seen anyone actually climb in there and take photos! Excellent job and making exploration happen. Have you posted all the other photos of  Moonhole?

    Cheers.

    • uncommoncarib

       Thanks! I posted more photos on Facebook here: http://on.fb.me/kluktI

      Those are pretty much the best of the bunch.

      Of course if you ever wanted to explore the village yourself try booking a room in one of the stone houses… Just let us know how it goes!

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  • Hsadams

    Love the Grenadines, especially Bequia and have stayed at Moonrise often. It is quite the experience. Great story Patrick. Moonhole is the only place I will stay in Bequia. Absolutely beautiful.

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  • Where To Stay

    I’d be all over that! What a great find!