Last Thursday Iain and I hoped to hike the Piton Flore Mountain in the middle of the island with little Gemma. We had a very crude map of St Lucia and a vague idea of the direction we needed to head. Needless to say we got lost, we stopped and asked for directions many times. In the middle of nowhere, on the other side of the rainforest we stumbled across a busy little roadside stand of coconut water. We called in bought a coconut and asked again where to go. One of the other customers offered to show us the way. We followed his beat-up white van for about 20 minutes into the back of beyond, Iain was convinced we were going the wrong way. The van left us and suggested we just follow the road for a little longer, we might find the mountain.
I was about ready to give up the never ending road adventure and head back to base camp when we came to the end of a road at the foot of a mountain. Iain, Gemma and I got out, armed with only our snacks and water, we set off into the dense forest of the remote mountains. 2 minutes walk along the track we were greeted by a young man carrying a machete in one hand and a harvest of weed over his other shoulder. We walked with him for a bit, he took us to a ‘short cut’ up the mountain, he told us of some Rastafarians on the top and wished us well.
The hike was a challenge. Iain had Gemma asleep on his shoulders. The bush was overgrown, the ground was slippery and the mountain was steep. We came to a little clearing with a corrugated iron shed, we think it was probably a farm. It fascinated us as it really didn’t feel as though there could be anyone else up here on this mountain. The shed could have been abandoned if not for a few clothes hung up and some rules and posters stuck to the walls. We continued on our trek.
It was hot and getting really difficult. Just before giving up our hike we stumbled across a little path off the beaten track. There was someone up there working on the path, so we ventured on up. We chatted to the guy for a bit and he suggested we continue along the path and meet some people along the way. We continued further down until a barking dog rushed out towards us, followed by his owner. We had stumbled upon the Rastafarians, the home of James Martyr and his family. We were invited in, they cut down some coconuts and offered us a drink. We ate fresh fruit and talked. We meet James’s amazing family, 12 children all homeschooled and all living off the land on the top of this breezy mountain with an amazing view overseeing Saint Lucia’s Atlantic coastline. They’re all keen musicians and all so kind, well educated and friendly. We were shown around their home as they told us of the plans they have for their place. Hoping one day to open it up as a restaurant and accommodation and somewhere to enjoy live music and Rastafari life.
James told us of the many setbacks they had faced, with entire crops being wiped out and when their home was washed away in a landslide. They had suffered a string of bad luck, but their strength and positive attitude was inspiring. We enjoyed our time with the Martyr family but needed to move on eventually to collect Holly and Chloe from school. We bid them all farewell with a promise to keep in touch. We ventured on back down the mountain, in silence for a while as we took in what just happened. Both Iain and I felt inspired and humbled by James and his family and feel so fortunate to have stumbled across them in the remote wilderness.
We came again to the clearing with the shed, this time a toothless elderly man appeared from inside and asked if we were ok to be walking this mountain without a guide. We assured him we were ok and continued walking, he yelled out behind us, ‘I will now be following you down shortly’. It didn’t take long for the old guy to catch us up. We walked together, him with his knee high wellies and machete, Iain with Gemma on his shoulders and me trying to take it all in without loosing my footing. He told us he climbed the mountain everyday to tend to the land which was his late father’s. We shared a bottle of water with him at the bottom of the hill and said good bye.
Looking back on our serendipitous encounters of yesterday I feel humbled to have meet these interesting folk way out in the back of beyond. After arriving home Iain and I watched this documentary about the Martyr family and looked further into Rastafari. I am staunchly atheist, anti organised religion and can not condone patriarchy, but I can also appreciate the beliefs and practices of Rastafari and understand how the movement developed from the legacy of the Atlantic slave trade with the oppression and suffering of blacks. It’s gotta be good for all of us, to learn and understand someone else’s beliefs and appreciate where they come from.
To accept their world view and get to know someone, despite our differences, free from hate, fear and judgement is the only way forward.
The Martyr family are honest, happy people. Although we have different backgrounds, upbringing, beliefs and even a different way of life, I felt a great connection with them. We look forward to keeping in touch with them and following their journey. It’s connections like these which is why we travel, these connections add depth and diversity to the tapestry of life, our experiences are richer for it and a hike in the mountains is so much memorable for it.