Stone Houses in the Caribbean – My Trip to Moonhole Peninsula

Stone Houses in the Caribbean – My Trip to Moonhole Peninsula

Sometimes a photograph can open up a whole chapter in your life.  After seeing this image to the right in a magazine, my wife and I became obsessed with these mysterious stone houses built inside of a hole in a cliff.  Who built them?  And why did they seem so abandoned?  It took a bit of research to find out, but what we were seeing in the photo was only a small part of a whole rocky peninsula festooned with quirky, hand-made stone buildings.  We had seen a glimpse of the Moonhole Village, and needed to see it in person.

(click on photos to enlarge)

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Moonhole Peninsula is a long, narrow outcropping of rock on a tiny Caribbean Island called Bequia (pronounced bek-way).  It is part of a nation of islands known as St. Vincent and The Grenadines – a puddlejumper away from Barbados and not too far from Venezuela. After convincing some friends to come along and share the cost of a rental house at Moonhole, we were suddenly making the long trek to an unforgettable adventure.

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Cars are not allowed on Moonhole Peninsula, which was made into a conservation trust long ago, so after parking your car at the beach you begin the long climb up mortared stone pathways to your house.  At this point, we still barely knew anything about the origins of the place – the information is hard to track down.  The azure blue water called to us, but we had to get settled first, so up we went.

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Much of the stone-paved path was a bit treacherous – heavy rains and tree roots are continually tearing them apart.  There are probably a total of at least 2 miles of pathway like this snaking all around the peninsula, connecting the houses of which there are a total of eighteen (!).  We got to our rental house just as darkness fell.  It was disorienting being in such a strange place – the heat, the bugs, the odd bird sounds.

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I woke up long before everyone else and looked out at the beautiful water from our room.  The house (named The Tranquility House, which is one of three rentals on the peninsula) has four levels, a small pool and has solar power and water from a cistern.  Taking a walk around the grounds, I saw that ours was much more decked out than most of the other stone houses.

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Many of the Moonhole houses are like this one – timeless, beautiful, thought-provoking, yet completely empty and abandoned.  It is a haunting feeling, roaming around in these dwellings, wondering what stories they could tell.  In fact, there was really no one around to tell us those stories.  There are permanent caretakers and servants housed there, but they seem to have little or no interest in being tour guides or historians for us.  All we had to go by was a mimeographed page on our kitchen counter to give us a briefing on the back-story of the place.

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It seems that this gentleman, Tom Johnston, was an advertising professional in the States who became enamoured with the enchanting island of Bequia in the late 50′s.  He purchased the Moonhole Peninsula for a very low price, and began building these houses from sketches in the sand.  Though he had never designed a house before, he learned by trial and error and began a decades-long obsession with making these crazy, Flinstones-like abodes for his friends.  Apparently, he was determined to create a community that blended in with its environment.  He called the village a “Human Preserve”.

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Everywhere you walk in this Neverland reveals another surprise, another object of beauty and mystery.  This lone archway built on the rocks of the beach holds a lot of symbolic power for me somehow.  There are local tales of mermaids, and I could easily imagine one languishing in this spot.  The trails wind through low forests of palms, scrub oak, strange cactuses and engulfing vines.  Air plants and bromeliads sprout from every branch and crevice.

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Below are some shots of the original cluster of houses built back in the 60′s.  This is what you see in the picture at the top of this post, but from up above looking down through the “Moonhole”.  This area was a little dangerous to walk in – the stairs coming down from the ridge were slowly separating from the cliff!  The houses were long-since uninhabitable and they looked like the ruins of some ancient, forgotten culture.

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As you enter the property on the peninsula, you pass through the quarry from where all this stone once came.  The stone there is a soft, dark limestone that almost looked like basalt to me.  I asked the fellow why he was breaking up the stones so small.  He replied that this was used for building up the neighboring airstrip, which is a man-made flat area on the water.  As you can imagine, people on this island have a lot of time on their hands!

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Our house was amazingly well designed with four floors and lots of quirky nooks and crannies.   We feasted on mangoes, jackfruit, lobster, goat curry (made by our kind and saintly hostess), and watched the sea from our perch atop the ridge.

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I was completely enchanted with this place – not just the splendor of the Moonhole Peninsula, but the entire island of Bequia and the surrounding islands.  I feel we only scratched the surface of this wealth of beauty, and I someday hope to return.  Below are a few more photos of the houses we explored.

Mark Shepherd    www.ShepherdStoneworks.com

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Mark Shepherd    www.ShepherdStoneworks.com

Bringing the finest in Stone Masonry to the Greater Seattle Area.

Natural stone walls, patios, steps and rockery of all sizes.

Mortared stone veneers, fireplace surrounds, and interiors.

Integrated landscape design and installation.

Mark

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