Hello friends! I’ve been busy these past few months volunteering on Mayreau Island.

Say what? Where the hell is Mayreau Island?

That was my question, too, late last year when I heard about this volunteering opportunity.

Mayreau Island is in the Caribbean. It’s part of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Specifically, Mayreau is one of the southern Grenadines.

I felt the call to help the dogs on Mayreau. It’s all part of my journey on finding my way.

It’s not always about how many stamps are in your passport, but the accomplishments you make along the way.

Getting to Mayreau Island

It’s not easy or cheap getting to Mayreau Island. I was in England when I booked a flight. A return flight because the ticket was cheaper than a one way ticket.

I mean, go figure. What’s up with airlines that they can’t seem to get that right? Even if I wasn’t planning to use the return flight, I would have still bought a return ticket to save money. And then I just wouldn’t have showed up at the airport on the departure date.

I flew with Virgin Atlantic. They have a direct flight from London Heathrow that stops first in the Barbados to let off passengers, and then continues to St. Vincent.

I stayed in the Kingstown area for a few nights until taking the Jaden Sun fast ferry to Mayreau and costs $120 East Caribbean Dollars (or about USD $44 or Canadian $60). The Jaden Sun runs to the Southern Grenadines three times a week, stopping in Bequia and Canouan islands, before arriving in Mayreau. The crossing takes about two hours or so.

There’s another ferry, the Bequia Express that also operates to Mayreau three times a week, but takes longer. It also carries freight and packages and it’s hard to estimate how long it will take. Island time, you know. About 5 to 6 hours is average for the Bequia Express to arrive in Mayreau. The cost on the Bequia Express between Mayreau and Kingstown, St. Vincent is East Caribbean Dollars $80 (USD $30 or Canadian $40).

So you can only get to Mayreau by boat. Either on one of those ferries or bring your own sailboat!

Volunteer

The organization I volunteered with is Mayreau Animal Welfare. The information I received was that the volunteers would be living in one of two available houses that were very basic island homes. Each house has four or five dogs living there and duties are walking them and feeding them twice a day. Then we fill up water containers and walk a route to check that island dogs have water.

Believe it or not, many dog owners do not give their dogs water. In that heat! It was 30C and higher every day thanks to the humidity! Some dogs didn’t get fed either so we also supplemented them with food. And there were a few dogs we had permission to walk, but due to the heat, that wasn’t always possible.

And then there are the goats. The lucky goats are not tied and can wander around the island freely and have a chance of finding water. Most goats are tied with a rope and stake without water. Hearing them cry because they’re thirsty is so heartwrenching. I had thirsty goats on my route that I brought water to.

I started early before the sun got too hot and was usually finished everything between 9 and 10am. Then the rest of the day was free to do whatever. That usually included hitting the beach and going for a swim to cool off.

Beautiful beaches

OK, aren’t the sun, sand, and sea the reason people love visiting the Caribbean?

That’s what drew me in for sure!

My favorite beach was the beautiful Salt Whistle Bay. It was a 15 minute walk to get there. Keeping in mind the houses on Mayreau are on top of a hill, so when you walk down to the beach, you have to walk back up again. These islands were formed by volcanoes and have steep hills!

Saline Bay is also gorgeous, and a closer walk. This is where the ferries come in and the bay is not as protected as Salt Whistle so the waves can get a little rough.

Shopping

There aren’t many services on Mayreau Island. There are three small grocery stores about the size of a bedroom.

Now you’d think there would be loads of tropical fruits grown on the islands available.

Wrong!

One shop got bananas in once or twice a week. The other two shops might have onions and potatoes. Occasionally carrots.

At Salt Whistle Bay, where most sailboats anchor, there is another shop and that might have some more produce like sweet potatoes, cabbage, and maybe even apples and mangoes.

Generally I had to make a Friday afternoon trip to Union Island to buy fresh produce. Friday is the only day the ferry goes to Union, stays there three hours, and then heads back to St. Vincent, stopping in Mayreau along the way.

$40 East Caribbean dollars each way for this excursion, about $20 Canadian or $15 US dollars. So buying fresh produce can get pricey quickly!

Another reason to visit Union Island is there is a bank with an ATM there. St. Vincent and The Grenadines are pretty much a cash only society. Even those darned ferries only take cash! Your plastic is no good in these islands. Get yourself to the ATM on Union Island for cash. And then it becomes another question. How much cash are you comfortable having on you?

Dining out

There are a few restaurants and bars on Mayreau Island. Sometimes they’re open, often they are not.

Depending on what you’re ordering and which restaurant, the food might be reasonably priced or very expensive.

One afternoon I went to Lolo’s, a beach bar on Saline Bay, near where the ferry comes in. I had a tuna salad, fries, and a Coke. It came to $50 East Caribbean dollars, or about $25 Canadian dollars. That would be approximately what I’d pay for a similar meal back in Canada.

I also had pizza there one night. All they had that I could eat was vegetarian pizza and it cost $50 ECD or $25 Canadian. The pizza wasn’t that great. But I was hungry!

One night I went to the Island Paradise restaurant and ordered a lobster sandwich, fries, and pineapple soda. That came to $40 ECD, about $20 Canadian, and I thought that was quite reasonable.

I returned there on my last night in Mayreau hoping to order it again, but was informed the kitchen was closed and they were no longer serving food. It was about 7pm. Same thing with the Combination, just a little down the hill. Only serving drinks. So I walked down the hill to the beach (and we are talking steep hills here especially when it comes to walking uphill) to Lolo’s only to find the staff washing utensils and saying they were closed for food service.

Geez! Try to get someone to take my money in exchange for a meal! Well you can’t say I didn’t try.

Hot hot hot!

The temperature stayed pretty consistent on Mayreau. Highs between 28 to 30C and low around 25C. But due to the humidity, it felt a few degrees higher.

Once we got through walking, feeding, and water runs, it was time to take a refreshing dip in the Caribbean Sea. I’m pretty cautious with the sun and try to stay out of it. So, maybe a country in the sub-tropics was not the best choice for me! At the beach I’d find a tree to sit under in the shade. I also spent afternoons and some early evenings at one of the houses that got a strong breeze blowing through it. It was nice and cool there.

Unfortunately the house I was staying at did not get that breeze. It was uncomfortably hot to sleep. And I use the word sleep lightly because I wasn’t getting much of it. I’d sleep on top of the sheet and some nights I’d wake up drenched in sweat.

The organization doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on luxuries like air conditioning or fans and the electricity to run them. But when expecting international volunteers, I think this is something they need to implement in the future. Sooner rather than later.

Noisy island life

Mayreau Island is one of the noisiest places I’ve ever visited.

Islanders are loud. They shout louder than any other group of people I’ve met! And the reason they have to shout so loudly is to have a conversation when the music is blasting.

Seriously. The islanders might not have a lot of money, but what they have goes into the loudest boom box speaker systems they can buy.

It’s kind of like going camping and there is always one asshole that thinks the entire campground wants to listen to their music selection and blasts it away.

Pitiful, compared to the sound systems that Mayreau Islanders have!

On Mayreau, eventually someone will get tired of listening to the music that’s been blasting the island for a few hours and then they’ll crank up their own boom box, drowning out the first guy’s music.

Yeah, like I’d have ever thought that would be possible!

Just when you think it’s not possible for the music to get any louder – it does!

Now, generally speaking, I did enjoy the music choices. My only objection was the volume.

Like my opinion mattered!

Water shortages

The second Saturday I was on Mayreau, after a bad night’s sleep, I woke up for good around 6am to a lot of noise. People shouting, dogs barking. The usual. Except more of it.

I looked outside and there were people on the path near the house.

Across the street I noticed a hose, coming from a water source that looked like a small fire hydrant. The islanders were lining up for water, bringing whatever vessels they had that could carry water like plastic bottles and blue rain barrels.

You’d be correct in thinking there is no way to budge those blue barrels once they’re full of water. The barrel owners put a lid on them and return throughout the week carrying buckets of water back to their house.

Sad really. Especially coming from a part of the world where water comes in pipes from a regional source. Eventually I’m returning to an unlimited water supply and the islanders are still struggling for water.

The water supply on Mayreau Island comes when it rains and is funnelled from the roof into cisterns. The rainy season is usually June to December. Except last year it was not so wet and this year everyone is running out of water.

This hose set up is coming from an island source up at the top of the hill where rainwater is also collected. And it is running low too.

Friendly islanders?

It was not quite the idyllic small island living I’d thought it would be. Now, most of the people on Mayreau were very nice and friendly. Happy to see foreigners and wanting to know more about these far off places where we came from.

Other islanders were quite resentful of the animal welfare organization, and that meant hostile towards the volunteers, too. Why? Well they thought the organization was making money off them.

Wrong!

The organization is mostly funded by a couple who run it from England. And why are they in England? Working jobs. So they can provide food and veterinary care to the island animals. This is why they rely on volunteers – because they are home making a living and can’t be on the island taking care of dogs and goats.

Occasionally I was dealing with the resentment and will outline a few bad incidents that happened to me.

The goat head

One morning I discovered a goat head sticking out of the ground behind one of the dog houses. And the only female dog on the property guarding it.

That was a shocker!

What I didn’t know was if the rest of the goat was buried there and I was only seeing the head. But how could someone get on the property and take the time to dig a hole big enough for a goat? One of the dogs would have bit an intruder for sure.

Also this island is hot and the hard, sun-baked ground is very difficult to dig holes.

Another volunteer arrived almost right away, grabbed a rake, and poked the goat. It was just the head.

So now that makes you wonder. What kind of a sick, sorry son of a bitch tosses a goat head into the garden? And where is the rest of the goat? Curry?

Then I spent most of the day trying to find a shovel. No one has shovels in their garden sheds. Eventually I was able to borrow a shovel from a Canadian couple who have a very nice home on the island. And a well stocked shed.

I dug a hole large enough for the head. Keeping in mind the ground was rock hard and tough to dig a hole. Then I put some rocks and bricks on it so the dogs on the property couldn’t dig it up again.

Whew! What a day! And I am forever grateful to the kind couple who loaned me the shovel and invited me to stay for dinner.

Baby goat

As if being gifted a goat head wasn’t bad enough, the following month there was a dead baby goat on the property. Minus its head.

Yeah gross.

The organizers happened to be on the island and I went up to get his assistance in getting rid of the dead little goat.

So someone just tossed that into the yard too. Like what kind of sicko walks around with a dead baby goat and then tosses it in someone’s yard?

One of the volunteers had seen a dead baby goat the previous night and went back to where she saw it, and it was gone. We surmised that was the goat that ended up in the yard.

Sadly, not all baby goats survive. The mama goats aren’t getting enough food and water to produce milk, and the first few days of any newborn livestock is critical to drink that for survival.

Machete attack?

On Mayreau Island, men often walk around with machetes. Yeah up and down the streets. You wanna give these guys a wide berth! Back in Canada, you see someone walking down the street with a machete – you call the cops!

Anyway they use the machetes for cutting back their gardens and chopping tree limbs for whatever they’re planning to build. If they have goats that they’re actually feeding, machetes are used to chop foliage for them.

Myself and another volunteer were walking the dogs. We each had two dogs on leashes. Ahead of us we saw two loose dogs chasing a goat down the hill. The goat fell and the dogs were on top of it. We were about 50 feet away and screaming at the dogs. People came running out of the houses. The goat got away. The two dogs ran back up the hill.

This asshole named Kion runs at us with a machete. And we’re yelling at him that none of our dogs were involved. The loose dogs had already run off. Like he was going to kill a dog with a machete?

Crazy!

I took the leashes of all the dogs and the other volunteer checked on the goat. It was fine.

A quick word on Kion who is from Grenada. A few months ago he stabbed another man and is waiting trial. In early May I heard that he paid the victim $1,000 to drop the charges.

Yup. Island justice. And the rest of the good people in Mayreau have to worry about this creep living there too.

Unprovoked attack

One evening around 6pm, me and another volunteer were just about back at the house after walking the dogs to the beach. We each had two dogs on leashes. Less then 2 minutes from the house, we were walking down a road and I saw that son of a bitch Kion.

Nobody said anything. The dogs were quiet. We walked toward the path back to the house.

All of a sudden Kion picks up a 4 foot stick lying on the road and rushes towards me, swinging the stick. The two dogs I was walking started barking and lunged at him, pulling me to the ground. I held on to the dogs the entire time so he wouldn’t hurt them.

He never said a word, just stood about 7 or 8 feet from me swinging that stick.

I screamed at him to get away, to walk up the driveway. All I wanted was for him to get away from me so I could get up, get the dogs to stop barking, and take them home. The dogs were trying to protect me. One of the other dogs broke loose from the other volunteer and lunged at the attacker. He hit the dog twice, who then ran up the hill.

Finally Kion walks up the driveway of the house in front of where this happens. When he gets further away from me, he started swearing in whatever island language. I don’t speak that language but I got the gist he was swearing when I heard fuck a few times.

My forearm was bleeding from where I fell hard on the ground. After I got the dogs home, I headed to the house where the organizers were to let them know what happened and to clean up the cut. Also took photos.

Then I went to report to the policeman on the island.

The following morning he took me by boat to the police station on Union Island where they took my statement. The other volunteer was also there and gave a statement. Then they took me to the hospital to check out the cut. The doctor said I needed stitches.

I have never had stitches before in my life! That incident got me one stitch.

And typical island justice, that creep is still free and walking around Mayreau Island.

Leaving Mayreau

Yes, I know. The idea of living on a Caribbean island sounds amazing.

But not in that kind of heat and humidity without air conditioning. And this year apparently has been the worst for high temperatures.

And dealing with water shortages? That should not be the volunteer’s responsibility.

And I get it. Once I leave Mayreau Island I will be someplace where the water is piped in and not running low. But the people and animals of Mayreau Island will struggle with scrounging up water.

OK, let’s just say there were a couple of other unpleasant occurrences on Mayreau that I won’t get into, but I also believe it is the organizer’s responsibility to ensure their volunteers are safe. And I’m not talking about safe from the islanders because aside from that asshole Kion, generally this is a crime-free place.

On May 3 myself and another volunteer were returning from walking the dogs. I wasn’t feeling quite right, puffing a bit and elevated heart rate. I headed over to the clinic – staffed by nurses during the week – and checked my blood pressure. It was very high. 155 over 100. I was pretty much in tears. Back in BC, I checked my blood pressure once or twice a month and I know I’m normal. And I know a too high reading is not good.

The doctor comes to Mayreau on the first and third Monday of the month, so he’d be there in three days. My travel insurance covers me for trip interruption, so I saw the doctor, told him everything I’d been dealing with, and he signed off the paperwork.

I changed my flight to return to London a few days later.

There’s nothing more important to me than my health. It was time to stop taking care of dogs and start taking care of me.

Good news. A week after I arrived back in England, my blood pressure has dropped to almost normal again.

Making a difference volunteering on Mayreau Island

Making a Difference: Volunteering on Mayreau Island

I will end this post with photos of some of the beautiful dogs I took care of every day.

Starting with the spay/neuter clinic the organizers arranged. Yes, I got on the job hands on training as a veterinary assistant!

There are many dogs on Mayreau Island available for adoption if you’re available to give a dog a better life back in the states or Canada.

Goodbye to Mayreau Island

While I was waiting for the ferry at 6:30 in the morning, some of the dogs came down the wharf to say goodbye to me.

The farewell committee!

And let’s finish up with a beautiful sunset.

Oh, and let’s add one more sunset shot featuring some goats!

Have you visited Mayreau Island?

Published by Cheryl @ The Lifestyle Digs on May 22, 2024.

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