Welcome to the inspired interview series! In this series we'll interview incredible people with compelling and inspiring stories from across the globe to help you start living your inspired life.
WHAT IS THE INSPIRED LIFE?
The Inspired Life will feature stories that range from survivors of incredible hardships to those who chose to do something extra-ordinary with their time on this planet. We'll learn what it means to live an inspired life; one filled with sense of fulfillment and appreciation for all that it means to be alive.
One important characteristic I expect we'll find with our guests in this new series - none of them appear to be in it for the money. I think most of us realize that money is not the path to happiness. Yes, we need money to live and survive. To buy fun toys and to visit amazing places, but it should be a means to other goals, never the goal in itself.
Of course it's no simple answer to just pick up and leave our jobs, we all have responsibilities, obligations and debts to pay. But my hope with this interview series is that readers are able to find their own way, a path for themselves that leads towards one's own sense of fulfillment.
I think it's clear that there are no short cuts to make your inspired life a reality, but changing your life for the better can all start with a single spark. In fact, it can start with the next decision you make.
The Inspired Interview: Meet Monica and Martin of Crystals St Lucia
Today we interview Monica and Martin, owners of Crystals St Lucia. A resort like no other, located in the jungle mountains of the Caribbean. But before we go right into the interview, lets start with some backstory.
First, what is Crystals St Lucia?
If Monica were answering I'm sure she'd say in her wonderful British accent, "Well it's definitely not a hotel darling!"
And if you've been lucky enough to visit it's mountain jungle location you'd agree Crystals is much more...
"Crystals is a one of a kind Tree House property with a cluster of unique cottages and Villas built into the trees. It is nestled away in the hillside with most spectacular views of the piton mountains, ocean and the picturesque town of Soufriere."
Crystals St Lucia, brimming with Caribbean mystery and island magic, is indeed a one of a kind travel destination. With views where jungle mountains take centre stage, its landscape will fuel your imagination and re-energize any soul.
The piton mountains, set next to the clear turquoise ocean waters off the town of Soufriere, are two alluring jagged tooth mountain peaks that seem lost in a prehistoric time. These mountain peaks are visible in nearly every tree house villa on the grounds.
Wondering what jungle tree house styled villas look like up close?
Well, watch the video below...
The visual beauty was the initial reason we wanted to visit. But then we read the reviews. It was clear the owners took a special pride in welcoming you into their world and I knew we had to experience it for ourselves. But first, we had to figure out how to get there.
It was October of 2017 when we visited. Arriving late in St Lucia's industrial port and capital city of Castries (photo above), we spent the night at a local Inn. We had taken the advice not to attempt the drive to Soufriere by night, but we didn't exactly understand why, after-all, it was only 1.2 hours drive to our destination.
At sunrise we picked up our car rental and made our way towards Soufriere on a highway that began deceptively easy. But it wouldn't take long before we realized we were in for a unique driving experience. See map squiggles below. Yes thats the highway.
As we began our ascent into the jungle the wide highway road narrowed into a two way lane with endless turns.
We drove slowly, carefully, and took each turn as if it was our last, while a few less patient and potentially crazy locals raced by as if part of an episode of Top Gear. But just drive slow and you'll be fine, or catch a ferry to Soufriere for the easiest way there.
With the road happily behind us, we found ourselves at the front entrance of Crystals resort. Greeted by the warm and amazing smile of Monica, the co-owner standing at its entrance.
Monica pointing out the many breathtaking views and incredible craftsmanship Crystals was built on, somewhere between imagination and reality, where the jungle and villas merge as one. The pictures did not do it justice.
We then strolled back to the main building, a massive treetop villa of its own, with a winding stone and concrete path that led to a second level open aired lounge and restaurant where rum punch was served nightly.
Decorated with influences from the Caribbean, Africa, India and Asia, the open aired lounge also included a fully stocked bar, and above it, an internet cafe patio that looked out towards the pitons. But the most spectacular features for me were the villas.
After the tour, Monica explained that they host a complimentary rum punch social every night in the open aired lounge for guests of the villa. "Come by at 6pm and we'll have a chat and a rum. Martin, my husband, should be free by then and I'm sure share some stories, and maybe play some music for you."
Monica it would turn out, was very modest in her introduction of Martin.
With his keyboard busted due to spilt rum or a champagne mishap, Martin found his guitar and sat with us in the jungle treetop lounge.
That night we quickly dispensed with formalities and took turns sharing personal stories from our lives like old friends would. Maybe it was the wind howling through the jungle, maybe it was the rum punch, but something opened us up to fully embracing the experience. There was something deeply humbling about the stories shared. Something that Alan Watts and I'm sure Martin would say links us all together as a people. As family. And we can't forget about the music.
Martin, one of the best story tellers I have ever encountered on this planet, filled our minds with stories of life, love, loss, and island magic. He asked us to consider new ways to see the world and each other.
He reminded us of all the mystery that exists in this world. A magic that is often difficult to see inside the walls of our concrete cities. A place 20th century Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov predicted humanity would eventually lock themselves in, losing touch with nature and reality itself.
Months later and the stories and perspectives from that trip left a lasting impression on us. The ideas remained like a blueprint, a guide towards the future.
After we left St Lucia, I found it difficult to explain it all to friends and family back in Canada. And naturally, a growing list of questions entered my mind:
How did Monica and Martin do it? How did they create a place as wonderful as this?
What makes Crystals a success? Why did we love it so much?
What advice can they give to those of us looking to make a change in our lives?
I had an idea on some of the answers, but I asked if they'd agree to the interview, which they humbling and thankfully did.
Here are their replies to my questions, written by Monica, with some inserted ideas of my own for added context.
1. Monica - When did you first decide to go out on your own and build Crystals St Lucia? What was the moment or catalyst?
Monica: "I had been working on island as the general manager for many prestigious hotels for over a decade. The time came for change. I wanted to share my own vision and create something unique to St Lucia. 13 years ago Martin and I decided to take the plunge and that is when Crystals was born."
And plunge in they did. Monica and Martin selected a location that was breathtaking but completely undeveloped, void of any services such as running water or electricity. They would build directly into the thick jungle mountainside. They started from square one. There was land and opportunity - but it required a grand vision and something else...
2. What were your biggest obstacles or struggles when you got started?
Monica: "When we first planted our flag on the plot of rainforest land that is now Crystals, there was no road, no access to electricity, water or phone lines. In a way we had no choice but to become the eco-friendly hotel that we are today. Today we use solar heating systems, and filtered rain water that we collect on property. The road we have now is not much of a road but we think it adds character!"
Monica: "It was also especially difficult as a small property to get our name out there on a global scale. The advertising giants like Trip Advisor and the social media platforms were not yet invented. Travel agents didn't know what to do with us. We were in the middle of the jungle and not like your typical all inclusive Caribbean resort. It was a struggle but we are thankful for how far we have come and thankful for our guests who told their friends, who told their friends."
Ingenuity and vision were the other key ingredients along with, hard work, and word of mouth. And an understanding that to make Crystals a success, they had no choice but to put their heart and souls into it. They were building something incredible. But it all took time, patience and a never ending supply of will to make it happen.
And the reason word of mouth has spread, the reason I'm writing this article months later after our trip to Crystals St Lucia?
Well its as simple as the meaning of life. In life sometimes you meet people that are genuine, and some that are good, and some that are willing to share their world with you. In Monica and Martin you get the complete package. The full meal deal.
And not to make light of the small but highly versatile team that keeps Crystals up and running 24/7 365 days per year. They are the unsung heros of Crystals. They, through rain or shine, will run, with breakfast in hand (photo above), delivering you a wonderful meal each morning directly to your villa. Or if a coconut tree falls on the road, one of their leading men Wayne will be there to cut it up in minutes and drop off a few coconuts at your door, pre-cut and with a straw inserted.
It was clear very early into our stay that Crystals was built by owners who were living within their life purpose. And I think that in itself would be an incredible way to spend the rest of your life - knowing that even on your bad days, you'd still feel a sense of purpose and satisfaction because it was inside a world you loved. A world you had built from scratch. A place you knew others would appreciate and love as well.
3. For someone starting their own business, or changing direction in their career or life, what advice can you give?
Monica: "Life is short, take a chance! There is nothing like being your own boss, even though it comes with hard work and great responsibility."
Taking a chance does not necessarily mean dropping your day job, not without a plan. But it can mean focusing on what makes you tick. Focusing on what makes you feel awake and alive inside. It's what gets you up early in the morning ready to conquer the world.
Taking a chance could be as simple as signing up for an art class you've always wanted to take. Or it could mean volunteering for the first time at your local community centre or beyond.
It could also mean working hard, saving your cash and finding a way to leave your old life behind for something new. We are all in different places in our lives so the path you choose is uniquely yours.
4. What inspires you to keep going with your projects, and what keeps you happy and satisfied in life?
Monica: "My passion for Crystals keeps me going. It's more than a hotel, it's my baby. We are constantly upgrading and developing to make Crystals a special and memorable piece of paradise for our guests. I love every minute of of my job, from meeting our guests to travelling the world to find beautiful things new and old to add to the uniqueness of Crystals."
Constantly upgrading indeed. When we visited a new villa was near completion, with decor and artwork that was a mix of new world chic, classic antique, and of course warm inviting jungle elements that all danced together with perfection. Rooms and villas like this seem reserved for Football players and the world elite, but somehow Monica and Martin are able to keep the prices affordable and within reach.
Martin also had something interesting to say about how he maintained a sense of happiness when we visited. Martin made a point to practice continuous learning. Be it learning how to play a new musical instrument, or learning a new trade, like plumbing or carpentry. It kept his brain alive and it was another key to maintaining his sense of balance, contentment and happiness.
5. If there is one thing your current self could tell the Monica or Martin from 10 or 20 years ago what would you say to them and why?
Monica: "I would say get good help. We have a great team now but often good help is hard to find. I would also tell the less wise and over stressed version of myself, to be sure to make time for yourself. Even though I have no days off, I now make time to vacation and visit family at least one week out of the year."
Truer words can not be spoken. Take time for yourself and surround yourself with good people. We met the team and love them all. There was a sense of pride in what they did and what they had created with their own hands. Their happiness was infections, which we witnessed at a staff party we were invited to before our departure. Good, honest, friendly people, filled with joy.
We were lucky enough to spend many days at Crystals St Lucia. A place filled with inspiration for all of us.
Its a place where vision, ingenuity, hard work and teamwork have all come together as one. It's a place where magic and mystery truly do live in a natural harmony.
Put it all together and everything at Crystals was designed from a place of love - from an idea focused on creating a authentic experience for the sake of experience itself.
The great British philosopher Alan Watts is famous for saying the meaning of life is simple "The meaning of life is to experience it for yourself." And at Crystals you certainly will.
What I underestimated before we arrived at Crystals St Lucia was how warm, genuine and welcoming the owners and staff would be.
We did not feel like guests. We felt as if we had just arrived home.
Lastly, Crystals is a place where we can all learn and take valuable lessons from:
Lessons to cherish the ones we love, that we are all connected on this planet, and that our lives are but brief. It takes me back to this quote again, as Anatole France once said, "To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe."
Thanks again to Monica, Martin and the entire team of Crystals St Lucia for agreeing to this interview!
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