When I was scouring the internet for any available information about Dominica during those first few days following Hurricane Maria, I came upon some aerial photographs. Very little news was leaking out of the island, as it was basically cut-off from the outside world for several days. As I quickly scanned dozens of shots, I could hardly recognize once-familiar places on the island. The apocalyptic views only made me fear the worst for everyone in Dominica, and my heart skipped several beats when I came upon a view of Beau Rive Boutique Hotel. I knew that the proprietor, Mark Steele was overseas, as September was the usual month in which the hotel was closed and he took a well-deserved break. There were a few comments beside the shocking photo and I added my own: “OMG, has Mark seen this?”
Fearing the worst, I immediately fretted about an ominous outlook for hurricane-impacted Beau Rive. For me, the lovely hotel had always been an idyllic escape from the busy-ness around Roseau. Once or twice a year, for over a decade, I would traverse the island, en route to the east coast where I would immerse myself in its complete serenity, casual elegance, extraordinary hospitality and tantalizing meals. I considered it a true Dominica ‘east coast’ retreat and I always felt ‘at home’ there.
As I consistently enjoyed every visit, I could never resist writing about my exceptional experiences at this award-winning hotel, and as such, I included several pieces in my Ti Domnik Tales blog . They can be found here.
My worst fears became a blunt reality when it was confirmed that this international award-winning accommodation incurred severe damage during the storm. When Mark found out about the wrath of Maria during his overseas travels, his first concern was for his staff and their well-being. Initially, he had no idea of the extent of the devastation. Even before he was able to make his way back to the island, he had organized an online fundraising campaign for his staff, now jobless. It quickly reached about $20,000 USD from compassionate and concerned former guests, many of whom had become friends with the Beau Rive family during their often-repeat visits.
When Mark arrived back in Dominica, the whole surreal scene must have been a severe shock to his soul. He had lovingly built the impressive hotel by hand, yet his perspective remained focused on concern for the plight of others. Regardless of his personal loss, he seemed determined to find a way forward, despite this unforeseen catastrophic event.
I did have the pleasure to see him a couple of times while I was on-island a few months after Maria, and I was encouraged that he was forging ahead with other plans and possibilities. I admired his tenacity and focused efforts to complete his ‘retirement’ home, which had sustained damage and losses during and after the storm.
In the mean time, he made a temporary shelter for himself in the only dry room in the hotel. While there, he reported that he was making his way through a substantial number of books that still sat on shelves in the sitting room. Miraculously,they were not damaged by the howling winds or the driving rains. And to think he was enjoying them all by flashlight in the complete darkness, as there was no electricity for months to come. As well, he could only communicate via cell phone calls or texts, as wireless internet was non-existent at that time. You can read more about Mark’s musings and activities post-Maria on his Facebook page here.
It was about mid-March when I finally visited with him near Castle Bruce at the once-beautiful Beau Rive. Our mutual friend, birding specialist and tour guide extraordinaire Bertrand Jno Baptiste, a.k.a. ‘Dr. Birdy’ (more on other touring adventures in subsequent posts) drove me across the island so that we could first visit the Emerald Pool, a renowned eco-tourism site and then spend a few hours on the east coast, in Mark’s congenial company.
When we first arrived, it was all I could do to hold back the tears. Mark, as always, came out of the changed entrance way to greet us. I could only offer him a huge hug and a big pat to Maxim, one of his beloved dogs that had survived the hurricane. All around me was evidence of the massive destruction. Bits and pieces of galvanized roofing material, random boards, guttering, downed trees chopped into segments and other types of debris were neatly piled up along the lane-way. Dr. Birdy, with his ever-sharp eyes, spotted an errant nail near the parking spots and we immediately looked around for others – one of the lingering hazards all over the island post-Maria.
Mark took us through the reception and library areas and we ended up by the once operational swimming pool. We did not venture upstairs, where the extensive destruction of the bar, kitchen and dining areas, now with a non-existent roof must have caused Mark tremendous heart-break. I could instantly recall the many fine meals I had enjoyed in those serene surroundings overlooking the ocean, which I cherished as fond memories of time well-spent at Beau Rive.
As Mark further described the situation to us, I felt the tears pricking my eyelids again. I did not take photos of the devastation of this outstanding Dominican
property as I felt that would only add insult to injury. Instead, we chatted about Mark’s experiences when he returned to Dominica after the hurricane. As well, he shared some of his ideas about future plans, which I will leave for him to disclose publicly! I gazed all around me and tried to get my mind to adjust to the drastically altered scene. Castle Bruce and environs on the island’s east coast had suffered severe blows from the extreme sea blast of the category 5 winds that left much of the lush landscape burnt and battered. It seemed that it would take a longer time for nature to recover on this side of the island and in the areas where the wrath of Hurricane Maria basically tore up everything in its path.
Sea Views from Beau Rive in different times. They are taken at slightly different angles and heights, nevertheless, the change in the terrain is dramatic! On the left, a pre-Maria view and right, six months post-Maria!
After a filling Dominican lunch at the nearby Islet View Restaurant, we drove to Mark’s house, which was nearing completion before Maria but was not habitable due to damages and losses incurred in and following the horrific storm. Despite the ravages of Maria and its aftermath, I was, as always, completely taken with the beautiful panorama in Mark’s personal piece of paradise. In this idyllic setting,
sheep peacefully grazed and Dr. Birdy identified a variety of birds that flitted around the property. Although all of Mark’s goats were lost in the massive storm, he did not lose his desire to farm, raise and nurture a variety of livestock, including sheep, a bull and a cow.
Despite the beautiful outdoor environment, I was most taken with a stunning piece of stained glass, designed and carefully made by Mark’s hands. Miraculously, it had survived the storm and I take that to be a very good sign! It is my sincere hope that in this sensational tropical setting, Mark can find peace and contentment, and renewed fulfillment as a musician and visual artist!
Although the hotel as I once knew it is permanently closed, the property is up for sale and I expect that any prospective buyer could make the most of this extraordinary site. But whatever future fate befalls the former Beau Rive, I do know that Mark
will make the most of his changed situation. And I will always cherish my fond memories of a place that I have truly loved on Dominica.