Dominica’s ‘Hotel The Champs’ Rebounds After Maria

Cabrits in daylight
Daytime View of The Cabrits and Fort Shirley from Hotel The Champs six months after Hurricane Maria.

During my post-Maria visit to Dominica, I had briefly chatted with Hans Schilders and Lise Van de Kamp,

Hans & Lise at The Champs 2013
Hotel The Champs Proprietors Lise Van de Kamp and Hans Schilders.

Proprietors of Hotel the Champs in Picard, near Portsmouth before actually staying at their establishment in March 2018. Up to then, we just  happened  to meet up by chance at various venues around Roseau, such as the Fort Young Hotel and the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association.

As this stay on-island came to a close, I looked forward to spending some quality time in their company at their award-winning five-room hotel on the hill. From their location, I was able to get a sense of the post-Maria situation in the north of the island, take my last tour with Dr. Birdy  to  the Syndicate Nature Trail, and most of all, catch up with my dynamic hosts to learn about their post-Maria plans and climate resilience projects. (For an overview of Dominica’s intention to become the first climate-resilient country in the world,  click here  and also here)

Throughout the years I lived in Dominica, I had always enjoyed occasional visits and overnights at their establishment, as my northern base.  In fact, I was the first guest at Hotel The Champs when they opened their doors in 2008!   And six months after Maria, I was further delighted to be among other guests who were spending their vacation on Dominica at this quaint property overlooking Prince Rupert Bay, with stunning vistas of the Cabrits National Park and Fort Shirley. I have previously written about my fun-filled occasions at The Champs on my Ti Domnik Tales blog, and you can read those posts here.

Dr. Birdy  had driven  me, with all my luggage to Picard from my apartment at the home of friends Vernon and Geramise Gordon, near Roseau. After he dropped me off, I chatted briefly with Lise and we arranged to meet at the pool a bit later that afternoon. Meanwhile, I went for a short walk up the hill behind their property. I was shocked to see the extensive damage to the terrain nearby.  I already knew that The Champs had lost its entire  roof and all of its solar panels had blown away, but the force of Maria was further reinforced in my mind when I observed the devastation of the forest a short distance away from the hotel.

The hills just above Hotel The Champs were slowly recovering six months after Hurricane Maria:

 

I slowly strolled back to the hotel, and took time to gaze at the more-exposed Morne aux Diables, the island’s northernmost peak.  Without the normal shroud of dense verdant cover,  its distinct profile stood out starkly against the baby-blue sky of this serene afternoon on the Nature Isle.

Morne aux diables and environs
Morne Aux Diables on March 24, 2018, as seen from the road above Hotel The Champs in Picard, Dominica.  The town of Portsmouth is located in the foothills, centre/left of this photo.

 

I was very hot and sweaty by the time I pulled on my bathing suit and quickly showered off for my anticipated refreshing dip. In The Champs salt-water pool, I truly relaxed and savored the sensation of enveloping my body in the warm water for several minutes.  Then Lise appeared, and her infectious energy, along with a few laps together rejuvenated me as I listened to her incredible Maria stories with focused fascination.

Champs Hotel 2
The inviting pool at Hotel The Champs was fully operational, minus solar lights only, when I enjoyed it in late March 2018, six months after Hurricane Maria.

As we swam several lengths of the pool, Lise described that terrible unforgettable night on September 18, 2017. The hoteliers had stayed in one room, while their  guests were in the adjacent rooms.  They were forced to  hold the door shut against the powerful winds and horizontal rains with only their hands for an hour and half during the worst of the storm. There was no way to communicate with the people staying in the other rooms. They could only hope they were okay and protect themselves as best as possible. As it turned out, their guests from the USA were holding their door shut as well, and their French visitors on the other side remained on their bed while rainwater  gushed through the window.  Fortunately, they were all fine. But when they opened their doors after the cyclone had passed, they, like everyone else on Dominica were totally shocked by the surreal scene of devastation around them.

Lise also shared some Maria stories about her staff.  Sadly, three of them lost their homes, and some of the others left the island. But thankfully, their lives had been spared. From the original 12 who were with them before the storm, only five continue to work with them, due to the changed circumstances for everyone.

However, the proactive proprietors had decided within one week that they would reopen the hotel, and carry on as best as possible. And true to their word,  they opened their doors to guests once they had electricity, which was around the end of October, only six weeks after Maria! Although the new roof was not yet finished, the enterprising couple were able to offer A/C in the rooms, access to the pool, and meals on the balconies! The understanding guests still had internet access through Mobile hotspots, and happily tolerated cold showers until solar water heating became available in late December!*

Evening by Cabrits
View of The Cabrits and Prince Rupert Bay at dusk from Hotel The Champs.

 

After the swim and Maria stories, I changed for dinner and waited for my hosts in their temporary dining area.  The sun was setting and there were some beautifully lighted boats in the bay.  I could never tire of that view, and I felt increasingly  sedated as I sat at a table and sipped on a drink.  I noticed that Hans had his swim as the sun was setting, while amiably chatting with some of the other guests who were also refreshing themselves in the pool. By the time everyone arrived at the pre-set tables, I was feeling very sleepy.

Boats by PBH
The sea view directly in front of Hotel the Champs, along Picard Beach.

When Sabrina placed the huge fish dinner in front of me, I savored every bite on the generous plate that she had prepared until I could eat no more. Meanwhile, Hans updated me on their plans with respect to becoming a climate resilient hotel, and explained about the “water-proof” roof that had recently been completed.  When Hans excitedly described “the special roof that took forever,” he noted that its construction became a reality with consultations with several building professionals. He also said that the new roof included a “TPO” layer, which is a strong plastic glued to plywood beneath it, with heat welded seams so that the entire roof is like one complete sheet of plastic.  It is white to reflect the sun and strong enough to hold all the solar panels and even walk on it!

The Champs Hotel
Everyone from everywhere is welcome at Hotel The Champs.  The congenial hosts speak several languages too!

Mind you, these hoteliers have been thinking green for a long time.  Since they opened a decade ago, they enhanced their sustainable priorities as their business evolved, including storage and filtration of rainwater, conversion to LED lights and  installation of DC inverter units for air conditioning purposes.

It seems to me that Maria’s devastating blow only further reinforced their desire and determination to become increasingly energy-efficient and seek solutions to the concerns surrounding the climate resilience of life and property should another natural disaster or unforeseen event impact their business. Their overall objective endeavors to be fully functional within 48 hours of a disaster, once all of their infrastructure is in place!*

Over the course of my three-day stay at Hotel The

Birdy and Lise (2)
Dr. Birdy and Lise Van de Kamp made my time in the north of the island enjoyable and unforgettable! Not forgetting Hans, who was attending a meeting!

Champs, Hans and Lise took me around their property and showed me what had been restored, reconstructed, renovated, initiated and soon-to-be improved to resist a natural disaster or unforeseen loss of utility services.  My head was spinning with their ambitious projects and I could only admire and be in awe of their dedication and determination to not only improve their own enterprise, but also contribute to a more sustainable, environmentally friendly, climate-resilient way-of-life. I hope that others will follow their lead!

For me,the stunning 270 degree views from the sea-facing balconies and dining area, delicious food, congenial conversation, comfortable room and relaxing pool-time enabled me to  easily distract from the reconstruction activities, which discretely continued in the background.  My visit at Hotel The Champs was far too short and filled with activities: the exciting tour to Syndicate Nature Trail with

Hibiscus at Cabrits
A beautiful post-Maria hibiscus bloom at Hotel The Champs.  Lise was understandably very proud of it!

Dr. Birdy , more intriguing conversations with Lise and Hans, and a long walk along lovely Picard Beach.

As I prepared to depart Dominica after two months on-island post-Hurricane Maria, I felt very optimistic. While there is still a substantial rebuild in store for Nature Islanders, the Hotel The Champs is  an exceptional example of how it is definitely possible to “Build Back Better.”

When Marlon, the hotel’s driver punctually knocked on my door at 3:45 a.m. on Tuesday March 27th to drive me to Douglas-Charles airport for my early connecting flight en route to Canada, I didn’t feel quite so sad about leaving my beloved adopted country.  I believe that by the time I return next year, considerable efforts will have been put in place to work towards making the Nature Island’s structures and infrastructure as resilient as the amazing people who live there!

THE END!  (This is the last post in ‘After the Hurricane: A Post-Maria Visit to Dominica‘ blog. Thanks for reading!)

P1000470
Picard Beach, a few minutes walk from Hotel The Champs, offers incredible views of The Cabrits and Fort Shirley, as well as sun, sand and sea.

*Details of the Hotel The Champs ‘Climate Resilience’ plans were provided by Hans Schilders as a follow-up to our conversations in March 2018.  He presented his experiences and initiatives to a  symposium on  Climate Sensitization and Disaster Risk Management, facilitated by the DDA, in collaboration with the  CTO in Dominica in July 2018. I am grateful to Lise Van de Kamp for re-telling and reminding me about Maria stories from Hotel The Champs.  Sincere thanks to both of you and all the best! I look forward to spending more quality time at The Champs next time I am on-island.

 

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Author: Gwenith Whitford

I am a Canadian who lived in Dominica for almost 20 years between 1997 and 2016. The objective was to obtain an improved quality of life. However, I returned to Canada in June 2016 in order to reinstate health benefits. I intend to return to Dominica during the winter time, as cold weather and indoor environments are problematic for my health challenges. Initially, I chose the Nature Island because of its clean air, food and water, as well as a temperate climate and friendly people. Because of severe allergies and environmental health challenges, I have fared much better there than in developed countries, although my current Canadian residence is modified as best as possible with air and water filters, as well as access to organic food. My interests include writing, singing, reading and outdoor exercise such as walking and hiking. In Ti Domnik Tales, I share some of my experiences and adventures in my adopted land between 1997 and 2016. My Canary Gal blog highlights aspects of my life that concentrate on environmental health challenges, travel and related issues. After The Hurricane chronicles my visit to Dominica in the winter of 2018, a few months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. I hope you'll enjoy my blogs! Please let me know.

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