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