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!)

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.


Adventures with Dr. Birdy*: Searching for Parrots on the Syndicate Nature Trail


A Chatannye, with its broad buttresses, remains standing in the Syndicate Nature Preserve near Portsmouth, Dominica. The Gommier trees (with white trunks) also survived the ravages of Hurricane Maria.

There are tears in my eyes when Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste  picks me up at my apartment in the home of longtime neighbours and friends, Vernon and Geramise Gordon in Wallhouse. It’s my last morning in my old neighbourhood in Dominica, and I love it there so much, I really don’t want to go! Alas, all good things must come to an end, but this visit is not quite over yet.  I am going to spend some fun-filled time near Portsmouth, in the north of the island, stay at the hotel of friends, and search for parrots on the Syndicate Nature Trail!

When Birdy drops me off at the international award-winning Hotel the Champs, I am warmly greeted by Lise Van de Kamp, who welcomes me like an old friend.  I had already seen her, along with her partner and co-proprietor Hans Schilders in Roseau, but only briefly, and I looked forward to catching up with them and hearing their ‘Maria’ stories during my short stay with them. More on their activities in the next post!

Birdy quickly arranged pick-up time for our tour the next day.  He could not linger, as he was taking a small group to Syndicate later that afternoon. I wished him luck in sighting parrots,  and  hoped I would be fortunate to see some birds the following morning.

Bright  and early, on Sunday March 25, 2018, I am ready for today’s adventure with Birdy just before 9 a.m.. I’ve had a filling breakfast and I am all set!  Of course, he is already there when I exit the hotel.  We drive down the hill to the main road, and Birdy has

Birdy and Me
Dr. Birdy and Gwen are ready to hit the Syndicate Trail in search of parrots! Photo taken by Lise at Hotel The Champs.

already spotted a Jaco in a tree not far from Hotel the Champs.  I see it too. I am off to a good start!

We have only just begun the short drive to the Syndicate  turn-off as we proceed along the Picard portion of the E.O. Leblanc Highway.  Suddenly, Birdy pulls over, stops the vehicle, gets out, and says that he has something to show me.  He takes out his high-powered ‘telescope’ from the back of his bus, and sets it up on the shoulder of the road. We are facing a marsh, that is, wetland, and I know I must be in for a treat.  The sun is beating down, even though it is still early, and I start to sweat while I wait a few minutes for him to position the scope and locate this ‘surprise’.

“Ah hah! There it is!” proclaims Birdy,  “Gwen, come and have a look and tell me what you think it is.” I shut one eye and position the other over the view-finder. “Wow!  That is amazing.  Oh I love it.  It seems so close.  What is it doing?” I asked.  “It has young and

American Kestrel
American Kestrel as photographed through Dr. Birdy’s high-powered telescope.

that is the nest in that broken tree stump. It’s feeding juveniles right now. Tell me what you think it is,” coached Birdy.  “Hmmmm. I see the sharp beak and the claws.  Could it be a Chicken-Hawk, also known as Malfini in Creole?” I ask timidly.  “Well… you are on the right track.  It is a bird that is in the same family (Raptor or Bird of Prey) as the Hawk,” he replies encouragingly, “It is actually an American Kestrel. I hope you will remember that!” he chuckles.  “Oh Birdy, I’ll try my best.  Ask me when we pass by here later,” I laugh in reply. “I am sure you will.  You are doing well,” coaches Birdy as we continue the drive to our intended destination.

When we reach the village of Dublanc after a few minutes, we turn inland and immediately commence our steep ascent to Syndicate, in the foothills of Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s highest peak. As we drive higher and higher, I note devastated farms, mainly citrus and banana , and the strangest looking trees I have ever seen.  Somehow, their odd post-Maria appearance is more striking to me here than on the other adventures with Birdy  this trip. Maybe it’s the mighty  mountain (Diablotin) and the sparsely covered fields which form the eerie backdrop. There were moments when those twisted, bent, broken trees looked other-worldly to me.  Maybe it’s the mystery surrounding the elusive Black Capped Petril (aka Diablotin) bird that makes me feel this way.  If you’re curious, check the details by clicking here!

The other-worldliness (vine shrouded or exposed terrain) of the Syndicate Estate in the foothills of Morne Diablotin six months after Hurricane Maria:



Despite the changed beauty, I gasp with delight at the lush green terrain and inhale the fresh pure mountain air as we arrive at the trail-head.

As soon as we are out of the vehicle, Birdy  draws my attention to the beautiful flowers that line the start of the track.  It has rained here last night and the trail is slightly muddy.  I am so glad that I have worn my hiking boots, as the

going is a bit rough in spots.

I have been here numerous  times over the almost two decades that I lived in Dominica, and I find it hard to believe that there is no longer any rainforest canopy.  The foliage of tall Gommier, Chatannyé and Karapit  trees once densely covered the trail.  Now the whole area is exposed to sunlight, and regrowth is obvious. Dr. Birdy shows me several saplings in various stages of growth.  He is very encouraged by how quickly the young trees reach towards the sky in a few short months since Maria.  As always, he declares and I have come to believe that “nature is resilient.”

The rainforest canopy is still drastically reduced six months after Hurricane Maria, but there is hope that it will recover, as evidenced by regrowth on the forest floor:

As we take in this changed beauty, Dr. Birdy first hears and then points to a pair of Jaco Parrots perched in the trees not far from us.  I take this to be a good sign, and am hopeful of catching a glimpse of a Sisserou (Imperial) parrot, whose numbers have always been significantly less than the Jacos.  Since Hurricane Maria, there have been a few sightings of this endangered bird (as per the IUCN Redlist in 2016), which is only found in Dominica, and is a national symbol. I am hopeful that this will be my lucky day. If anyone can locate them, it’s Dr. Birdy, who has occasionally seen them since the destructive storm hit the island in September 2017.

As we near the look-off over the Picard River far below, Dr. Birdy has already shown me a Blue-Headed Hummingbird  perched in a tree just behind where we have already walked.  As I’ve seen several on this visit, I trust that this tiny, beautiful bird, found only in Dominica and Martinique is indeed thriving.

All of sudden, Birdy picks up his pace.  With his large telescope in hand, he rushes to the edge of the look-off.  He has heard the distinctive squawk of the Sisserou on the opposite ridge and is hopeful that we will catch a glimpse of it today! I heard it too, but I am definitely not moving as fast as he is.  By the time I catch up with him, he has already set up the scope and is gazing with intensity into the lens as he scours the opposite ridge for the reclusive bird.


Patiently, seemingly endlessly, we watch and wait.  I take in the whole scene: a slope of Diablotin, the Picard River far below, the verdant ridge directly opposite, the broken and bent trees, the blue sky, the serenity of this special space in the wilderness of Dominica.  I wander around and content myself with thoughts of the possibility of seeing a Sisserou. Suddenly, Birdy calls me over to look into the telescope.  Nope, it’s not the national bird, but instead is a Jaco feeding on a fig-like fruit on a Ficus tree.  The agile bird balances precariously on a thin

Jaco Parrot Botannical Gardens
After unsuccessful attempts to photograph a Jaco in the wild, I was thankful to have taken this photo of one in rehabilitation following Hurricane Maria. It was recovering at the Parrot Aviary in the Botanic Gardens on February 9, 2018.**

branch, even hooking his claws around it to feed upside down.  I squeal with glee in the forest.  It’s not the big bird, but it is a thrill to observe the smaller parrot as if it were only a few feet away – instead of a long distance across a ravine!  As it  moves with agility from tree to tree and branch to branch, we watch it for a good long time – until it can no longer be seen in the range of the scope.  Once more, Birdy has heard the Sisserou.  It’s over there somewhere but did not come into our view during the couple of hours we spent at this site.  It’s okay: I am really not disappointed – except that the photos I took of the Jaco through the scope did not turn out!

We make our way back to the trailhead,  and the bird sightings are not over yet. I hear a call that sounds familiar to me, once Birdy has drawn it to my attention.  We back track a little and Birdy sets up the scope again. He finds the bird perched on a high tree branch and tells me to look.  It’s a Mangrove Cuckoo and I have never knowingly seen one, although I have heard it many times over the years in my old neighbourhood south of Roseau.

With the sighting of that pretty bird, it is a fitting end to my adventures with Dr. Birdy during this return visit to Dominica.  As we drive back down the mountain, I tell him where I would like to go next time: nearby Syndicate Falls; Segment 12 of the

In the valley between these ridges, the Syndicate Falls waits for me in the continuing saga of my adventures with Dr. Birdy!

Waitukubuli National Trail; and Middleham Falls from the Cochrane Village track are tops on my list.

Learning about Dominica’s flora and fauna with Dr. Birdy is an ongoing process and I am very grateful for his enduring ‘lessons’ over the past 21 years. As we pass the wetland area where we stopped to observe a bird several hours earlier, Birdy asks: “Gwen, do you remember the name of the bird we saw his this morning?” I pause for only a second. “American Kestrel!” I shout out.  Birdy smiles. “Yes!  Now you’re getting it.”

Even after 21 years of traversing trails on Dominica, there is still so much more to see, visit and learn. I can’t wait for my next adventure with Dr. Birdy on the Nature Isle!

*Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste, a retired Forestry Officer in Dominica is a renowned and highly regarded local tour guide and birding specialist.  He can be contacted at: (767) 245-4768 (WhatsApp, text or call) or by email at:

**Sisserou (Imperial) and Jaco (Red-Necked) Parrot were photographed on February 9, 2018 and are published with permission from Dominica’s Forestry, Wildlife and Parks Division and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. In March, the Sisserou, along with a “mate” and several Jacos at the Parrot and Conservation Research Centre (Aviary) in the Botanic Gardens were transferred to the Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots  (ACTP)’s facilities in Germany.




Adventures with Dr. Birdy*: Emerald Pool After Hurricane Maria


An exposed Emerald Pool in multiple shades of green on March 15, 2018.

After my more challenging hikes of the past two weeks, to Freshwater Lake and Middleham Falls, I didn’t even bother with boots during my next adventure with Dr. Birdy. This time, we were heading to the Emerald Pool, another renowned eco-site in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, in the heart of Dominica. I anticipated that my all-terrain sandals would be suitable for our shorter “walk”on this popular track

Although not a challenging trek in my estimation, our day would be a full one.  We were going to visit with longtime friend Mark Steele of Castle Bruce on the east coast. He is the proprietor of the former Beau Rive Boutique Hotel which had sadly been destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

As we were heading up the Imperial Road to cross the interior of the island, I chose to meet Dr. Birdy  at the  convenient location of the National Bank of Dominica “on the flat” at Canefield. He is the most punctual person I know on Dominica, so I left my apartment extra early to make sure that I would be on-time for our rendez-vous.  I caught a bus to Canefield from Roseau and was at our meeting point well ahead of schedule.  Or so I thought. I had no sooner left the bus and situated myself in the shade of the bank’s entrance than who should drive up but the man himself!  As I entered Birdy’s vehicle, we  laughed openly about being early as we didn’t want the other to wait!

We were still chuckling when we commenced our climb in to the mountains along the Imperial Road.  Birdy explained that he had found a nail in his tire and had taken it  to a shop first thing  for the repair.  It was fixed right away. Hence, his reason for the early arrival. I told him that I  feared lateness, and could never do that to my friend who has always been ready to roll right on time for all adventures in Dominica over the past 21 years!

As we continued in to the higher elevations, I noted that the road was good in most places, with the exception of the Antrim area (below Springfield), which had become increasingly problematic over the years. The rest was relatively smooth and the views of mountains both north and south were simply gorgeous.

Northerly view from the Imperial Road, near Pond Casse. Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s highest peak is in the distance. There is a Jaco Parrot in the tree on the left.  Can you spot it?

It was a perfect day in paradise, and  there were occasional moments when it was almost possible to forget that a category 5 hurricane had demolished the entire country six months earlier.  But there were constant reminders: scenes of my beloved Springfield Plantation in a now dilapidated state; broken bridges; bent guard rails; eroded pavement; and ubiquitous landslides in the higher elevations brought it all home to me.  Nevertheless, I was thankful to be on the Nature Island once again, and to appreciate Birdy’s repetitive affirmation that: “Nature is resilient.”

Morne Trois Pitons from the Pond Casse round-about on March 15, 2018. Dr. Birdy chats with a man  who is waiting for a ride . Birdy’s tour bus is parked on the left.

As we headed in a southeasterly direction from Pond Cassé and then turned east (left) at the junction of the Castle Bruce Road, we noted once again the extreme destruction of the forest caused by Hurricane Maria.  Some areas looked to be “burnt” but it was more likely that the trees were stripped and the ground was very exposed without dense tree coverage.  As well, it was evident that Maria’s catastrophic winds wiped out some ridges and valleys, while on the opposite hills, the devastation was not quite as extreme.

When we arrived at the Emerald Pool parking lot and Visitor Centre, it seemed that no one else was there yet.    After a little snack, we proceeded on the trail, noting portions that were stilled closed as they had either not yet been cleared of debris or fallen trees or had experienced landslides.

In the stillness of the morning, Birdy did hear Jacos but we did not actually see any at this time. In this portion of Dominica’s wilderness, the extensive damage caused by Maria was clearly evident.  Massive trees, especially stately Chatannayé (sha-tan-ney) with expansive buttresses but shallow roots felled, broken branches everywhere, spindly saplings, plentiful vines,  lack of canopy, regrowth at ground level, varying shades of green at the now-exposed Emerald Pool made it hard to believe that I was at the same site that I had visited dozens of times over my almost 20 years on Dominica.

Magical View
Emerald Pool’s open exposure from the Viewing Platform offers more than one shade of green for the visitor’s pleasure six months after Hurricane Maria.

As we neared the viewpoint for the cascade, Birdy spotted a Rufus Throated Solitaire and I actually saw a Plumbeous Warbler, once he had pointed it out to me.  These sightings prompted Birdy to go  back to his vehicle to get his binoculars. Meanwhile, I sat on a bench overlooking the Emerald Pool, and poked around the area nearby.  The distant view of Morne Neg Mawon (aka Laurent) took my breath away, as I had never seen it so clearly from this vantage point.  But at the same time, I was saddened by the stripped foliage and barren tree trunks wrapped in climbing vines, even though their altered appearance offered a changed beauty.

Morne Neg Maron (Laurent)
Morne Neg Mawon, aka Laurent as seen from the Emerald Pool Trail on March 15, 2018.

When Birdy returned, we paused for a while directly in front of the Emerald Pool on the well-worn stone path nearby.  For about 20 minutes, we watched a Purple-Throated

Purple Throated Carib Humming bird Photo Credit
Purple Throated Carib Hummingbird. Photo Credit:  Charles J Sharp.

Carib Hummingbird flit about the rocky “wall” to the left and just above the pretty cascade.  Birdy said that it was foraging for food for its fledgling (juvenile), that must have been nestled in a crevice on the ledge.

Then we continued on the section of the trail that is known as an ancient “Carib Trace.”  It also intersects there with Segment 5 of the Waitukubuli National Trail (WNT), which was not cleared at that time. There had been landslides and rock slides along this section, so we proceeded carefully, admiring the distant vistas as we gently ascended the damaged pathway.  After a few minutes, we stopped at a covered picnic table to have a snack.  While there, Birdy pointed out a huge ‘Day-Flying Moth’ that was not readily visible in the shadow of the wooden beams of the shelter’s roof.  It took me a few minutes to see it, with Birdy laughingly and patiently waiting for me to spot it.  He definitely has the visual acuity of a bird!

The trees in the Emerald Pool area were no match for Hurricane Maria. Photos taken about six months after the catastrophic storm:

After our refreshments in the forest, we carried on to the second look-off: it took in the Belle Fille River Valley and opposite slope from our vantage point.  Hurricane Maria had certainly wreaked havoc there.  The trees were broken and seemingly leafless, but according to Birdy, in time, the exposed saplings beneath the dead wood would certainly rise and the verdant forest would be born again.

The upper Belle Fille valley, as seen from the look-off at the Emerald Pool on March 15, 2018.

A short distance further along the trail, we arrived at the third look-off and my favourite view of the area: in the distance, to the east, St. David’s Bay on the Atlantic and the Castle Bruce environs were waiting to welcome us!

The distant Atlantic, St. David’s Bay and the Castle Bruce area as seen from the look-off at the Emerald Pool on March 15, 2018.

As we drove away to reunite with our mutual friend Mark Steele and spend an afternoon in his  congenial company on the east coast, I felt so grateful to experience another of Dominica’s stunning sites.  Not even a hurricane could destroy my passion for the extraordinary Nature Island!

*Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste, a retired Forestry Officer in Dominica is a renowned and highly regarded local tour guide and birding specialist.  He can be contacted at: (767) 245-4768 (WhatsApp, text or call) or by email at:



Adventures with Dr. Birdy: A Trek to Middleham Falls in March 2018

Middleham Falls, at about 275 feet, is one of the tallest cascades on Dominica. As seen on March 8, 2018.


A cruise ship was in port at the Roseau Cruise Ship Berth when Dr. Birdy (Bertrand Jno Baptiste)** drove through the congested streets of the capital to pick me up for our hike to Middleham Falls on March 8, 2018.  When he stopped for me at the ‘Fort Young Round-About’, we almost simultaneously exclaimed that we were really tired. Birdy had driven for more than an hour through heavy traffic from his temporary home in Picard, near Portsmouth, Dominica.  He had been having occasional trouble sleeping, and like most people on-island, was still recovering from the trauma inflicted by Hurricane Maria. I wasn’t feeling one hundred per cent, but did not explain why until we reached our destination later that day. “Never mind,” I said to reassure Birdy, “We’ll feel better once we are in the forest!”

This time, our drive up the Roseau Valley was hindered by reconstruction and road works around the turn-off to the Middleham Falls trail, near Laudat.  A worker advised us that the road would be closed for a few hours, so we would not be able to exit from the interior.  However, we were not deterred, as we knew we would take our time and likely not return until it reopened anyway.

As soon as we arrived at the Visitor Centre, I took advantage of the washroom facilities, donned my hiking boots and drank some coconut water that I had brought along with me.

We were not even out of the parking lot when Birdy suddenly stopped: “Look over there!”  “Where exactly?” I asked.  Birdy pointed and remarked excitedly, ” Follow my finger. Right on that limb just above that big branch and over to your left.  It’s a Thrasher!”  Finally, I caught a glimpse of it, to the satisfaction of my teacher, and we headed off on the trail.

My legs really felt wobbly, but I hadn’t mentioned this to Birdy yet.  We had to cross the Providence River,  fast-flowing but shallow.  Plenty of slippery rocks.  Admittedly, there had been other trips here when I had taken off those boots, and then put them back on once I reached the other side.  But I could not get away with that timid approach with Birdy. “Look,” he coached, “You’ll be fine.  Just follow me and step where I put my feet, go slowly, use your pole for balance.” I took a deep breath, and did exactly that.

Miraculously, I made it across without incident and was absolutely thrilled about it.  But when I paused on the opposite bank, took a drink of water and stepped forward, my feet went out from under me. I am still not sure what happened – a loose stone or stepping on an unstable rock – but I went down for about two seconds.  I quickly bounced up, while Birdy laughingly exclaimed: “What happened to you?” My  legs trembled  slightly but I was not going to admit it. “I dunno. A loose rock and I stepped on it wrong, I guess.”

We continued along and I paused frequently to drink water and take in the very exposed track and the diminished rainforest, so different from my numerous excursions on this once-familiar trail. I have written several posts about Middleham, my favourite waterfall in Dominica on my blog Ti Domnik Tales.  You can read about those memorable outings here.

Without that canopy, I was thankful that it was a cloudy day. I was somewhat “woozy” and really didn’t  feel up to direct sunlight on my head. This pristine area, part of Morne Trois Pitons National Park was really “smashed up”, as a result of Maria. Tall trees were the exception now, as opposed to the norm.  However, the trail itself was well cleared and easy to follow, thanks to Dominica’s Forestry Division workers and helping hands from a Cuban group of volunteers.

This time, I did see the endemic blue-headed hummingbird as it whizzed by my head at the same time that Birdy noted it.  But when it perched on a nearby bough,

Blue-Headed Hummingbird. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

my eyes could not locate it. However, Birdy studied it with pleasure.

A few other birds such as Bull-finches and Plumbeous Warblers  flitted about. Sometimes Birdy even called to them by mimicking their sounds.  After more than 20 years of intensive study, he definitely knows what to do!

Dr. Birdy details a sighting of the Blue Headed Hummingbird and other forest facts during our trek to Middleham Falls on March 8, 2018.

Again, the changed terrain, downed trees and exposed trail made me wonder at times if I were really on the same track that I once knew so well. It was fairly easy-going as we ascended into the forest.  By the time we reached the junction with the Cochrane side of the trail, which also intersects with Segment 4 of the Waitukubuli National Trail (WNT) I was astounded by its new unfamiliarity.  Those tracks had not yet been cleared (the Cochrane one is open as of July 2018) and it looked like never-ending brush and

The picnic shelter and interpretive sign are located near the junction to the Cochrane end of the trail. It also intersects with Segment 4 of the WNT. I could only see brush and broken trees at that time.

broken trees for as far as I could see into the forest.

From there, the trail to the falls went off to the left – and it was all downhill from there!

I was rather fatigued, but distracted myself by distant views, as well as taking in Birdy’s thorough descriptions of everything along the way. (Although I really must record him next time!)

Seemingly suddenly, the terrain changed, and large, sometimes slippery boulders demanded skill and agility to cross over them.  In the distance, the gentle roar of the falls became apparent.  Although feeling unwell, I concentrated on Birdy’s words and setting my feet where he had placed his.  Occasionally , he offered a hand. I was tempted to tell him that I couldn’t go any farther that day.  I was just out-of-sorts.  But I said not a word, and continued to carefully maneuver my body over the huge rocks.  Within a few minutes, we were there!

A new viewing platform had recently been erected, and I exclaimed to Birdy that its location was not what I recalled from previous visits in 2014 and 2015.  In fact, there had been no structure for several years, and on other treks with friends, we simply settled ourselves on nearby boulders to admire the towering cascade.  To me, the approach seemed more difficult, but Birdy explained that because of persistent rains and perpetual dampness, the rocks were more slick than at other times.

And the waterfall really did look different.  Birdy felt that landslides, blockages and torrential rains associated with Maria might have diverted the courses of some of the water sources that used to flow into the cascade.  The torrent of water did seem diminished to me, but not for lack of rainfall!  This was in March, but January and February, normally drier months were extremely wet this year (2018).

As I guzzled my juice and inhaled my sandwich, I started to feel much better. A light mist  further moistened my already damp clothing and I inhaled deeply of the pure fresh air emanating from the flow of the falls. “Birdy, I am really sorry,” I confessed,” I’ve had the “loosey-gooseys” (diarrhea) for a few days and I really wasn’t very strong this morning. I almost told you I couldn’t go over those big rocks, but I just listened to you and followed your steps, and I made it!” Birdy smiled as he said, “I had no idea.  But you know, with hiking, sometimes it is as much mental as it is a physical effort.  If you psyche yourself to do it, then you can!”  Truer words were ne’er spoken!

While we rested and ate lunch  overlooking this sensational site, a visitor from China came along.  She appeared to have been running, and when we made her acquaintance, she admitted to being an athlete.  She really enjoyed the trail, but only stayed for a few minutes at the falls while Birdy and I took pictures of her (at her request, on her camera) as she posed like a model with the falls as her backdrop.  Then our guest was off, with me cautioning her to “be careful!”  We did not see her again, so she must have run the entire way back as well!

The different moods of Middleham Falls:

                   Left: November 2014;    Centre: May 2015;     Right: March 2018.

The return journey was much easier for me.  I really felt rejuvenated and re-energized at the falls: a total tonic for what had ailed me!  We refilled our water bottles at a spring not far from the falls and I drank deeply of this pure water, high in the mountains of Dominica.   Along the way back, I bounced over the steps, chatted merrily and seemed to have found my old self in these sensational surroundings.  But the lessons never stopped – and Birdy continually pointed out many natural wonders – birds, trees, plants and fruits of the forest while we appreciated the changed, but constantly amazing beauty of the Nature Island.

After this amazing journey, I was more than ready for the next one in a week’s time:  the stunning  Emerald Pool!

“Nature is resilient,” according to Dr. Birdy, and as evidenced by these plants and flowers in regrowth on the Middleham Falls trail in March 2018:

**Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste, a retired Forestry Officer in Dominica is a renowned and highly regarded local tour guide and birding specialist.  He can be contacted at: (767) 245-4768 (WhatsApp, text or call) or by email at:












Adventures with Dr. Birdy**: Dominica’s Freshwater Lake Trail in March 2018


Freshwater Lake Dominica, as seen from the heights of the Freshwater Lake Trail near the village of Laudat, on March 1, 2018.

On March 1st, 2018,  I waited  anxiously at the Fort Young Hotel  for my long-time friend and tour guide, Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste**. The renowned birding specialist, who is also a retired forestry officer was taking me to the Freshwater Lake Trail, at the top of the Roseau Valley.    After a year and a half away from Dominica, I was more than a little concerned that I might have lost my hiking capabilities after having lived at sea level “up north” for that length of time.  Then there was the ‘Maria’ factor: I had no idea what to expect in terms of terrain challenges or altered vistas following the devastation of that catastrophic hurricane in September 2018.

As always, Birdy arrived punctually and greeted me like a long-lost friend.  In his company, it has always been difficult to not laugh and joke around, which is part of the reason why outings with him are so enjoyable.  And then there is his inordinate patience as I am “academically challenged” when it comes to remembering bird names and identifying plant life. I’ve been hitting the trails of Dominica with Dr. Birdy as my instructor since September 1997, and he hasn’t given up on me yet!  In fact, I credit this highly knowledgeable and personable guide with teaching me more about the history, culture, geographical, botanical and ornithological features on Dominica than anyone else. So much so, that I was able to write a visitor guide to the Nature Island between 2003 and 2011 called Dominica: 100+ Things to Do, with this extraordinary person as my primary resource!

We drove up the Roseau Valley en route to the Freshwater Lake.  During the 20 minute drive,  Birdy updated me on his ‘Maria’ story.  Like many others, his home had been severely damaged, and  he recounted the terrifying events of that night, including flash flooding from the nearby river.  He and his wife Nella lived to tell the tale, but it was enough terror for my friend, and he was in the early stages of building a new house at a higher elevation in a more sheltered area.  Birdy was occupied with the planning and  construction process while happily taking interested parties on tours and birding expeditions around Dominica whenever requested.  I considered myself very lucky, as the tourist season was understandably slow following Hurricane Maria, and I was able to easily book four tours in March while I was on-island. Normally, I would have to schedule trips with him well in advance!

Uprooted tree near Laudat
Uprooted tree at the junction of the Freshwater Lake Road and the turn-off to the mountain village of Laudat.

After about 20 minutes,  we passed the junction of the Valley Road going on to the interior mountain village of Laudat. A heavy mist hung over the lush terrain as we continued along the Freshwater Lake Road, and the sun broke through intermittently as we neared the eco-site. Suddenly, Birdy pulled over, stopped the vehicle and opened the door.  I followed his lead. As soon as we got out, Birdy excitedly exclaimed that he had just heard a Jaco Parrot.  “Listen,” he instructed, “Do you hear it?  There it goes again.”  And then: “There it is!  Right over there on that branch.  Do you see it?”  I was definitely rusty, but within a few moments I spotted the brightly coloured

Jaco Parrot Botannical Gardens
Before my tours with Dr. Birdy, I was fortunate to observe  Red Necked Parrots (Jacos) in rehabilitation post-Hurricane Maria at the Parrot Aviary in the Botanic Gardens near Roseau*

parrot.  Of course, all of the birds on-island had been traumatized by the storm, and had lost habitat.  But Birdy was not discouraged on their behalf.  He explained that there were some food sources such as wild tamarind in the higher elevations, and nooks in damaged trees where the parrots could shelter. It was not known how successfully they would breed at this time, as understandably these birds had undergone tremendous stress as a result of ‘Maria’.   While there, we heard a Mountain Whistler, a shy bird that normally nestles in the tree-tops.  I think Birdy actually saw it, if I recall correctly, but my eyes failed to spot the pretty bird, formally named a Rufous-Throated Solitaire.  It was comforting to know that some birds had made it through that terrible storm. “Nature is resilient,” Birdy reassured me repeatedly over the course of my four tours with him this visit.

After waiting and watching for a few more minutes, we resumed our drive, while observing areas that had been more severely impacted by the cyclone, as compared to other sections that looked more intact. Birdy explained that Maria’s trajectory and resultant winds had directly struck some areas harder than others.  It was easy to observe the stripped, barren mountainsides and then turn 180 degrees to look at greener, forested areas that showed much less damage.

When we arrived at the Visitor Centre, we met two men who were repairing the structure.  I was very encouraged by their work, and remained hopeful that this conveniently situated and sheltered building would soon be fully operational again.  I had always appreciated their facilities, which had included a snackette, covered porch, picnic tables, washrooms and an exhibit on the geological features of Dominica.

As we started out on the trail, we were completely shrouded in a chilling “fog,” which is commonplace at this lake at an  elevation of 2,500 feet.  With its eerie aura, it is no wonder that this inland body of water is reputed to have a monster in its depths! Despite the persistent drizzle at this eco-site, which is located in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Birdy and I commenced the climb on the southern side of the lake.

The Visitor Centre at Freshwater Lake (upper left) as seen from the trailhead on the south side.


Along the route, we noted not only the devastation of the forest, but as Birdy quickly pointed out here, there and everywhere, the remarkable regrowth of trees and plants during these few short months after the hurricane. As always, Birdy trekked slightly

The Freshwater Lake Trail can be slick but well worth the effort!

ahead of me, calling back cautions when he encountered a slippery wooden step, loose soil or slick mud. In the damp and saturated surroundings, it was necessary to tread carefully.  Occasionally, he offered a hand if a step was missing and the leap was long for my short legs.  There were also a few places where earth slippage revealed precipices much closer to the trail than previously. I have relied on one metal hiking pole for many years, and as before, have come to depend on it for balance and stability, thereby  preventing many possible tumbles. However, we did proceed with caution and made note of any areas that could be considered treacherous to hikers.



One of the many blessings of a tour with Dr. Birdy is that it is never rushed and there is always something else to discover along the trail.  As usual, Birdy pointed out absolutely everything that he observed, in terms of orchids, wildflowers and plant-life.  I do not recall any bird sightings or sounds on this particular day.  However, I was provided with so much information that I swore to Birdy that I would have to bring a notebook with me next time.  The man is a veritable fountain of knowledge, when it comes to natural features in Dominica!

And there were always ample opportunities to catch our breath and marvel at the spectacular, dramatic views of the east coast (Atlantic side) from the highest points on the trail. As  a result of Maria, I saw more villages, mountains and ocean views than ever before. With drastically reduced tree-lines, the landscape was much more exposed.  Despite the devastation, the scenes were extraordinarily beautiful.  I have learned that Dominica is a place where, regardless of circumstances, the Nature Island remains true to its self-proclaimed moniker, as it rebounds from the destruction caused by Maria.

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In terms of my fears about having lost my hiking “feet,” I should not have wasted time with needless worry.  On a tour with Birdy, the focus is on taking it all in, and enjoying the splendor of Dominica, in all  manners, shapes and forms.

The colours of nature along /near the Freshwater Lake Trail:


After having spent a few hours on the Freshwater Lake Trail, covering all of it and discovering more under the tutelage of Dr. Birdy, I  enthusiastically looked forward to the next adventure.  In a week’s time, we would hike to Middleham Falls  from Laudat and I felt ready to undertake this slightly more challenging trek.  Until next time!

*Jaco Parrot was photographed on February 9, 2018 and is published with permission from Dominica’s Forestry, Wildlife and Parks Division and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. In March, this Jaco and several others at the Parrot and Conservation Research Centre (Aviary) in the Botanic Gardens were transferred to the Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots  (ACTP)’s facilities in Germany.

**Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste, a retired Forestry Officer in Dominica is a renowned and highly regarded local tour guide and birding specialist.  He can be contacted at: (767) 245-4768 (WhatsApp, text or call) or by email at:















Gardens in Regrowth: Flowers, Plants and Produce Rebound on the Nature Isle

IMG_20180223_072553_828 (2)
A beautiful rose blooms in the Gordon’s garden in Wallhouse, Dominica in February 2018.

When I first arrived back in Dominica in January 2018, there was considerable  Hurricane Maria-caused devastation and destruction all around.  But what truly amazed me throughout my two and a half month visit, was the remarkable regrowth of plants and flowers, even during the short time that I was there.  No matter where I traveled on-island, I discovered natural beauty rebounding in all areas.  Despite the lengthy recovery process from this catastrophic cyclone, which adversely impacted life and property on Dominica, there were definitely signs of recovery in the botanical world.


From my first day in my old neighbourhood, I was truly amazed by the bounty of floral splendor around my apartment, located

Colourful plants along a property boundary wall at the Gordon’s home in Wallhouse, Dominica were often refreshed by a rainshowers.

on the property of Vernon and Geramise Gordon in Wallhouse.  While they toiled away at extensive home repairs and roof reconstruction, as well as addressing the responsibilities of  their demanding jobs, they always took time to tend their garden.   I was definitely a grateful recipient of their energetic efforts, as I frequently sat on my porch to take in the immediate beauty that surrounded me.

One of my frequent favourite “haunts” during the years  I lived near Roseau was the beautiful Botanical Gardens. But after Hurricane Maria tore up the island, this once-lovely setting looked “empty”  when I was there a few months after the direct hit from the cyclone.  A full report of the substantial losses in this previously gorgeous site can be found in this informative article in The Sun Newspaper Dominica. It is hoped that this historic and naturally attractive public space  will rebound over time. I have previously written about this tropical garden, which originated in the 19th century in my blog, Ti Domnik Tales.  You can read about it here.

Some views of the Botanical Gardens near Roseau, Dominica in March 2018:


My other favourite garden in Dominica, located near Trafalgar in the Roseau Valley also experienced dire losses of plants and trees, but thankfully the owners on-site survived the storm.  Papillote Wilderness Retreat, lovingly designed and cultivated by Anne Jno Baptiste for more than half a century did not escape the wrath of Maria.  Her four-acre tropical garden was drastically affected, but its changed condition was not stopping the vivacious octogenarian from picking up the pieces, revising her plans, and moving ahead to revive the naturally luxuriant rain-forest property.

Throughout my years in Dominica, I had frequented this sensational site, as its offerings of wholesome organic lunches, massages by physiotherapist Ariane, hot and cold mineral pools for therapeutic baths, waterfalls and 360-degree greenery were only 20 minutes from my home. I always felt rejuvenated after spending a healing day there.  I have written extensively about this international award-winning property.  You can find those pieces on my Ti Domnik Tales blog here

It was a real treat to visit with Anne, and a delight to be in the company of mutual good friend, organic gardener Karen Sutherland of Roots Farm in Cochrane. I was grateful to Karen for taking a day off from her busy organic farm, which had also incurred devastating losses as a result of Maria. Karen and her partner Roy have worked extremely hard for about two decades (so far) to establish and maintain a sustainable, environmentally-friendly, 100 per cent organic farm, as well as their chemical-free home and guest apartment in the mountains, just north and east of Roseau. While I was on-island, I purchased their produce during weekly visits to the Roseau Market on Saturdays.  The offerings  were limited initially as the vegetables needed time and tending to regrow.  However,  as the weeks wore on, more edible plants flourished, so I happily bought and eagerly devoured the fruits of their labours from their pristine environment. While I did not visit their farm this time, I have previously written about their exceptional efforts and high standards for sustainable living on the Nature Island.  You can read those posts on Ti Domnik Tales here.


On a very hot day in Dominica, Karen kindly drove us up the Roseau Valley to Anne’s cool place, where we chatted and sipped basilic tea freshly “snipped” from the garden.  The spry proprietor showed me around the property: her latest projects included upgrades and repairs to some guest apartments, as well as modifications to her lush garden.  While the hurricane had caused considerable damage, I could see that Anne was allowing nature to “take its course.”  This wise woman appeared to be watching and waiting to see how things would evolve, as well as actively fixing up what she could on her stunning acreage near Trafalgar Falls. I appreciated her wisdom and intuition with respect to adapting to these unforeseen circumstances.  This type of situation, which repeated itself all over Dominica reaffirmed to me that ultimately, “God is in control,” which is an oft-repeated affirmation on the Nature Isle.


As well as the organic offerings that I relished from Roots Farm in my own kitchen, I was happy to rediscover the Starline Ital Kitchen, a little gem of a “snackette” on River Street in Roseau.  Although only a few months after Maria, it was up and running early in 2018.  Nigel, the proprietor, serves up tantalizing ital (all natural) vegetarian meals  and snacks for breakfast and lunch.  Much of the produce comes from his own garden near Soufriere, on the southwest coast.  Whenever I go to his establishment for lunch, I insist that I can only eat half of the meal, as the plates of food are so large. Now I better understand the definitions of “devour” and “savor” after having consumed such a tasteful combination of natural flavours! I know that this Rastafarian works very hard and spends long hours doing what he loves for the healthful benefit of others. I thank him for his loving efforts for better living.  My mouth is watering as I write this.  I can’t wait for my next meal from StarLine Ital Kitchen!


With so many encouraging signs of nature’s rebirth  readily apparent everywhere on Dominica, it is hoped that the island will  be spared from storms this hurricane season.  One only has to look around this spectacular and unique country to be assured that nature always triumphs with innate resiliency. Perhaps this is an approach for all of us to emulate. Admittedly, it is not easy on many levels. However, we can definitely help nature along, so please do your part to protect this precious planet!



Dominica’s Beloved Beaches along the Caribbean Coastline: Changing Sands, Sensational Scenes

Gwen on Mero Beach
Gwen enjoys sunset on Mero Beach Dominica.  Photo taken by Tina Alexander.

I have always loved Dominica’s Mero Beach.  My devotion goes back a long way: more than twenty years, in fact.

A perfect sunset in paradise on Dominica’s Mero Beach.





Storms have constantly altered the shoreline, and businesses have come and gone and been replaced by others. However, the beautiful seaside setting and its charming village remain enchanting and welcoming, even after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. Mero was one of the first villages to organize a clean-up campaign after the category 5 cyclone, as the residents take pride in their attractive community and are delighted that visitors always enjoy their time relaxing and dining in this seaside locale.



Along with time well spent in the warm waters, it’s always been the ideal setting to dine by the sea and socialize. On a Saturday afternoon in March, I joined a group of women for a ‘Ladies Night Out’ which was coordinated by Tina Alexander of Lifeline Ministries. We arrived just before sunset at Connie’s Mero Beach Bar, renowned for its views and substantial Dominican-style meals. The staff at Connie’s put on a huge spread: it was a veritable feast, including freshly caught fish, which was enjoyed by all. We traveled there by bus from the Roseau area, allowing opportunities to meet and converse with old friends, as well as exchange views with new ones.  During this exceptional and meaningful gathering of some professional women on the Nature Isle,  I listened, learned, communed and laughed for several hours that evening.  I look forward to joining them again when I return to Dominica!


When I returned to Mero a few days later, I indulged in yet another hearty lunch at Connie’s, then took a sea bath and then lounged in the shade with a glass of freshly squeezed, lightly sweetened lime juice at Indee’s (formerly Romance Cafe) further up the beach.  On a normal day in March (peak tourist season) this substantial stretch of sand would likely have been filled with visitors from a cruise ship.  But on this beautiful day, six months after Hurricane Maria, with no cruise ships in port, I had the entire beach all to myself to enjoy as I wished!  It’s probably the first (and only) time that ever happened to me in my beloved adopted country, or anywhere else! I floated easily in the gentle surf, walked the expansive shoreline, and delighted in watching pelicans  as they dove into the sea for their own fish lunches.

By mid-afternoon, I was suitably relaxed and ready for a physiotherapy session with longtime osteopath  and friend Martine Varlet, who lives in Mero Heights, above the village.  While she worked on some strained muscles caused by the rigors of  overseas travel, we caught up on news. I felt completely rejuvenated after the session with her! It couldn’t have been a better finish to my spectacular day spent by the sea at Mero Beach.

Admittedly, I love being beach-side in Dominica almost as much as being in  the mountains! Luckily, I did have some other opportunities to be in close proximity to the Caribbean Sea while I was on-island post-Hurricane Maria.  I did miss liming (relaxing) on Champagne Beach, which had suffered extensive damage as a result of the cyclone, but I know that I will return there as soon as this sensational eco-site is operational again. You can read about it in my Ti Domnik Tales blog, by clicking here.

As well,  the southwestern coast, comprised of the  Soufriere /Scotts Head area was not fully recovered from the storm. While I may have been able to enjoy a dip in the changed surroundings, I again decided to wait until next visit, in anticipation of restored facilities and sites that I had enjoyed for many years previously. You can read about my earlier activities in this popular seaside region by clicking here.

As it turned out, I  actually spent time “by the sea” in the city of Roseau,  comfortably seated and sheltered in the covered dining area at the Fort Young Hotel. Many days, depending on the hour,  I ordered what was not readily available elsewhere: passionfruit juice, freshly caught fish,  codfish bakes, tempting desserts or the substantial lunch buffet. Some mornings, I just nibbled on toast and sipped  coffee while I took advantage of wireless services,(not then available  in my neighbourhood post-Maria).

During my  ‘day-cations’ at Fort Young, I would conveniently meet and greet friends and associates, dine alone or with company, get updates on renovations-in-progress from General Manager Marvlyn James, prepare for meetings, organize photographs, write letters, formulate drafts of posts for this blog, as well as stroll the length of the seaside terrace in order to enjoy the  views and watch the waves when I needed a break from my scrutinizing my  tablet.


During the last few days of my post-Maria visit, I ventured to the north of the island, where I caught up with Lise van de Kamp and Hans Schilders, proprietors of Hotel The Champs, located at Picard, just south of the town of Portsmouth.

While I stayed there, I observed and listened to enthusiastic accounts of post-Maria progress from the energetic hoteliers.  As well, I further explored the terrain and searched for parrots with Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste. Hans and Lise were endeavoring to repair their award-winning establishment in an effort to become the first climate resilient hotel on Dominica.  More about their timely project in a subsequent post.  The amazing adventure with Dr. Birdy will also be revealed in a forthcoming post.

Of course, quality ‘Caribbean beach time’ was  part of my plan in the northwestern region of the island. Actually, there are numerous gorgeous stretches of white, golden or black sand all around the northern tip of the island, including those just beyond Portsmouth, facing the Guadeloupe Channel, and others on the Atlantic coast near Calibishie in the northeast.  But I had basically run out of time and those experiences would have to wait until next visit!

As it turned out, sea conditions were not ideal for a ‘sea bath’ during my chosen day to linger on Picard Beach.  Instead, I walked as far as I could along the sandy seaside in a southerly direction, completely mesmerized by the sea in its highly agitated state. It was not possible to go the whole distance to Coconut Beach due to the strong surf, which tossed up debris and scattered stones, so I contented myself by lounging on a beach chair in front of the quaint Picard Beach Cottages.  From there,  I watched the relentless wave action with great fascination. Coincidentally, I had spent a week there during my second visit to Dominica about 21 years earlier and I highly recommend the private beach-side cottages for a genuine seaside experience with a tropical garden in the background.

On my last Sunday in Dominica, having completed the latest adventure with ‘Dr. Birdy’ in the Syndicate Nature Reserve, we lingered over a late lunch at popular Purple Turtle Beach Club in Lagoon, Portsmouth.  The place was packed, and the meal was a long time coming.  However, while we waited, we discussed bird sightings and post-Maria tourism issues as we looked over this lengthy stretch of sand in Prince Rupert Bay. It was very hot there, especially so since we had been at a much cooler elevation in the foothills of Morne Diablotin, the highest peak in Dominica. That afternoon was steamy at the seaside, and sun seekers sought shade while they waited for the sun to dip a little lower on the horizon!


Dominica may not be a tropical destination that is recognized for its beaches, but I know better. So I am sharing a secret: the Nature Island’s black, white and golden sands and  smaller, intimate, often-deserted seaside locales offer authentic Caribbean ‘downtime’ the way it was meant to be!







Roseau in Recovery: the Celebration of Carnival 2018

Not even a hurricane could stop the magical, fun-filled Carnival in Dominica!

To look at photos of Roseau in the days immediately

following Hurricane Maria and to see it five months later, one would definitely become a believer in

miracles. A massive clean-up campaign resulted in clearance of gigantic trees, upturned vehicles, dislodged hydro poles, mountains of galvanized roofing metal, and other debris. You can see some ‘after Maria’ photos of the capital city here.


Cork Street Roof
Despite post-Maria devastation, upper level porches provided shelter from sun and rain during Carnival 2018.

Despite the ongoing repairs and clean-up of Roseau five months after the catastrophic cyclone, Carnival celebrations in mid-February offered residents and relief workers a temporary respite from the stress of the recovery process. Of course, visitors were also very welcome to join in the fun, as some lodging was by then available in the city, particularly at the Fort Young Hotel.

J’ouvert (pronounced joo-vay) celebrations did not start until 6 a.m. this year, as a curfew was in place during the festivities for security and safety reasons following the hurricane. Normally, the Carnival Monday streets would come alive in the pre-dawn darkness with revelers and traditional lapo-kabwit (goat-skin drum) bands from 4 a.m, waking up the whole city to join in the fun. This year, a smattering of enthusiasts braved the early morning rain (including me!) but there were relatively few people (compared to other years) on the streets until the hi-fi trucks came out around 9 a.m.  As the skies cleared, the popular ‘Signal Band’ had the crowd hopping, chipping and jumping on the damp streets!



The weather finally cleared up later that Carnival Monday morning.  Although the crowds further diminished for a brief time (likely to have some breakfast like me!), I was there to catch the first round of the  parade of ‘Traditional Groups’.  While the overall festivity was a scaled-down version of other Carnivals, it was still a thrill to watch the colour, pageantry and spectacle on the streets of Roseau.

For the duration of Carnival Monday morning, I situated myself under an overhead veranda (typical of Tropical Victorian Architecture).  From my shelter from sun and




rain, I watched the parade unfold. Plentiful, traditional Sensay,  certainly created a sensationally scary mood, in keeping with the authentic Carnival Spirit. To read more about the origins of Mas Domnik, please refer to a post that is found in my Ti Domnik Tales blog by clicking here.

I also enjoyed the school bands, but did empathize with them when they occasionally ran for cover during very heavy showers. But that didn’t end the parade.  As soon as the rain stopped, they were back ‘pon de road‘ again!


Other groups on the road on Carnival Monday added immensely to the colour and spectacle, while placing smiles on the faces of those of us who waited out the wet weather!

Rain or shine, participating in Mas Domnik is very fine!



By the time lunch break came around,I headed back to my apartment for a good rest.  But that was not the case with most people.  The T-shirt bands came out on the road and hundreds of people enjoyed the festivities until 6 p.m., as per the curfew order due to post-hurricane conditions in Roseau.

On Carnival Tuesday morning, I took my time getting up, got a ride down to the main road from my neighbour so that I could walk the lovely dogs that I fostered at the Pointe Michel Quarry.  Then I took a bus from there in to Roseau for the Costume Parade.

Again, the weather was damp to start, but I didn’t mind as I chatted with others who patiently  waited for the parade to start with eager anticipation.  Given the extraordinary circumstances following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, it was commonly understood that all events would be somewhat different this year.  It really didn’t matter to participants or spectators, as we all knew that whatever we experienced during this annual celebration would be well worth it!

I took great delight in being able to run up to Parade participants, take their photos and wish them well. It was a huge thrill to actually greet and hug this year’s Calypso Monarch, Daryl ‘De Bobb‘ Bobb. He is a very talented calypsonian, who has placed in the finals for many years and finally captured his well-deserved crown!  You can hear one of his winning songs at the Calypso Monarch Finals 2018 here.

Although there was no Miss Dominica pageant following the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, last year’s Carnival Queen, Jade Romaine (Miss Dominica and Miss Caribbean Culture 2017) graciously and enthusiastically accompanied Carnival King  2018,’De Bobb’ on the parade circuit for this year’s festivities.

King and Queen
Carnival King, Calypso Monarch 2018, Daryl ‘De Bobb’ Bobb and Carnival Queen, Miss Dominica 2017, Jade Romaine led the Carnival Tuesday Costume Parade around the streets of Roseau.

The Bwa Bwa (Stiltwalkers)are one of my  perennial Carnival highlights. I am always amazed by their rhythmical agility and uncanny balance. I am aware that it does take considerable hours of practice to perfect this talent, as I used to watch the AfriKulture Stiltwalkers working at their amazing balancing and dancing acts in the Botanical Gardens for weeks before this annual event.


As the day heated up after its cool start, the costume bands definitely became hotter and hotter.  While I did not stay for the whole day, there were hoards who preferred  to fête (party) later that afternoon for the last lap. However, I did get a good taste of the bacchanal!


Even though Dominica’s Carnival 2018 is now a sweet memory, I will not despair.  It is definitely in my plans to be on-island for the 2019 edition, God-willing and weather-permitting.  If I were you, I would do the same!

‘Amnesia’ provided plenty of distraction to forget about the stresses of Maria, at least for a little while.

For further information about Mas Domnik,  the ‘Real Mas’, contact the Dominica Festivals Committee by clicking here.






Places I (have) Love(d): Dominica’s Beautiful Beau Rive Closes Its Doors

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.

Beau Rive after Hurricane Maria
Beau Rive’s devastation as captured in this aerial photo a few days after Hurricane Maria.  Taken from the Beau Rive Facebook page.

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

South westerly view from Castle Bruce Road
Post-Maria landscape southeast of the Castle Bruce Road in March 2018.

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 at Marks
Sheep safely graze at Mark’s farm in Dominica.

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!

Marks Home (2)
The beautiful stained glass window/skylight, created and handmade by Mark, is representative of his extraordinary artistic talents!
Mark and Birdy (2)
Longtime friends Mark  and Birdy.  Two great guys I am honoured to know on the Nature Isle!

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.




Places I (have) Love(d): Historic Springfield Hit Hard by ‘Maria’


The leaking post-Maria breeze-way between the kitchen and the dining room as seen on January 27, 2018.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon in late January, my friend Nancy Osler took me up to see Dominica’s historic Springfield Plantation Guest House in its post-Maria state. She is the on-site Manager of ATREC, a local management company with study -abroad programs for students that partners with  Clemson University in the USA, the owners of the property. This beautiful natural setting of about 190 acres, some of which is rainforest, is located inland on the Imperial Road above the settlement of Antrim.  It’s about a 20 minute drive from Roseau, the capital city.

I spent my first year and a half in Dominica living at this beautiful former 18th century estate, and have loved it from the moment I arrived there in 1997. Over the years, I have been fortunate to return to this special place many times for day visits.  As well, I have been blessed to have become friends with both Managers during my almost two decades in Dominica: first, the late Mona George-Dill and then Nancy Osler, who has been there since 2005. (I have written extensively about Springfield in my blog Ti Domnik Tales. As well, I compiled an  historical overview of the estate, which dates back to the 18th century, for Domnitjen Magazine in 2009).

But now, just over 20 years since I first encountered this idyllic setting , the drastically changed scene rendered me completely aghast. I was basically speechless as Nancy showed me around the property. Truly, I just wanted to cry.  She said that I could ask her anything about it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I was so terribly saddened by what I saw in a place that I had cherished so dearly for such a long time.

There was extensive damage to most of the structures on the site,  caused by fierce winds that gusted up to about 160 mph.


The surrounding foliage fared no better. An ancient Samaan tree, which had withstood previous hurricanes, had succumbed to Maria’s wrath. However, its “twin” was still standing and there was some hope (on my part, at least) that it might rebound in time. The stately Royal Palms that lined the  walkway to the Butterfly Garden en route to the trail to the river did thankfully withstand the wind blasts for the most part, although their fronds were severed or at the very least, stripped almost

Stately Royal Palms rebound, as seen from severely damaged rooms at Springfield in March 2018.


And then there was the human factor.  In the days and months following the devastation, Nancy relayed bits and pieces of her traumatic ‘Maria’ story to me. Nancy had sent her staff to their homes before the storm.  She along with Liz Madisetti sought refuge in her apartment, which is located on the property.  While it seemed initially to be a sheltered spot from the winds, the normally calm stream some distance away overflowed in the torrential rains that carried debris from higher in the mountains. When muddy waters entered her living space, she and Liz sought shelter in the bathtub for a few hours. While the water up to that point was no more than four inches high on the floor, there was no way to predict what would take place from one moment to the next.  Then came a few minutes of calm.

When they assumed that the eye was overhead, there was a commotion at her door.  Desmond, a longtime staff member and some of his family had come down the hill (normally a five-minute walk) to seek shelter as the roof of their house had blown away.  But they could not open Nancy’s door.  The wind and water had lodged it so that the family had to physically break it down so the trapped occupants could

The mattress that helped to protect Nancy and several others in the kitchen of Springfield during the second half of the wrath of Maria.

escape.  Then Nancy and the small group quickly mounted a flight of stairs and remained for the rest of the night in the kitchen, until the storm subsided.  They had to take turns holding a mattress against the window to protect themselves from some of the outside fury that was trying to get in!


Obviously, I had no way of contacting Nancy, or anyone else for several days following the storm.  As mentioned in earlier posts, there was a huge void of communication from Dominica during those first few days. I had sent a text to Nancy immediately following the storm, and I was greatly relieved when I heard back from her a few days later.  She wrote that she was “homeless, but fine” and that she and Liz were safe and had sufficient food and water. Of course, they could not leave the dilapidated premises due to landslides, mudslides, downed trees and ubiquitous debris, which blocked the Imperial Road for several days.

P1000388-1Along with extensive structural and property damage,  most of Nancy’s personal possessions were completely destroyed. But

my orchid
I gave Nancy this orchid in June 2016, when I left Dominica. To the surprise of both of us, it survived the storm! Photo by N. Osler.

despite the losses, she remains hopeful that Springfield might be  rebuilt as best as possible in these modern times. But that decision remains with Clemson University, the current owners of the estate. For now,  the local management company ATREC, with its study-abroad programs remains closed.

My wish for Springfield, my first “love” on Dominica,  is that this extraordinary site on the Nature Isle will be resurrected as the magical place in a paradise I once knew, and continue to love.

What Hurricane Maria did to Springfield, Dominica*:

*Above photos taken on January 27, 2018.