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

 

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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: drbirdy2@cwdom.dm

 

 

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

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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,

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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!

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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

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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: drbirdy2@cwdom.dm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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

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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: drbirdy2@cwdom.dm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.