As a treat for my recent birthday, I decided to spend a weekend “up north” in Dominica. It had been some time since I had enjoyed the area around Portsmouth and Calibishie, with its dramatic and varied topography, as well as prominent historic sites and natural attractions. Although I had only recently returned from Canada, this little adventure was most affordable, due to an on-island promotion called a ‘Staycation’. This initiative is the brainchild of the Discover Dominica Authority, and a number of tourism partners are participating by offering Nature Islanders reduced rates at certain accommodations and activities during the summer months. Amazingly, Dominica is very different from one locale to the next, and a Staycation offers residents opportunities to appreciate various parts of their beautiful country and save money by staying home for a holiday!
When I read about the incredible accommodation and meal specials available at The Champs Hotel in Picard, near Portsmouth, I didn’t
hesitate to book a room. I am well acquainted with proprietors Hans and Lise, as I have previously stayed and/or dined there on other northern jaunts. In fact, I am in the record books as their first guest when they opened in 2008!
It was an easy drive on the recently refurbished West Coast Road (E.O. LeBlanc Memorial Highway). I was there in one hour and five minutes – record time for me – and that’s at 50-60 kms (not miles!) per hour from Roseau. Lise welcomed me warmly and then took me down two flights of stairs to my room. I unpacked and headed upstairs for lunch. Along the way, I met Hans and he suggested that if I could wait for a few minutes, the couple would join me, along with their marketing assistant.
I enjoyed a large ‘brunch-style’ lunch of scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and tasty home-made hash brown potatoes, prepared by renowned Chef Eric
and his assistants. As we chatted, the energetic hoteliers brought me up-to-speed on all the latest developments and news of interest in the Portsmouth-Calibishie area. I was amazed at some of the changes in the few years since I had spent any time “up north” on Dominica. I was happy to hear that there was some progress in the tourism-related sector. I would be seeing some of that for myself over the weekend!
My first plan was a boat ride along the famous Indian River, and I informed my hosts of this. Lise immediately offered her driver to not only take me there, but to make an arrangement with a tour guide so that I would not have to choose one once I arrived at the site. More on that sensational trip in a subsequent post!
Upon my return a few hours later, I refreshed myself in anticipation of The Champs popular pizza night. This hotel is in very close proximity to Ross University School of Medicine and many students frequent the dining room and bar area for a good meal and some refreshments after an intense day of study or exams. Although many students were on a summer break, Lise informed me as soon as I arrived in the dining room that a take-out order for 20 pizzas had just been placed by some campus personnel, which might delay my order by half
an hour. No problem for me – I had a sunset to watch and a newspaper to read: I was on holiday, there was no rush!
I could not eat all of my vegetarian pizza with extra goat cheese, so I put it in my room fridge for Sunday supper, as that is the one night of the week when meals are not served. I would definitely not starve!
Early next morning, I awoke with joy to celebrate another birthday and gave thanks to God for this gift. It was a beautiful day – and what better way to start it than with a ‘sea bath’. I walked down the steep hill from the hotel and then wended my way to nearby Picard Beach, Dominica’s longest stretch of sand. I walked for about half an hour. No one else was in sight. It was only 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday! I found an old wooden pallet near the seaside and dropped my backpack, T-shirt and shorts on it. Yes, I was already dressed for the water! The soft sand under my feet made the entrance easy and I soon lifted them up and bounced around in the gentle surf. The stunning scenery all around me provoked me to once again express gratitude to the Creator for His handiwork on the Nature Island. I needn’t say any more about that. Let me show you:
After the steep uphill walk back to the hotel, I was more than ready for a big Sunday brunch before heading out for the day. I gorged on a fresh fruit bowl, pancakes and scrambled eggs on the side. I knew I would need additional sustenance for walking around Fort Shirley in the Cabrits National Park before heading over to the village of Calibishie on the east coast. (To be detailed in later posts).
That evening, Lise heated up my yummy left-over pizza. Then she, Hans and I admired another stunning sunset. It was their evening off, so I did not prolong my latest chat with them. Instead, I excused myself and Lise set me up in the jacuzzi.
There, I unwound for half an hour as I stared at the darkening sky and the emergent twinkling stars.
Then I prepared a cup of tea in my room and sat out on the porch where I watched the quiet evening turn into a restful night; tree frogs chirped and bats flitted to and fro. Shortly thereafter, I returned to my room, read for a while and then quickly fell asleep.
Next morning, I had to repeat my ‘sea bath’ experience, although the weather was a little more inclement. It didn’t stop me though: wet is wet! Back at the hotel, my breakfast awaited me, but I didn’t feel as hungry as I had overindulged on the previous day (my birthday) and was feeling a bit queasy. I explained my dilemma to Lise and Manuela, the cook. I asked if there was any ‘bush tea’ (herbal) available and Manuela immediately offered to pick some fresh mint from the garden and steep it for me. It had a soothing taste and settled my stomach quite quickly. I was impressed with her thoughtfulness!
All of a sudden, my wonderful weekend was over and it was time to head back home. Lise, Hans and I conversed for a while longer. Although they would be taking a holiday to Europe in the near future to celebrate Lise’s parents’ 60th (!) wedding anniversary, they first would play important roles in the organization of an upcoming Rotary Club ‘Sweet Jazz’ fundraiser for the Portsmouth Hospital Emergency Room. This caring couple firmly believes in giving back to the community. As I observed them once again in action, I could clearly see that they have what it takes to make The Champs Hotel-Restaurant-Bar a preferred choice for reasonably priced accommodation, dining and entertainment in the northern part of the Nature Island. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the glowing reviews on Trip Advisor!
Oh, I shouldn’t forget to mention the bill : I only paid for Saturday lunch, apart from my greatly reduced room rate for two nights. Both big breakfasts and the large pizza (two suppers’ worth) and all my non-alcoholic drinks were included in the price. This Staycation offer certainly was an ideal birthday present to myself!
I strongly encourage fellow residents to check out The Champs when in the Portsmouth area. Prospective visitors can view their web site for great deals too! For my forays ‘up north’ on the Nature Island, there is no better place for me!