Living off the Grid | June 22, 2010
Often times, I find myself working so hard just to maintain a simple standard of living. It's a living, however, that I have chosen. And as I sit and watch some of the film coming from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill it has become clear to me that what I am doing is worth every bit of energy I spend to get off my dependency on oil. It is giving me the added incentive I needed to even go further with my daily processes.
I live in a third world country which is one of the top vacation destinations for nature and adventure travel...Dominica. It would have been quite easy when I was choosing a piece of property to choose one that was close to a road, close to power lines, had public water, waste systems etc....and I must say it would have made my life so much easier. But...I have a son in Afghanistan who has also been in Iraq and I have made a promise to myself that I will do all I can to get off my dependency on oil regardless of what my Government is doing. It has to start with me.
My husband Pat, and I began building a bed and breakfast in Dominica which we named Roots Jungle Retreat. It is a mile and a half off the grid. We began by studying the indigenous type of housing that the (Caribe) Kalinago Indians used for hundreds and hundreds of years. We hired two of the local Kalinagos to work with us and began by building pathways on the property. This was one of our biggest undertakings as there can be so much rain in the rainforest that mud becomes a virtual enemy. At times, we would sink up to our knees. It was through great persistence and many many trips with rock and gravel that we were able to build something that could maintain our weights as we began to work.
We then contacted the Central Forest Reserve and had them cut several trees for us. For each tree they cut, they replant and we felt this is a vital part of leaving as little footprint as possible. Once we got the trees on the property, we began to strip the bark. Some of the Indians are amazing at how quickly they can peel a tree. Not so with Pat and I. We'd still be working on our first tree and they would be on their third!
As we had no electricity, all the units were built using handsaws and machetes. Pat and I bought machetes the first day we were out here and were both bleeding by noon. It has taken some adjustment. We began by collecting water with an 8 x 8 roof shack and a cistern. All concrete was mixed out in the road by hand and carried laboriously bucket by bucket up the hills. Bamboo was all cut according to the moon and the Dominicans/Kalinagos are VERY serious about their moon cycles. We found ourselves waiting to get material for two months at times for the "right moon". Luckily...we did find the right moon. Never really figured out the science behind it though.
I am so grateful for their generosity in sharing information with us. Each day the workers would show up bringing us some new wonderful fruit, or plant or flower to plant on the grounds. I now have vanilla beans, gingers, African basilica, cilantros, sages of many forms, lemon grasses, bananas of various types, bay leaf trees to name a few. It is absolutely wonderful to be cooking and run to the gardens for some of these incredible spices, fruits and vegetables and to watch a flower bloom that I had no idea was there.
We opted to go with a true vetivier (vetty vay) roof. This was an adventure all in it's own. The grass much be completely clean of other grasses, cut and tied in bundles. You learn the true meaning of "back breaking" work. Each unit took between 1000-4500 bundles of vetivier. The work doesn't stop there however as each bundle has to be dried in the sun, and retied several times as it begins to shrink. Now imagine this...you get 4000 bundles layed out in the road to dry and it begins to rain. You scramble to pick up all 4000 bundles to put them under the tarp until the sun comes back out. Lay them back out and just as you get 3500 bundles laid out....the rain returns. Use your imagination. This was a lesson in patience. It was great fun watching the two Kalinagos tie the roof and to see the cabins come to fruition. The cabins simply looked like "they belong here".
Our main idea was to build a bed and breakfast that nature lovers would simply adore on their Dominica vacation. Each cabin is designed in a hexagon shape so that you are completely surrounded by nature. It's fabulous to be standing there and watch a small yellow bird called a bananaquit come flying through because he saw your fruit bowl. We have given the cabins the added luxury of vessel sinks, solar hot water showers (or a propane shower by the river), kitchenettes that enables guests to do their own cooking, and ice boxes. The units are powered by 12 volt lights, have fans, and inverters to charge 110v. Camera batteries or laptops. The restaurant on sight has propane refrigerators, stoves, freezer and washer/dryer. We compost everything possible, recycle all glass products, reuse and put serious thought to the plastics we are purchasing.
The one thing our guests continually say is they love the "feeling" they get from staying at Roots Jungle Retreat. We were searching for a place to build a bed and breakfast in Dominica that had true serenity and we have found it. It is amazingly quiet out here from unnatural noise instead being replaced by the Bamboo River rushing by and the jungle sounds of the amphibians each evening.
As I think about all those soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq and think about the Gulf Coast, I am ever so glad that I am at least moving in the right direction. Perhaps we can be an example to a few who might begin to make changes in their own lives.