The Fort Street Tourism Village was desolate today. Carnival Cruise Lines cancelled its scheduled port of call. It similarly did so on Wednesday claiming that navigation aids were not up to scratch following the passage of the category one hurricane on Sunday. The BTB said this afternoon that cruise ship arrivals are back on track. But this morning, we headed inland to Caves Branch, where eco-tourism is key to the livelihood of the residents in that area. Amidst the stories of human suffering and devastation, we found one with a silver lining at the Cave’s Branch Adventure Company Jungle Lodge. News Five’s Jose Sanchez reports.
Jose Sanchez, Reporting
Hurricane Richard’s eye lifted roofs, smashed homes with trees and leveled several structures. On the Humming Bird Highway it shook a reported thirty two million dollars from the citrus industry. But it also made an impact on businesses that cater to tourists. Across from the St. Herman’s Cave and Blue Hole National Park, is the Cave’s Branch Adventure Company Jungle Lodge. The road at the entrance, as the pictures show, was impassable on Monday morning. But in one day, the operators cleared the road which is not only free of debris but also of the foliage. The swift clean up has been organized by Ella Anderson.
Ella Anderson, Botanical Grounds Director
“The plus of having so many people, is that a lot of work can be done. If you are not conscious of the plants you want to preserve they can chainsaw everything and you will have no nature left. Because cause of that, we have all forty people broken down into teams of four or five and each teams has a supervisor in an area. This morning, we worked on this area and this area—it was one team that worked on it. We had some people to lift the broken branches and the others leave the plants that are just bent. We reattach them to the stick so they can regain their strength and we water them right away. Another thing we were doing. You saw a lot of cohune palms and with chain saw or machetes, instead of cutting the palms, which would be much easier, we are only cutting the ones that were absolutely broken. So for example cohune palm like this will produce new shoots and in a few months absolutely fine and healthy.”
Although the jungle is still there, it is not quite the same as it was before. But it’s all marketing. Ian Anderson sees the proverbial cup half full and sees new opportunities and possibilities with what he calls nature’s haircut.
Ian Anderson, Co-Owner, Cave’s Branch Adventure Company Jungle Lodge
“Last Sunday night, one of the most exciting nights. It came over us twice. It gave us a bit of a haircut. It trimmed us down a bit and what we have is a much more lit jungle area than before. But I think it will turn out just fine. We will see more stars at night, full moon that we didn’t see before. We will continue with great enthusiasm and great from where we are today. Almost every one of our rooms were damaged in some way, but it was all minimal: roof tiles need to be replaced. We always overbuild than under build and I think that’s finally paid off from this weekend with the minimal structural damage. So we are just busy replacing tiles.”
“How many people are working and cleaning up?”
“Monday and Tuesday well over one hundred people to clean up. A lot of stuff has to be picked up from the entire camp area. Today we are down to seventy-five which we maintain to the week. By Monday we are likely to be back on line and all rooms finish and the grounds should be nicer than they are today. We haven’t received any cancellations to date and we don’t expect to. We have guests in our hotel. We did have guests in our hotel, hurricane party with about twelve of our guest here—experiencing the adventure that the country had o Sunday night. But we do have guests here and continue to have guests right up until December. We don’t expect to have any economical downfall except for the initial cost of repairing what happened here on Sunday.”
A few miles down the road, Armenia village, which has no visible scar of Hurricane Richard, is linked to Caves Branch. The lifeline of many villagers is dependent on employment at the jungle lodge. When he is not climbing very tall trees, Abel Garcia, a resident of Armenia, manages the tours of Caves Branch.
Abel Garcia, Tour Guide, Caves Branch
“We have from tour guides, we have people who do waitressing, bartenders, housekeeping, grounds man, from the top to the bottom.”
“In terms of Armenia, it doesn’t seem to have been affected by the hurricane?”
“Armenia no. I wouldn’t say much just a few trees; nothing like here.”
“But if this place is not up and running, how does it affect Armenia?”
“Well again as I said in the beginning, we have so many people being employed here from Armenia that we actually depend on this place. If this place goes down, we go down. We actually come here and we have our kids go to school, provide for uniform, food on the table and if this place is not running, where will we go?”
“We were lucky that people from Armenia and St. Margaret who came and prepared to work and did everything that was absolutely needed to be done. Every single staff person who works at Caves Branch had a chance to get their own team and working right away. Everything was organized very fast.”
Abel Garcia, Tour Guide, Caves Branch
“You notice coming in how this place is, but before that it was really worse. We had everyone; ladies, everyone working removing trees and making sure everything goes back to normal again.”
“We would really like to express our gratitude to the dozens and dozens of people from Armenia and workers who mostly are from Armenia and around this part of the country for their hard work over the past three days. No successful business in the country can be successful without the people that work at it. And in our case we have some of the best staff in the country working at Caves Branch.”
The collective effort is commendable and serves as an example for other tourism stakeholders to follow. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.