Independent Canadian book publishers working in Dominica, W.I. specializing in coffee table books of architectural treasures and lush gardens. We also promote fine artistic photography. This blog contains unofficial reports and comments from our various trips, photo sessions, and jobs – an unofficial scrapbook of our travels, explorations and photo-related work. See “about” for more.

Posts tagged ‘Caribbean’

Five Months After – hurricane Maria notes part 5

Many things have changed since the hurricane, both on the island of Dominica and in our lives.

This is the same tree shown in part one of our hurricane notes  – remember it? if not – compare. it was bare – now starts to shoot new leaves but is almost completely covered in vines


Pumpkin grows now everywhere! Even on this shattered by hurricane van.

Nature tries to bounce back, but visibly things got a bit out of natural balance. We had a wave of mosquito infestation – which thankfully seems to be ending. Then we had a plague of butterflies – so many of them – white, brown, orange. Looks lovely but their eggs hatching means lots of fragile flora struggling to get back is being eaten on the spot. That should stabilize too. As for plants – bushes and smaller plants are bouncing back nicely, but many bigger and older trees are still in shock, with broken limbs and leafless. The clear winner of this post-hurricane period are vines. They spread everywhere, strangling smaller trees. When you look around you see the rich greenery and thing all is back to normal. But most green you see are bindweed- “morning glory” plants, various wild peas and wild cucumbers – and also – in some unimaginable way – pumpkins! They took over, growing everywhere, in most unlikely places. Practically everyone has now several healthy pumpkins around the house. At least this – with shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables – is welcome bonus.

I bet when bigger trees restore their branches and put more leaves, the resulting shade will give many vines checkmate, but it may still be some time away. Parrots – homeless and hungry – migrated from devastated old forest to more populated areas. They add lots of chatter to the sounds of nature, but surely they would be more happy back in primary forest. One day soon, perhaps.

A parrot near our home

Many things change around us, a visible progress is being made. Roads get cleaned, debris removed, Roseau city getting a face lift here and there. Plenty still to be done – an overwhelming task. Our favourite Fort Young Hotel perhaps leads the progress, already partially open for guests while working on impressive upgrades. This is the resilience in making – taking advantage of destruction not to just rebuild, but to make things better. Much better. It is uplifting to watch these fast-paced works. We just finished a sent of new promotional photos for them, proud to be part of this rebuilding effort. Feels good to see our photos in Washington Post and in other media.

Fort Young Hotel – looks better than ever. It is nice to see our photos help promote this place and Dominica.

So things are changing for us. We’ve got used to lack of electricity and using our Coleman gasoline lamp in evenings. It is actually quite nice, like old times. A small generator sent to us by our old, reliable friend Les takes care of charging batteries, laptop, or running our bread mixer – talk about power lines being fixed in our area sounds almost unreal. Hard to imagine having power constantly on – an excess luxury!

We started (in part thanks to help received from many of you!) to rebuild our home, and we know it will be a challenging task – building materials are hard to get, the port – still shattered after hurricane seems not capable to process promptly all incoming shipments – resulting in weeks if not months long – delays in supply stream. But life goes on. We published more articles including another one for MACO magazine – this time about progress of cleanup works in Dominica and new opportunities created by hurricane, and we now work on another story.

Barbados Atlantic shore – from the latest shooting trip.

Another photography job for Barbados tourism allowed us a glimpse at the “normal” world. What a weird place – all roofs are intact, trees green and happy, no mess to clean-up. We almost forgot how it can be.

Another scene from Barbados

We keep documenting all changes, photographing and filming with drone the progress around us. As more creative work is on the horizon we will keep you posted with new developments soon. Stay tuned!

Derek and Margaret

PS. Thank you to all friends who helped us financially in this critical time. If you still want to add your brick to rebuilding our lives, here is our paypal link
Thank you!

African Tulip tree starts to bloom, bringing colour to forests first time after hurricane

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This part of forest washed by flood waters will take longer to recover. Near hot sulphur springs in Soufrier.


And So The Dust Settles – part 4 of our Hurricane Maria memories

Trees start to have green leaves again – the same tree as on first hurricane post. compare them!

It is now two and half months after the hurricane. Sometimes it feels like all that was just a bad dream. But you don’t need to look long to actually realize you are still in post-hurricane zone. Our road was cleared by an excavator, but it is badly broken and driving is quite dangerous. Everywhere you drive you pass broken poles, debris and damaged remains of cars mixed with piles of mud. The green is back, but it mostly is just the morning glory taking over every empty space created by fallen trees. Yes, nature heals quickly, but the landscape will stay different for a long time, before it gets back to previous harmonious balance. Also wildlife will recover, but for now you can spot hungry parrots flying over villages they would never visit before. They, same as hummingbirds, other birds and animals are hungry, misplaced and desperate to find some sort of food. Even our dogs are still under visible stress, barking at night and anxious during the day.

trees on a starry night – stumps get their first leaves again.

Some say that around 20,000 people left the island. Such number would make about a quarter of the whole population, and the long term economic impact of such exodus is yet to be seen. One thing is clear – this all will change our island for years to come.

one of many dumping places for damaged roofing materials

We all feel things slowly get back to normal – but is it really so, or we just get used to this situation that we accept it as the “new normal”? Truth is probably somewhere between.

As for our situation, we notice that even simple tasks take longer and require more energy. Dealing with insurance, driving, baking our bread – it is now more effort than before. Yes, we do have a small generator, but it only runs our fridge and couple of small lamps, so all work needs to be finished before darkness – making our days shorter. Yes, we just restored a basic line of running water to the kitchen, but the kitchen itself is wrecked and we do most food preparations outdoors.

our rented house used to be totally covered by green. now it slowly gets the green cover once again

Margaret and an uprooted bamboo

Soon it will be time to decide about rebuilding of our new, shattered home. But this has too its new challenges – material shortages, enormous delays at the port and damaged roads will make the process much more tricky than before. We don’t complain – merely observe. Many others had it much worse than us, and now together with a friend, a BBC cameraman, we are recording interviews about the hurricane experiences. Some stories we hear are so shocking that it is even hard to listen – yet people say their experience in simple words, like stating simple facts about life – and sometimes death.

Damaged piano – another victim of hurricane Maria

Once again we realize that the hurricane itself – while really scary – was just the beginning. At least for us, it is the long months of years ahead which prove to be the real challenge. With no regular power and no internet we can npt do our normal work – editing photography and video, writing, sending files to clients, and so on. We are professionally crippled, and can only rely on generosity of management in Fort Young Hotel, which – despite being seriously damaged and hosting only a few teams of various international aid groups – but otherwise closed for business until restored – allows us and other local professionals to leech their wi-fi internet – our only and rare moments of contact with the rest of the world…

Hurricane brought also some beauty – a picturesque ship wreck near Portsmouth

So, the dust finally starts to settle and more and more people get grip of their situation. Some decide to stay, many decide to go abroad, some businesses opening but many to be never seen again – you can feel we are at the cross roads. Hopefully there will be a visible recovery, but now it is all in the air. It will be fascinating to watch and participate in rebuilding this tiny island. But it will be difficult and long process. We quite understand those who already left Dominica, and hope we will not have to. We are ready for the next challenge…

Despite intense cleanup, you still can see many scenes like this…

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Thank you!
Margaret Gajek
Derek Galon

If you wish to help us in this difficult situation, you can do so by using link
Thank you.

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Tags:  #hurricanemaria  #hurricane #maria #tropicalstorms #dominicastrong #dominica

Still Stranded – Hurricane Maria notes – part 3

Dutch Marines coming

In roofless kitchen every cupboard, every mug and plate is covered with dirt and shredded leaves. I am surprised to find that our tightly closed spice jars are half-full of water pumped in under enormous pressure.

It is hard to believe two weeks already passed since the hurricane Maria. We are still spending lots of time sorting our things drenched in muddy water. It takes hours to pull them out, dry them in the sun, clothing spread on branches of our broken mango tree. In the roofless kitchen every cupboard, every mug and plate is covered with dirt and shredded leaves. I am surprised to find that our tightly closed spice jars are half-full of water pumped in under enormous pressure. Nothing stayed dry.

Soaked, messed boxes of stuff ready for our moving – now ready for garbage bin.

destroyed chapel at Retreat House

I am opening soaked boxes only recently packed to move to our new home – now totally destroyed by hurricane. In a dry weather we burn wet packaging, discoloured moldy clothes, destroyed furniture. Our neighbours, the Retreat House, kindly offered us a dry room to store the few things we managed to salvage. We are at the retreat house unloading boxes when we hear loud engines of approaching helicopter – a large Dutch military craft. Two uniformed figures descend on a steel line. They came from St Maarten hit by hurricane Irma and can compare. Dominica was hit much stronger, they say. They are looking for a Dutch couple living nearby to check if they are OK. They left only to come back soon with food for all of us – cans of beans, juice and rice. We laugh saying it will make the most expensive dinner in our lives.

How this tiny stream could turn to the nasty river? All these rocks were brought by water, damaging all homes around…

We are tired of experiencing a waterfall in our living room with every rain, so we decide to call village rastas for help making a temporary roof cover. We hear there is one store in town selling metal galvanized sheets for roofing. We can’t possible go there – our road is still blocked. We decide to find all our old pieces of galvanage and patch them together.

Typical scene of destruction

Finding them is not easy – some are blown away as far as the bottom of the ravine. Dragging them through bushes is a daunting task. We gather wooden rafters and metal sheets scattered around the house and go searching. I found a good sheet of galvanage, but it is stuck on a tree. We are out of luck for this one. After two days of hard work the job is done. To celebrate it, we spend the first night since the hurricane in our own bed. What a luxury, comparing to three weeks spent in our car!

Margaret walks on main street of Soufriere…

Step by step with much effort, our lives slowly improve. We made our pizza oven work again and bake our European bread. We can’t deliver it yet to shops, but we simply share it with neighbours and people in our village. An old friend of ours shipped a new generator as a gift – this will surely make big difference. Another friend invited us to see page and do search for Derek Galon. She organized a donation fund to help us, with friends and total strangers chipping in! Some other friends sent us their individual donations. Each such thing feels like a miracle. Gestures like that not only help rebuild our lives, but also show us much needed support. We are full of gratitude and appreciation. And we feel even more motivated not to fail.

While path to Emerald Pool is now cleared, the waterfall looks like set in middle of forest clear-cut

Soon we will be able to drive again – a hired excavator is clearing the road. We are invited to a bbq chicken party at village’s roofless bar. Everybody share their hurricane stories. There is a strong sense of togetherness which makes it easier to face days ahead.


 Please subscribe to see more photos and read next part soon.
Thank you!
Margaret Gajek
Derek Galon

If you wish to help us in this difficult situation, you can do so by using link
Thank you.

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Tags:  #hurricanemaria  #hurricane #maria #tropicalstorms #dominicastrong #dominica


Center of Roseau

what remained of our bedroom and new home. most belongings were later stolen

Early Days – our hurricane Maria story, part 2

Margaret checking damage morning after hurricane

First weeks after Hurricane Maria are really tough for us. Not only because watching such an enormous destruction of the island hurts the soul, but also because simple everyday tasks combined with the challenge of survival require a lot of energy and effort. We have no roof – rain comes inside making a waterfall in the living room. We are trying to save our possessions moving them to dryer corners and covering them with plastic bags. With so much messy water our Syrian furniture are disintegrating, books melting away, clothes discoloring and moldy, photo equipment malfunctioning. Evening by evening, wet and tired we retreat to our car where we sleep.

Preparing food for lunch

There is no running water in the house, all pipes are broken. We’ve made a simple contraption to catch rain water for washing, and thankfully we have a bit of drinking water left. With our bathroom shattered we wash outside using a cup of water per person. But we need to cut our way through fallen jungle quick, to get drinking water from a nearby the spring. Day after day we make progress cutting bit by bit using our small chainsaw and cutlass. After ten days of exhausting work we can hardly move our hands. Derek says I am looking like a ladybug, covered with neat round bruises from heavy branches I had to pull out of our way. Finally we cleared our way to the neighbouring Retreat House.

Derek and Brother George from Retreat House clearing path to the spring

Seeing our neighbours for the first time since hurricane, we learn that the road to village is blocked by many land slides. What used to be an easy walk to the spring, is now a serious hike. With heavy backpacks we need to cross fallen trees, landslides and surprisingly deep mud ponds. Broken bamboo make haunting, eerie sound. There is profound silence – no birds and no sound of leaves. Leafless trees don’t provide shelter from the scorching sun.

Collecting water from the spring

However, we had to undertake this hike to village soon, for we were told at the top of village road we can sometimes get mobile phone reception. I’ve always liked to walk this road from Retreat House to the village, enjoying lush vegetation. There was always cool here, even on the hottest of days. Now it’s very different. Countless trees uprooted from the hillside fell to the ground. It it difficult to climb over them. Although we both have cutlasses, we make a slow progress. Dense clusters of fallen bamboo with their sharp prickly branches are especially hard to cross.

On the path to the village

I turned another corner and stopped in awe: what used to be a sleepy creek became a raging torrent during the hurricane and made this wide white valley full of huge boulders blocking the road. We finally reach the village. The view from the road takes our breath away. This immense destruction we see has a suffocating effect on us. Destroyed roofless houses, concrete walls crumbled, lots of debris, countless landslides are all around, as far as an eye can see.


Destruction of Eggleston

We call our family and friends. Hearing their voices in this scenery of desolation feels surreal. I am happy to hear them but it’s very difficult to describe in a few words what we’ve been through. Soon we have no money left on our cell phones. For top-ups we need to hike to Roseau; the road is not cleared yet – it will take us at least four hours one way. We head back home.


Drying our salvaged stuff on broken mango tree.

Our generator broke after only three days of working, so we have no power. As we need to clean food supplies from our dead fridge, we have a feast lasting for two days. I spread spoiled mango jam on the grass for bees and other insects – there is nothing for them to feed on. I can see unripened fruits scattered by hurricane on the ground. Most fruit trees are damaged, but even these standing will have no fresh fruit crop for half a year. Feeding five dogs is a challenge. There were only two dogs with us during hurricane. The rest disappeared day before hurricane on one of their adventures. Now they are coming back, exhausted, frightened and hungry.


Our dogs have fun on broken mango tree

Friends from the village brought us canned food and horrific stories about many deaths and miracle survivals. They also heard that our newly built house on the hillside is totally destroyed – only one wall still standing. What if we spent the hurricane night there? I am afraid to think what might happen to us. Our friends leave soon – the hike back to village is long and dangerous after dark.


Remains of Champagne Beach facilities

We get up with the first rays of light – just after 5 am. The gas stove still works. We can cook our simple meals in roofless kitchen while it is not raining. We eat on a small patio with roof still on, sharing food with always hungry dogs.


Cleanup of Roseau

It is remarkable how quickly one can adjust. Life in a shattered house, in conditions unworthy a basic camp site is quickly accepted as the new normal, just the way things are. We live on…


One of trees we had to cut to get to Retreat House

This story covers first two weeks after #HurricaneMaria. Another part coming soon. Please subscribe to see more photos and read next part soon.
Thank you!
Margaret Gajek
Derek Galon

If you wish to help us in this difficult situation, you can do so by using link
Thank you.

Please respect copyright of this story and photos. Contact us if you need to reuse this material.

Tags:  #hurricanemaria  #hurricane #maria #tropicalstorms #dominicastrong #dominica

Secret Bay… once again!

Secret Bay as it looks today

Recently, we felt lucky again to work at the Secret Bay eco-resort here, on the island of Dominica. We felt lucky because this is one of our favorite places on earth. We witnessed the birth of the Secret Bay when six years ago we photographed the first, newly constructed villa called Zabuco, and watched with excitement their further development over the years. This time, our job was to photograph two Ylang-Ylang villas, a newest addition to six already existing ones.

One of Ylang Ylang villas


Shortly after arrival, when carrying our photo equipment (heavy!) and setting it up, I felt it again: calm joy of being there, my blood pressure decreasing, my muscles relaxing. The place is of extraordinary beauty: situated on a cliff with stunning wide view of the Caribbean Sea visible from every villa and bungalow. Looking at the new villas I’m amazed how well they fit into the landscape; they look like they were always there!

Covered patio with kitchen blends inside with outside space

We’re photographing the state of the art equipped kitchen entirely open to the surrounding nature. Inside the villa, sliding doors and huge windows allow the inside space harmoniously blend with the outside.

Another angle on patio reveals its fantastic view

Secret Bay was built by sustainable methods: all the surrounding trees were preserved, only higher brunches were trimmed to open up the amazing vistas. We’ll write more about sustainable development of Secret Bay for the next MACO magazine; please check it out.

While working on our first Caribbean photo coffee-table  book  “Tropical Homes of the Eastern Caribbean” we saw many extraordinarily beautiful homes and resorts all over the Caribbean. Secret Bay is unique among them; it has it all: breathtaking location, exceptional organic architecture, fabulous food and unpretentious friendliness of people who work there. Being here is a very special privilege for us. After work, we take a swim at the Secret Beach and night snorkel – what an uplifting and blissful experience!


Ylang Ylang villa with its swimming pool connected by hardwood patio.

We did not post anything for a while, and we missed you! We will try to publish another post soon. It is just that we are getting incredibly busy at times – working on many projects such as photo-shoots of Miss Dominica, photo sets for hotels and resorts, and also – building our own little house! But that is yet another story…

Stay tuned! Cheers!


Story by Margaret Gajek, all photos by Derek Galon. Please respect the copyright.
Thank you.

Giraudel Flower Show 2016

_DAG8956-smWe were fortunate this year to attend the Giraudel Flower Show in Dominica, where we live now. This special event was held in the village of Giraudel situated on the slopes of Morne Anglais, one of the tallest mountains in the south. The village of Giraudel is known as the “flower basket” of Dominica.

At the entrance to the show

At the entrance to the show

Rich volcanic soil and frequent rains make ideal conditions for growing flowers and healthy vegetables this village is famous for. The Flower Show started in 1973 and grew out of local celebrations of Achievement Day, showcasing local produce, crafts and the best gardens. Since then it was run every second or third year with a bigger break after devastating hurricane David. _DAG8903sm

Sybil Alfred and Desmond Augustine at the Show.

Sybil Alfred and Desmond Augustine at the Show.

We, the Flower Grower Group, recently bought this piece of land and finally have a permanent home for the show,” explains Sybil Alfred- one of the organizers who is involved from the very beginning. “It is very much a community effort, everyone contributes in a different way and everyone is welcome – from small individual growers to commercial flower shops and gardens”.
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”We went into the small house containing flower arrangements. “This year’s general theme is ‘Flowers in a changing environment’”, says Sybil. “When you look around, you see trees being cut, too much garbage and destruction. We say- stop this and concentrate on natural beauty instead.” The display space is divided into sections with different themes and corresponding flower arrangements. Some of the themes are: “Prevent destruction”, “Protect nature’s diversity”, “Resilience”, “Bury careless damage”, “Eat local”, “Harmony with nature” and the last one: “We will bloom again.”

_DAG8905=sm _DAG8926-sm

The display is colourful and striking. Different varieties of Anthurium, Ginger and Costus are the most frequently used plants, together with Alstroemeria, Dahlia and Marigold. I really like a bouquet made of blue Agapanthus- these showy globes are three times bigger than what we grew in our garden in British Columbia, Canada. I truly started to be fond of these strong combination of reds, orange and yellow only when we begun to work on our book “Exotic Gardens of the Easter Caribbean”. As a gardener, I’ve always preferred pastels, whites and textural plants – but here, under tropical sun these vibrant colours really make a strong statement against the background of intensely green rainforest.

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We step outside into the sunshine and wonder around another section showing a variety of natural landscapes and different growing conditions on the island: from lush rainforest of the interior to dry Caribbean coast. This section is skilfully put together by Desmond Augustine, owner of the local plant nursery and a master florist. Here the display includes funky mannequins impersonating workers in the fields.

But this is not everything: there is a tree house with ferns, a shade garden, a field of colourful zinnias, bromeliads… there is still so much to see! We had a wonderful time discovering all corners of the Giraudel Flower Show and ended up buying beautiful peace lily, spathiphyllum wallisii to be planted in our garden later on. I can’t imagine a more enjoyable Sunday afternoon.
I wish you were here!
Until next time!
– Margaret.

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Story by Margaret Gajek
Photos: Derek Galon, Ozone Zone. Please respect copyright.


Beginning of this year has been extremely busy for us, filled with new, exciting, and often challenging projects. Among other activities we contributed articles and dozens of images to several publications including two last editions of MACO Magazine – the ever-popular Caribbean lifestyle magazine. Our write-ups are about unique and quirky homes on Dominica island where we now live. MACO also featured our story about rebirth of Montserrat after it’s last devastating volcano eruption. When our family came from England for a visit, we decided to take a short break from work, and travel with them to a neighbouring island of Martinique._DSC7245

We boarded catamaran ferry operated by L’Express des Iles which links a few nearby islands with Dominica. From the ferry you can really see how extraordinarily beautiful this mountainous island is, covered with lush greenery and surrounded by turquoise coral reefs.


Last glimpse at Dominica – heading to Martinique

Our boat left calm Caribbean Sea and entered rough Atlantic waters. With strong winds it could be a rough ride. Fortunately, the day was calm and soon we were able to see silhouettes of approaching Martinique. It is much more populated than Dominica – over four hundred thousand people live there. From a boat you can clearly see quaint little villages dotting the coastline, and much bigger concentration of population around the Fort-de-France area. It is a metropolis comparing to Dominica with only seventy-two thousand inhabitants.

photo: Derek Galon

Bibliotheque Schoelcher by architect Pierre-Henri Picq

The first thing we noticed after leaving the ferry terminal in Fort-de-France was an elaborate, colourful building of Bibliotheque Schoelcher on the other side of grassy lawns of La Savanne park. Its architecture has a fairy tale quality, and perhaps could look more at home somewhere in Turkey or Italy – maybe because of eclectic, curious mixture of different designing influences including Byzantine, Art Nouveau and ethnic building traditions of French colonies. Library is named in honour of Victor Schoelcher, the French cabinet minister and influential abolitionist. In 1883 he donated books from his own collection to the people of Martinique and was inspiration for this development.

This intricate building was designed by Pierre- Henri Picq in 1884, built in Paris, displayed at the 1889 World Exposition and shipped in pieces to Fort-de-France. Picq is also an architect of other city landmarks like Cathedral St-Louis, Grand Marche – covered produce market, and corner building of Magasin du Printemps. His another eye-catching building, the Museo Artequin in Santiago, Chile, perhaps resembles Bibliotheque Schoelcher the most. Interestingly, in most English speaking travel guides (including Lonely Planet) his last name is spelled Pick, which explains why I couldn’t find any information about him on-line on English sites.


Patisserie Friandises des Iles – our most favourite, perhaps the best small chain in Martinique, with shops in Fort de France, Schoelcher, and case Pilote.

The old city of Fort-de-France is small but full of interesting buildings and… patisseries. Our sightseeing was seriously distracted by our weakness for sweets – but how can you resist delicious French eclairs with fluffy, delicate and fragrant cream?

We took a drive up the scenic coastal road north, which goes through old fishing villages. Our favourite was Case Pilote with old stone church and a charming town square with town hall, a water fountain in the middle and yes, a delicious patisserie.


Fountain in Case-Pilote

Atmospheric town of St Pierre has a fascinating and gloomy history. On May 8th , 1902 the whole city was totally destroyed by pyroclastic flow from erupting volcano of Mont Pelee in 10 short minutes. The speed of black clouds carrying volcanic gases and burning ash was over 670km per hour and temperature as high as 1,075 degrees C. Wikipedia brings a very detailed description of this tragic eruption. Nearly 30 thousand people lost their lives. One of the lucky escapists was a prisoner named Cyparis, locked in a jail cell.


Mont Pelee

Not much have been left from the original city. The most impressive ruins are of an old 18th- century theatre, which once seated 800. It was built in 1786, reconstructed in 1831, resembling a theatre in Bordeaux. Well preserved a double set of stairways gives a sense of grandeur and an enormous scale of the building.


Double set of stairs to amphiteatre

Depth of the stage allowed for big productions, ranging from classical to vaudeville as well as great operas. Setting for the theatre is as spectacular as the building itself – located on a hill with spectacular views of the sea and Mont Pelee.


Mt Pelee seen through old gate of theatre

In times of its glory it must have been an awe inspiring sight. Curiously, the theatre was closed down shortly before the eruption of Mont Pelee as a result of huge loans for renovations in 1900, that couldn’t be paid off.


Old, rusted trasnformer in theater ruins.


We wandered through the narrow streets of this fascinating town ending up (of course!) in another delicious patisserie.


Remainings of the theater

Back from this short trip, refreshed and excited, we got back to our work with new energy – but this is yet another story…

Until next Time! Cheers!
Derek and Margaret

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Story by Margaret Gajek
Photographs by Derek Galon – please respect copyright.

Front of a typical old house in St Pierre

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