Published On: Fri, Sep 22nd, 2017

From top tourist attraction to desolate disaster area

Beach chair and destructed chalets Club Orient sep 21 2017 HH

By Hilbert Haar

ORIENT BAY – With 95 percent of the island destroyed it comes as no surprise that one of the island’s top touristic attractions Orient Beach on the French side is also obliterated. There is literally nothing left.

All the new stores the Collectivité only recently built near the nudist resort Club Orient at a cost of several millions of euros have been wiped off the face of the earth. The place is deserted. A few purple chairs are standing forlorn on a tiled floor but the store that was once there, is no more. Or maybe it was a small restaurant, or a beach bar.

One of the destructed beach stores at Orient Beach. Photo Today / Hilbert Haar

The structures have been ripped apart like cardboard and closer inspection of the remains show that these buildings were not made to withstand any hurricane. The walls consisted of wooden beams, on the inside closed off with cheap boards of compressed wood fibers and on the outside with thin wooden slats, held together with tiny nails. This was an accident waiting to happen.

Detail of the poor construction of the tourist stores the Collectivité built on Orient Beach. Photo Today / Hilbert Haar

Turning from this disaster area towards Club Orient there once was Pedro’s a popular hangout for drink and dance near the beach, especially in the weekends. Now there is nothing, with the exception of a part of the toilet building. The wall behind Pedro’s that separated the road from the Club Orient property has completely collapsed.

The damaged toilet building is all that is left of the popular hangout Pedro’s. Photo Today / Hilbert Haar

And while the destruction of the stores, the little beach bars and Pedro’s is a drama all onto itself, the destruction at Club Orient right next to it is of an unprecedented magnitude. This is where wealthy Americans used to spend their time to escape the brutal winters at home.

The property’s main shareholder, Bostonian Bob Morrison, is reportedly ailing and it is doubtful that rebuilding Club Orient is high on his current to-do list.

Chalet #52 at Club Orient. Photo Today / Hilbert Haar

The charming chalets that bordered on the beach are ruins. The Perch Bar, where Club O-guests used to queue during the daily happy hour is no more. The space between the waterline and the nearest buildings – or what remains of them – is now somewhere between 40 and 50 meters. Before Hurricane Irma, the width of the beach was at best ten to twelve meters.

Towards the end of the property is Papagayo, Club O’s restaurant. The chalets that stood right next to it were thought to be among the strongest structures but they too were no match for the wrath of Irma. All that is left of these places is a pile of rubble. On the beach there is one remaining beach chair, but there are no takers these days.

Structural damage to the Papagayo restaurant at Club Orient. Photo Today / Hilbert Haar

The Papagayo building is still standing – somewhat – but it has clear structural damages. All that is left on the floor of the deserted building is an unopened bottle of Heering cherry liquor.

The watersport building at the end of the beach has completely disappeared.

There is nobody to talk to here; there is no security because there is nothing left to secure; there are no looters either because there is nothing to loot. The resort was this summer still a center for the ultimate relaxation – Leave It All Behind was once its marketing slogan – but these days only a feeling of intense sadness and irreparable loss remains. A Dutchman called Brink built the resort in 1978 – that’s 39 years ago. Now it would not surprise anybody if the current main shareholder, Bob Morrison, would leave it all behind.

Is there then nothing left at all on the beach? The short answer is no; a visit to Orient Village confirms this in a more elaborate way.

All the beach bars and restaurants are gone. There is absolutely nothing left. Bikini Beach, Waikiki, Coconut Beach, Kontiki and all the others are gone.

From  an optimistic point of view one could argue that Orient is now a pristine beach, but it does not look like a place tourists would  appreciate.

No more entertainment for the time being at the village square in Orient Village. Photo Today / Hilbert Haar

The village square with its quaint little restaurants and bars has also fallen victim to Hurricane Irma. On the main road leading into the village, a lone excavator operator is tackling a huge pile of debris – a familiar sight all around the island these days. A little boy and a young girl pass by on their bicycles, seemingly oblivious to the destruction around them.

Two kids cycle past debris piled high up in the center of Orient Village. Photo Today / Hilbert Haar

At the end of the main road there is a pile of other Irma-victims: palm trees, unceremoniously cut to pieces.

On the beach there is the first sense of security – a detachment of French military with two huge trucks, a large tent and a bunch of generators.

Military presence Orient Beach sep 21 2017 HH

There are just two structures still standing further towards the other end of the beach: the remains of The Palms and Boo Boo Jam, a place that burned down a couple of years ago; the ruins of Boo Boo Jam got a fresh coat of paint not too long ago and there was again some entertainment going  during the weekends.

It is de only place to go to, once people have put all this misery behind them. In that sense, Boo Boo Jam is in a better shape than its neighbor, the Mont Vernon Residence, a former hotel that a creative survivor aptly dubbed Mont Vernot – in large blue letters on what is left of the wooden deck around its once so attractive swimming pool.