Over the past 3 years, together with my daughter Chloe and my husband Paul, we have curated a tiny piece of paradise, Valley Church beach Antigua, into a site for amazing luxury beach glamping.
We have 5 huge luxury tents, each with solid oak furniture, brass beds and private solar heated outdoor showers, set among an oasis of banana trees, frangipani and hibiscus flowers that we have planted on the beach.
I’m writing to share with you how I escaped the rat race, abandoned a steady career in local government and set up the first glamping site in Antigua.
It’s the story of our journey that led to creating Wild Lotus Camp, a place where lovers, friends and families can sleep under the stars, and appreciate the beauty of Antigua’s stunning coastline.
It's the story of our passion for creating a space where people can stand still in a racing world and connect deeply with nature and each other.
This blog is also our way of connecting with anyone who is planning to do as we have; leave all that they are familiar with behind, go in search of a sense of freedom, and to live the life you choose.
Who am I?
I’m much the same as many other professionals from colder climes, who have washed up on the shores of a Caribbean island, tired of the rat race, looking for both purpose in life, and a lifestyle that makes you smile.
I was born and bred in the UK and though my family originate from St. Vincent & the Grenadines, it wasn’t until I was the wrong side of 40 that I took my first trip to the Caribbean. I will share stories of many mistakes along the way that I hope will save others a small fortune; I try to think of these costs as the equivalent of tuition fees for a master’s degree in Caribbean life skills.
From the first time I set foot in Antigua I fell in love. I saw blue skies and turquoise seas, golden sand and palm trees. More than that, for the first time, despite the cultural differences and the trouble tuning my ear in to the dialect, here was a place where I felt I could belong.
Giving up a career in the UK and forging a path in the Caribbean has certainly not been easy. Without the germ of a business idea and the support of my family I would never have come so far.
So, how did I come up with the idea of a glamping site in Antigua?
I guess that I am, and always will be, a public servant. My first professional training was in psychiatric nursing. At the height of my career I was a Director of Adult Social Services and an Assistant Chief Executive for large local authorities, planning and managing public services in cities across the UK.
If you’re familiar with Edgar Schein’s work you will not be surprised to know that ‘service’, ‘pure challenge’ and ‘autonomy’ are my career anchors. These values go some way to explaining my commitment to sustainable tourism, and how I would create the first glamping site in Antigua.
However, it was a conflux of life events, the death of my parents, dissatisfaction with my career and a desire to explore my heritage that was the catalyst for change.
I can’t honestly say that there was an Aha! moment, or a detailed plan. It is only now that I reflect, I see a series of decisions that were seemingly unconnected at the time. Looking back, I now realise that the decision to retire to the Caribbean took 14 years to effect.
Over that time, I must have spent thousands of hours procrastinating on the laptop. My initial ‘research’ threw up a fact that fascinated me; did you know that on average every two years somewhere in the Caribbean is affected by a hurricane? And that due to climate change, these hurricanes are becoming more intense – with devastating effect?
“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” ― Wayne W. Dyer
So many livelihoods have been destroyed overnight as a result of a hurricane. What if tourism infrastructure could be put up for the season and taken down at the end of the season? Are temporary structures cost effective? Are they better at protecting the environment and the tourism assets? What if the infrastructure could be entirely solar powered?
What if the deluge of rainwater dumped by storms could be stored to nurture and grow an oasis of green in the dry season? And instead of building concrete hotel rooms that could be destroyed in the next storm, what if we erected temporary luxury glamping tents?
Wild Lotus Montserrat
I do seem to get the greatest satisfaction out of trying to solve seemingly unsolvable social problems, and I always find a novel way to do so.
I had worked out that by virtue of its dependency on the UK, Montserrat was in the European Union. The EU has a fantastic youth exchange programme that enables young people from different EU countries to live together for up to 3 weeks to tackle a shared social problem.
Here lay the opportunity to express our social purpose on a remote Caribbean island. Within a few months of leaving my job I was bound for Montserrat.
For the first time in its 20-year history, the EU exchange programme connected young people from mainland Europe to those in its overseas territories.
We found an abandoned campsite up in the rainforest, renovated it and set it up with lovely Lotus Belle tents. Then we brought together young people from Turkey, Italy, France, Spain, Poland, Montserrat and the UK to experience exotic rainforest glamping and exchange perspectives.
This was the most exciting space where young people would deepen their understanding of the impact of climate change on small islands states. At the same time, we would explore the potential for glamorous camping in Caribbean as an accessible form of sustainable tourism.
It was in the middle of one such youth camp, way up in the rainforest in Montserrat, surrounded by the most curious creatures, and flora and fauna with fascinating medicinal properties, listening to Chloe thinking out loud about green therapy and the healing power of nature, that my appreciation of the power of the idea of creating a space where urbanites get to truly connect with nature began to take shape.
Days later hurricane Maria struck. Within hours it went from a category 2 to a category 4 hurricane warning. The campsite was quickly evacuated, and all the young people safely moved to the hurricane shelters, but there was no time to take down the tents.
20th September 2017 was the longest night of my life. Try to imagine standing on the platform at an underground station, transfixed by the roar and turbulence of an on-coming high speed train.
This is the sound of 120mph hurricane winds, and the succession of terrifying crescendos were relentless throughout the night.
Montserrat did not bear the worst of the storm. Maria wrought catastrophic devastation across the Caribbean taking over 3,000 lives, leaving housing and tourism stock and infrastructure beyond repair, uprooting trees and practically eradicating the vegetation.
It was with my heart in my throat that I approached the campsite the next morning.
Incredulously, every one of our five Lotus Belle tents were still standing. To this day I still do not understand how. Perhaps their circular design and the 30 stakes anchoring them to the ground, combined with the shelter of the rainforest canopy may have protected us, I just don’t know.
However, I was now in awe of nature, but knew that the Lotus belle tents would work. My resolve to establish glamping as a sustainable tourism product was underscored.
We loved the Wildlife of the rainforest. We borrowed ‘lotus’ from the Lotus belle tents and right there, directly after hurricane Maria the concept of Wild Lotus Camp was born.
The Lotus Belle tents were just too beautiful to leave standing idle in between youth exchanges (and hurricanes). Montserrat is the 3rd least visited island in the world, and little wonder, back in 2016 the ferry service, a vital connection to Antigua and the rest of the world stopped for almost a year.
Montserrat has huge potential but with the dead hand of British rule, poor infrastructure and lacklustre politicians, all that has been achieved in the 25 years since the volcanic eruptions is a succession of tourism strategy documents gathering dust.
Sadly, we moved on from Montserrat and began to look for other sites in Antigua that still had a similar natural wilderness feel, to set up a new camp.
Wild Lotus Antigua
Valley Church Beach is one of the most stunning beaches in Antigua. It’s a ½ mile stretch of pure golden sand with not a concrete hotel in sight. Although this is a very popular beach, once the cruise ship visitors return to the port the gate is locked before sunset and the beach is all but deserted.
At the far end of the beach there is a beach bar and restaurant, The Nest, run by the landowners, Elvis and Neil. The restaurant and washrooms were all the infrastructure we needed to set up the new Wild Lotus Camp.
Once negotiations were completed, we brought the tents over and set them up on Valley Church beach.
We had our first customer, Jasmine, glamp with us in November 2017 just two months after hurricane Maria in Montserrat.
Finding our tribe
Now in our third season, having served hundreds of customers from all walks of life, we are looking to find our tribe.
If you've stayed with us, share this blog with anyone you know who loves the Caribbean and might love glamping too. We want to truly create magical experiences for lovers, family and friends to connect.
We also want to promote the health benefits of the outdoors and host retreats focused on wellness and nature.
We are hosting Yoga retreats for the first time this year and we'll keep you posted on how this works. So, to all you yogis out there, we'd welcome ideas and suggestions on how we can make the space accessible to the yoga community.
"There's no wifi on a deserted beach but we promise you will find a better connection.” ― Vennetta, Chloe & Paul
In planning the future of Wild Lotus Camp and growing the business, we are keen to connect professionals looking for a life change, to Caribbean landowners looking for a way to expand.
We're curious to see if building a glamping business might be realistic option, and if so, to grow the business through the franchise model.
Wild Lotus Camp is fun but being a family business is not all plain sailing! We’d like to share both the good times, and the not so good times!
We strongly identify with people who feel the need to strike out and start something entirely new.
It’s wonderful. But it’s hard.
We hope that by sharing the next stages of our journey to develop Wild Lotus Camp we will give readers some useful insights into starting a new life and inspire you to follow your dreams too.
How to glamp on the beach in a stunning Caribbean paradise
But enough of this 'life-changing' stuff! For those of you who just want a glamping holiday for now, check out my next blog 'How to glamp on the beach in a stunning Caribbean paradise'. Here we will give you tips on the best tours in Antigua, what to bring, what to wear, and most of all what to expect on your Wild Lotus adventure.
Until next time,