As anyone who has read the TripAdvisor reviews will know, when we took over Manicou River, hot showers were something of a myth. While technically possible – the previous owners had installed a lo-tech but effective system of heat-absorbing black pipes on the roof of each cottage – the problem was that most of the guests get up early and come back late in the afternoon after a long day’s hiking and want to have a nice shower exactly at the times when the sun is not shining and therefore the water is not warm.
Probably around half the guests didn’t care – "The whether is hot, a cold shower is just what I need!" Others told us it was the only thing standing between them and their perfect holiday.
When we first arrived, we assumed that solar hot water heaters would be the obvious solution. We even pre-ordered some from China before our purchase of the property was even finalised thinking we were so clever to be planning ahead and getting such a good deal on new Chinese technology. Unfortunately that shipment went the way of so many things bound for Dominica and ended up lost in a port in the Dominican Republic, never to be heard of again.
On further research, we learnt that because of their unique hexagonal design the roof shape of our cottages is not suitable for attaching solar water heaters. (We also learnt that the small, light-weight Chinese models we had tried to buy would never have stood up to Caribbean weather conditions). Next we thought of putting the solar heaters on top of the shed or a bespoke structure but the distance between our cottages means that the length of pipe needed to distribute water between them would allow too much loss of heat along the way.
We started thinking that because our electricity is free and renewable, maybe small electric water heaters would be the way to go. We also wanted to continue to make use of the black piping because it is very effective when the sun does shine. Someone recommended we look at shower-head heaters – small but powerful heating elements that sit directly above the shower-head to heat the water as it passes through.
Developed specifically for the Caribbean and manufactured mostly in Puerto Rico, these small on-demand heaters are designed for warm climates where the ground water temperature is relatively high. When switched on, they work instantly to raise the water temperature by about 10 degrees C. This is perfect for our water that is already coming from the roof at approximately 24 C, even in the evenings. If our guests choose to shower between around 9am and 4pm on a sunny day, the water will be pretty hot already. During other times, they just have to flip a switch and their shower comes instantly warm. Don't expect a piping hot douse – we still need to use our electricity conservatively – but this is a hot country, refreshingly warm is just the thing to wash off the days sea salt and sweat.
So many simple things that we take for granted elsewhere become complicated by Manicou River’s unique combination of location, design and self-sufficiency. But we are very happy when we find a solution that brings extra comfort to our guests (and us!) despite these challenges.