Monday, October 20, 2014

3 month anniversary!

Tomorrow is Island Life Backpackers’ Hostels 3 month anniversary,  time has flown by! The plan was to open in off season and be able to finish everything when we were quite. It has been the opposite - we have been really busy and it has been amazing! We have had travelers from all over the world staying - over 50 different countries. We have had really good feedback and have loved our guests.
Island Life nights out
We have an awesome team of staff now. Anthony from the UK, Cory from Puerto Rico and Michael our chef from Denmark. Along with our cleaner and security guard everything is starting to run really smoothly.
Chilling at the bar
We have been full on multiple occasions and had some great parties in the bar. Our guys love showing our guests the local night life in the Colonial Zone.
Just in case the guests get lost!
We have been running trips from the hostel every Sunday for our guests. We have had some awesome days out.
Weekly Friday night BBQ
Everyone loves Isla Saona; an Island just of the South East Coast. It is a great day out - food, drink, snorkeling, starfishes and an awesome Catamaran ride.
Cayo Levantado with some guests
Last weekend was Cayo Arena and although it is quite a trek from the capital the guests loved it.
Cayo Arena - Paradise!
By this time I thought I would have been completely finished by now with the rest of the renovations however I still have quite a few areas that I need to finish. I still have one ensuite 6 bed dorm to finish. This will be quite a bit of work as the room is just an empty shell at the moment but I am hoping to have it finished by the end of November. This dorm will have air conditioning as well so our guests can have the choice.
Still finishing parts of our bar but its looking good
Now we have a few staff working for us I have a couple of rooms that I need to finish as staff rooms, the pool house will sleep two and I am also changing the bar toilets. I made the bar toilets far to big - when I made the plans it didnt look that big so I am making a staff room with bathroom with half of it.
Saturday night Burger night

I am almost finished our commercial kitchen. This wasnt a priority at first as I thought  it would be a while before we started serving food but due to Michael arriving we are hoping to have it finished by the end of the week so we can move him in to this kitchen.
Island Life Bar

I am going to keep the blog updated a bit more frequently now as I have let it slip over the last few months. So until next time.
A rare day off - out with Anthony for his birthday

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Across the finish line!

We are open! Ok we opened over a week ago and I am a bit late on the blog but I have been really busy getting everything ready. I thought being as it was off season and that we just opened that it would take a few weeks before we started to get bookings.
Back garden - outdoor kitchen
Almost the exact opposite! Bookings have been coming in daily and we have had around 12 guests in the first 5 days so I am really happy. The guests have been awesome - all travellers/backpackpers - just what we are all about. I have put a big map up behind reception where guests put a pin in to show where they are from. No where near as busy as I want to be but not bad for the first week.
The Hostel still has a few bits and pieces to finish off and fine tune but these are being completed over the coming weeks. I have to say it feels like a massive weight has been lifted from my shoulders. The restoration has taken 14 months in total (add another 8 if you include the permit process). There has been happy times, hard times and times where honestly I was doubting if it was going to be possible to finish.
Common Room
I am so looking forward to the upcoming months, this has been my dream all along to open a hostel and now it is reality. Lots and lots of hard work to come but this is the part I am really going to enjoy.

Some of the finishing touches are really going to make the difference. I decided to call the rooms names rather than numbers. Other famous backpacker cities from around the world. I also installed electronic card locks to the guest room doors - so much easier than keys.
Room names and electronic door locks

I also installed a streamer on the common room TV so guests can relax and watch a movie or two at times.

Common room TV

The bar - although still not completely finished yet is looking good, I love the Caoba wood I used. I still have seating booths to make, the bar toilets to finish and the projector to put up but those should be completed by next week.

Almost complete bar
The dorm beds are all finished now with personal fans and reading lights with a big lockable storage locker for guest to put their belongings.

Dorm bed with fans, lockers and reading light
The private rooms are all finished. We installed AC in a couple of the private ensuite rooms the other day as an optional extra for the guests as it gets hot at this time of year.

Double ensuite
The front of the hostel is looking better - our sign is up, video door phones installed and I was hoping to have all the card entry locks installed on the front doors aswell but unfortunately I had ordered the incorrect power supply for them - so it will be a week or so before they arrive. I still need to cover up the wires on the front of the house and the electricity meter. Although I am waiting to see what they are doing with the road renovations down here in the Colonial Zone. They said that they are stopping on the corner of my street - just 2 properties before me. They are putting all the power lines underground so I am hoping they might do my block aswell - just have to wait and see I guess.

Island Life Backpackers Hostel
It hasnt all been plain sailing though however - about two hours before my first booking was set to arrive my pressure switch for my water pump decided to fail. Not just fail and not work - nope it decided not to turn off! Resulting in two toilets internals blowing and bust one pipe. I am pretty luck as the pressure must have been up around 80psi at least. So rushing to repair two toilets and digging up some newly laid tile work to to repair a pipe wasnt in my plans for my first day of opening but luckily I had it all fixed just in time.

Dusk - in the garden
We also have solar heated hot water now! I finally got around to hooking the solar heater up (6 months later) so our guest can enjoy warm showers - not that you need them!

I want to say a big thank you for everyone who has been following this blog, its always good to get encouragement. I do have a couple specific people I would like thank. First of all Katherine my beautiful wife who has gone through this whole project with me and has put up with me through this. My mum who has been a rock - its always good to phone home and she has been listening to my problems for the past two years - not to mention painting the whole hostel when she visited. Also to Kevin in the UK, I used to work for him back in the UK, always following the progress and a massive support. Ha, I felt like that was an award acceptance speech or something lol.

Twin room
I do hope some people see this as a bit of inspiration. Some were critical saying I was crazy and that it would never get off the ground here in the Dominican Republic. I know its very tough over here and you do hear about people losing everything - I know we havent made it yet - this was just phase one but I am positive for the journey ahead. There will always be obstacles and people saying you cant do things in life - but I did it - this was my dream and now I am sitting here writing this blog in own, now fully open hostel! Its a good feeling

Do not worry though I am going to keep the blog going - it is still a new adventure after all!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A little delayed but almost there!

Well I have decided to change the opening date to the 11th July... that is when we have our first bookings so it kind of made sense to push the opening date back until then. I still have a lot of little jobs that need completing before opening and the extra 11 days will allow us to open about 90% finished. There are still a few bedrooms, bathrooms and the commercial kitchen to complete but they can wait until further down the line when we need them.
Working on the bar in the evenings
I dont want to put up many photos on this post as I want it to be a bit of a surprise. I cant believe we have come this far - it will have been almost 14 months since I started work on the project and the dream is almost a reality. Its been tough the last few weeks, I am absolutely shattered and it is frustrating as this is the time I really want to be working on the operational side of things - not still finishing bits of construction.
Just installed the AC in the bar
However I am guessing we are not going to be really busy for the first few months so that will give me the time to fine tune everything. So the last week or so I have STILL been finishing off the communal bathrooms for the dormitory rooms - I am just a few days away at which point I will never want to see a ceramic tile again! Its funny as jobs that you dont mind doing at the start can turn in to your worst jobs by the end... after laying over a thousand square meters of ceramic tile I am over it. The same goes with the doors - over 40 in total - but hey almost finished!
An unfinished bathroom
In between tiling I have been finishing lots of little jobs - I have finally finished all the electrics, the main panel is all tidy and cover is on - wire for the backup generator is installed and AC has been installed in the bar.
Lots of tile work
I still have some seating booths to build in the bar but other than that its almost ready. I wont put a finished picture up yet but it looks good. I used the old Mahogany roof beams to build the front of the bar and bar top - looks great and was free... cant beat that, although sanding down all that wood was a messy job - it is going to be one hell of a clean up job before we open. Katherine has been busy putting the final touched to the private rooms and setting them up ready, tomorrow she will start on the dormitory rooms.
Getting there...
Jenson - our lovely German Shepard is growing fast - he is almost 5 months old now - he has almost grown out of the stage of eating everything in sight! A couple of people have asked me about having dogs in a Hostel and how it will work... for example what if someone does not like dogs? Well first of all I will put pictures of them up on the website and let people know that we do have a couple of dogs and second of all they have a fenced off area at the back of the garden where they can be kept if needed. To be honest though they are great, all Enzo is interested in is his ball and devotes his whole day to finding someone to throw it for him. Also they are great for security - security guards can fall asleep at night... my boys hear everything!
Our new bartender
Im excited for the opening and the next post where there will be a LOT of pictures.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

15 days to go...

Being as I started the countdown last week I thought I better update each week now...

Almost finished dorm room

There is a hell of a lot of work to be done in such a short space of time. But the good news is the dorm rooms are almost ready and looking good.

Dorm room with balcony

All I have left to do in the dorms is to attach the personal fans and reading lights to each of the beds and paint them - although if I don’t get them painted straight away it wont be the end of the world. Having the high ceilings are great and the vents in the doors keep the rooms really cool, the downside to that is that you do get a bit of street noise but luckily late at night there isn’t that much.

Six bed dorm

The common room is also cleaned up and ready. I have the couch and TV ready to go in, the phone company are coming this week to install the guest phone line and I have built a computer desk and book shelf for the book exchange.

Common Room ready for furniture

I tiled the balcony a couple of weeks ago but did not put the picture up so here it is. I am going to put a little roof over the front balcony as if it rains hard and the wind blows hard water is coming in through the vents.

Tiled front Balcony

I have started work on the dormitory rooms shared bathrooms - a job that I have been putting of on purpose as it needs a lot of work! 

The last piece of the puzzle...

I put the electrics in today along with the ventilation fans which was a horrible job - I thought I was finished with all the dirty jobs... I reckon it will take me about another 6 days to finish it so fingers crossed. 

Door from bar to hostel

Theres been a few jobs that I have been meaning to do for a while that I have also been catching up on - the back up generator for one. I bought it ages ago but have not got around to actually hooking it up - the main reason is that I have to run a 200ft wire from my laundry to the main panel. So I have the wire and will be hooking it up in the next few days. Luckily we only have around one blackout a month which is amazing compared to some other areas. I have also painted the stairway.

Starting the bar late in the evening

Now in my last post I said that we would be ready to open by 1st July 2014, apart from the bar. Well the other evening I decided at around 7pm (after working all day) that I was going to build the bar!

Reception part of the bar

I had picked up all the wood the other day so it was all there waiting for me. So Friday night, music and a few beers I started.

Getting there...

It is not going to be a huge bar - it will mainly be for hostel guests but obviously we will allow public in. I set it up so the hostel is totally separate from the bar - I have installed a door that leads to the stairwell that will open with a guests keycard. It is good for security as no drinkers in the bar can get into the hostel area. 

Finished framework of the bar

I am building the bar in an L shape, the smaller part will be the check in area which will have our check in computer and info. The longer part will be the drinks service area. I didn't really have much of a plan when starting it - it just kind of evolved - obviously I knew the correct height and width etc before hand. I have built the frame of the bar out of pine but I am going to put some of the Caoba that I have from the old roof beams vertically along the front.

Ready for the top and Caoba front
I was going to use it as the bar top but due to the varied sizes of the planks that I cut up it would be difficult to make a bar top. I am hoping it turns out well...
As I said going to be a huge capacity bar, I already have the pool table in one of the bar rooms - that will have a couple of high tables and stools so in the bar I am going to build two 6 seater booths, a couple of tables and have a few bar stools - all in all seating for around 25 - plenty I would say!

Caoba beams ready and waiting...
So that just leaves the room behind the bar - I have a lot to fit in this room - luckily it is pretty big. So out comes the sheet rock... So there are two doorways behind the bar, the smaller one will lead into a small office, and the bigger one will actually be a shelves for all the bottles but with a hatch in I can pass all the glasses through in to the kitchen.
Dividing the bar toilets, office and kitchen
The kitchen will be pretty small and I am not planning to do food at the moment - this will be one the future - but I would rather have the room there then not have it. There are also two bathrooms and a storage closet. Not a bad use of space I think! The storage closet is actually for my motorbike, it is a pain to get it all the way into the back of the property so I have set aside a cupboard just big enough for it.

So, things are really starting to move forward, I have already had a booking and enquires - even though there are no photos on my site yet so its looking good - now all I have to do is finish in time! 15 days and counting...

Saturday, June 7, 2014

23 days and counting...

Its getting close to the opening date and the place is still a little way off being ready. I am focusing on upstairs at the moment as thats where all the rooms are so worst case scenario the bar will not be ready by the 1st July but it will be close. I have now finished the wooden floors upstairs, glad that is out the way.

Midway through sanding the floors
I have been meaning to put up a sheetrock wall to divide two of the dormitory rooms upstairs for a while so thought I best get around to it.

Erecting the sheetrock frame
I now know why I was putting it off - with 17 foot ceilings upstairs and being just one person it was a bit tough... I am glad the bunk beds where there as I was able to use those to get up that high. Only took one and a half days to get it all erected - easy I thought, but then came the finishing - I have a new worst job now - mudding the sheetrock - its not that its that difficult but it makes one hell of a mess!

Adding the sheetrock
I have one side complete now and painted just need to finish off the other side. I have also put all the skirting boards in the dorms - so once that wall is finished I only have to paint the bunkbeds and two of the dorms are finished!

Mudding - I hate it!
I have also tiled the front balcony - I would have photos but my phone just decided to die... so unfortunately I lost a few photos but I will add them on the next post. I have also almost finished the common room upstairs - book exchange shelves, computer desk and phone area have all been built. 

Stair railing
I have also built the railing for the landing - nothing fancy but does the job. Once I clean it all up I will get it all set up with the computer, TV and couch. So I only have two more days of work and two dorms and the common room will be finished - very happy with that.

A messy work area!
I think I mentioned in my last post that I was going to put up an electric fence around the perimeter of the property. So 37 posts and 1800 foot of wire the fence is now up!

Electric Fence posts
Everyone was asking why I don’t just use barbed wire - well personally I hate the look of it and second of all the electric fence has an alarm if tampered with so just a bit more added security.

Electric fence
I felt like I had sun stroke after installing it all. It took a day to get all the posts set then another day to connect up all the wire.

Electric perimeter fence
So only 23 days left... a little nervous but at least it is all moving forward. I have a couple days of work to finish the private ensuite rooms and then all it leaves me is two bathrooms upstairs -apart from the bar we will then be ready for business!