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Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
February 1, 1994
Note to Readers: I expect to be on St. Martin from 19-26 February. As February is a short month and I'll be returning late in the month, there may be a delay of a few days in the transmission of the March 94 CTR. Hopefully, I'll get it out by the first weekend in March. The report of my trip will appear in the April edition.
Paul Graveline, Editor
CONTENTS FOR FEBRUARY 1994
1/ Anguilla Part III: Continuing Series by Jim Cain
2/ Official Airline Guide's Online Caribbean Information
3/ Journeys and Notes for February 1994
Aruba by Natalie Beck
Aruba by Sandra Woital
Bahamas: Bimini Diving by Jenny Darby and Phil Carta
Bahamas: Cutlass Bay Club by Robert Roll
Barbados: Tourism News from the Barbados Tourism Authority
Belize by Glen Allen
BVI: Bareboating by John Hakemian
Cayman Islands by David Leadbetter
Cuba by Scot Hacker and Ingrid Schorr
Cuba by Ron Golemba
Grand Turk: Diving by Jenny Darby and Phil Carta
Jamaica: Jamaica Grande by Mal Greenfield
Jamaica: Sandals by Randy Wood
Puerto Rico: Oil Spill Update and New Tours Introduced
St. Barths by Beverly Baridon
St. Croix from Vicki Luciano
St. Martin by Norm Maxwell
USVI: Getting Married by Division of Tourism courtesy of Jerry Schneiderman
USVI: Places to See by Division of Tourism courtesy of Jerry Schneiderman
1/ ANGUILLA PART III: CONTINUING SERIES BY JIM CAIN
Jim Cain contributes the third in a series on Anguilla this month. Please remember that Jim's work is copyrighted and that he can be reached via INTERNET at PALM.DUDE@GENIE.GEIS.COM. This month Jim focuses on some useful general information and the first part of a detailed accommodation review is presented. The extensive property comments will continue in the March edition. Once again thanks to Jim for his great contribution.
Miscellaneous General Information
Name: Anguilla, British West Indies (pronounced Ann-GWIL-ah)
Capital: The Valley
Location: Most northerly of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean about 190 miles directly east of Puerto Rico and 5 miles north of St. Martin. Latitude 18 N, Longitude 63 W.
Size: 16 miles long by 3 miles wide: 35 square miles
Geography: Composed of flat coral limestone, the highest point is Crocus Hill at 213 feet above sea level.
Time: Atlantic Standard Time. Four hours behind Britain; one hour ahead of eastern US and Canadian cities on Standard Time; same time when they are on Daylight Savings Time.
Government: British Crown Colony
Currency: Eastern Caribbean Dollar (currently, 2.682 EC$=1 US$ for notes 2.6882 for Traveler's Checks.). US dollars are freely taken everywhere on Anguilla. Note that Banks generally charge a fee for cashing Traveler's Checks while most businesses do not.
Public Holidays: New Years Day, Jan. 1; Good Friday, April 9; Easter Monday, April 12; Labour Day, May 1; Whit Monday, May 31; Anguilla Day, June 1; Celebration of the Queen's Birthday, June 11. August Monday, August 2; August Thursday, August 5; Constitution Day, August 6; Separation Day, December 17; Christmas Day, December 25; and, Boxing Day, Monday 27.
Entry Documents Required: Passports preferred, but other official photo ID such as driver's license is acceptable (for U.S. citizens). Onward or return ticket out of Anguilla is required.
Electricity: 120/240 volts, 60 Hz AC (same as USA)
Rainfall: Average is 35 inches per year
Temperature: Mean monthly temperature of 80 deg F (27 deg C)
Brief History: Colonized by the British in 1650, Anguilla enjoyed self rule until the early 1800s when it was administered by St. Kitts. Anguilla rebelled in 1969, then welcomed the British Paratroopers as rescuers from St. Kitts. The separation from St. Kitts/Nevis didn't officially occur until December 19, 1980. Since that time, Anguilla has continued as an independently administered British Crown Colony.
For additional information contact:
Anguilla Tourist Information and Reservation Office
c/o Medhurst & Associates, Inc.
271 Main Street, Northport, NY 11768, USA
(800)-553-4939 or (516)-261-1234
MACHINEEL TREE: Like a strong poison ivy. treat accordingly and stay away from anything which may have gotten the sap on it. DO NOT shelter under these trees when in rains.
SUNBURN: Remember this is a tropical sun. Use sunblocks for protection and don't stay out longer than your skin can take (depending on the level of your tan and sensitivity to sun)
SNORKELING and SCUBA SAFETY: Don't go out alone. Always dive with a buddy and follow proper procedures. If you're not qualified, get instruction before you go. Don't snorkel out any distance unaccompanied. Fire coral stings and puncture wounds from tropical sea urchins are the most prolific sea-related injury, and both of these are most infrequent.
EATING TOO MUCH GOOD FOOD: By far the biggest danger on Anguilla! Don't try and avoid, but just give in to this unavoidable hazard. You can make up for it after you return home!
Remember that you are a representative of your country when traveling on any foreign soil. You are a guest in their country (not the other way around), so act accordingly and leave a good impression.
MARINE LIFE: It is illegal in Anguilla to take corals or sponges (dead or alive) as well as several other sea creatures. Don't break the law - leave the seascape for the visitors who follow you to enjoy.
Detailed Accommodation Information
Rates quoted below are European Plan (no meals), exclusive of 8% government tax and 10% service charges unless otherwise specified. Modified American Plan (MAP) where offered means breakfast and dinner (or lunch) included. Room and villa booking and cancellation policies generally require 2-5 nights deposit at time of booking and this is generally fully refundable if canceled prior to 30 days before arrival date. Most packages require FULL payment well prior to arrival. The above are general guidelines only and differ between the various properties.
All major resorts were personally visited by the author in June 1993, but this is not true of all listed small inns and private villas. Some information in that group of properties is taken from publications available on the island during the visit and may not be current. Obviously, all information contained herein is subject to change without notice.
COVECASTLES VILLA RESORT, Shoal Bay West (telephone direct 809- 497-6801 or US tollfree at 800-348-4716, fax 809-497-6051) is a private villa resort (recently featured in Architectural Digest) consisting of four 3-bdrm villas (up to 6 people each) and eight 2- bdrm beach houses (up to 4 people each) and located on an isolated stretch of soft white beach, with convenience of a hotel. Each futuristic unit is spacious, fully furnished and equipped, directly on the beach. Each beach house is comprised of two bedrooms and two baths on the second level, fully equipped kitchen and dining room on the main level, living room on the lower level and covered verandah directly on the beach. Each Villa comprises three bedrooms and two baths, sunset balcony on 2nd level, fully equipped kitchen, dining room, bi-level living room and alcove on the main level and large covered verandah directly on the beach. Complimentary services include daily maid service with private housekeeper, cable TV, beach chairs and umbrellas, snorkeling gear, Sunfish sailboats, bicycles, tennis gear and lighted tennis court. Also available are villa food service, French Cafe restaurant on premises, sport boutique and additional watersports. Winter rates (Jan. 5 - Mar 31 ,1993) double- occupancy rates are $590 for Beach House and $790 for Villa, but offer the ultimate luxury with assured privacy. One of these units is reputedly owned by actor Chuck Norris. Summer double-occupancy rates are $320 for Beach House and $420 for Villa. For 3-6 persons in Villa add $200 in either season. For 3-4 persons in Beach House add $200 in winter season or $100 in summer season. Special Christmas rates of $990 for Beach house or $1290 for Villa applied from Dec. 21, 1992 - Jan. 4, 1993. A "Summer Dream" couple's package is offered from April 1 - Dec. 15, 1993. It includes deluxe Beach House accommodation, Continental breakfast daily, welcome Champagne and fruit basket, airport transfers, a lobster dinner for two, all taxes and gratuities and standard amenities. The 5-night package per couple is $1990, 7 nights is $2390, and extra nights are $250.
MALLIOUHANA, Meads Bay (telephone direct 809-497-6111 or US tollfree 800-3721323, fax 809-497-6011). The most famous resort on the island, sitting on and back from a small cliff overlooking Meads Bay, with magnificent views. Many of the 53 units are some distance from the water. It is necessary to walk down quite a few steps to get to either of the available beaches - the beautiful 2mile white sand Meads Bay beach on the west side and a more private small beach toward Long Bay on the east (with beach bar facilities). Complimentary snorkeling and fishing gear, water skiing, cruises to cays, wind surfing, Sunfish, Lasers, and Catamarans. Deep sea fishing and nearby SCUBA available at extra cost. Features four championship Laykold tennis courts, two with night lights; 3 freshwater swimming pools arranged in tiers, exercise hall and massage room, hairdressing salon, drug store and boutiques. Featured twice on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous - once for the resort and once for the restaurant, supervised personally by Michel Rostang of Paris and La Regence Plaza-AthenEe of New York. Arrangement can be made for pickup at neighboring islands. Three seasons of room rates are offered, with a shoulder rate charged between November 1 -December 17, 1993 and April 1 - May 31, 1994. Rates below are shown as Winter/Shoulder/Summer. In the gardens, daily double room rates are $480/$320/$240 for 1 bedroom/1 bath/covered patio. Similar rooms Ocean View and Beachfront are $525/$350/$260. One-bedroom suites in the gardens are $660/$440/$360 and feature large lounge, bedroom, bathroom, covered patio and outdoor terrace. Similar rooms Ocean View and Beachfront are $775/$550/$460. Two-bedroom Ocean View and Beachfront suites are $1185/$790/$620 and comprise a small lounge between 2 bedrooms, each with bathroom, covered patio and outdoor terrace. Ocean View and Beachfront Junior Suites are also offered for the $660/$440/$360. Extra bed for child are available at $50/$50/$25. Credit cards are not accepted. The pubic areas are beautiful and the rooms extremely well appointed and lavish. The resort is closed for September and October. During the 1993 summer season, a four-night Romantic Interlude Package is offered for $1640 per couple including taxes and service charges. This includes airport transfers, Ocean View double room with covered terrace, a welcome bottle of champagne with petits-fours, daily Continental breakfast room service, threecourse dinner each evening from hotel's a la carte menu, daytime cruise on the hotel's 35-foot motor yacht Kyra to a deserted bay for swimming and snorkeling and a sunset cruise on the Kyra around one of the offshore cays. Beverages are not included and full prepayment is required.
CAP JALUCA RESORT, Maunday's Bay, (telephone direct 809-497- 6666/6779 or US tollfree 800-323-0139, fax 809-497-6617). This extremely attractive Moorishdesigned resort is located on 179 acres at the point between Maunday's Bay and Cove Bay. All 98 rooms have A/C, ceiling fans, telephones, refrigerators/ice makers, covered terraces, marble bathrooms, separate showers and, except where noted, water views and bath tubs. Complimentary amenities for all rooms include welcoming hors d'oeuvres or beverage setup upon arrival, twice-daily maid service, weekly cocktail party, daily Continental breakfast on private terrace, sailing craft, wind surfers, snorkeling, water skiing, day and night tennis (3 courts - 2 lit), NY Times fax, fully equipped fitness center and after dinner coffee. Numerous additional amenities are also available at extra charge (including SCUBA through Tamariain, lessons from Tennis Pro, sailboard instruction, massage, etc. ). Like Malliouhana, 3 seasons of room rates are offered, with a shoulder rate charged between Nov. 1 - Dec. 16, 1993 and Apr. 4 - May 31, 1994. Daily single or double occupancy rates are shown below as Winter/Shoulder/Summer: Deluxe Room with terrace view only or shower only are $400/$295/$255; Luxury Room of 790 sq. ft. space with seating area, large bedroom, dressing area and bathroom for $525/$355/$310; Junior Suites of 1100 sq. ft. with spacious luxurious bedroom, large in-room and terrace sitting areas, double-tubbed bathrooms for $650/$450/$390. Three different one-bedroom suites are offered, each with spacious bedroom and separate sitting room: Patio Suites (1550 sq. ft.) at $925/$560/$490; Pool Terrace Suites (2400 sq. ft.) for $1200/$790/$590; and, Private Pool Suites (3000 sq. ft.) for $1500/$1010/$735. The larger suites have additional amenities. Additional suite bedrooms are available. A full 3-bedroom villa with private freshwater swimming pool, kitchen facilities, dining atrium and ocean front dining terrace are available for $2550/$1660/$1300 and 5-bedroom suites for $3475/$2370/$1920. Additional twin bed in regular rooms are $75/$55/$35, with no charge for extra persons in full suites or villas. Cap Jaluca is rather isolated at the end of a long sand road. Once you get there it is extremely attractive with Moorish style architecture and each unit opening directly onto a nice beach. Gets my vote as nicest accommodations on the island. Written up as a very romantic resort. There are two restaurants (Pimm's and Chatterton's) on the premises. Full 3meal American Plan available at $65 per person per day or MAP at $50, both plus 10% gratuity. Children under 12 are less 40%.
COCCOLOBA PLANTATION, Barnes Bay (telephone direct at 809-497- 6871 or US tollfree 800-833-3559, fax 809-497-6332). A very modern facility with 51 rooms in gingerbread trim. This resort sits on a cliff at the other end of the island, with walkways down to a beach, which is made of rougher sand and with somewhat heavier surf than conditions at Shoal Bay, Maunday's Bay, Rendezvous Bay and Meads Bay. The place is quite attractive, with housing units spread over a large area. Lighted all-weather Omni tennis courts (directed by Peter Burwash pros) and professional, Olympic-sized fresh water swimming pool. Coccoloba offers more organized activity than most resorts on Anguilla. High season single/double room rates are $360 Garden View Suite or Oceanview Room, $460 for a Private Ocean Villa, $560 for an Oceanview Suite, $820 for a Private Ocean- Connective Villa, $920 for a Superior Connecting Villa and $2490 for a Residence. Corresponding Fall (Nov. 1 - Dec. 18) and Spring (April 1 - May 31) rates are $285, $350, $450, $635, $700, and $2040, respectively. Low season Summer (June 1 - October 31) rates are $195, $295, $395, $490, $590, and $1495, respectively, for these accommodations. All above rates are for up to two people per room, full American breakfast plan. There is a $100 surcharge for a third person. The superior oceanview room offers a spacious bedroom with lower level sitting area, bathroom and gingerbread terrace. All rooms are air conditioned. The resort also offers a number of "Special Program" packages offering somewhat reduced rates. Included are the "Shortbreak" of 5 days/4 nights in an oceanview room at winter/shoulder/summer rates of $1225/$970/$660 or oceanview villa for $1000/$1190/$1560. The "Anguilla Hideaway for 8 days/7 nights is $1090/$1590/$2020 (oceanview room) and $1650/$1960/$2580 (oceanview villa). A summer wedding package including minister's fee, license cake, photographer, etc. is also offered ranging from $2990/$3651 for 7 nights or $4585/$5906 for 14 nights for Oceanview/Private Ocean Villa. The poolside area is particularly interesting because Coccoloba has built a number of salt- water holding tanks around the pool bar area so guests can watch lobsters, shrimp, starfish and/or other creatures cavorting while relaxing with drinks in semiprivate little gazebo-like areas overlooking the salt water. In June of 1993 there were also two sea turtles in the salt pools. The resort is also pretty at night with good landscape lighting and a number of fairly exotic palms scattered through their plantings.
FRANGIPANI BEACH CLUB, Meads Bay (telephone direct at 809-497-6442 or US tollfree 800-892-4564, fax 809-497-6440). Located right on the beach with beach bar facilities, this new modern facility has been designed to include only three buildings, just opened in 1993. Built in a pink Mediterranean style with differing roof heights, picturesque French doors onto private terraces and spacious stairways, it offers a pleasing ambiance. Just 8 units available in the summer of 1993, with 28 more planned. Condo units range from 1035 to 1760 square feet of enclosed area, plus either balcony, terrace and/or patio. Rooms feature king-sized beds, fully equipped kitchens, A/C, telephone, color TV, marbled bathrooms and daily maid service. Guests are provided complimentary snorkeling and fishing gear. Scuba, sailing, windsurfing, deep-sea fishing, water skiing, cruises, etc. can be arranged by the hotel, as can baby-sitting services. A pool, restaurant, and championship tennis court are planned to be available soon. High season (Dec. 19-Apr. 15) single/double room rates are $325 Luxury Double, $450 for a Luxury 1-Bedroom Suite, $630 for a 1-Bedroom Penthouse, $765 for a Luxury 2-Bedroom Suite, $1020 for a Luxury 3-Bedroom Suite and $1050 for a 2-Bedroom Penthouse. Corresponding Fall (Nov. 1 - Dec. 18) rates are $230, $335, N/A, $545, $750, and $800, respectively. Low season Summer (Apr. 16 - Oct. 31) rates are $165, $250, $350, $390, $540, and $550, respectively, for these accommodations. All above rates are EP for up to two people per room. There is a (winter/fall/summer) $50/$35/$25 surcharge for additional person in room. Several 1993 Summer Specials are offered for 4 nights ($825/$1287/$1782/$1815) and 7 nights ($1375/$2145/$2970/$3025) for 1-bdrm Suite/2-bdrm Suite/3- bdrm Suite/2-bdrm Penthouse accommodations. The package includes 8% government tax, champagne, day trip to Sandy Island, beach bar, Managing Director's Cocktail Party on Tuesday; but, airport transfers and gratuities are not included in package rates. A Honeymoon Special is also offered (Apr. -Dec. 1993) in Luxury Beachfront Suites for $550 (3 nights) or $1375 (7 nights). This Honeymoon Special includes (and excludes) the same items as the other Summer Specials, but also provide 1 Special Honeymoon breakfast delivered to your room, 1 candlelight dinner with a bottle of wine and Jeep rental for one day. AmEx is the only credit card accepted. [Units are also available for purchase from $300,000- $600,000 each, plus common charges of $245-$400/month.]
CASABLANCA RESORT, Rendezvous Bay (tel direct at 809-497-6999 or US tollfree 800-231-1945. fax 809-497-6899). This new dazzling Moroccan-style resort opened in December 1992. Glittering and attractive with a lovely central pool, Moorish arches, tiles, numerous fountains and romantic mosaics -- hand-crafted by Moroccan artisans flown in for this purpose. The resort right on the beach at the west end of Rendezvous Bay (opposite end of this long beach from Anguilla Great House Resort) and around the bend quite a ways from Cap Jaluca. Each of the 70 hotel units are come with a private patio, ceiling fan, central A/C, cable TV, daily New York Times fax, safe deposit box telephone, twice-daily maid service, and marble bath featuring haute couture toiletries, apres bain robes and hair dryer. All rooms feature custom-designed Casablanca fabrics. The design of the rooms is pretty much standard hotel layout. Additional villa-type accommodations are nearing completion farther up from the beach, behind the main complex. Rates include use of snorkeling, windsurfing, exercise room, nature walks, beach towels, chaises, large fresh water pool and two nightlighted tennis courts. Scuba, deep-sea fishing and golfing at a nearby (St. Martin) championship golf course can be arranged. Conference meeting rooms are available. Baby- sitting is available and boutiques and a gift shop are on the premises. Double occupancy nightly rates from Dec. 15, 1993 to April 12, 1994 are: $315 for a Tropical Terrace garden-view room; $374 for an Ocean Terrace room with a picturesque view of the ocean; $403 for a larger Ocean Luxury room with a panoramic view of the Ocean; $600 for a One-Bedroom Suite featuring 2 baths, spacious rooms and fabulous ocean views; and, $900 for a Two-Bedroom Suite featuring 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, kitchen, living room and surrounding patio. Corresponding 1993 summer double rates are $200, $235, $285, $400, and $600, respectively. All above rates are CP, with daily Continental breakfast included. Add $50 for third person in a room and $20 for a crib. Several 1993 Summer Fantasy Vacation packages are also offered. Each includes airport greetings and transfers, welcome cocktail, Continental breakfast for 2, a bottle of wine, Monday cocktail party, and the regular amenities listed p reviously. The 3 Night/4 Day Vacation ($1049-$1351) also includes a rental car for a day and candlelight dinner for 2 (2 nights); the 7 Night/8 Day Vacation ($2308-$3011) includes a rental car for 2 days and candlelight dinner for 2 (4 nights); and, the 10 Night/11 Day Vacation ($2882-$3983) includes Sunday brunch for two and candlelight dinner for 2 (3 nights). Above package prices include all taxes and gratuities, with range given from Tropical Terrace to Ocean Luxury room. Additional nights at standard rates. Suite rates are available upon request. The hotel features two restaurants and the Cafe Americain bar, patterned after the movie classic and with its own piano player called "Sam". All three have great panoramic views of St. Martin overlooking the beautiful pool.
CARIMAR BEACH CLUB, Meads Bay, (telephone direct 809-497-6881 or US tollfree 800-235-8667, fax 809-497-6071) is a very attractive well-landscaped selfcatering resort with 23 rooms situated just down the beach from Malliouhana (and with most units situated nearer to the beach). All apartments have fully equipped kitchen, living and dining room and a spacious patio or balcony, one bath per bedroom, daily maid service, complimentary beach lounges, well- kept tennis courts and snorkeling equipment. All rooms are tastefully decorated with plenty of storage. Apartment rates in the high season (Dec. 16, 1993 to Mar 31, 1994) are $300 for Beach-view 1-bdrm, $340 for Beach-front 1-bdrm, $400 for Beach-view 2-bdrm, $440 for Beach-front 2-bdrm and $630 for Beach-front 3-bdrm apartments. Corresponding standard summer rates are $225/$245/$280/$300/$450, respectively, however 5-day minimum rates were offered in the 1993 summer season for $120/$150/$190/$220/$315. Similar discounted rates anticipated for 1994 summer season. Rates are for 2 persons per bedroom, rather than double occupancy. Add $50 for an extra person in 2- bdrm apartment. Note that all units are at least 2-bdrm. One-bdrm units are obtained by locking off the second bedroom. Truly an attractive beachfront apartment complex.
OPUS II PRIVATE VILLA, overlooking Shoal Bay East near Island Harbour (telephone owners Molly and John Goodnow at 603-352- 7568 or fax 603-352-5571 in Keene, NH, USA; local villa number is 809-497-4536). A privately owned 3bedroom/3-bathroom private villa built in 1988 on a hilltop (75 feet elevation) providing a 360- degree view, overlooking both Island Harbour and the east end of Shoal Bay East. This is an a private neighborhood with 14 other new villas. The living room, dining room (with bar counter into kitchen) and master bedroom (with private outdoor shower) have sliding glass doors leading to 58-ft covered, balustraded front verandah, or relax on other side and back verandahs. Master bedroom with king bed and 2nd bedroom with twin beds are on upper level. Third bedroom, twin-bedded is on lower level. Villa is fully equipped for selfcatering, along with many extras (including Weber grill, picnic equipment, sand chairs, beach towels, telephone, microwave, long- distance radio, tape cassette player, TV, games, hair-dryers, etc. All rooms have ceiling fans and all floors are tiled. Shoal Bay Beach is a little over a mile away -- near enough to walk ,but easier to drive. However, only 300 feet to good snorkeling. Winter season (Dec. 15 - Apr. 14) daily rates are $260 for 2-bedrooms or $310 for 3bedrooms, reducing to $180 and $210 from April 15 - Dec. 14, respectively. Rates include 5-day maid service. Non-smokers preferred.
CINNAMON REEF LTD., Little Harbour, (telephone direct 809-497- 2727 or US tollfree 800-972-4490 or via 800-223-1108 [Ralph Locke Islands], fax 809-4973727). Located on a protected bay at the end of a private road. With a focus on a personal touch by owners Carol and Richard Hauser, the 22 units are each reasonably well located and attractive with easy access to the shore. Each Villa suite is separate and unattached with private patio w/hammock and excellent sea views The interiors are designed with a split-level living room/bedroom (with either two double beds or a king-sized bed) plus a dressing room and a bathroom with sunken shower. Beach Suites are not split level but are about the same area, and king-sized bed. The Garden Suites are behind the Beach Suites and have two double beds. A Beach Suite and a Garden Suite can be combined to make an interconnected 2-bedroom suite. All rooms, each with private patio, have a ceiling fan, mini-bar refrigerator, telephone and hair dryer. Units do not have kitchens. Common facilities (all complimentary) include a 40'X60' freshwater pool, Jacuzzi, tennis (Deco-turf surfaces) sailing, floats, paddleboats, windsurfing and snorkeling on nearby reef in the protective cove. Sailing or windsurfing instruction is also complimentary. Concierge service also provided. Award winning restaurant (The Palm Court) on site. Occasionally when wind is wrong, the beach can be covered with rotting turtle grass blown ashore, but this is not usually the case. Three seasons of room rates are offered, with a shoulder rate charged between Nov. 1 - Dec. 20 and Apr. 4 - Apr. 30, 1994. Rates are shown as Winter/Shoulder/Summer. Double occupancy Villa Suite rates are $325/$250/$225. Beach Suites and Garden Suites are $300/$225/$200 and $250/$175/$150, respectively. Add $60 per night for additional person in the room and/or $50 per person per day (plus 10% service) for MAP. Individual packages offered for Weddings, Honeymoons and SCUBA. Tropical Treat (8 day/7 night) package (Winter 1992-3 = $3400, Summer 1993 = $2250) includes: Villa Suite or Beach Suite accommodations; airport/ferry transfers; Welcome bottle of champagne with cheese and fruit basket upon arrival; Continental breakfast daily on your patio or in club house; Full lobster dinner for 2 with champagne; daily afternoon teas and cakes; Sunset cocktail party hosted by Manager; full-day sailboat cruise with snorkeling, sightseeing, an open bar and a beach stop for lunch; 3-day car rental (gas & insurance not included); all taxes and gratuities; and, all standard amenities. AmEx, VISA and M/C credit cards are accepted. Children under 12 not accepted during winter season.
ANGUILLA GREAT HOUSE, Rendezvous Bay (telephone direct at 809- 497-6061 or US tollfree 800-241-6764, fax 809-497-6019) on Rendezvous Bay. Contrary to name, there is (at time of writing) no Great House at this property. This laid-back Anguillan-owned resort is on the "palmy" end of the island (Thrinax morrisii everywhere!) and also at the end of a long unpaved road. The facility (25 rooms in five cottages, each with 5 rooms [2 with kitchen facilities and 3 without]) is essentially built as an open U of rooms surrounding a nice pool. All rooms have mahogany furniture, private shower and a verandah. There is an open air restaurant (Anguillan and Continental cuisine) and bar on site. The resort is quite remote, located on one of the nicer beaches on that end of the island. Windsurfing, sailing and snorkeling are offered. Note that there are numerous deserted beaches on adjacent crescent bays (Rendezvous Bay, Cove Bay, Maunday's Bay, and Shoal Bay West) from just to the west of the Anguilla Great House going on past the new Casablanca Resort continuously around to Cap Jaluca and beyond. Several of these are very nice and almost completely deserted when accessed from some of the little unmarked "roads" a little west of the Anguilla Great House. Double room rates in the high season (Dec. 14, 1993 to March 31, 1994) are $230 per Deluxe Room, $260 for a studio with kitchen, $400 for a onebedroom suite (maximum 4 persons) and $590 for a two-bedroom suite (maximum 6 persons). Low 1994 season EP double rates are $125, $130, $250, and $350, respectively, for the same rooms. Add $50 per person per day for MAP or for extra person in the room. Single rooms available at $30 nightly discount in high season and $10 in low season for Deluxe Room and Studio. Packages (7 nights/8 days) currently available are: All Inclusive Package (at $3030 /double high season or $2400/double low season) including spacious beach cottage room, 3 meals/day, wine with lunch and dinner, 2 lunch/2 dinner dine-out credits, snorkels, masks and fines, use of pool and chaises, airport transfers, taxes and gratuities and Honeymoon Package (at $2080/double high season or $1360/double low season) featuring full breakfast daily, bottle of champagne, 2 resort T-shirts, fresh flowers daily, 3-day car rental, all taxes and gratuities. The 1993/4 rates average about 10% higher than the 1992/3 rates.
PARADISE COVE LUXURY APARTMENTS, The Cove (tel 809-497- 3559/2559, fax 809-4972149). Eight two- and six one-bedroom fully-furnished apartments with powder rooms overlook a swimming pool and are only a 5-10 minute walk from Cove Beach. All contain private patios, central A/C plus ceiling fans, fully-equipped kitchens, telephones, cable TV and laundry facilities. During June of 1993 much additional construction was ongoing at this property, reducing its "scenic" quotient considerably. When completed, this will be an attractive complex but it is located well back from the sea on the approach road to Casablanca. Major credit cards accepted.
FOUNTAIN BEACH HOTEL (telephone or fax direct at 809-497-3491 or reserve US tollfree 800-633-7411). A pleasant small seaside family-run hotel with 2 junior suites and four 2-bdrm units, located at the secluded west end of Shoal Bay East. It offers a more private beach than the Shoal Bay Resort or Shoal Bay Villas, nestled among the sea grapes. Each unit comes with sitting area, fully appointed kitchen and seaside gallery. Studio baths are crafted with imported Italian marble, bedrooms boast hand-crocheted bedspreads and are accented with antiques and Caribbean artwork. The La Fontana Italian restaurant, serving 3 meals a day to guests, is located within this hotel. Double occupancy rates in the high season (Dec. 20-Apr.. 12) are $225 for Luxury Studio, $260 for a 1Bedroom Suite and $340 for a 2-Bedroom Suite. Summer rates (Apr. 15-Aug. 31) are $110, $145, and $210, respectively. Fall shoulder season (Oct. 1 - Dec. 19) are intermediate at $155, $185, and $260. Closed for September. Add $45 per person per day for MAP. Rates remain unchanged over last several years. AmEx, VISA and M/C accepted. Only beach chaises, hammocks and snorkeling are provided on site, but numerous other island activities can be arranged by the Amatangel family.
CASHLERAE VILLA, South Hill Bluff (tel 809-497-6593, fax 809-497- 7747). One 3bdrm/3-bath and one 2-bdrm/2-bath fully furnished villas with balconies and ocean views. Close to the beach. Both units have ceiling fans, TV and maid service. Swimming pool, heated spa and tennis. Major credit cards accepted.
SUR LA PLAGE (PRIVATE), overlooking Meads Bay (tel 401-423- 1378 in USA). A charming secluded villa with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, expansive living area, fullyapplianced kitchen, maid service, with TV, VCR and optional cable. An arbor of sea grapes looks out over beautiful Meads Bay. Call for more information.
MARINERS HOTEL, Road Bay/Sandy Ground (telephone direct at 809- 497-2671/2615 or US tollfree at 800-848-7938, fax 809-497-2901). A self-contained hotel of 50 rooms offering either EP or all-inclusive rates and packages (with or without scuba). It's located on 8.5 acres at the near end of Sandy Ground. This is pretty near the cargo seaport facility for the island, but the cargo pier is pretty small and doesn't impact the view very much. The beach itself at the resort is soft white sand, backing up to a cliff, keeping non-guest visitors to an absolute minimum. . The resort is conveniently near the various enterprises located at Sandy Ground (Scuba, restaurants, charter boats, taxis, etc.) Facilities include 2 restaurants, wind surfers, sunfish sailboats, tennis, pool & beach equipment and Jacuzzi. Rates are quoted for rooms/suites/cottages at various levels depending upon location and amenities. EP winter 1993/4 (Dec. 21- Mar 31) double rates are $215/$350/$535 (cliffside) or $235/$390/$595 (beachfront or A/C) or $255/$295/$655 (special beachfront with private verandah). Summer EP double rates reduce to $125/$195/$260 (cliffside), $145/$235/$320 (beachfont or A/C) and $165/$275/$380 (special beachfront). For MAP add $45 per person per day plus 10% service. Single rooms available at discount of $25 (winter) or $10 (summer) from double. All inclusive rates also available at the Mariners, ranging from $210-$440 per person per day in the winter season or $150-$365 per person in the summer, depending on accommodation type and number of persons per room. All-inclusive rates provide all meals (choice of 2 restaurants), entertainment, afternoon tea, drinks, comprehensive watersports with windsurfing and sailing instruction, sailing excursions, volleyball, bicycles, pool, Jacuzzi, tennis and TV room. Weekly villa rental also available for $2400-$3000 (winter) or $1560-$1920 (summer). Interestingly, The Mariners provides somewhat discounted Caribbean Resident and Corporate rates. Scuba Dive packages (available for certified divers only) include 1 2tank dive or 1 night dive daily, sail or motor boat excursions, and all other items in all-inclusive packages, with winter package rates from $260-$355 per diver (and $210-$305 per accompanying non-diver) depending upon selection of accommodation and number of people in room. Corresponding summer rates are $210$310 for divers and $150-$245 for accompanying non-divers. A five-day Honeymoon Package is available which offers full breakfast daily, 3 dinners, 2 days car rental, taxes and service charges, and normal amenities from $600-990 per person. A 7-night Summer Honeymoon Special offering the same amenities (breakfast, 3 dinners, 2 days car rent, etc.) plus champagne upon arrival is available in 1993 for $600 for room or $935 for 1-bdrm suite, with $125 per extra night and surcharges for guaranteed beachfront or guaranteed A/C. AmEx, VISA and M/C cards accepted.
2/ OFFICIAL AIRLINE GUIDE'S ONLINE CARIBBEAN INFORMATION
On January 10 your editor attended the monthly meeting of the New England Chapter of the Caribbean Tourism Organization just outside Boston. The featured speaker was Nick Dragash representing the Official Airline Guide. He demonstrated all the information available about the Caribbean available to travel agents through their computer reservation systems. Apparently it is also accessible via Easy SABRE and the Electronic OAG. It is something like an electronic Gold Book, if you are familiar with that product.
Islands which participate in the program are allowed to post information once a month ( or if there is a significant development like the oil spill in Puerto Rico in January, immediately). This information then can be accessed by travel agents in the field to answer questions from prospective clients. The amount of information available is enormous. I believe he stated that Puerto Rico has 284 screens worth of information at any one time. There is also a mechanism where agents can request brochures for their clients from specific island properties.
Despite huge amount of easily accessible information, your editor (along with some of the NECTO members) questioned the effectiveness of this service. One potential drawback for agents is that if they are sitting with a client, and the client realizes that the agent has all this information at their fingertips, the client may just start requesting enormous volumes of data. In some cases it might confuse the client and inhibit the agent from making a sale. Since other areas of the world are also available on the service, people might suddenly decided to check out other vacation destinations rather than their initial choice. Also, given the little commission derived in travel sales, it may not be profitable for an agency to have its agents employing this system while actively interviewing a client.
Most agreed though that it is a great source of information for travel to the Caribbean. However, it does not make recommendations nor evaluate any of the properties or dining establishments mentioned.
I wonder if we are not long from the time when the islands will be able to directly put their releases on the so called information highway ( INTERNET, GENIE, America Online, Compuserve exist even today) and bypass the OAG system by going directly to the public. The CTR regularly carries information sent by the Barbados Tourist authorities and Puerto Rico is now on the list of agencies supplying the latest information to the CTR.
It's my feeling that the process of disseminating information will eventually be less restricted to businesses like travel agencies and more wide spread on the information highway of the future, probably through such journals as the CTR.
Paul Graveline, CTR Editor
3/ JOURNEYS AND NOTES FOR FEBRUARY 1994
Aruba by Natalie Beck
We went to Aruba for the first time the week of Dec. 4 - 12, 1993 and it was FANTASTIC! We flew AA - stopped in Miami going down and San Juan coming back. The flights were great - no problem.
We stayed at the Playa Linda Beach Resort, which was beautiful! The weather was sunny and around 82 throughout the week. We rented a car from the time we got there - Monday. When we got to the Playa Linda on Saturday, we changed out of our winter clothes, went down to the bar for a round of drinks, then walked next door to the Hyatt for a bite to eat... beautiful grounds.
Sunday, we woke up to the beautiful blue Caribbean ocean and white sand stayed out on the beach and relaxed and took it all in. We went out to eat at Brisas del Mar that night... wonderful. Monday, we toured island and went to California Lighthouse, little chapel, natural bridge, then went and ate lunch at Charlie's... that's an interesting place! We ate at Boonoonoonoo's that night. The service was really bad, food was OK... I expected more.
The rest of week was spent taking in the sun, water, EATING, drinking, and relaxing! We went to the Hyatt and Holiday Inn to casinos. Started out on the quarter slots, quickly changed to the nickel slots! (Didn't do too well gambling, but it was fun!) We went to Chez Maltilde to eat (wonderful, but expensive (worth it!)) Also ate at El Gaucho's, Valentino's, and Suisse Chalet. Suisse Chalet was our favorite. The service and food were impeccable! Attended "Carnival Night" at Playa Linda one night... lots of fun! Danced and limbo'd all night! We went on a sunset sailboat cruise on the Octopus - served cocktails and hors' dourves - was wonderful!
We did spend more money than we anticipated, but I believe it was all worth it! Aruba is "one happy island" and we enjoyed our first visit very much. We have stayed at Sandals in Jamaica also... Aruba is more expensive and alot more commercialized than Jamaica. Enjoyed both, though. Almost bought a timeshare while we were down there (...after "happy hour" one night!). Didn't see too much of the low rise hotels... would like to know how the Costa Linda is... heard alot of nice things about it.
The worst part of the trip was Saturday night sitting out on the beach knowing that we had to fly back to freezing weather the next day! Oh well, I guess I've gotten back into the old routine here at home, but when I close my eyes, I still see those palm trees.
Aruba by Sandra Woital
I just got back from Aruba and loved it. It felt great to be away while the cold and snow were in the states! I picked the perfect week. Perfect weather. Went snorkeling at De Palm Island and saw the big blue parrot fish also saw other large fish. One was similar to the parrot fish, but smaller and rainbow colored. And another fish was like autumn colors red, orange and yellow. A lot of people just put on their fins and mask and swam a few feet from the pier put they didn't see much there, if you went a little way out it was beautiful and that's where the larger fish were, although the blue parrot fish did come to the pier area because people were feeding them. I wish I could of spent more time snorkeling there, but maybe it was just as well, because I was burning red by the end of the day as it was.
A word of caution to anyone who has never been to Aruba. Bring plenty of suncreen the sun is VERY HOT! I also did an island tour and saw the goats, Natural Bridge, and the caves. The Tunnel of Love was fun going through but you need a flashlight to go though because it is dark once you get down in the cave, but it was fun. The only thing I didn't do was climb the 186 steps of the huge hill, maybe next time. But not in the hot mid day sun!
They are building more hotels there and the Marriott, which is next to the Holiday Inn will be opening later this year. Also Tony Roma's restaurant opened across from the Holiday Inn.
Effective January 1, 1994 the airport departure tax is now $12.50 up from $10.00. I had a great time and hope to go again when the weather back home is super cold.
Bahamas: Bimini Diving by Jenny Darby and Phil Carta
Jenny and Phil provide more diving information. All rights are reserved and their material is copyrighted and is used here with their permission. Grand Turk is covered below.
Bimini, and the Scuba Bimini dive operation, is such a joy that we've been there several times - we just keep being drawn back to this wonderful little island with its friendly people and terrific diving. Plus, it's only 25 minutes from Ft. Lauderdale.
Getting to Bimini is as easy as can be, usually starting with a 8:30 AM flight from the Ft. Lauderdale Jet Center. (Remember to pack light as the luggage weight limit is 40 pounds per person.) We board our small eight seat plane and arrive in Bimini only 25 minutes later. The customs line was usually short and we were soon out in the Bahamian sunshine and onto our van for transportation to the South Bimini Yacht Club.
Upon arrival we were met by Percy Duncombe, owner of the South Bimini Yacht Club and introduced to the staff, Joy is bartender and waitress, Sandra is the cook and Iona was in charge of keeping the rooms clean. The Yacht Club is a small ten room hotel with bar and restaurant downstairs. Rooms were very clean with two double beds and a large shower. There was plenty of hot water and the nice big fluffy towels were an unexpected luxury. Sandra proved to be a wonderful cook ("The best on the Island," some say) serving bacon and eggs along with french toast for breakfast, sandwiches, burgers and conch chowder for lunch along with steak, lobster and fresh fish served Bahamain style for dinner. Prices were very reasonable starting at only $3.50 and the most expensive item on the menu was only $15.00.
Scuba Bimini now operates two dive boats. The Giant Stride is one of the finest dive vessels we have ever been on. She is 38 feet long and will hold 18 divers comfortably. There is a head and plenty of dry space on board for photographers. The brand new (summer 1993) Scuba Bimini is a 42 foot jet boat which is, to say the least, a true joy to be on. Even though she has a larger deck than the Giant Stride, they nonetheless carry only 18 divers. After the day's diving, simply leave your gear on the boat, hanging up to dry in the fresh breeze. Regardless of which boat you dive from, brand new pumped up 80 cu. ft. tanks are ready and waiting on board in the morning, with your gear already assembled. Diving doesn't get much easier than this. [On one trip we were a group of 20 divers; both boats usually travelled together. One day we held a 3-tank all day affair, with the two boats tying up in the middle of the Atlantic as we all gathered on the Giant Stride for a wonderful picnic lunch provided by Percy.]
The dive sites are from 15 to 90 minutes from South Bimini and the Giant Stride and Scuba Bimini made the trips very easily. Dive sites range from 15 ft. to 130 ft. with visibility in the 100 ft. range and water temps ranging from 75 in the winter to 86 in the summer.
We all had our favorite dive sites:
Victory Reef is a fish watcher's paradise. We saw squirrelfish, angelfish, grunts, porkfish, whitespotted filefish, lobster, schools of jacks, butterfly fish and a beautiful large midnight parrotfish.
Cat Cay Wall, is a drift dive (130 foot maximum) with lots of coral and fish beside a 2000 foot drop off.
The Bimini Barge sits in 95 feet of water and had lots of small fish life such as sharpnose puffer's. There was a strong current and we were like flags during our safety stop.
Rainbow Reef and Moray Alley ... both appropriately named.
Maugarite Reef where we saw a small spotted moray, a 5 foot green moray. several barracuda, at least 20 triggerfish and a pair of queen angelfish.
Turtle Rocks, a series of three terrific shallow reef with lots of invertebrates as well as tropicals.
Engagement Reef (as it is now known) where two of our party actually did become engaged among 50 foot coral heads teeming with life (the ceremony being cut short as most of the divers went to follow a Reef Shark who swam by).
Hawksbill Reef with medium sized coral heads was ideal for our night dives. Gigantic lobster!
Tuna Alley is the most incredible dive with 6 foot wide canyons with 50 foot walls, crevasses and swim throughs like we've never seen before!
The Sapona (which we did not get to dive) is a massive concrete and steel ship in 20 feet of water. Great snorkeling as well as diving to explore the "nooks and crannies of the ship's interior."
Tuna Alley is the most incredible dive with 6 foot wide canyons with 50 foot walls, crevasses and swim throughs like we've never seen before!
Evenings on South Bimini are what you make them. Some evenings we went to North Bimini for dinner at the Red Lion or the Anchorage (but the food was still better back at the Yacht Club). Often we would go to The Complete Angler and enjoy the musical stylings of The Calypsonians. (They even did some Cole Porter with a Calypso beat!). Oh, yes, we also were required to sample the many health concoctions such as Bahama Mamas and Goombay Punches.
The ferry to North Bimini leaves right from outside the Yacht Club (which was more a blessing returning rather than going). The ferry will run as late as necessary to ensure you get back - just part of the excellent service offered by the Yacht Club.
We highly recommend Scuba Bimini and the South Bimini Yacht Club for any diver who wants the best diving in the Bahamas along with the best service in the Bahamas.
Bahamas: Cutlass Bay Club by Robert Roll
Do you want to?
Then the Cutlass Bay Club is the place to go.
Seriously though, you can skip all the details and research. I did the research already. I have a type 'A' personality and have spent my life actively involved in something every day as a Professional Chartered Accountant, Financial Planner and businessman. This trip was researched to death, anticipating total boredom, even with tennis, sailing, windsurfing, hiking, exploring and excursions.
Well guess what, I survived doing almost none of the above.
DO NOT plan anything. The days take care of themselves. People integrate immediately, whether they or you are extravert or introvert and there are never more than two dozen people there anyway. There were five (5) couples at most when we were there.
The one sailboard and one sailboat were not functional (I am an ardent sailor and sailboarder). I was not disappointed for one second, actually I was happy, as it would have been too much trouble. We THOUGHT about playing tennis, but alas, too much trouble. It meant putting on tennis socks and shoes. GET THE PICTURE. The only reason we went bicycling, was that after breakfast there were clouds over us just as we were passing the bikes. Ever ride a bicycle with sandals along flat roads and a 2,500-foot runway?
Sun, walk, sun, snorkel, sun, pool, sun, ocean, drink, eat, read, sleep. ANYONE can survive 7-15 days of this. Next year, we will be there for 10-15 days.
One thing, there are no radio stations worth listening to. So if you like music, bring your favorite CD-10 pack along with a CD player, ac-110volt transformer and headphones (maybe also mini speakers). Falling asleep to the sound of the waves and your favorite music is something else. Put your CD on replay and fall asleep to the same music. When you get back home and hear the same music, you will be propelled back to your vacation.
Remember, this is not a resort of organized activities or ANY REAL activities. I am convinced that ALL types of personalities CAN survive and with great memories and new friends one will NOT need another vacation when they get back home.
One should NOT be concerned about clothing optional. It is as NATURAL as taking a bath without clothes or being in your exercise locker room and shower with others. Do what YOU want, NO ONE cares. For those who are not naturist or nudists, this is the opportunity to discover a new freedom of life naturally. That is, without inhibitions, wet clothes, tan lines, uneven sunburns or concerns of what to wear and what others will think. Your biggest problem will be dealing with why you did not do this many years earlier and why you may have perceived it as wrong. Remember NO ONE CARES. JUST AS YOU are not concerned of others, they are not concerned with you. Believe it or not, NUDISM IS natural and breeds friendships.
If you want a lifetime of memories, absolutely NO stress, arriving home completely relaxed, Cutlass Bay Club is the place for you.
There is one thing worth knowing. They do have noiseless mosquitoes and sand flies. Cutlass Bay Club supplies you with a new OFF-cream and smoke rings for your room at night. However, you probably should bring antihistamines and perhaps your own favorite insect repellant, if you can buy it off season.
Barbados: Tourism News from the Barbados Tourism Authority
A. Travelers with Special Needs:
Tomorrow's level of car Inc. (TLC), a network of health care professionals providing assistance to clients traveling to Barbados, is marketing the island to a new largely untapped market-- the disabled and others whose medical conditions make traveling difficult.
Patricia Mayers-Harris, R.N., M.P.H., health care administrator and president of TLC says, "No one, to the best of our knowledge, has ever before marketed the Caribbean as a destination which also welcomes people who require special medical care>"
Barbados has the finest health professionals and medical facilities in the Caribbean. Additionally, its infrastructure for tourists -- including more than 6,000 hotel rooms, apartments and gust houses-- is equal of any in the region. " she added. The high quality of life in Barbados was confirmed by a recent study by the U.N. Development Program which ranked the island first among all developing nations.
TLC's services are designed for clients of any age with a medical disability, old persons who need regular assistance or families who wish to travel with a member who has a special medical requirements.
TLC will organize complete vacations packages to Barbados for persons with special medical requirements including accommodations, nursing services, airport transfers and other ancillary services such as dialysis where required.
TLC provides registered nurses and nursing escorts in Barbados. Harris says she's exploring other hotels in the Caribbean with amenities to accommodate ill clients. For more information call 800-932-2012.
B. A new duty free shopping terminal in January at Bridgetown Harbor. The terminal, which is considered one of the most sophisticated of its kind in the region, accommodates 20 duty free shops, 143 local and regional merchandise shops, and 12 push carts.
The terminal has been designed to reflect the tropical setting and cultural environment of Barbados, combining elements of the country's heritage and history. The interior is recreation of a Barbadian street scene, including store fronts resembling traditional Bajan chattel houses accented in tropical colors, with street lights, tropical landscaping, benches and push carts.
The terminal offers a wide range of products including jewelry, liquors, tobacco, perfumes, china and crystal, leather and accessories, electronics clothing and souvenirs.
Services include tourist information, bicycle rental, car rental automated teller machine, florist, dive shop and a communications center with telephones and fax machines.
Cruise tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the Barbadian economy and this year over 450,000 passengers are expected to arrive there on cruise ships.
Belize by Glen Allen
Although this trip was in July, I am now finally posting this note. Most of the text was written by fellow traveler Al Meador for a dive club newsletter, but I have embellished it a little for this forum.
We stayed in a condominium (Caribbean Villas) right on the beach at Ambergris Cay, a long skinny island off the coast at the far north end of Belize. Caribbean Villas is a nice but small complex offering units that sleep from 2 to 6, most with kitchen facilities. The owners, Will and Susan Lala, are on premises, and love to offer advise. Bicycles are provided for day use.
The daily diving routine consisted of lugging our gear out to the end of the pier for a short boat ride out past the barrier reef. We would do a deep dive (80 feet), then ride the waves back through the cut for a surface interval in the calm shallows, then back out again for a second shallower dive (60 feet). Diving services were provided by Tortuga Divers, which took our group of 15 out in two wooden boats with outboard motors. A dive master and mate were on each, which simplified water entry and exit.
The reef structure on Belize's barrier reef is both dramatic and unvarying- a spur and groove formation done on a grand scale, with grooves that can become deep canyons or even tunnels. I had the impression that everything on the Belize wall was about 20 feet deeper than I am used to- The lettuce coral was growing in 40' to 50' rather than 20' to 30'.
We did a two day live aboard trip aboard the Offshore Express that allowed us to dive on Lighthouse Reef, home of the famous Belize Blue Hole. The Blue Hole is one of those dives that you do to say you've done it, but when your in it, it's just cold and brown. Other dives, including Turneffe Island Playground and Morning Glory reef were very good. We found the food on the boat to be good, but most of the crew was unfriendly, and sleeping facilities were very poornot enough places to sleep that were covered from the rain. Eight of us slept in the wheel house, which had only four bunk slots! Also, I heard the head was horrible. I managed to avoid it. Fortunately, we were only out 1 night, and then back to the comfort of Caribbean Villas.
I found the town of San Pedro on Ambergris a very agreeable and friendly place. I think Cozumel must have been this way 40 years ago- plenty of good food at reasonable prices, friendly people, no high rise or yuppie boutiques, but with one basic difference- you can drink the water and eat the food without risk of intestinal maladies. One way I have of rating a dive trip is to assess the degree of readiness I feel to return home after a week of putting up with paradise; Ambergris fairs very well by this standard, with the cramped Caribbean Villas bathroom my chief reason to get off the island.
Financial: As a single sharing a room, I spent a total of $1300 for the 9 day/ 8 night trip, including accommodation, diving, meals, airfare from Miami, carpooling to Miami and parking, souvenirs, and drive home feast at Jupiter Crab Company.
Despite the small size of the bathrooms, I enjoyed and recommend CV and will stay there again on my next trip to Belize..
BVI: Bareboating by John Hakemian
I just returned in late December from sailing our Moorings 38 PANACEA in the BVI, and were treated to the snow and cold of Philadelphia Airport at 1 am!
This was our first time sailing over Christmas, and it was different in some good and bad ways...first the good: The fabled Christmas winds were up, and we literally sailed just about anywhere we wanted as fast as we wanted, downwind many times with just the main and 7 knots. There were families most everywhere, displacing the usual couples and groups of "party animals", so the reggae stopped at a decent hour. All my favorite places tried their best to rig something that looked like a Christmas tree, but I think the first prize was Quito's Gazebo in Cane Garden Bay, which fashioned one out of green Heineken cans, complete with ornaments and garlands! Everyone ate too much and had a wonderful time!
Now the bad: There's just too damn many people down there that time of year! If we had planned to pick up a Seacure mooring for the night, we'd have had to be on it by noon in most places. Needless to say, I got some additional experience setting two anchors. The situation was worsened by a perhaps unanticipated effect of the BVI government mooring program, which has set moorings in most of the frequent anchoring spots to protect the coral, you know, the caves, the Indians, the Baths, George & Great Dog, Monkey Point, etc. What has happened is that big power boats with perhaps 30-40 people aboard are coming over from St. Thomas, picking up a Mooring and invading with an army of inexperienced snorkelers that simply spoil it for those of us who were used to relative solitude underwater. The Baths were a mob scene, with one group of 40 landlubbers trudging through as their tour guide yelled out instructions at the top of his lungs! And all this by 10am... Oh well, PROGRESS.
Because it was Christmas, we had Moorings supply a "Starter Kit" and shopped for breakfast / snacks only, eating all but one "cleanup the fridge" dinner on shore. Our gastronomical tour included Peter Island YC, Pussers at Leverick Bay, Biras Creek for Christmas dinner, Marina Cay, Quito's at CNB, and Harrisses on JVD for all-you-can-eat- lobster night! Our first night on shore, we ate at the Food-Aid! Seriously, it was "Customer Appreciation Night", and they were feeding us and plying us with wine, spiked egg nog, etc. in every aisle. By the time we were through, we were stuffed and simply went to bed!
The wind and waves were strong enough that after our initial beat, we decided life was too short and rearranged our itinerary so that we would be reaching more and beating less. We snorkeled the Eustacia reef, George Dog, Great Dog, Monkey Point, White Bay JVD, Green and Sandy Cay, a spot behind Marina Cay, the Norman caves, and the best of all: the Indians. No gangs of snorkelers here, and the moorings were appreciated. Rough waters but clear.
Panacea behaved herself except for a loose fan belt that I didn't even notice until the windlass started complaining. She is still in fine shape, and I will probably leave her in the fleet until the end of next summer.
The NICEST part of the trip was sitting in the cockpit in our bathing suits, warm breezes wafting over us, sipping on a cool drink, and listening to the WEATHER REPORTS from back in the States! Two feet of SNOW! ZERO! Yes, it was fun. Till Antigua again this year.
Cayman Islands by David Leadbetter
I arrived on Dec. 9 for a week at "The Magnificent Dive Dump". The weather was so-so with rough seas & some rain the first week so I decided to stay 3 more days.
When I arrived at the airport for my return on Dec 19, I MISSED the "Charter Plane". It left 45 minute early!! Seems I was on "standby" and was not included in their manifest. Oh-Well! No big deal. If I had been staying at the Hyatt it might have been $$ wise! Anyway my room was still available at the "Dive Dump".
About the "Magnificent Dive Dump": If anyone wants a nice place with decent amenities, good diving/snorkeling, right on the water and in a very quiet setting this is the place. All units are of the "studio apartment" type with mini kitchens. All have dishwashers, micros, a/c, TV and phone. The units can sleep 4 people on 2 double beds. All face the water which is 50 ft. away. You can lie in hammocks and feel the surf spray or watch the stars at night. This place is located 5 minute from "7 Mile Beach" and is near the Turtle Farm. Actually it is directly opposite the dive marker of "Heps Pipeline". The owner is a PADI Instructor & will give you good discounts on diving or getting certified. They even have dive scooters available. The current rate (winter) is $110.00 a day and the summer is $80.00. The phone number is 1-809-949-3787. Jeff and Caryn the owners will bend over backwards to help you with anything! I did lots of diving ( 12 dives in all).
I checked out the dive operations at Indies Suites, Aquanuts & Rivers Sport Divers.
The North Wall dive with Indies was bad because of the 6-7ft. seas - not fun at all. Two guests were "sea sick"! I think some REAL thinking should be done by dive operators before putting people through this kind of FUN? Their boat is new and was very well equipped. On board fresh water showers which was kind of nice.
The dives with Aquanuts and Rivers Sport were both excellent. It was not too crowded (8-10) people and VERY professional. Darlene the "Dive Instructor" at Rivers is VERY GOOD!! Both these operators use the "flat pontoon" type of boat which makes entry & exit real easy.
Most of my dives were GREAT; did "Heps Wall & Pipeline", "Grand Canyon", "Tarpon Alley", "Sand Chuts" (to 165 ft.), "Ore Verde" (wreck dive), "Bonnies Arch", "Palace Pinnacle", "Chinese Gardens" to name a few. "Heps Pipeline" & "Bonnies Arch" were the most memorable. I didn't see any "Men In Grey" but saw lots of turtles, tarpon, and groupers as well as the usuals. Also did "Sting Ray City" twice. And yes the Moray is still as "pesty" as ever - we did not get along!
I did go through the Ramada and YES - they are renovating some of the ground floor rooms. The place looked very busy, clean & seemed to be holding it's own. The local "Steel Band still plays there on Mondays. Had several good meals at DJ's the Lobster Pot, and Livingstons. Livingstons is new and used to be The Perriwinkle. Restaurant food is still pricey but does not have to be if you take the specials at around 10.00. The new golf course "The Links" is almost finished and looks exceptional! Visited "Caribbean Charlies" & Elaine and Charlie say "HI" to all of you! Overall Grand Cayman is "booming" & for the better I think! I guess the movie "The Firm" might have helped a little. That's about all I can report on this trip without going into more detail. Can't wait until the next one! Regards:"Cayman Dave" in Ft Worth.
Cuba by Scot Hacker and Ingrid Schorr
Scot and Ingrid have contributed the following about their recent visit to The Festival de Cine Nuevo Latinamericano in Cuba. While not directly related to Caribbean travel, their comments about the films have been included for those interested in cultural affairs of the Hispanic world.
OUT OF THE FRYING PAN...
Ramada Inn, Miami Fla. After a sleepless night of racing mind spent walking through the tropical air and faux verdant jungle of a hotel parking lot, following the trajectory of their massive satellite dish's parabola into the stars, our 5:00 a.m. wake-up call cracks through the morning stillness and peace is broken. We hit the floor like soldiers, stretching, doing push-ups, sit-ups, opening up our chests and sleepy brains. In a few minutes we are on the first of many shuttles and in the first of a thousand interminable queues, checking in with a badly organized tour group, trying to score some coffee in the vast, empty airport. Formalities, paperwork, speeches about the embargo and our obligation to support it. We share an airplane with Harry Belafonte and Eli Wallach. 45 minutes later, we careen down onto a runway macheted through the jungle and walk out onto a tarmac past the uniformed representative of the Ministry of the Interior. Bicycles zigzag across the runway. Ancient farm tractors pull baggage carts.
The customs building is old dirty blue and pasted with small murals in the cheap quasi-cartoon art of the 70s we would come to see everywhere. Officials take their time, oblivious to our exhaustion, dividing tasks into parcels, giving everyone a job, stretching time out on its back as if to test our patience and readiness. Counting and recounting our bags, hand- writing receipts, tickets and vouchers in tedious triplicate, huddling us into piles, asking questions.
AND INTO HAVANA
Finally, out into hot sunshine to be accosted by young boys pouncing on the possibility of scoring some candy, or precious dollars. "Tiene chicle?," we are asked again and again. "Do you have any gum?" Pencils, shoes, Certs, just about anything from another country is a valuable prize. Of course your mercy glands are touched immediately. But then, these kids do this all day long, every day, and one quickly realizes that they probably reap bounties daily. In addition, children, unlike adults, are given larger rations of protein. Children are allotted milk and meat to eat every day (provided there is some to give them), and everyone has a roof over their head, no matter how shabby. People are skinny, but not starving -- yet. We gave handouts very selectively, only when we had talked with people for a while.
The parking lot, (and in fact all of Cuba) is filled with ancient American cars. The embargo began in 1959, and no American products have entered the country legally since then. Items do enter Cuba commercially via other countries, but any government that does business with Cuba will be excommunicated from doing business with America. Since Cuba lost Soviet support over six years ago, the squeeze on the Cuban economy is almost complete. '55 Plymouths, '49 Studebakers, even Model A's and Model T's fill the streets. They are not cherry -- they are broken down rusted busty rattletraps on permanent last legs. There is no hope for replacement parts, or the money to buy them if they could, not to mention the shortage of gasoline. Most of the little gasoline Cuba has access to is reserved for buses and the generation of electricity. Of course, dollars can buy just about anything, including gas, but not everyone has access to dollars. Taxi drivers and black market experts have all they need, but for most Cubans, the small monthly ration of gas does not go very far. Bicycles have become the default mode of transportation. The bikes are mostly heavy Chinese one-speed cruisers with makeshift wooden seats attached for one or two passengers, some of them awkward composites of salvaged parts and bailing wire. Improvisation is the rule, not the exception, and when jury- rigging just won't cut it anymore, there are factories dedicated to fabricating replacement parts for anything. It's the only way. Thus, a respect for the life of a thing becomes natural by necessity. Like a people living close to the land, nothing is wasted and little is garbage.
The general landscape of the city consists of caked and crumbling plaster and concrete, faded, peeling paint in what must once have been an amazing array of yellow, blue, purple, pink, and white houses. Almost nothing has been built for Cubans since the revolution, with the exception of some public housing projects built in 1961, which we heard were constructed shabbily and with none of the aesthetics that makes most of Havana so visually interesting. Sidewalks downtown are often inlaid with peculiar tiles of multicolored granite and brass, depicting symbols and figures in the general style of Miro. Streets are full of potholes (only a little worse than Boston) and bicycles. There are few cars or buses, and almost all of them spew choking clouds of dark brown smoke in their wake. Traffic rules seem to be made up as people drive, though we only saw one accident (a bicycle and a bus collided at an intersection). Despite the run-down condition of the buildings, there is little litter, and walkways and homes are kept swept and as tidy as possible, given the meager resources at their disposal.
The deliciously hot air is thick enough to eat with a spoon, if you have one porous enough. It reminds me of Australia, Fiji, Hawaii, equatorial air that makes me feel more living, as if my own leaves would grow plump and rich if I stuck around in it long enough, feet planted like mud roots in soupy soil, not to wander but to remain and flourish.
The economy is starkly divided between the national currency of pesos and the tourists' dollars. Up until recently, Cubans were not allowed to have or spend dollars. Inevitably, however, dollars ended up in the hands of locals and a teaming black market sprung up. The official exchange rate of one-to-one began to shift gears in the black market, and illegal exchange now fetches 80 pesos to the dollar. Eventually, the underground economy grew so large that it eclipsed the legal economy both in size and in the availability of goods. Fidel legalized the possession of dollars by Cubans, and the rift between haves and have-nots quickly swelled. Cubans in the tourism industry have become rapidly rich (by Cuban standards) and have access to many goods and services that other Cubans could never dream of, ironic considering that social equalization is one goal of socialism. Now, according to many people we spoke to, playing the black market is not just a luxury, but a necessity. If you want to feed your children, you must buy illegal goods. For some who are faithful to the revolution, this is painful, as it further weakens the socialist ideal... but they have no more choice. Defend the revolution or eat -- that is your choice.
Knowing all of this, we found it painful to be locked into the tourist side of the raw deal. If we wanted water, food, clothes, sunblock, or just about anything else, we had to buy it in the hotel's many (comparatively) wellstocked stores, as they are he only place these things exist. Cubans have access to small stores with mostly empty shelves (in one case we saw shelves filled with empty gift-wrapped boxes to "fill the eye") where they are doled out their monthly rations. Without ration coupons, we could not even buy a bag of rice at one of these stores. The only exception we found was a dispensary of sugar cane juice where people lined up with old cans and plastic jugs. We stood in line and bought two 20-cent glasses of sweet, raw nectar that tasted like sugary straw, though we were given a dirty look by the woman at the counter. Cubans are now allowed to spend their dollars in the hotel stores, but must wait in long lines and be parceled in a few at a time. We were ushered past the lines to buy our water and rum, but even in these places of relative sumptuousness, we never saw a loaf of bread or a brick of cheese. Only in the hotel dining room, a harshly lit horn-o-plenty, could we find the nourishment we were accustomed to.
Our room on the 24th floor of the Habana Libre was one of the highest points in the city. A view over the grids of nearly empty streets, the crumbling buildings, thick air blowing through. Light blue and grey, a rattan screen right out of 1961 for the wife to undress behind. We had overly attentive maids who folded our underwear and put our shoes together in neat pairs. We had occasional hot water, a television, a radio, and a bidet for our "special needs." While it was always a relief to take refuge from the relentless hustle of the city, we were never able to really forget the difference between life inside and outside the world of turismo.
One day we found ourselves in a store which apparently was selling warehoused goods left over from the days of Soviet support. Long rows of glass cases housed the strangest combination of semi-useful items imaginable: plastic bicycle seats without mounting brackets, hunks of scrap metal and hinges, toy guns, records of Soviet opera music, paperboard lampshades, school uniforms, toy pots and pans, bits of string, picture frames. At outdoor tables in random spots around the city, we repeatedly saw the same items: plastic motorcycles, berets, zodiacal paraphernalia, pet rocks with gooogly eyes, plastic soap dishes and funnels. The pricing structures always seemed almost arbitrary. 17 pesos could buy a few plastic flowers, but a pair of pants might cost 10. A hand- crafted and painted paper mache' tray could cost three dollars, but a cheesy "Love is..." picture in Spanish, photocopied and glued to a hunk of cardboard sold for five.
One night, sitting on our balcony just after sunset, we watched as thousands of lights blinked out in unison, several square city blocks suddenly losing power, the closing of the city's eye. We knew there would be power outages in order to save on energy, but we could never quite tell whether outages were random or scheduled. It never happened in the hotel, that's for sure.
DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT BUYING POPCORN HERE
The Festival de Cine Nuevo Latinamericano opened with a screening of "Fresa y Chocolate" at the Karl Marx theater, a massive structure which probably seated around 2,000 people. However, that was nothing compared to the number of combined festival goers and Cubans wanting to see the latest work by their favorite filmmaker, especially given the controversial nature of this latest work. Reports from the previous year said there had been a near riot situation, and the story almost repeated itself this year. Ingrid and I squished into a queue where we were pressed against a cyclone fence which bent and swayed toward the ground, snagging our clothes on the fence and being pressed under surging weight on the other. The fence was threatening to give way in the unruly enthusiasm, and we had just about resigned ourselves to not getting in (Ingrid shouting "It's just a movie!" over and over). With the help of some military guards and our tour guide, we forced ourselves through the mass, into an alley, and into the expansive theater to fight for a seat, our first experience with favoritism.
The film was not translated, so we did our best to piece together the plot, whispering theories and extrapolations from visual context to each other. All in all, we did a pretty good job figuring it out, but didn't catch the subtleties. The film dealt with two topics relatively fresh to Cuban culture: a non- homophobic approach to gay citizens, and the many ways one can validly approach the revolution.
Oddly, when we saw it again later with translation, we got even less out of it. Only one theater in the festival offered a means of translation. The Chaplin Cinema dispensed little electronic receivers with an attached ear cup. One could change channels and hear the film being translated on the fly by interpreters in a booth somewhere. Unfortunately, the English translator was not exactly what you'd call fluent. Lagging generally one or two sentences behind the action, a completely flat monotonal delivery, and a complete inability to keep pace when conversation began to move rapidly (i.e. when the crucial lines were delivered). But the icing on the cake was her tendency to just grow weary and stop altogether, strolling off to get coffee or talk to some friends. On one occasion, I had to go find a manager and explain that no, the device wasn't broken -- the translator was on intellectual vacation.
Films from Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Spain, Cuba, and just about every Latin-American nation coexisted in theaters whose decor ranged from smooth and tacky to old and funky. Since most of the films were in their original Spanish without subtitles, we ended up simply not going to as many as we had planned. Besides, there was way too much of Havana to see to justify spending all of our time in theaters. Here's Ingrid's righteous account of what we did see:
An Argentine "art" film about a drab but butch officer worker who confronts her demons by jumping off her motorcycle and down a manhole. In this psychological inferno she is toyed with by pulsating slimy creatures intent on penetration of one kind or another. What would have possibly been an interesting two-minute sequence turned out to be nearly the entire movie, and the pulsing and sliming grew wearisome. We walked after an hour. De Eso No Se Habla (Of This One Does Not Speak)
Also Argentine. Set in the '30s, about a prosperous, prostitute- lovin' businessman (Marcelo Mastroianni) who falls in love with . . . a midget. The girl's mother is appalled; she wants her daughter out of the public eye, not married to the town's best catch. His love is real, though, and this movie is neither exploitative nor condescending. As sensitively directed and beautifully acted as it was, though, it had the Cuban audiences screaming and hooting with laughter. As they choked back giggles during the wedding scene, my friend whispered to me, "I feel bad for anyone here with a disability." And I realized there actually wasn't anyone in the theater in a wheelchair or even on crutches, and that in fact Havana was a minefield for anyone who has trouble moving around: no ramps, no streetlights in many neighborhoods, potholes that could swallow a wheelchair. But back to the movie: it was great, although it was wrapped up a bit tritely. But M.M. looks swell wrapped up in a serape. Amigo Mio
Another entry from you guessed it, Argentina (which contributed 15 films to the festival, more than any other country). The story of a father and son who escape government terrorism (mom's been offed) and make it to Buenos Aires and a dull, prissy middle- class life. Dad slicks his hair back, wears aviator glasses, and cooks coq au vin. Son has temper tantrums and hates Argentina. No "Courtship of Eddie's Father," this--more like "American Heart," only Dad's very earnest. Beautifully filmed, especially the escape over the mountains.
Freso y Chocolate
Scot already covered this, but let me add two things. One, the director, Tomas Guitierrez Alea, is Cuba's foremost, and his "Memories of Underdevelopment" is available in U.S. video stores. Second, to flesh out the film (which was adapted from a short story), the character of Nancy was transplanted from a film made last year by another director (Gerard Chijona). Filmmaking socialiststyle; mi screenplay, tu screenplay! Actually, the Cuban film industry, because it's state- subsidized, really isn't as cut-throat as ours.
El Caso de Maria Soledad
Very earnest schoolgirl drama from yup, Argentina. The girls form a mass movement to avenge the death of their companera, the movement grows and democracy comes to their unnamed country. Unintentionally funny 90210-style disco drug scene.
Bicycles and Elephants
We saw the rough cut of this new Cuban film at a seminar at ICAIC (the national film center). Too complicated to go into here, but it's a film within a film, set in a small town before the Revolution. The townspeople are avidly following a film (starring the same actors), a serial swashbuckler. As much as they love the movie, it takes on greater importance than they know: their lives start to mirror the film's unfolding story, and they become almost dependent on it. The Revolution comes, housing is built, the blind woman regains her sight, but the projector breaks and no one can find a replacement part. Life comes to a stop without the movie. Then someone takes a cog or whatever from a printing machine, gets the projector going, and . . . they actually are watching themselves, watching the movie. Bored, they walk away. This homage to Cuban film, storytelling, and even music, stars the truly majestic Daisy Grenada, a well-loved Cuban actor. Look for it at the '94 festival!
This documentary was made by two people we got to know on the trip, Gail and Vicente. They spent several months two years ago interviewing Cuban young people about the future of socialism, fidelismo, etc. There's also a bunch of Cuban rappers in pastel pseudo-hip hop wear ("We're big, we're tropical, we're not so baaad," went one of their raps, we think). And a bunch of Cubanos dancing and singing along phonetically to Vanilla Ice. Since this one is available in the U.S., I won't go into detail--check it out for yourself. Subtitled.
This program of short films included: "An Autumn Wind" (haikus by Matsuo Basho and Allen Ginsberg*), "Prufrock" (based on T.S. Eliot's poem); "Cigarettes and Coffee" (a guy walks into a bar . . .); "Why not Love: Get Used to It" (a series of PSAs depicting men kissing ferociously. Unlike the gay love depicted in "Freso y Chocolate," which consisted of a hug at the end and which the audience cooed over, this inspired several cineastes to walk out); "The Appointment of Dennis Jennings" (starring Steven Wright and shown here on HBO; very dry and funny); "Two Days in Wisconsin" (bleak gas-station-owning couple deepen their isolation from each other and the world by means of a fruity French- language audio tutorial. The director had wanted to make a film about this particular gas station in upstate New York for years, and during shooting people kept stopping and asking if it was a new "bohemian" cafe.); and "Nietzsche Pops" (animated breakfast-cereal ad spoof).
Sample Ginsberg: "Tying my tie in a taxicab/Short of breath/Rushing to meditate."
Maybe people in other parts of the U.S. have had better luck, but I'd never seen ANY of these films before.
Also some South American shorts; we liked two in particular. One was about a day in the life of a Peruvian man who baked little pastries in a hole-in- thewall oven, and the other was about artists who lived in a mental hospital.
Scot saw this one on his own, so he'll tell you about it: Why this was featured at a festival of Latin-American film is anybody's guess -- made in Belgium about the jazz life in Paris and New York during the not-so-roaring 40s. Between the native French and the Spanish subtitles I was scrambling to keep up. The soundtrack by Archie Shepp was rip-snorting good, but barely compensated for the tiresome slapstick antics of two saxophonists vying for the ebullient heart of a frail blonde waif. A classic "choose between sensible love or wild love" plot with some bitchin' metal sculptures and scooter rides thrown in for laughs.
SOCIALISMO O MUERTE?
Contrary to what one might expect, most Cubans hold most Americans in high regard, despite the knowledge of the U.S. government's policy of slow, deliberate strangulation of people born into a world they never made, of an imposed morality, of a lukewarm war against people who want nothing more than to live in an healthy, industrialized nation that values the good of the whole over and above that of the individual, that will allow the individual to take pride in what he or she does or contributes or provides to the state before pride in their own status or prestige. All that Cuba has ever asked is at the least to be left alone, and at the most to be partners in free trade. They have posed no threat to the U.S. of any kind since the Soviet withdrawal. The Cuban Missile Crisis is far behind us, and the possibility of another flare-up is as remote as Jupiter's third moon.
The only threat posed now is ideological, a vestigial legacy from the dark period of America's witch hunts of the McCarthyist era. The Cubans we met wanted one of three things: money or goods, a chance to practice their English, or a chance to make friends and meet someone who could tell them something about the Big Mystery that lies 15 minutes to their north.
It is fine and healthy for governments and people to disagree on what is the best way to manage a people, but to disallow the possibility of this dream's realization by economic force is unconscionable. The U.S. has promised to maintain the embargo until Fidel steps down, and Fidel has sworn to remain in office until the embargo is ended. Checkmate. Fidel is aging, but is physically and mentally fit; he shows no sign of senility or disability. The 31-year old blockade has not touched the conviction of Fidel or the people, who for the most part steadfastly defend the basic socialistic principles of the revolution, if not the realities of poor management and the lack of democratic principles. It seems that many of them would prefer to live in a democratic socialism akin to those found in Northern Europe. Few, however, have a desire to live in a capitalistic country.
According to Amnesty International, Cuba is high on the list of countries guilty of holding prisoners of conscience and incriminating citizens without fair trial or due process. No one we spoke to in our short 12 days there spoke to us of this reality, nor was it mentioned in the best documentary we saw on the current political climate, "Cuba Va." Whether this is one of those topics "of which we do not speak" or there is a general ignorance of the matter, we could not ascertain. I would imagine the former rather than the latter, but then again there is a limited amount of information available to the people, due both to limited resources (few televisions and little paper to print the news on) and to governmental control of information. The U.S. cannot possibly maintain the position that Cuba still represents a military threat, so the continued maintenance of the embargo must be attributed to an attempt at securing human rights. However, this policy would be radically inconsistent with our dealings with other countries known to violate such rights consistently. China has been returned to Most Favored Nation trading status. Why? Because we can't afford not to do business with China. If Cuba were to strike oil tomorrow, you can bet the embargo would be lifted the next day.
If it is the intention of the U.S. to continue to endanger the health of millions while at the same time lose the opportunity to do business with a potentially lucrative trading partner, not to mention continue to stand in direct opposition to the democratic decisions of the U.N. (in a 1992 vote, only Romania and Israel voted for a continuation of the embargo), then it need do nothing more than what it does now, which is nothing. The full-Nelson headlock is an easy position to maintain, but you look kind of foolish when you hold someone that way for 31 years.
It should be mentioned that it is not just the U.S.'s products which Cuba misses out on; America will discontinue trade with any country which does business with Cuba. Any ship which docks in Cuba must wait six months before touching down in an American port, and tourists from any country cannot visit the U.S. for six months after visiting Cuba. This is why Cuba does not stamp visas in passports -- ours were stamped on the backs of our boarding passes, which made it very convenient to "lose" them soon thereafter.
We must recognize that in our attempt to ensure human rights in Cuba, we have made the lives of millions of people (who are innocent of their government's decisions) an economic hell. And yet, the reality of an unembargoed Cuba will not be pretty either. With an influx of dollars will come the inevitable fast food, malls, chain stores, and general tackiness that plagues our own culture. Cuba will become the great local tropical vacation spot, and will be overrun with tourism. The tremendous respect for resources and property the Cubans have learned by necessity will fall away and the negligence that accompanies plenty will take its place. Antique buildings will be torn down and replaced with gleaming glass facades, and the spirit of survival that translates into a spirit of life will be gone. We have two options: continue to play the role of dungeon-keepers to millions of innocent prisoners, or unlock the gates and see what happens. The outcome will probably not be pretty, but it has to look better than what's going on now.
VAMOS A CAYO LARGO
We had intended to visit the Isle of Youth to do some diving etc., and perhaps track down the chunk of land that my great grandfather had once owned. However, we found that the island's only hotel was booked, and that flights were full too. Instead we settled on a mini-trip to Cayo Largo, a small island to the south of Cuba inhabited only by tourists and Havanians who flew over to work in 40-day stints. We boarded a small Soviet propeller plane which dripped diesel from the wings and sported bald, sagging tires. Entering through a hatch in the butt, we sat down in a hot, claustrophobic sheet-metal-and-rivets powder blue cave. The air conditioner came on once we were airborne, spewing thick white smoke into the cabin (it was probably just steam), and an incongruously Continental-looking flight attendant passed out terrible candy, weak cream soda, and tiny cups of the syrupy coffee we were already growing accustomed to. I settled in to read Fidel's most recent speech on nuns and disco music in Granma, the official socialist newspaper of Cuba named after the boat in which Fidel and Che Guevara and a team of mountain- trained revolutionaries sailed from Mexico to Cuba in to overthrow the Batista dictatorship (the actual boat is encased in glass in downtown Havana; we had passed it just hours earlier en route to the airport.
The island was everything that travel posters promise: fine white sand, clear blue water, thatched huts, rum to sip from coconut shells, and a total freezeup of time. We drifted into Hotel Pelicano, a hastily assembled and utterly tacky sprawling apartment complex with too many square angles, bad colors, aerobics instructors, and unbelievably ugly yellow and orange bedspreads. It didn't matter though. The hideousness of how it looked and what it meant were all part of the fun. I snapped on the tube, and there was "Lost in Space." It seemed strangely appropriate, so we watched for a while, then adjourned poolside for our welcoming speech and promised lobster lunch, which proved to be a little cup of oversalted lobster chunks in mayonnaise. We jumped on the wrong shuttle, had an impromptu tour of the industrial zone (where the hotelbuilding equipment was kept), almost crashed into a truck coming around a corner (the driver of which our driver called "a fag" because of it), and landed at the marina, where we boarded a boat and cruised to a peninsula which served as Paradise Central. From there we boarded the dive boat which took us out a mile or so to a reef. I was administered a regulator with no bits on the mouthpiece which kept falling out of my mouth and a BC with a stuck valve -after hitting the inflate button once, I rocketed to the surface like a cork with a death wish. After conquering the hardware shortcomings, I settled into the dive, which was more like a walk through a convalescent's garden, as they kept us on a frustratingly short leash. Any more than 30 feet away from the leader and we were summoned back with the rapid clackety-clacking of two stones together. We never descended below 25 feet, and we had to stay at the edge of the reef.
All that aside, the dive was muy mas suave. Dozens of varieties of brain and tree corals, some hard, some soft, twisted in surreal tangles and swaths through the warm, clear water. Through 75-foot visibility we came face-to-face with hundreds of species of fish, eels, and other indescribables. Sometimes it was hard to believe they weren't hand painted, or even tie-dyed. From a few millimeters to three feet long, from fluorescent blue to electric yellow and red, swimming in schools of hundreds or loning and roving singly, the fish almost seemed to want to make friends, never dashing away before you were closer than a few inches away. Conch shells both living and dead peppered the sand at the reef's edge, and one could careen silently through small coral caves and tunnels, hold the breath, gaze close-up into the secret and serene world that is always there, usually hidden.
I emerged with a diving migraine, exhausted, dehydrated, sunstroked. Crashed out for hours while Ingrid devoured a thriller novel in enormous gulps.
Elsewhere on the island we sailed a Hobie Cat, Jet-Skied, napped, walked in the phosphorescent midnight surf, played backgammon, swam in the saltwater pool, and attempted to sleep under a thatched hut on the beach, but the surf proved too loud, and we retreated to the tacky glare of El Pelicano. In the morning we skinny dipped in the endless bounty of water, flushing out our grogginess in the clear protoplasmic soup, feeling like we were a million years old, and yet fresh born
In the last few hours of our stay at Cayo Largo, we took an impromptu trip to the Isle of the Iguanas, one among hundreds of tiny outcroppings of lava which erupts violent and craggy out of the sea surrounding Cuba. For reasons we couldn't discover however, this particular one is host to a large tribe of giant lizards which, as Ingrid put it, "have been retooled for the tourist trade," meaning that they scramble up to you by the dozen to beg for scraps of bread and Graham Crackers. Almost friendly, the little dinosaurs climbed all over each other, sometimes lunging a foot or two through the air with pink mouth gaping wide to snatch a morsel out of our hands. They haven't got much finesse, and occasionally their scratchy little teeth would graze our hands. Apparently, some of them have had it up to the gills with the tourist trade, and prefer to wander around the island alone, basking and chomping grass and bugs like a good iguana should.
My quest to investigate Cuban jazz turned out to be a bust. For starters, the Cuban entertainment scene is largely, though not completely confined to the tourist trade. Tourists want to see bongos and salsa, and that's pretty much what they get. I considered myself very fortunate to have gotten to see the current quartet of pianist/tenorist Orlando Sanchez, "El Mantra," in the spacious mezzanine bar of the Libre on his last night. After an inspired set of Monk and Parker covers with a few imaginative originals thrown in, I talked with him about his career in Cuba. He had just been informed that he was being ditched from the Libre's schedule because not enough tourists were coming to see him. He was bummed, but not surprised. This had been the story ever since he had started playing, right around the time of the revolution. But his interest and devotion in being a serious musician had never flagged, and he had developed his musical ideas into something, as far as I could gather, somewhat unique in Cuba. His career had peaked in the bands of Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Pablo Milanos, and he was now planning to go try again in Bulgaria, as his wife had citizenship there. I wished him luck, we shook hands, and the next day he called me in my room to deliver a tape he had made for me. Later, I found out that a blank cassette cost about 100 pesos, roughly a third of the average monthly wage. I wished I had had something to give him in return.
Other than Orlando's band, we followed a rumor to see jazz at a club called Maxim's, a set which had apparently already concluded by the time we arrived at 9:30. I asked around wherever I went, and came up empty handed. The rare records I saw for sale were always the same set of about 100 titles, recorded over the past two decades, mostly salsa and traditional Cuban music. However, Havana does host an International Jazz Festival in February of each year, so there must be more awareness than I was able to ferret out.
CON PERMISSO, DONDE ESTA EL MAXIMO?
Many plans fell into the whirlpool of rumors, promises, bad directions, poor scheduling, and general misinformation that seems to guide the course of events here. With a shortage of paper, little is printed, and much relies on the contagion of word of mouth. Our quest to track down a controversial video called "Alicia in el pueblo...." (a satire of Cuban life based on Alice in Wonderland, which the censors claimed depicted Fidel as the devil, a claim which the directors deny) involved several people, the Cuban center for film studies, and my being bounced from office to office to telephone to waiting room for a full hour before finally being told definitively, "We know nothing about it," even though we had been told the previous day that it would be screened. Ingrid had a similar experience trying to see the same film last year. Requisitions depend on affidavits depend on gasoline depends on dollars depends electricity depends on working phones depends on requisitions. We heard that bureaucratic inefficiency is a favorite theme of satire for Cubans.
And everything takes time. Since everyone is guaranteed a job, work that we are accustomed to seeing done by one or two people is divided among six or eight. A hotel restaurant with six tables may employ one person to work the register, one to pour the coffee, one to scoop the ice cream, one to bring it to your table, one to wash the dish, one write up your check in triplicate, and one to chase you down after you've paid the agreed sum and walked away to tell you they made a mistake and that you owe more. All part of the fun.
Friday was the final day of the film festival, and we got a phone call early in the morning alerting us that we should go to the Hotel Nacional to pick up our invitations to the closing ceremonies and the party at "Fidel's House," the Presidential Palace. As usual, we rode in a huge, modern, gas guzzling tour bus back to the Karl Marx theater. This time we got in without difficulty, and found excellent seats. Awards for films, directors, actors, etc. were chunks of white coral chipped from the reefs that surround the island. The ceremony itself was matter of fact, without the fanfare we associate with the Oscars or Emmies. Acceptance speeches were almost nonexistent, and only a few film clips were seen. Of course, "Fresa y Chocolate" swept the awards in many categories, and the winners spoke of the need for greater acceptance of both homosexuality and new ways of looking at the revolution.
The Presidential Palace was huge and spacious, but humble and tasteful. No chandeliers, no crystal; just tasteful grey marble floors and chiseled concrete columns, giant tropical plants, and an immense expressionist mural of handsculpted and painted tiles, perhaps 150 ft. long and 30 ft. high running the length of an entire wall. The best food we had seen in Cuba was laid out for us: roasted chicken and rice, a deliciously spicy corn mash, fried bananas, cold salads, deserts, coffee, and of course the ubiquitous mojitos (rum, lemon, sugar and mint leaves) in abundance.
Conversations rolled, tumbled and tangled across the room and through the swirl of guests. Vigilant non-uniformed guards kept a close eye on things, making sure we didn't wander into the wrong section, stood in relaxed poses in the wings, looking comfortable. Fidel and Grandpa Munster made their appearances at about the same time. "The Man" (also known colloquially as El Maximo, mi amigo Coco, the President, el Hefe, and by his official title, "President Fidel Castro Ruz, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba) was immediately surround- ed by guests. Unlike other leaders, he does not hustle through the crowd shaking hands and kissing babies. He has conversations with anyone, picking their brains, remembering everything, asking active and pertinent questions. One person in our group is on a mission to aid Cuba's economy by introducing hemp as a crop for energy, fiber, oil, protein, paper, etc. Bringing this up to an American President would get you ignored fast. Fidel hammered him with questions. How much yield? How much manpower? What crop rotation? What fertilizers are needed? Another in our group brought a message from her grandparents. Fidel assured her that her family had been very important to the revolution, and sent back his regards. The Man stood in one spot for over an hour, physically and mentally intent on meeting everyone he could, with absolutely no interest in superficial politics or social "How do you do's."
Meanwhile, Al Lewis (aka Grandpa Munster) strutted around looking like the eccentric, egotistic has-been he is, shouting "Not Fidel... me!" Shocks of wiry white hair shot out horizontally from beneath his blue denim cap. A slobbery cigar dangled from his mouth. A bola tie made of deer antler stood out like a big calcified sore from his shirt. He claimed to have 40 of them, all by the same "master craftsman." He also claimed that Fidel had asked for it as a gift, and that he had refused the request. The presence of two of the greatest minds of our century together in one room at the same time proved too overwhelming for me, and I sat on a leather hassock underneath an elephant's ear and gazed into the tile mural, looking for some hidden meaning to this surreal assemblage of events and elements. I didn't find any, but I did get handed another mojito, which only served to make the tiles swirl, and the bizarre setting seem somehow natural, as if I attended parties like this every week.
MY DINNER WITH POZO, HUGO, FLACO...
El Malecon is the rickety concrete strip of seawall that runs along the North coast of Havana. To one side run the multicolored pillars and buildings of peoples homes, once great edifices decaying into well-kept but rapidly crumbling apartments. On the other, the warm, clear Caribbean sea surges onto a short outcropping of craggy rock and lava. Because of the steep drop into the depths, even small surf explodes unpredictably over the wall and over the sidewalk. As a result, strollers such as ourselves can be doused in seawater at any moment. The sidewalk is pitted with salt rot and, in places, covered in slippery algae. Don Juans and senoritas perch on the short wall, smooching into the dusk and beyond. A one mile walk along the Malecon takes you from Havana proper to Habana Vieja, Old Havana, where the architecture takes on a more European feel, the streets run in narrower strips, the poverty even more apparent, the stink of urine more frequent, the hard core of Cuban life bolder to the eyes and ears.
Towards the end of our stay, we visited Old Havana more frequently, trying to track down some artist friends that Ingrid had met last year at the Grabado Taller, the engraving and graphic arts studio near an old Cathedral. True to Cuban scheduling style, this proved more difficult than we expected. Promised times didn't match up, letters sent didn't arrive, rumors didn't pan out. But these potentially frustrating episodes always bore hidden fruit in the form of meeting new people, finding other pockets of life not in the meager guide book. In this way we met Pozo and his friends Flaco (Skinny) and Angel, artist friends of Hugo, with whom we were trying to meet. I gave them a WIG! calendar, we asked where we could find Cuban entertainment for our last night. We mentioned that it was Ingrid's birthday. They invited us to come hang out at Pozo's house.
After a sweaty and foot-weary sunset trek back to the Libre, temper and patience tested and tried by the more-or-less continual assault of Cuban youth on our dollars, we crashed out in the afternoon sun, watched reruns of last night's festival awards ceremony on the hotel TV, endured one more hour in the harsh light and tired food of the hotel dining room, and took an underground taxi to Pozo's house. The driver became quickly lost in the tangled bowels of the inner city, asking directions five times from locals, until finally Flaco, who was outside waiting for us, flagged us down and led us through darkness up several flights of stairs which spiraled around the well of an open-air elevator shaft, into the small flat shared by three. We sat in a circle on the cold linoleum floor (they had no chairs to offer us), met four other friends, and dug right into a difficult but rewarding discussion of conceptual art centering around the posters of Pozo's brother Sandy. Soon we were sipping rum, telling stories, and discussing the state of Cuban society and economy, and the relative merits of socialism and capitalism.
Then the surprise: someone had remembered that it was Ingrid's birthday (it happened also to be Sandy's) and produced a small, flat birthday cake. As sugar is just about the only resource in plentiful supply, deserts in Cuba are mostly sugar, and are commonly coated in thick mounds of frosting, as was this cake. Not too tasty to our mouths, but the generosity and kindness showed by them was overwhelming. They sang a Cuban happy birthday song to Ingrid in Spanish, then we sang to Sandy in English. As if they knew Ingrid much better than they did, Pozo produced a hardcover history of crime and criminology (in English) as a second gift, which they all inscribed with love. Behind us, a blank wall was covered in butcher paper (like just about everything, also a precious commodity), and we all took to a collaborative mural effort with poster paints. An hour later, we had a six by six foot souvenir mural to take with us: a spontaneous depiction of the night's conversational themes. There was Fidel on channel 23, a cocktail glass full of politics and Woody Allen, a green elephant and an orange question mark, a blocky dog barking out the question "Chicle?," abstractions and text, passions and nonsense. Then the guitarras came out.
Tania is paid by the state to write and sing childrens' songs. Her CubanChinese boyfriend Han Sun plays lead acoustic with a perfect intuitive ear, clear, precise, blindingly fast and delicate. Flaco played his own compositions in a more traditional style, heartfelt and endearing. I played what they said they wanted to hear, the blues, singing "Bring it on Home" in my best Muddy Waters throat. This style comes so easily to me, and not to them; I realized for the first time just how much influence I had absorbed indirectly from my culture, and saw how much they had from theirs. Even though by Cuban standards these people were on the fringe, true bohemians, their music could not help but carry the influence of the Spanish ballad any more than mine could help but carry the luggage of the blues. They extolled the lifestyle they called "punk," which I soon came to realize meant Peter Gabriel and U2.
Without the help of Marina, we would have had much less communication than we did, considering our very limited Spanish and their limited English. Marina was born in the Soviet Union, and came to Cuba during the long period of Soviet support. Her English was quite good, and improved by the minute. We especially enjoyed her recount of a movie she had seen recently, about a man falling in love with a sheep, then losing her to the heart of his psychiatrist.
They walked us all the way back to our hotel that night. Ingrid gave Sandy her two-dollar watch (a Burger King promo), which brought tears to his eyes. I promised to make tapes for many of them, after learning that a single cassette cost them about 120 pesos, nearly two weeks wage. The evening was easily the most emotionally intense and rewarding of our stay, and we wished we had met them sooner, as through them we finally got behind the veil that separates tourism from Cuban life, and felt first-hand, if just for an evening, the energy and spirit that keeps these people going despite the hardships of an era Fidel calls, in a form of doublespeak so similar to the forked tongue halftruths voiced by politicians from all times and places, "The Special Period." It'll be a lot more special when it's over.
Cuba by Ron Golemba
I've just returned from my 10th trip to Cuba since 1975. Every time that I go I'm surprised by the changes that I encounter - the people are always warm and friendly and the beaches excellent but the restaurants, clubs, hotels and nightlife are ever changing.
My initial visit to Cuba was in 1975 when very few international tourists (other than from the Soviet block) were allowed in; Canadians were an exception. My first visit was to Havana, Varadero and the Isle of Pines (Isle of Youth). Accommodations were primitive to say the least. The famous Nacional Hotel in Havana was badly run down and in a general sate of disrepair - cats and dogs roamed the once elegant dining room to the amusement of the few tourists, the plumbing rarely worked, and I was the only guest on my floor with a toilet seat!
The Colony Hotel on the Isle of Pines was billed as Cuba's newest resort hotel - it was originally opened in 1958, closed shortly after the revolution and reopened just days before my arrival. The humid subtropical weather had worked its wonder of amazing flora growing on the walls of my room to the delight of only the lizards that seemed to live IN my mattress. Not so lucky here - no toilet seats at all.
The infamous Hotel Internacional in Varadero, once owned by American mobster Myer Lansky, was not in much better shape - the 1950s style furnishings were mismatched and damaged and of course the plumbing didn't work. Even if the johns did flush there weren't any toilet seats and very often no toilet paper either.
In spite of the state of disrepair the Cubans were proud of what they had. Once, in the mid 70s, while staying at the Hotel Deauville on the Malecon in Old Havana I asked the desk clerk in my best Spanish if the hotel had a swimming pool. "Si senor, on the fifth floor." Changed and ready for a cool dip, I discovered a fine pool on an out door deck that over looked the ocean but there was no water in the pool and there probably hadn't been any water for some time. Later when I saw the clerk I asked why she hadn't told me that the pool wasn't working. She proudly told me that it was such a beautiful pool that she felt I would like to see it.
Meals were usually "all inclusive." All the black beans, rice and fish that you wanted were yours. Canadians usually restrained themselves and consumed mass quantities of fruit, bread and rum.
Given the horrors, why would anyone continue to return? Simply put, Cuba is a wondrous country of history, struggle, and exuberance. The people, in spite of their deprivations, are warm and generous and filled with a sense of achievement. It is a country of story tellers -stories about what was, as well as, what is and what they hope it will be. A people who will tell you the contradictions - before the revolution this or that was such and such, now it's this other thing. They'll tell you that they believe in the system, but they want this or that to be different. They want change but not capitalism. They don't want capitalism but they'll get you a very good deal on a box of Montecristo cigars. The Russian government is (was) their friend but they don't like the racism and black marketeering of the Russians. They love the American people but the American Government is their enemy. Pick a position and in modern Cuba and someone shares it - and expresses it. There is no secretiveness here. It is a country with little crime and virtually no violent crime. The people are healthy, educated and fun to be with.
What I missed most (other than toilet seats) in my early travels was the Cuban cultural traditions. In the 70s I heard great American jazz in the clubs of Havana. Rock and roll was everywhere but Cuba was locked in the fifties American jazz and old American cars. The road ways were like living museums '56 Chevy Belairs, '58 T Birds, Ford Fairlanes - every classic car that you can imagine.
In the early 80s, jazz was replaced by really bad renditions of Rolling Stones and Beatles tunes. Or at least something that reminded me of mid 60s rock. Many of the classic cars were being replaced with really bad Soviet-block cars. The Fiat Polsky was a two cylinder, rubber-belt driven miniature vehicle that resembled a squashed Austin Mini. I preferred the mopeds.
Finally, in the 90s the Latin rhythms are back - salsa, meringue, and mambo. The Tropicana in Havana stages one of the most elaborate three-hour floors shows that you're likely to see any where. The costumes and dancers are beautiful and the music is hot. The Cuban rhumba, once banned in prerevolutionary days, is everywhere and everywhere beautiful Cuban men and women are dancing. The tourists try. The Colombians, Mexican and Venezuelans are naturals, the Spanish tourists are passible, but the Canadians, Scandinavians, Germans and even the Italians are quite awful. The bars and clubs swing until the early hours of the morning with too many Cubans promising to teach me and my whole family - wife, daughters and their grandparents - in just five minutes. All too often they conceded that I might need a few more days or weeks of practice.
In spite of the 30 year old American blockade, consumer goods are starting to flood the tourist areas. Cubans have been allowed to hold hard currency since June of 93 and this is spurring demand for imported goods. Coca-Cola is in the bars along side the sickly-sweet Tropicola and the Canadian PC Cola. French, German, Italian and Chilean wines are everywhere - and for good value. Most of the old Soviet cars are being replaced by more reliable Japanese cars such as Nissans and Toyotas. Happily the old American classics are still running alongside the new Japanese replacements. And, their owners are still proud of them - only now they know their worth in Canadian dollars. Rental cars are numerous but quite expensive due to the gasoline rationing. Although, a Canadian engineer that I met in Mantanzas tells me that his exploration company suspects huge off-shore oil deposits that may rival those in the middle east. And a German company is modernizing the pumping facilities for greater efficiency.
The hotels have been restored to their former glory. The Nacional in Havana is truly a world class hotel with a reasonable $200 a night price tag. Its gardens, pools and public rooms are quite stunning. The pink Internacional on Varadero has just been restored to its former self (minus slot machines). Even the Hotel Deauville is back to its art deco glory complete with functioning pool. The Cuban resorts on both the north and south coasts are good value with great beaches, snorkeling and diving.
The influx of foreign capital to the tourist sector has opened some excellent hotels. Varadero's Riu las Morlas, for example, is a four star hotel run by the Spanish in a 50-50 sharing venture with the Cuban government. The Canadians, Germans and Jamaicans have rushed to joined in on these 50-50 deals. This has brought more consumer goods and more foreign help to improve the quality of Cuban vacations. Unfortunately, this has also resulted in an increase in prices in the bars and restaurants.
This push to cater to North American and European tastes has seen the opening of a few "superclubs" and many new restaurants. Once, only the Casa las Americas (the former estate of Irenee Dupont) catered to the tourists. Now there are many little charming cafes, pizzerias and big restaurants with an eye to the tourist dollar - good pizza for $6 and great Caribbean lobster for $17. Cuban tourism has truly come of age.
If you go to any of the great beach resorts - Varadero, Havana's Eastern Beaches, Holgun, Cayo Largo, Santiago de Cuba, or Cienfuegos do yourself a favour and go see colonial Havana -you won't regret it.
Grand Turk by Phil Carta and Jenny Darby
Jenny and Phil continue their series on diving locations. All rights are reserved and their material is copyrighted and is used here with their permission. Also see their piece on Bimini above.
If you are looking for great diving along with peace and quiet Grand Turk is the place for you. It may be a little more difficult to reach than other Caribbean islands but the payoff is well worth it. Grand Turk has recently been designated a marine park and with continued care from the dive operations, the reef will stay relatively undamaged. There are 19 permanent mooring buoys in place at this time with more planned.
The Ocean Environment.
The wall extends the entire length of the island and, in many places, starts in only 35 feet of water. Many fine dive sites are easily accessible from shore.
The terrain of Grand Turk is very similar to Bonaire (complete with salt flats). However, once you get underwater everything changes. The wall makes for very dramatic dives along with the chance of seeing pelagic fish. Migrating whales pass Grand Turk in February and March and Manta Rays cruise the wall during the summer months. During our recent trip (June, 1993) we saw Manta Rays, Moray Eels, Turtles, Nurse Sharks, Triggerfish, thousands of Garden Eels, Longsnout Butterfly Fish, Indigo Hamlets, Barracuda, Crabs, Juvenile & Adult Spotted Drum, Octopus, Porcupine Fish, Sharpnose Puffers, Lobsters,
Peacock Flounders, Conch, French Angelfish, Queen Angelfish, Flamingo Tongues (more than I have ever seen anywhere), Trumpetfish, Hogfish, Groupers, Grunts, Damselfish, Wrasse, Scorpion Fish, Rock Beauties, Blue Chromis and every species of Parrotfish. There were Peterson Cleaning Shrimp available for a hand cleaning on all the dives along with a cleaning station of Gobys that gladly cleaned both my hands along with my mask! At one dive site, The Forest, the wall was totally covered with Black Coral at 60 to 80 feet and at The Amphitheater the wall was covered for at least 100 feet with deep water sea fans. We also saw Feather Dusters, Christmas Tree Worms, Red Night Shrimp, Spanish Lobster, Arrow Crabs, Brittle Stars, Sea Stars, and Basket Stars. On one dive, guide Connie pointed out a tiny juvenile Spotted Drum that could not have been over half an inch in size. Some of the coral on top of the reef was bleached and damaged but on the wall it was all healthy and the elephant ear & sheet coral were spectacular.
Our dive shop for this trip was Omega Diving which is located just across the street from the beach. The operation is run by Cecil Ingham and his wife Connie along with help from Smitty and, of course, with their two year old son Dillon. Omega runs a first class operation where service comes first. The boat we used for the week was a small 24 foot Carolina Skiff which was perfect for 6 to 8 divers. They also have two larger boats for bigger groups.
Entry was by an easy back roll and to exit all gear was handed up so it was easy to step up into the boat. The only addition I feel should be added is another step to make getting into the boat easier. The first evening on the island Connie and Cecil came to our hotel for a dive orientation and to check Ccards so we would be ready to start in the morning. We met at the beach each morning for our dives at around 8:30, when we got there the boat left (remember this is island time, Mon!).
Omega Diving caters to divers and does all gear set up for you. Dive sites average a 5 to 15 minute boat ride so we returned to dock between dives to pick up new tanks. All dives were guided but rather unobtrusively; since our group was so small it was not a problem. Connie was our normal guide and basically let us poke along and explore at our own pace. Dive profiles were normally 80 feet for 20 minutes, then come up on the top of the wall for the return to the boat. Our average dive lasted 55 minutes so we had all the time we needed to explore the wall and reef.
Omega Diving has sponsored a Turtle Rescue Program that I found to be very impressive. Turtle has been a staple in the Turks & Caicos and it is still legal to catch and sell them to local restaurants. Omega Diving is now offering to buy any turtle that a local catches at the same price a restaurant would charge. Which is $60 to $150 per turtle! They then bore a hole in the turtle's shell to show it has been bought and the locals do not try to resell it. For more information on the Turtle Rescue Project call Omega Diving directly at 809946-1407 or contact Caribbean Adventures.
Our hotel for the week was the Oceanview which has been totally remodeled and was just voted the #1 hotel on Grand Turk. This small 10 room hotel is owned and operated by Gene & Katie Beck who, along with assistant manager Dee Dempsey, do a wonderful job. It was a pretty, clean little hotel located only one block off the beach and with some of the best meals we have ever had in the Caribbean. Breakfast was cooked to order with your choice of eggs, waffles, french toast, fruit, coffee and orange juice. Lunch was normally fish & chips, lobster salad, bar- b-qued ribs, conch chowder or chicken. The dinner menu was extensive and normally had lobster, baked fish, fried fish, T-bone steak, salad, chicken, fresh baked rolls and wonderful homemade deserts. Prices were $4 for breakfast, $6 for lunch and ranged from $8 to $20 for dinner.
The staff at the Oceanview, Louise, Beverly, Thelma, Kathleen, Gertha, Annette and Lyonel all do a great job. Gene even loaned us his truck and had Lyonel drive us down to do a night dive at South Pier. You cannot ask for better service than that!
To sum it all up for those of you who want peace and quiet along with world class diving and white sand beaches all to yourself Grand Turk is the place for you.
Jamaica: Jamaica Grande by Mal Greenfield
I just returned from an 8 days and 7 nights all inclusive sojourn. More than satisfied with all aspects of the vacation. The food was well-prepared and wellpresented at Dragons, L'Allegro and Cafe Jamaique. I do not care for buffets, so Mallards was lost on me for suppers although the food was good. The beach was not as nice as Negril but far superior to Port Antonio. The pools were downright chilly but very refreshing given the average 89 degree days we "suffered" through. The liquor was a very pleasant surprise as we found that brands we serve at home were available for the asking, Courvosier, Hennessey 5 Star,Jack Daniels Black Label, Boodles, Smirnoff and others of that ilk.
The jaccuzis were part of the Spa Island area of the pool and were pleasant,if a bit crowded. The saunas helped keep me down to a 6 pound week rather than my usual 8-10 pound gorging.(I really sweated about 6 Red Stripes every afternoon.)
The rooms were ordinary with ordinary amenities for a stateside motel. We had cable TV but poor reception on most channels. Our across-the-hall travelling companions had excellent reception. We had plenty of hot water at all times, theirs was sporadic at times and their pressure was sub-par at other times. We made friends with the maid and had fresh soap and shampoo daily, clean towels twice daily and turn-down service nightly.
Their service was very good, but not quite the same as ours. The staff as a whole was far above par for the islands; they are well-trained in providing for your reasonable requests. This was our 13th all inclusive trip and I have no qualms about recommending this resort.
I would suggest a couple of make sures--make sure you get a room in the North Tower about the 5th or 6th floor. This seems to affect water pressure. An even numbered room in the 50-70 range will assure you a decent view of the Caribbean (if you don't look down at the roof and repair area) by looking straight ahead. It will also keep down the noise level from the Carnival on the Beach if you are about Limbo-ed out as I am. Make sure you try a club sandwich at Cafe Jamaique. Make sure you eat at least 1 Ochi chip sundae from Jamaique every night. Make sure you sample the Lemon Chicken at Dragons but realize that the portions there are large enough for 2 to share 1 meal after you add the excellent Fried Rice (2 kinds). Make sure you sample Spaghetti Carbonara at L'Allegro but realize this is 1 very rich dish and you cannot possibly eat all of it and then enjoy the cheese cake with amoretto glaze without making a total pig of yourself. (Oink oink) Oh yes, that was after a Caesar salad and 2 orders of the bread with spicy sauce and 2 white wines and 2 iced teas at the same meal.
We discovered very late in the week that L'Allegro was open for lunch too, and that killed Mallards for us. Make sure you use the beach near the North Tower if you like utter peace and quiet and tranquility. Make sure that your boatmates on the snorkel trip don't down 12 rashers of bacon a dozen eggs and a case of Red Stripe just prior to getting aboard or you too will have the pleasure of watching and hearing them feed the fishes on either the trip out or the trip back. How to do this? I don't know, but my wife and I sure wish we did.
About my only complaint was the price of the boat trip to Dunns River Falls, I felt that 58 dollars US was more than a bit overpriced. In 1986 we bussed there and did the climb for less than 10 US each. Inflation, yes; but gouging,NO!
Jamaica: Sandals by Randy Wood
My wife and I traveled with another couple to Sandals Negril in late April 1993. We went there pretty much "blind" as the only information we had came from the Sandals brochure and one measly article in some travel rag. I'm going to try not to re-iterate what you can get out of the Sandals brochure - anyone can get that. What I am going to try to do is give you the inside scoop so that if you decide to go there you will be more informed and, hopefully, your stay will be a little more enjoyable.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS We found the brochure fairly accurate, except that the rooms were not as "elegant" as they were made out to be. But who cares? You are only in your room to sleep, shower, and......
The air conditioning works well - which you will appreciate. When we got there at about 11:00 A.M. after our redeye flight, a glass of champagne was there to greet us. The grounds are beautiful and the place looked fairly new - certainly not run down. Our only real surprise of the day was that the drive from Montego Bay to Negril was not as bad as we had heard - I guess we were expecting a "road to Hana" type ordeal but it was nothing like that. Average speed was about 40 MPH, and when you have a Red Stripe in your hand nothing is really that bad. Be sure to have some cash in your pocket for tipping the porters at the airport on your arrival and departure - it was the only tipping we did all week.
After lunch, we headed straight for the beach. Again, it looked pretty much like the brochure pictures. Very nice sand, water socks not necessary. All of the sports equipment was in fairly good shape, and there was never a problem with availability. The longest the water-ski line got all week was about 3 people, which turned out to be about a 10 minute wait. They have a real nice Mastercraft ski boat, and the week we were there the water was very smooth most of the time. Good for the water-skiers, but bad for the windsurfers and sailors as there was only a slight breeze.
FINISHING UP THE FIRST DAY By now we had figured out that there were A LOT of honeymooners or people going to get married there, as we saw at least one wedding a day. About 1/3 of the people fit into this camp. The rest were across the board, from young couples to retirees. I'd say 90% of the people were from the U.S. There were more groups of people (sets of 2 or 3 couples traveling together) than we had expected. My wife and I have been to the Club Meds in Cancun and Martinique (we are in our late 20's) and we kinda missed the singles action - who is chasing who, who is running from who etc. For whatever reason, people seem to keep more to themselves here than at a Club Med - then again, every week is different so maybe after we left there was one big 500 person party - who knows?
Speaking of Club Med, two other aspects of Sandals that, at least in our opinion, are not as good as Club Med are the dining situations and the entertainment. Although the food at Sandals is better, the tables are set up in 2's and 4's. We enjoy the "8 at a table" concept at Club Med as it provides a great opportunity to meet different people every night. Also, all 3 open-air restaurants at Sandals are table service at dinner, so you "can't always get it when you want it". We waited 45 minutes one night before being served. We were worried about the dress code there, as the brochure makes it sound pretty formal; however, we were relieved that a decent pair of shorts and a nice Tshirt is just fine in the main dining room, slacks and a button- down Hawaiian type shirt (guys) or sundress (women) fine in the others. A shirt/tie combo is OK too. They say no shorts in the two "formal" restaurants, but several people had them on although they did look somewhat out of place. Even "Formal Night" was pretty much a bust, only about 5 or so couples really did it up. Most women get their hair braided or cornrolled or whatever you call it. As for beachware, for the most part pretty conservative - our wives were among only about 1/2 dozen thong style swimsuits but they never felt or looked out of place. Actually, there were more male thong suits than female.
The entertainment the first night was great! The house band played and they were excellent. Then, they went on vacation (huh?). Every night after that we felt as if we were in a cheap Reno casino. It was all "cabaret" type entertainment and not very well attended by the guests. They did have beach party night which was a lot of fun (we ended up nude on one the floating docks), and a toga night (sheets provided) that was better attended than what we thought it would be. After the first night we were glad that we brought our bug spray - this place, as is common, had those sand flies or whatever they are that give you the itchies. One night, and one night only, we went to the disco - and re-named it the dinky disco. We never saw anybody there.
THE C/O ISLAND The Sandals brochure says they have a private island for nude sunbathing - HA! Private it definitely is not. They shuttle you out to Booby Cay once an hour (and I must admit they were relatively prompt, Jamaican time or not) on a "party barge" pontoon boat. You have to sign in and out at the sports shack so you're not left there at the end of the day. The boat goes from 9:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. One day we took a canoe, but upon our return we were asked (nicely) not to do that again. They said it is not an issue of tying up the canoes, but what they said happens is windsurfers and sailboats see people going over there, they try it, and end up crashing the sailboats or windsurfers into the rocks. Definitely no nude sunbathing at Sandals, but our wives and some others went topless towards the Hedonism side of the beach no problem. The Playmakers (a.k.a. Club Med G.O's, except they are young locals) said because there are so many honeymooners, nude sunbathing, even in a designated area, doesn't work there ("Stop looking at her!!"). Too many near-divorces - too bad.
There is a small beach on the front part of the island where, over the course of the week, there was some topless bathing and a little nude sunbathing. Most of the nude sunbathing is in the back on a small beach (approximately 40 yards in length) because in the front there are locals that provide picnic trips to tourists/gawkers. We went every day and were not bothered much at all on the backside, and there was usually 4 or 5 other couples - all I think from Sandals. Bring your watersocks, it's pretty rocky. Also, we had packed 2 of those fabric type insulated coolers and some sport bottles so we had water on the Island, even though soda and Red Stripe is available from locals in the front. If you go to the island, go to the bar at Sandals and ask for an island beer - they will fill up an empty 1-1/2 gallon syrup container with Red Stripe for you. Hey, you haven't lived until you try nude sandcastle building with your friends!
As an alternative, you can take a taxi ($7.00 US for the 4 of us each way) to the Bloody Bay beach. It is beautiful, no watersocks required. You can walk a 1/2 mile in each direction (jungle on one side, Grand Lido on the other) and at least the week we were there most people (all 20 of them) were nude or topless. One couple we met earlier in the week "Oh, I could never do that!" ended up spending their last 2 days here and loved it. We saw them frolicking in the water, white butts and all, having the time of their lives. We went there twice, and the 2nd time we walked back to Sandals so that we could go through the little shops along the road. The only bad things about the beach is you have to be careful when you are far out (about neck deep) or your likely to get hit by the Hedonism ski boat, and (at least we think this is where she got it) my wife got a parasite in her foot (gross!) and to this day she still has it (more about that later). At least she didn't sit on it. Also, I wouldn't leave your room key on the beach by itself - use common sense.
HOWARD AT THE BAR We knew about the unlimited drinks, so we brought along a bartenders book intending on trying a lot of new drinks. Well, there were so many drinks posted on little signs at the bars we never even got to the book. Howard was our favorite bartender we ended up giving our bartenders book to him. Try the flaming B-52's (this one is NOT on one of the little signs!). However, our favorite was the classic Pina Colada - cream, sugar, pineapple juice, and coconut rum. One bar is literally steps from the water!
FINALLY I hate the question "would you go back?" It really isn't applicable because we like to try different places every time. Also, we spent our whole week in the club, on the island, or at Bloody Bay so we are of no help in terms of excursions or other things to do in Negril. We did walk through Hedonism next door-just ask the guard at the fence separating the two properties and they will let you walk through. The folks at Hedonism staged a daily "Butt Crack Parade" through the Sandals property that drew a lot of stares and laughs - one fellow in the parade shouting out "Oh no, we're too late - rigormortis has set in!"
We would go back to Jamaica. The people are very friendly and we now appreciate reggae music. Oh, about that parasite - two weeks after our return we found out my wife was pregnant - made in Jamaica! She is due the end of January and because of her pregnancy she couldn't take any medications to get rid of the little critter. It is of no harm, just a nuisance. So, there you have it proof that Sandals is a romantic place!
Again, each week at these all-inclusives can be very different depending on the people there, the weather, the mood of the staff, etc. This captures our experiences during this one week.
Puerto Rico: Oil Spill Update and New Tours Introduced
The following was supplied by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.
A. San Juan Oil Spill Update
Puerto Rico has projected that it will end the 1993-94 winter with its best tourist seasons in recent years.
At a press conference on Jan. 17, the U.S. Coast Guard reported that they had recovered, most of the oil spilled from the Morris J. Berman barge which ran aground off San Juan on Jan. 7th. The barge was towed away on Jan. 15 and sunk by the U.S.C.G approximately 16 miles from shore.
Jaqui Michel of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the damage was limited to three of Puerto Rico's 254 miles of beachfront.
"The near shore oil is almost all gone and now we can really emphasize the shore clean up", Ms. Michel said.
The oil spill occurred during one of Puerto Rico's strongest tourism seasons, yet has has little or no effect on visitor arrivals. Hotel occupancy for the month of January is three percent ahead of this time last year, according to Luis Fortuno, Executive Director for the Puerto Rico Tourism Authority.
"It's gratifying to hear that we are moving into the final stages of the clean up. This is a very reassuring report that we have heard today from the environmental specialists", Mr. Fortuno said.
U.S.C.G Commander Robert Ross said significant improvement can be expected with the clean up operation over the next few days.
We've been uniquely successful in recovering the oil from the spill because of the natural shape of the shore line where the barge went aground. This is a natural catchment, or basin, that created a pocket for much of the spilled oil. It really worked to our advantage," Commander Ross said.
The barge hit the reef near the Condado area, one of San Jaun's popular tourist areas, mostly affecting the beaches of the two hotels: the Caribe Hilton and the Radisson Normandie. While these hotels remain open, the beaches are closed as clean-up operations continue. It is hoped that the beaches may be re-opened in a few weeks. Until then, a shuttle bus service had been provided by the Puerto Rican Tourism Authority to ferry guests from these hotels to some of the island's many beautiful beaches.
B. New Tours introduced
Get back to nature in Puerto Rico with Tropix Wellness Tours which has introduced four tours to some of the island's many and varied natural treasures. Visitors can explore sea turtles' nesting sites in Culebra, the phosphorescent bay in Vieques, the Rio Camuy Cave system in Camuy and the dry, desert like forest in Guanica.
The Happy Turtle Tour in Culebra includes a half day kayaking / snorkeling expedition and a visit to sea turtles' nesting sites during the spring / summer. Culebra, one of Puerto Rico's offshore islands, is ideally situated off the southeastern coast of the mainland. Boasting magnificent snorkeling, Culebra is home to the National Wildlife Refuge, which protects the habitats of the island's wildlife. This 4 day / 3 night tour starts at Rivas Dominici Airport in Miramar and inter-island transportation to Culebra is included in the cost.
Vieques,the other off shore island, is the site of the Phosphorescent Bay Tour which includes an expedition to the Isla Nena, home to one of the most spectacular phosphorescent bays in the world. Additional attractions on Vieques include magnificent reefs, bird sanctuaries and deserted sandy beaches. The Tour starts at Rivas Dominici Airport in Miramar and inter-island air transportation to Vieques Airport is included.
The Caravan Tour in Camuy includes an expedition through one of the world's largest underground cave systems . Miles of natural waterways are surrounded by stalagmites, stalagtites, sunless vegetation and 20 different species of marsupials. Its' duration is 4 days and 3 nights.
The Wet and Dry Tour in Guanica includes two expeditions: the dry forest hike and mangrove kayaking at sunset. Southwest Puerto Rico is home to the world's largest remaining tract of dry coastal forest. This part of the island also features miles of mangrove channel systems. Visitors can explore the waterways by kayak as they are lead to secluded Caribbean beaches. It lasts for 4 days and 3 nights.
Tropix Wellness Tours will customize an itinerary for those travelling to Puerto Rico alone, or for groups of six or more depending on their individual needs. You can contact Tropix Wellness Tours at 800-582-0613 or 809-268-2173.
St. Barths by Beverly Baridon
Our flight out was BEAUTIFUL! Flying over the Bahamas was so very very pretty! I just kept my nose to the window looking at all the islands and the beautiful changing shades of blue in the waters below us. Flying over FLAT Anguilla we then saw the GORGEOUS mountains of S. Martin arise out of the water! It was really something! (Gush, gush) Anyway, I went in the bar and looked for Tony, but Judy was working. She made me a rum punch and of the very few drinks I had on this trip, I must say Judy's $3.50 rum punch was the best! (I could have had another, but didn't want to arrive too tipsy.)
Anyway, The flight in to St. Barths was totally uneventful. It was not scary. I guess I was just too busy looking around me and trying to see the island, but the view is obstructed by the cabin of the plane, so I never had the opportunity for any real thrill of a landing. I think I've had more thrilling landings with my husband in single engine planes!!
Catherine Charneau was waiting for us when we arrived at Village St. Jean. We were late getting in and Gaby, her Mom, took us to our cottage. Gaby and Catherine were very very nice and very very helpful to us. One nice touch they had at Village St. Jean was a notebook filled with most of the menus of the restaurants on the island so you could look through them and choose where you thought you would like to go! They also have a "commissary" there, which is a little shop which operates on the honor system -- you just get what you want, be it champagne, coke, wine, peanuts, whatever and just write it down. I thought the little touches like that were very very helpful!
When Gaby took us to our cottage we just could not believe our eyes! It was BEAUTIFUL! The outside terrace was approximately 19x32 feet. It had a big picnic table, a hammock and two lounge chairs. Then there was the kitchen which also had a small microwave, but no regular oven. Inside, the bedspread and curtains were in a "rainforest" print -- really exotic and the furniture was all wicker and very comfortable. We had a living room and our bedroom and a large bathroom.
One way to measure the level of service you are getting is by the quality of the toilet paper. Village St. Jean provided 2-ply soft toilet paper, which I thought was amazing!
When we awoke the next morning and pulled back the drapes from the french doors we nearly dropped our teeth at the breathtaking view! It HAD to be the best view VSJ had! We looked right out over beautiful blooming frangipani, hibiscus and bouganvilla plants onto the gorgeous St. Jean Bay! There were already sailboats meeting out there for the beginning of a regatta. It was so very very pretty! We only swam in the pool once as most of our time was on the beach, but we did take advantage of VSJ's jacuzzi which was great! It is a WONDERFUL place with WONDERFUL people!
Now for the island itself. I had read about St. Barths being "hilly," but was not initially prepared, nor was Phil, for just how "hilly" it really is! However, I will make a point of warning you all now that you probably should not vacation there while I'm there in the future as I learned to drive that Suzuki like the locals drive (fast and furious with no fear of crashing!). The bumpy, curving roads actually gave the island a unique kind of charm. It is hard to explain, but getting around was easy and there is a different "personality" to every different beach or area you visit on the island. For instance, we learned to snorkel from Nancy Galinas, who loaned us her equipment at Shell Beach.
I LOVED Shell Beach. It is not the most talked about beach, but, even without a mask, I could surface dive down and see how, as the water steeply dropped off, it changed its hue of blue. I really just loved that beach! The best snorkeling, by far, though, was at Petit Anse (thanks, Mark and Lori Weaver). There were so many varieties of tropical fish there and they were all shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns! It was just gorgeous. I know that when we go back we will spend more time at Petit Anse snorkeling!
For beaches, my two favorites were St. Jean and Saline. Gouverner had a wild surf and strong undertow, so, even though it was a beautiful beach to look at from high up, we could not really do much there in the water. I found St. Jean to be a narrower beach, but there was so much fun there for people who like beach-type fun on very calm water. Swimming was great there and then, of course, there were the windsurfing activities and other water sports going on there. It is a fun people watching beach, too. While we were eating lunch at Chez Francine a volleyball game was going on and windsurfers were breezing by us.
Saline Beach was great because it was so wide and expansive and because it was so European! I had heard and read about full nudity there, but being a firsttimer, that first look was a little shocking to me! But, no matter. I quickly adjusted and relaxed like everyone else because nobody cared. I found very interesting and friendly people on Saline as well. Actually, I found friendly and interesting people on the whole island.
We went to Flamands once, and although it is a beautiful beach, there wasn't a lot to do there so I found it a little boring. We never made it to Colombier. Since we only had 5 full days and 6 nights there, Colombier will have to wait until next time! I thought the beach at Guanahani left a lot to be desired (I am being extremely understated here.). There was hardly any sandy beach and the water was very shallow and full of plant life. You couldn't swim on the ocean side because it was so rough. I did climb the little mountain there at the end of the beach, though, and took some great pictures!
The only BIG mistake of any consequence I made was getting my film developed on St. Barths. Being concerned about getting some of the shots with partial nudity developed in the U.S., I went to Photo Fast in Gustavia. They do one-hour processing. I gave them 4 rolls of film and they told me it would be $22.00 per roll! Not only was I stupid to agree to do this, but I then told them that I wanted two prints of each picture and they upped the price to $44.00 a roll, which I stupidly paid!
Oh, well, one mistake -- one lesson learned (for all of you, as well!)
This is the restaurant review section of my trip report.
Maya's -- hands down was our favorite restaurant. I would HIGHLY recommend that anyone going to St. Barths make it a point to eat at Maya's. From the beautiful beachfront setting (with floodlights on the water lapping at the rocks) to exquisite cuisine and my favorite "garcon" of St. Barthelemy, Laurent Moller, it was a great experience to be there. We met some friends there and split one bottle of sauvignon blanc (65FF). Phil ordered a roquefort salad which he just raved about (45 FF). He also had Mahi Mahi which was an unbelievably enormous portion. It had a nice mild spice to it. Nancy, our friend, shared her Soup #2 (a poulet with some "spicy" sauce) and I became a fire-breathing dragon after a bit too much of the spice in my taste! Ron, our other friend, had a chicken dish which I did not write down the name of. I only remember it was FANTASTIC! While the waiters were very busy and occupied and I really wanted someone to take our group photo there at the beautiful setting, Laurent came by and was just so gracious about taking our picture. Laurent also came to the rescue when the regular waiter did not bring Phil's requested hot tea until nearly after dinner was over. So, I would say that between Laurent and the chef, Maya's was definitely our favorite and we will definitely eat there next trip.
We ate twice at Le Patio -- first was the night we flew in and second was our last night on the island. We found the quality and quantity of the food to be very very good and the atmosphere was especially relaxing -- nice music in the background. First night Phil had an antipasto 4 saisons (82 FF) and Filet mignon with green peppercorn sauce (148 FF). He liked it so much he ate the same thing the second night. I had salads which were very very good and the first night chicken parmigiana (95 FF) and the second night veal parmigiana (125 FF). Both were excellent!
Marigot Bay Club was also nice. The food was very very good. Phil & I both had the fish steak grilled with herbs and served with spicy creole sauce (that sauce was great!) which was 130 FF. The setting was nice too. We ate by the water at Table #7. For anyone planning a trip to Marigot Bay Club, there are 4 tables by the water -- nos. 4 - 7. Table #4 only seats 2 people, though. The employees had a good laugh at me and my very broken french as we drove down there to make the reservation and they came out telling us they were closed. I asked if they spoke English and they really didn't, so I pulled out my phrase book, which I had already circled the expression for making a reservation by the water and started reading to them. They just laughed so hard! (But, it was a friendly laugh!). They were very nice inside while we were eating, as well, and inside they did speak some English.
Le Select was nice but Gustavia was crowded and very busy. I saw a REAL Rastafarian when I went inside the bar to buy a "Cheeseburger In Paradise" tshirt. I've only seen them in movies before.
Chez Jo Jo Burger was great for inexpensive cheeseburgers, as well. We got burgers, fries and sodas for $13.00.
Chez Francine was great and served bountiful amounts of food -- too much to eat in one sitting for me. I even took photos of our plates! Back to Chez Francine: That is one other restaurant I would return to. It's casual "on the beach" atmosphere was great and it was great to sit down with fans blowing on you after being out on the beach all day. There was a volleyball game going on and lots of windsurfing and stuff. It was a great people watching place.
Other restaurants of note: Le Ouanalao was o.k., but we would not return there. Phil and I had Caesar salads and saltinbocca alla romana (small terderloin steak of veal with ham) and it was good, but not extraordinary. There was a nice setting by the pool and a sax player was playing from the middle of the pool. They played "Misty" and "Mack The Knife" among other songs I recognized. But, I thought the service was the poorest we received while we were there and for the money I would much rather have been at Maya's again.
We also ate at Vincent Adam. This too was a nice restaurant but it is not one I would return to. Lydia at Village St. Jean had recommended it as "the best" in her opinion because you get a large amount of food (appetizer, entree and dessert) for 190 FF. While we found that to be correct, the food was raw when it was served and I didn't find the setting (seemed like it was near a junkyard) to be all that great. The best thing about it was that Billy Joel's music started to play and it ended up being his new CD, and, being a VERY big Billy Joel fan I tipped the waiter who played the CD $3.00 for having good taste in music!
We did do some shopping, but didn't buy a lot. We visited a few shops in Gustavia, but I must say that Gustavia was my only disappointment on the island and that is only because it was so very very crowded and busy. I much preferred St. Jean. People were slower paced and more laid back there and not so "touristy."
One of the greatest highlights for me personally was taking the Suzuki (alone) to Corossol to try to find the ladies who make the straw hats. I had heard they were hard to find but I was determined. It wasn't hard at all. I came upon a small house with a straw (they aren't really straw, they're palm) hat and other things sitting out by the road, and so I pulled over. The lady came out and I bought a beautiful hat with blue ribbon for only $16.00. I got a "string of fish" with ribbons through them for about $8.00 and a basket for Mandy for $12.00.
I then drove on down to Public Beach and parked the Suzuki. I took a couple of pictures of the fishing boats and got back in the Suzuki. I looked up and there were two more ladies hanging in my window dangling their "straw" goods at me! These women don't speak French or English (a Norman dialect I have read) so we had to use sign language which worked. I ended up with a "straw" wine bottle holder and a "straw" string of birds which was very intricately woven. I was delighted, and I'm sure they were too, to have found a willing sap to buy their goods.
On the way to Corossol I stopped at the new wine store, Les Grands Vins De France. I ended up buying 3 bottles of wine there. One was a Chateau Gazin Pomerol 1983 for 223FF. The young man in the store was very knowledgeable and very friendly and spoke good English. I also bought a bottle of Cuvee Majorum 1989 which he said is served at Le Sapotillier.
This is my "wrap-up," of our trip but I feel I can now only summarize what I've already said. I have taken loads and loads of photographs, all of which have now been developed. (My U.S. photos only came to $32.00 -- still a sore spot). I also came back with several copies of the newspaper and a few copies of Ti Gourmet, a little booklet which is like a coupon book for going to different restaurants or staying at certain hotels. You don't get much, for instance, if you stay at Les Castelets you get a free bottle of champagne upon presentation of the coupon; if you stay at Village St. Jean you get a 10% discount on a 7 night stay between 6/1 and 10/30. The booklet also gives a summary of the island -- from the hotel/restaurant association view.
I would STRONGLY encourage anyone going to St. Barths to try snorkeling if you don't already. It is so much fun and Baie Petite Anse was fantastic. Additionally, I have an underwater photo that shows the steep drop off from underwater at Shell Beach. It is neat.
All in all, it is a lovely, lovely island. We found the people to be lovely and the food to be great! The water was great at every beach except Gouverneur, and I am hoping that this was an exception to the rule for that beach. It is a gorgeous beach to look at from up high, but the undertow was definitely scary.
Village St. Jean was better than I thought it would be and given the research I put into it, that is really saying something. There was daily maid service, which you pay for, by the way, when you check out -- it is 10% of your room fee, but I must say that when Lydia did our final accounting she was more fair than any of the other merchants on the island. She gave us an exchange rate of 5.9 FF to the dollar, when we had been given 5.5 and 5.6 everywhere else.
I never found Robert Danet (a local artist). His gallery is supposed to be at the Carneage at St. Jean, but I didn't see it. We did visit one local artist, her name was something like Hannah Moses, but her work was not my style. It was also $1,000.00 per painting. That was a bit more than I was ready to pay to even R. Danet.
We are definitely going back -- hopefully next year, but we also have to paint the house, etc. Whereas I was dragging Phil off on this trip, he has been the one asking when we can go back again. He also immediately adopted the "I don't want anyone to know about St. Barths" attitude -- a protective one which many people have who don't want others to know just how very special St. Barths is. For its small 8 square miles, St. Barths is as diverse geographically, culturally, and socially, as it could ever be. That's part of its charm. It has some of everything wonderful!
St. Croix from Vicki Luciano
We're still wearing the glow and smile of a month (minus one week to do a little sailing in the BVI) on our favorite spot on earth. This trip included seeing lots of old and new friends.
We hit several of our favorite restaurants all of which met or exceeded what we've come to expect. Cafe du Soleil in Frederiksted out did themselves for dinner, Mary's burger's at West End Beach Club are always paradise, The No Name lunch was grand, Banana Bay Club and STYXX helped Steve get through my shopping sprees in Christiansted once again.
The rainforest canopy is fully back to it's glory and we really enjoyed taking the long way to the east end on each trip. In addition to the above eateries we returned to Motown for glorious West Indian fare and added Blue Moon to our list of favorites. The chef at Blue is from the Waldorf and truly impressed us. Unfortunately, jazz wasn't performed the night we were there, but we heard great reports.
Less you think all we did was eat, we did continue our search for a new home.
The trip to the BVI was fun and being back on a catamaran was nice. However, this one was glad to get back to St. Croix I was amazed at the number of boats sailing in the BVI. Some nights when we moored there would be 30-40 other boats! My day at the helm was our only day of bad weather. Of course, I was blamed by those wanting more suntan that I'd done it on purpose just to prove my prowess at the wheel. WRONG, I was freezing in the rain and scared not knowing how far we were from the reef on starboard or a cay on port! New name is Squall Queen.
On to more important things - shopping. I was excited about the newest gold bracelets, Hugs and Kisses from Sonya's and Tropical Wave from the Goldworker-yep, ended up with both of them. Wayne James once again had me drooling at his designs and Java Wraps saw me coming again. A few new things at Many Hands also found their way into our house. Most of the regulars were at Cottages again which was grand fun.
Several new folks too who had heard about St. Croix and just had to see it for themselves. Everyone of them crawled into the taxi back to the airport saying "I'll be back".
St. Martin by Norm Maxwell
We were in St. Martin from in early December. We arrived from NY on AA got car from Roy Rogers--no problem but took a while to document all the dents. Later I found that air vents were missing inside car. (wasn't a problem on return). Went directly to Esmeralda then to Orient Beach.
We had dinner at L'Aubourg Gourmand. Our meal was great. I had frogs legs, wife had escargot. We both had filet mignon--mine with roquefort dressing, hers with pepper & cream sauce. Both were ordered very rare and were perfect. Dessert was the 3 chocolates, which we shared. Everything was excellent
We had continental breakfast at Esmeralda--juice, coffee, fresh fruit cup, assorted coissants and cereal. Walked to CO sports. My wife took windsurfing lesson. We had quick lunch at Papagayo and shared a very good club sandwich.
At about 3:30, sun was starting to go down. We went shopping in Philipsburg and Marigot. Looking for china (a wedding present) and stereo equipment. In both cases we found prices no better than NY.
We went to Trivia night at David's. The flyer outside provided us with first round of drinks. Both of us had the Beef Wellington was really good. Finally won the trivia contest with a Canadian couple and a family from St. Louis.
Wednesday: We had larger breakfast at Esmeralda ($2.00 extra for bacon and eggs). Spent the day on the beach. Went to Match for soda and wine and also bought some French Nestle's Chocolate which had already turned color. We were later warned by others that some of the items at the grocery are bad due to electrical problems and the air conditioning. We'll know for next time.
I couldn't get a reservation at the Fish Pot. We went to Daisy's and were not disappointed. Had snails in pastry shells and cream sauce. My wife had onion soup, served with cheese and french bread slices on the side. Took a suggestion and had the lamb with thyme--terrific and the duck with green pepper sauce. Duck is no longer on menu but was available when we asked. Duck was good but lamb was not to be missed. Had chocolate proliferol and bananas flambe for dessert, with strong rich coffee. The entire bill with a carafe of wine and a round of drinks was $72.00. We will certainly go back next trip.
We spent day at the beach and wife still trying to master windsurfing. This time some guys on water scooters came too close and knocked her over damaging the mast of the board. We were charged $30 for fixing and $15 to retrieve the beached board. This was later taken off the bill by the one of the managers saying we were good customers. Another manager seemed upset that we weren't charged.
Went to the Fish Pot for dinner. Though our reservation was made well in advance and requested a table by the water we were told to be there early to assure the table. When we arrived we we taken to the table opposite the doorway though at the water. When I asked for a table further from the entrance I was told it was reserved--It was only when we got up to leave that he gave us the table we requested. More about that later.
The food was quite good but no better than other restaurants in Grand Case. I had raw tuna with lemon, wife had shrimps and scallops in cream sauce. The main course were red snapper and salmon. Both were served grilled with sauce underneath. Pretty but the sauce had nothing to do with the grilled fish. Dessert were a non-descript chocolate mousse and pear in chocolate which appeared to be canned pears. The bill with two free drinks (received card for Roy Rogers) was $175.00. We were given the actual bill in francs but the Amex form was in dollars with the bill not returned. My guess is the bill should have been $150 except for their incorrect conversion of the currency.
Other comments about the Fish Pot--We found that we were rushed from the minute we sat down at the final table. Each dish came as the previous was just finished. That's fine for cheap restaurants but not for their prices. The people at the next table mentioned that they arrived at 6:30 with no reservation but were seated on the understanding that they would leave by 7:30 as the table was reserved. After they left, we noticed that there were still many tables empty, including the one that supposedly had a reservation, when we left a 9:00 (after carefully nursing the coffee). It appears that the maitre d' would rather keep tables available for late walk-ins. We certainly will never go back again. There are too many good places that treat you better.
We spent the day snorkeling at Green Cay. Found the most interesting fish and coral was on the left side of the beach as you approach the island.
Again went to Trivia Night at David's. Met many people from the previous Tuesday and had a light dinner of burgers and steak sandwich. As usual very good and reasonable. $35 with drinks.
Arrived at Orient Beach around 10 am. We found the beach deserted. We were told Saturday is slow but the next few days were had less and less people. We went to Mark's Place for dinner. Last year, we were not happy with the food and service but do to all the positive comments we'd heard, we decided to give it another try. We were not disappointed this time. My wife had mushroom salad which was loaded with fresh crisp mushrooms, I had the calamari salad which was different than I had in the past. Main courses were snapper with almonds and shrimp creole style. Both were as good as we had on the trip. With a bottle of good French wine (Pouilly Fuisse at $25) the bill was $85. Very reasonable and good.
Arrived at Orient Beach, spent day on beach. Lunch was Phila Steak Sandwich at Papagayo--split. Very good. Went to a relatively new restaurant--La Buona Italia, on Ramboud Hill next to art gallery. Just as the beach was relatively empty so was the restaurant. It appears to be off-season until Christmas. The restaurant has an extensive menu. For appetizers we had mozzarella and tomato and marinated beef (Carpaccio?). Entrees were Veal in Mushroom Cream Sauce and Saltimbocca. Served with french whole wheat bread. The entire meal came to $75.00 with sparkling Italian Water,a good bottle of wine and expresso. The couple that runs the restaurant is from Italy and Switzerland. Everything we had was excellent.
Spent day snorkeling at Green Cay. We had dinner at Chez Martine. Everything was excellent. Prices are quite high and wine list is very small. Had escargot appetizer. Wife had scallops. Main courses of filet mignon and turbot special, Desserts were not our type so just had expresso. Again bill was in francs and charge receipt in dollars with the conversion not quite right. The maitre d' seemed a little embarrassed when I questioned what conversion was used. He stated that the amount was the owners direction. I finally paid using master card and in Francs. They claimed they could only take American Express in dollars.
Beach then airport to return home. Already planning our next trip.
Note: The next two articles are provided by the USVI Division of Tourism and were supplied to the CTR courtesy of Jerry Schneiderman, sysop of Compuserve's Travel Forum. Next month's CTR will carry more informtion from the USVI Division of Tourism.
USVI: Getting Married by Div. of Tourism from Jerry Schneiderman
The perfect way to start a marriage -- marrying in the United States Virgin Islands! A ceremony at sunset on the beach, or in an outdoor gazebo, or in a lovely chapel, or right at the Territorial Court -- it all can be easily arranged.
Start by writing for an application for a marriage license to the Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands, P.O. Box 70, St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. 00801. Attn: Administrator/Clerk of the Court. Telephone: 809/774-7325. Upon receipt of a notarized application in the islands, an eight-day waiting period is required (however, a waiver may be requested).
If you're planning to marry on St. Croix, marriage license applications can be obtained by writing to the Territorial Court of the virgin Islands, Family Division, P.O. Box 9000, Kingshill, St. Croix, U.S.V.I. 00850. Telephone: 809/778-9750.
If either part is divorced, he or she must have a certified copy of the divorce decree or a notarized affidavit stating when the divorce was granted.
You must state how the marriage will be performed -- by clergy or in the Court. If by the Court, it is necessary to have a prior appointment for a Judge to perform the ceremony. Marriages are performed Monday through Thursday, with an appointment. Naturally, if a holiday falls during the week, the Court will be closed. The Court charges US $50 for the ceremony.
NOTE: Be sure to call the place of worship in which you're interested at least two weeks before coming to the islands.
Plain or Fancy?
Some of the couples who contact us just want to know about the simple way of getting married here -- they'll take it from there themselves! But others ask about the true "fantasy" wedding in the islands -- and we can accommodate that wish, too! One suggestion we might make -- there are independent "marriage consultant/planners" in the islands, who will make all the arrangements for you -- form flowers to photography to video-tapes -- and even a helicopter! Also, many hotels off this service. Contacting one of them is an excellent way to get your marriage off to a perfect start!
Which Island Is For You?
There are three major islands to choose from for your wedding: St. Croix, St. John or St. Thomas.
ST. CROIX is the largest of the Virgins, 82 square miles in size. There are two distinct towns to visit --Christiansted and Frederiksted -- and a wide range of accommodations -- from luxury resorts right on the beach to charming hotels right in the center of town. You'll also find a large selection of restaurants to go to, including those with a romantic, candlelit setting right on the sea.
ST. JOHN is the smallest of the Virgins, 28 miles in size, but many say it's the loveliest -- for 2/3 of the island is a protected national park. There are luxury resorts, hideaway restaurants -- and even some late-night spots in Cruz Bay, the "main" little town.
St. Thomas is the capital of the Virgin Islands, 32 square miles in size. Here too, you'll find a wide range of accommodations, excellent restaurants, openlate spots -- and the largest charteryacht fleet in the Caribbean. (Some people like to get married aboard a luxury yacht, and then honeymoon in this sea of islands, traveling with their own captain and crew!).
Speaking of Honeymoons!
It might be of interest to you that the United States Virgin Islands is the #1 upmarket honeymoon destination in the Caribbean -- meaning there will be a lot of other couples just like you throughout the islands. You can join them for an adventurous afternoon sailing, or an early evening pina colada overlooking the harbor. Or, if you prefer to be alone for your entire honeymoon, there's more than 50 islets and cays to explore --and you can spend your entire stay just seeing each other!
USVI: Places to Visit by Div. Tourism from Jerry Schneiderman
Things to do in the United States Virgin Islands, as suggested by the USVI Division of Tourism.
THINGS TO DO ON ST. JOHN
THINGS TO DO ON ST. THOMAS
THINGS TO DO ON ST. CROIX
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