Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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"Our food in the Yucatán has its roots in the cuisine of the Maya", Francisco Javier Hernandez Romero, owner of La Pigua Restaurant in Campeche, appeared to be proud of Mayan influences in the cuisine of the Yucatán. He continued, "This restaurant is constructed in the architecture of a typical Mayan home and serves food based on aboriginal dishes. When you taste our food you will appreciate the contribution made by the Mayans to Mexico's kitchen." Yet, the contributions made by Mexico's indigenous people to Yucatán's foods is only a part of the story. The peninsula's modern dishes, even though Mayan in origin, are enhanced by a wide variety of spices from Spain, which they inherited from the Moors, and numerous ingredients from foreign lands. All these foods are, as a whole, unique to the Yucatán and most have one thing in common - hot peppers. I was walking with our guide in Campeche, the first town established by the Spanish in Mexico, when we stopped by a stall selling a dozen types of peppers. Pointing to one of the peppers, I asked the guide, "What do you call this pepper?" A pleasant person and always smiling, she replied, "Chili Habanero! Its only found in the Yucatán. She continued, "We love it! It's so popular that it has become a symbol of the Yucatán." I could not believe my ears. "Another chili!", I thought to myself. However, I should not have been surprised since Mexico, besides being the original homeland of dozens of foods on our daily menu, is the motherland to all chili. From fiery hot to very mild, hundreds of species are found throughout the country. Now, as we sat down to dine in La Pigua, my mouth watered for we had dined here a year before, in the aura of the Mayan past, enhanced by the gadgets of the 20th century. In this ancient yet modern atmosphere, we had dined on one of the finest seafood meals I had ever tasted in Mexico. As I gorged myself on the succulent food, made even tastier by the hot sauces, I resolved that should I ever come back to Campeche, I would make sure to return again and glory in La Pigua's foods. Today, I had returned and my hunger pangs were increasing by the minute. Soon, efficient waiters placed before us hot sauces and a half dozen seafood appetizers. They were all tasty, but what I remember most vividly is the camarones de coco - a shrimp dish which is the specialty of La Pigua. It was a great appetizer but, perhaps, even more memorable was sopa de lima, a lime soup. Enjoying its savory and delicate flavour, I thought that the offerings of La Pigua were even more unforgettable than when we dined in that restaurant the previous year. However, the epitome of the meal was the main course, calamares rellenos, a dish of hot peppers usually stuffed with squid, but that day stuffed with sword fish. The subtle flavour of hot peppers combined with that of the spices mixed with the fish gave the dish an exotic-tasty appeal. There have been only a few dishes which I have enjoyed during my world travels which have been more memorable. Added to the food, the Mayan atmosphere of the restaurant defused an aura of historic mystery and uniqueness. Francisco's stories about the foods offered by his restaurant blended gastronomic ceremony with a world of legends. True or imaginary, these tales whetted our appetite and made us yearn for the food to come. Most of the restaurant's foods, according to Francisco, are based on the original Mayan dishes, enhanced by the gastronomic ideas of our times. However, some of the dishes served in La Pigua are the creation of the owner himself. Traditional or his own innovations, the dishes offered by La Pigua are all true culinary delights, making this eating place a mecca for tourists and nationals alike. To dine in Francisco's restaurant is to experience the historic Mayan cuisine packaged in the world of the 20th century. The following are a number of Campeche-Yucatán dishes, somewhat modified and offered by La Pigua. Salsa Mexicana - Mexican Sauce Hot sauces are always served with Mexican meals. Some are slightly mild, but many are fiery-hot. This version is in-between - not too hot and not too mild - similar to one of the sauces served at La Pigua to tourists. 2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped 1 medium sweet pepper, de-seeded and finely chopped 1 medium onion, finely chopped 1/2 jalapeño chili, seeded and very finely chopped 1 large clove garlic, crushed 4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 1/4 teaspoon pepper Thoroughly combine all ingredients, then serve with the following three dishes. Coconut Shrimp - Camarones de Coco Serves 6 The following is one of the appetizers we enjoyed when dining in La Pigua. 24 large shrimps, peeled but with tails left on juice of 1 lime 1 cup flour salt to taste 2 eggs, beaten milk as required 1 1/2 cups fine breadcrumbs 1 1/2 cups grated, sweetened and dry coconut oil for frying 3 sour apples, peeled, cored and cubed 1/2 cup sugar 1 stick cinnamon Cut open back of shrimps 3/4 of the way, then place in a bowl. Add lime juice, then cover shrimps with water. Allow to stand for 15 minutes, then pat dry and set aside. In the meantime, mix the flour, salt, eggs and enough milk to make a thick sauce, then set aside. Combine breadcrumbs and coconut, then set aside. Place the shrimp in the sauce. Moderately heat oil, enough to deep fry shrimp, then dip shrimp in the breadcrumb- coconut mixture and deep fry. Drain on paper towels, then set aside. In the meantime, cook apples with sugar and cinnamon and a little water over medium/low heat until apples are soft, adding more water if necessary. Place in a half coconut shell, then place the shrimp around it and serve. Paté de Pescado - Fish Paté Serves about 12 A specialty of La Pigua, this recipe makes an excellent mouth- watering appetizer. Sauce 1 cup olive oil 4 small sweet peppers, chopped 3 onions, finely chopped 8 medium/small tomatoes, chopped 1 hot pepper, chopped 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano 6 bay leaves salt to taste To make sauce, heat oil in a saucepan, then add peppers, onions, tomatoes, parsley, oregano, bay leaves and salt. Fry until well cooked, then place in a blender and purée. Set aside. 2 lbs ( 1 kilo) fish filet 1/2 cup cream 3 cups of the prepared sauce 6 eggs salt to taste 4 slices bacon For Decoration olives halved small parsley sprigs Place fish, cream, sauce, eggs, and salt in a food processor, then process into soft paste. Place into two small bread loaf pans, then place two slices of bacon over top. Cover with aluminum foil, then place in a large pan or pot one third full of water. Cover the whole with aluminum foil, then cook over medium heat for 1 hour or more. Insert a toothpick in the centre of the paté - if it comes out clean, it is cooked, if not bake further. Take out of the pans and refrigerate for at least one hour. Slice, place on individual plates, then decorate each slice with half an olive and a parsley sprig and serve. Stuffed Peppers - Chayotes Rellenos Serves 6 This recipe is not the exact one which we dined on at La Pigua, but it is similar. 12 chayotes or banana peppers, 6 to 7 inches long 2 tablespoons butter 1 medium onion, finely chopped 4 cloves garlic, crushed 2 cups ground shrimp, peeled 4 tablespoons ground almonds 4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper Sauce 4 tablespoons olive oil 1 medium onion, finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, crushed 3 tablespoons, finely chopped coriander 4 tablespoons tomato paste 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup water Cook chayotes or banana peppers in boiling water for 4 minutes, then remove and allow to cool. In the meantime, melt butter in a frying pan, then sauté onion over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add garlic, shrimp, almonds, parsley, salt and pepper, then stir-fry for 3 minutes. Set aside as the filling. To make sauce, heat oil in a frying pan, then sauté onion and garlic over medium/low heat for 10 minutes. Add remaining sauce ingredients and bring to boil, then cook for a further 5 minutes and set aside. Cut stem end of chayotes or banana peppers, but reserve. Remove and discard pulp. Stuff chayotes or banana peppers with the filling, then fit reserved ends in place. Place in tight fitting in a casserole, then spread sauce over top. Cover, then bake in a 350 F preheated oven for 30 minutes. Serve two chayotes or banana peppers per person covered with some of the sauce.
Walking through the streets of Campeche, capital of the state of Campeche, visitors cannot be blamed if at any moment they see Mayan warriors, conquistadors seeking gold and beautiful maidens, or fierce pirates come alive. The city's historical heart, with its forts, ornate colonial architecture, dominating religious structures; along with its inhabitants, a fusion of Mayan and Spaniard, create a living picture of its illustrious history. It is an ambience which permeates every corner of this historic town of 200,000. In 1540, the Spaniards established Campeche on the Gulf coast of southeastern Mexico on the site of the ancient Mayan town of Can Pech (the Place of the Sun), a name from which Campeche is derived. In the ensuing years, on the accumulated wealth of the Mayans was imposed the culture of Spain and, thereafter, the city prospered. >From its docks flowed limitless riches to Spain, making it one of the most important seaports in the New World. This attracted the buccaneers of the Spanish Main, the likes of Diego `the Mulatto', Henry Morgan, Lorenzillo and others who many times ferociously attacked and looted the city. To protect their town, the Spaniards built 2 1/2 km (1.5 mi) of heavily fortified walls with eight bastions and a number of auxiliary forts. However, only those with European ancestry were allowed to live within the walls - apparently the Mayans were expendable. Today, 500 m (1640 ft) of these walls, seven of the bastions, four of the gates and three forts remain. Amid these relics from a bygone era, we relived for awhile the warring times of long ago. The city's clean streets with their blend of colonial and modern homes, churches and bastions is a living legend of that historic past. The history of Campeche is written in stone on its fortresses, gates and walls. It tells us of fearsome pirates who robbed and raped the descendants of those who robbed and killed the Mayans - a replay of history, brutal and unremorseful. At the Puerta de Tierra, one of the former city gates, considered a symbol of the city, we watched one evening this history being vividly replayed in a well-produced `Light and Sound Show'. The next day, while roaming the well-preserved 18th century forts of San Miguel, housing an impressive Museum of Mayan culture, and San Carlos, offering an incredible view of the shoreline, it was easy to dream of Mayans, Conquistadors and attacking buccaneers. Yet, even though these remains from the past draw numerous visitors, there are many other attributes to Campeche which make it an attractive tourist destination. Beyond its walls and canons, there are the nearby beaches, virgin tropical forests, much frequented by ecotourists, and, above all, the nearby enigmatic Mayan archaeological zones. When travellers explore some of these ruins, their memories of one of the great civilizations in the Americas are unforgettable. Not far from Campeche is the Island of Jaina - a burial place par- excellence where the finest Mayan clay figures have been found. To the east is the Río Bec Zone covering a number of Mayan ruins, such as Chicanná, Becán, El Hormiguero and Xpuhil and Edzná, much visited by tourists. Beyond lies the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve - a vast jungle territory of natural splendour, teeming with wildlife and exotic plants. In their midst stands Calakmul, the largest Mayan city so far discovered. Our first venture to the Mayan world was a trip to Edzná - one of the most important of the Mayan ruins in the State of Campeche, some 65 km (40 mi) from the city of Campeche. Rubi, our guide, explained the history of the Mayans as she slowly took us for a tour of the ruins. She related how the Mayan cities, like Edzná, were developed by an extraordinary culture of a people who, in pre-Columbus times, built metropolises in the jungles which still astonish visitors. They did not invent the simple axle, yet in astronomy, architecture, engineering and many other sciences, they were light years ahead of their contemporaries in other parts of the world. Rubi emphasised that when visitors think of the Mayans and human sacrifice, they must try and think like the people in that age. Values and beliefs we have today bear no relation to those in the era of Mayan glory. Edzná flourished from 300 to 900 A.D. when it became an important centre in the Mayan world due the fertility of its surrounding countryside, enriched by a highly sophisticated irrigation system along with accompanying reservoirs. Unlike most other Mayan towns whose structures consisted of one or two types of architecture, those in the 20 structures so far uncovered in the ruins are a mixture of five Mayan types - Chenes, Chontal, Paten, Puuc and Post Classic. Like all Mayan towns, the city's temples reached skyward in order to be closer to the gods. They were built in such a way that the echo of a voice could be heard from building to building - a sound system with which the priests used to awe the people. This echoing system still works. We tried our echoes as we stood on the well-preserved Big House, a stadium where the people would watch the ceremonies across the square on a ceremonial platform. Atop it rose a five-storey pyramid with steps 31 m (102 ft) high, before which to one side was the Temple of the Moon and to the other the Temple of the North. It was easy to visualize what an impressive sight the people would witness as the priests dressed in colourful costumes performed their magic before buildings, stuccoed and painted in bright colours dominating their audience and contrasting vividly with the lush green of the surrounding countryside. The scene would fit perfectly with Mayan pageantry and the magic of the gods. Still with the aura of the Mayans with us, we entered Campeche's La Pigua Restaurant, constructed in the architecture of a typical Mayan home and serving food based on Mayan dishes. Here, in the aura of this past, enhanced by the gadgets of the 20th century, we dined on one of the finest seafood meals I have ever tasted in Mexico. As I gorged myself on the succulent food, I reminisced about the Mayans who believed that humans, nature and time were one. They lived in perfect harmony with nature while, like the Egyptian pharaohs, they prepared for a never-ending life. Then came the Conquistadors and pirates to loot and destroy. Today, all have been amalgamated - waiting for tourists who, it is hoped, will again bring affluence to Campeche, a city rich in history. IF YOU GO How to Get There: Campeche has an airport, but most planes land in Merida, some 2 1/2 hour drive away. Facts About Campeche: 1) In the city of Campeche it is easy to drive - traffic is not congested. A small car rents for around $50. U.S. per day - less if you bargain or if not fussy about the auto. 2) Campeche is a great spot from which to take tours to the Mayan world and nature reserves. A trip by Destino Maya Tour Operator to Edzná costs $20., or one to the Calakmul in the Biosphere Reserve $80. 3) Buy handicrafts at Campeche's handicraft shop, Calle 10, No. 333, in the heart of the old city - hand-embroidered items, palm fibre hats and many other artisan products. 4) Currently, US$1. = 10 and CDN$1.= 6 Mexican pesos. Two Good Places to Stay in Campeche: Ramada Hotel Campeche: the top hotel in the city, it is the centre of the town's social life. Tel: in the U.S.A. and Canada 1-800-854- 7854. Daily cost of a room $90. Hotel Baluartes: one of the three four-star abodes in town noted for its fine restaurant. Tel: 981/63911. Fax: 981/62410. Daily cost of a double room $42. Top Place in Town to Eat: La Pigua Restaurante - to eat in this restaurant run by Francisco Javier is an unforgettable experience. Proud of Mayan history, he offers the best they have in food to his customers. Cost of a complete dinner with wine about $20. Note: All prices quoted are in U.S. dollars. For Further Information, Contact: In Canada contact Mexican Government Tourism Office - 2 Bloor St. West, Suite 1801, Toronto, Ontario M4W 3E2. Tel: 416/925-0704. Fax: 416/925-6061; in the U.S.A. - 405 Park Ave., Suite 142, New York, NY 10022. Tel: 212/755-726; or Toll-Free Assistance, from US/Canada 1-800-44 Mexico.
Trip 10/99 My wife and I went to Sandals Negril for a week from October 13th to October 25th where we were married and spent our honeymoon. We had prepared ourselves to be a little disappointed based on some of the postings we had read here, but in the end, we were anything but disappointed. Sandals Negril was absolutely and consistently fantastic. The place actually looks very much like the photos in the brochures. The food, rooms, room service, employees and other guests were really wonderful. We had the concierge service, something that I would strongly recommend. It doesn't cost that much more, and having a full bar in your room makes it worth it. The employees at Sandals were very friendly, clean polite and helpful. They would go out of their way to satisfy us. Our wedding was a little cheesy, but that's okay, we wanted something small. When we returned, we had large reception for our friends and family. Our only complaint was that even though we were there a week, we still didn't do everything. Between all the activites, water sports, scuba diving, and partying, the week just flew by. Another couple that are friends of ours went with us and were witnesses to our wedding. On our last evening, we all took the Jolly Mermaid (lot of fun!) boat cruise, during which our friends became engaged. They have chosen to have their wedding and honeymoon next October at Sandals Negril. We all look very much forward to going back.
(In response to Mr. Torres comments in the 11/99 CTR)
Mr. Torres, My opinion about PR posted to this site was naturally based on my multiple visits to the island as well as the year I lived there. While I appreciate your opinion, I did not expect you to be so aggresive in your reply. Perhaps it is true that certain geographical locations are only frequented by tourists. My initial introduction to the island in 1989 was by locals. Naturally they promoted the over-visited and over-pictured sites. In addition, living and working in a place gives you a different persepective than short visits. At this moment, I live in Ecuador and the same is true. The locals only know about the most frequently visited places. It is usually the European and American backpackers who discover the truly beautiful and pristine locations. I will be back again in San Juan over X-mas. I will be glad to follow your directions to the beaches you mentioned.
Trip 11/99 Just returned from Roatan, had a great time diving. We chose Roatan Fantasy Island Beach Resort ( FIBR), for the attractive price: $999 Air, dive inclusive from Houston. We had a great time diving. Roatan diving is a lot like Bonaire. It offer lots of diving, small stuff, "easy" diving and no limits. I dove 4 tanks a day, 60 minutes each (self imposed limit). The totals are: One Nurse shark (sleeping), 0 turtles(saw some from boat) , 0 Rays ( saw 1 from gazebo), 12+ Moray Eel ( big ones), 20+ crabs( 12 in one night dive), 10+ lobster, 3 Octopus, 5 sea horses( in 5 separate dives), 1 bat fish, lots of bassets , Gag( grouper), trigger, big parrot fish, lots of small stuff. We were day during rainy season. The first day was cold and rainy, it then cleared. Visibility was so so ( 50 feet). We had a great time and we plan to go back next year. Details Flying there TACA - Take As much Carry on As possible (TACA). TACA has a direct flight from Houston, which we could not get on. We had a connection through Belize. We flew a big new Airbus from Houston to Belize. >From Belize we took a small (36 passenger plan to Roatan). ½ of the luggage was left behind in Belize. We arrived in Roatan and the lottery began: we had two of our three pieces ( the good ones, my wife's and the dive gear), some had none. Day by day (around 4 o'clock) luggage arrived. By Wednesday all the luggage made it. For those planing to go : fly direct, or don't fly during the week end ( when it is busy), or (like me) carry on and use the stuff for three days. Flying back we were on the direct flight to Houston, and we carried the luggage of the in direct (that left 4 hours earlier) through Belize. FIBR- The resort is a little run down. It is relatively new, but has poor maintenance. The beach is kept clean (so cruise ships folks can use it). The diving gazebo was nice, near it we had a resident Octopus and Moray Eel that came out at night. The rooms were big but poorly maintained. This is more a dive hotel , and less a real resort . People go to sleep at 9, no disco, no activities. Had a major problem with getting fresh towel's, some people complaint about no hot water or A/C. The food was boring, lunch and dinner were the same, and the same food repeated itself (until we finished it ?). Some people that ate hamburgers had a food poisoning. We ate out Twice. New management is taking over mid month so things might change. Overall the resort gets a low C. Diving- We came to dive and dive we did. FIBR dives the south side of the Island. They have 3 boat dives a day (9am, 11am and 2:30), and two night dives. You have unlimited shore/wreck diving. You are assigned to a boat for the entire week. You set up the equipment once, and they take care of you all day. After the last dive you rinse the equipment. The boat rides , for the most part are short. We asked to dive enchanted forest (near the air port) which was longer boat ride. The reef was very healthy and was 15 feet or 40 feet near the wall. On the top of the wall were lots of fish. Some dives the boat tied up to the buoy, and some it followed "the bubbles" (drift style). Diving was easy and no current existed. Some sites have swim through and chimneys which are fun for advanced divers. The night dives were great, we saw lots of crab , some octopus an done bat fish. Did two "shore" dives to the wreck Prince Albert, one during the day and one night dive. I dove 20 tanks on 6 days, 18 with the program and two shore dives. Each dive was about 60 minutes. Water was a "cold" 78- 80f and I wore my shortie. My favorite sites were: Mary's place which is two canyons, Dicks dive which has lots of swim through and enchanted forest ,which is a little deeper, best visibility, best coral. It was fun to find a sea horse and an eel at least once a day. The diving and service was A+. In my mind it was better than Bonaire as you do not need to haul your own stuff in a rent a car, and had freedom to dive as deep and long as you feel. We had a great time and plan to return next time to dive the West / North side.
10 DAYS AWAY…IS THE TRIP IN JEOPARDY? When our friend Jeff (better known in the AOL SXM Friends chat room as "Whalema") sent me an instant message that a hurricane had formed in the Caribbean and heading east, I didn't believe him. After all, it was 10 days before John and I were heading to SXM on Thanksgiving Day and I thought Jeff was just pulling my leg out of jealousy. A quick check on the hurricane-tracking page told me that, at least this time, Jeff was completely serious. What made it worse is that our friends Joe and Beth ("Laundryus") were already on the island. Over the next few days, we watched anxiously as "Lefty Lenny" chugged ever closer to St. Martin. On Wednesday evening, we were able to reach Beth and Joe by phone. They were preparing to hunker down, without an idea of what they were in for. One thing that became apparent as we tracked the storm is the power of the Internet. At the same time we were getting useful information, we were also reading posts that sounded like everything was destroyed or heavily damaged. How to know which to believe? Reluctantly, I started to gather information on alternative vacation spots, still worrying about Beth and Joe's safety and that of other people on the island. As everyone knows by now, Lenny hung around for two full days, with the eye passing over St. Martin four times. Fearing the worst, I reached Beth by phone again Monday morning. They rode out the storm in relative safety at the Pelican. My spirits lifted when she encouraged me to continue with our plans to SXM if at all possible. Next came word from Club Orient that all was well at the property. Our plan was to spend the first six nights at St. Tropez, and Club O for the last three. I now had assurance that we could spend the entire time at Club O if necessary, so we definitely had a place to stay. The next step was to make sure we'd have a flight to the island. Our connection from San Juan was on Continental and they were only playing it 24 hours at a time. At last, we got definitive word two days before our departure that the flight was on. Admittedly, we had some apprehension, not knowing what we would find, but we decided to go on with the trip. In our four previous visits to St. Martin, we really fell in love with the island. To not go now would be, as John put it, "like leaving your best girl because she had a broken nose." DOING THE RIGHT THING It wasn't long after we stepped off the plane that I knew we had done the right thing. After breezing through Immigration – probably the only time we'll ever clear it in less than five minutes – we stopped to pick up our rental car at one of the booths outside the airport. The woman working there expressed her appreciation that we still came and asked that if we had a good time, would we please tell people back home. "We need more people like you," she told us. By this time, it was dark so we didn't get much of an initial look around. We headed toward Orient, making a stop at Match to pick up some supplies. Here was our first evidence of hurricane damage, not from Lenny, but from another storm in mid-October. Match had no refrigerated foods because Hurricane Jose had sent a river of muddy water running through the store, damaging all the refrigeration units. As it turned out, new units were installed by the end of the week and Match was fully stocked again. We arrived at St. Tropez and were greeted by our old friend Claude, the night manager there. The hotel looked fine, although Claude told us the first-floor rooms were closed for cleaning and painting. Between Jose and Lenny, they had been flooded knee-deep. No problem for us, we always request a third-floor room there. WE REALLY DO HAVE A LOT TO BE THANKFUL FOR Our room was fine and, stepping out on our balcony, we could hear music coming from the nearby Bikini Beach Bar. Since all we had eaten that day had been courtesy of the airlines (and believe me, they weren't serving Thanksgiving dinner on board) heading to Bikini was a must. Our first sight of the beach revealed a just-past-full moon hanging low over the water, its reflection shimmering beautifully in Orient Bay. Feeling misty-eyed, it was so clear we had a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day. We celebrated our blessings the rest of that night with a full Thanksgiving dinner at Bikini. A live all- girl band from Cuba provided entertainment. They were fabulous and it wasn't long before we and everyone else in the restaurant were up dancing and carousing. ASSESSING THE DAMAGE The next day we spent driving around the island to get a first-hand look at what Lenny left. In many places, you would hardly know there ever was a hurricane. Marigot was business as usual. But around the island, nearly all of the larger hotels, those often booked by charter companies, were closed. In many cases, this was so they could get the clean-up work done without bothering guests and without guests getting in the way. In other cases, such as at Mary's Boon and other places near the airport, the damage was quite severe and rebuilding will take some time. The closing of the larger hotels has created a false image that the whole island has been devastated. For sure, she has suffered some scars, but in the time we were there, we were truly amazed how quickly clean up was proceeding. A lot was learned from Luis in '95 about what is needed to recover from a hurricane and what is needed to make the island hurricane- proof for the future. What will wound SXM more deeply than Lenny is the incredible amount of rumors, misinformation and lies posted on the Internet and being spread within the travel business itself. What really struck me was how resilient the residents of this island are. Occasionally, we would encounter someone who had suffered a greater loss and seemed depressed or "shell shocked", but most folks shrugged it off saying, "Oh, we got a little water…no big deal." We heard stories of the floodwater and mud that had been cleaned away and we couldn't believe it…everything looked great. As for the beaches, some were lost, but they will come back soon enough. That Friday (11/26), there wasn't a grain of sand to be seen at Maho or Cupecoy. But I've heard they have already started to fill in. Orient Beach is beautiful as always, but the tidal waters were higher than we had seen in the past. The first couple of days there, we saw dozens of jellyfish washed up on the beach, the first time we had ever seen any. These had fully disappeared by the end of our vacation. One of the residents we mentioned this to said that the day after Lenny a dolphin and a whale were found washed up on beaches near Marigot. The high tides on Orient led to one of the more interesting encounters on the trip. We had parked our behinds, as usual, in front of Papagayo's for the day. Close to sunset, we decided to go for a walk down the beach. In front of Kontiki, front-end loaders and other heavy equipment were bringing in boulders to form a sort of break wall, similar to the one that marks the start of Club O, only much, much larger. The high waters had washed out most of the sand from under the restaurant and apparently this was the owner's way of "reclaiming" his land. The next morning, we heard on Laser 101 that a protest with 300 people was going on in front of Kontiki. Orient is a nature preserve protected by the French government. To make a long story short, by the time we hit the beach later that day, every last boulder had been removed, although it appeared the restaurant was still allowed to shovel some sand under the flooring to help support the pilings. OUR BRUSH WITH "FAME" Later in the week, we took the Tiko Tiko cruise out of Club Orient and almost got ourselves on French TV in the process. As the boat sailed into Tintamarre, we noticed another large catamaran, the Scoobidoo. The Tiko Tiko captains, Nico and Phillipe, dropped anchor several yards from shore. This attracted the attention of a young man who immediately came running over, spouting French. I understand just enough French from the semester or so I took to get that he was upset the Tiko Tiko was blocking the shot of the Scoobidoo in the scene they were trying to film. We found out later the filming was for a French drama that will be shown on TV there in early May. (I might have to figure out a way to get to Paris at that time to see whether or not we ended up on the cutting room floor.) The funny thing is the French guy seemed more concerned about our boat being in the scene than the fact that this was Club O's nude cruise and we all were…well, you get it! All in all, we managed to have a very normal vacation, enjoying the beach, dining in St. Martin's wonderful restaurants, shopping. For a change, Phillipsburg was actually a pleasure with no cruise ship passengers clogging the streets. For the first time, we had a leisurely, enjoyable day strolling through this town. RESTAURANTS We dined in some old favorites and tried some new places as well. With five trips to St. Martin under our belts now, we can honestly say we've never had a bad meal here. Following is a quick run-down of where we ate: Bikini Beach Bar, Orient Beach – This is where we had our Thanksgiving Dinner. It was mostly traditional, but with some French twists (for instance, fois gras stuffing). The dinner was offered for $20 a plate, but it was so much food that we split one between us. We ended up spending the money we saved on food on alcohol instead and the next morning I woke up with the first hangover I'd had in years. Restaurant du Soleil, Grand Case – This is an often-overlooked spot that, until very recently, focused its menu on crepes and lobster. Last September, they did a complete overhaul to both the menu and the interior. Now, overlooking it would be a big mistake. I highly recommend the filet of beef with Jamaican pepper and grape sauce. Dinner for two, including drinks, appetizers and dessert, was about $100. Surf Club South, Cul de Sac – Admittedly, this isn't the cuisine you travel to St. Martin for, but for Andy and Cheryl's hospitality, not to mention the free mimosas and bloody Marys on Sunday afternoon, you can't beat it. We always have a great time here. Sol E Luna, Cul de Sac – I would describe the cuisine here as Italian inspiration, French preparation and a little Caribbean spice thrown in just to make it interesting. Sol E Luna is a don't-miss gem. It's at the top of my list for our next trip. Le Bateau Lavoir, Marigot – This restaurant is very classic French, but at a very reasonable price. Our complete dinner (including drinks, appetizers, dessert) came to a total of $50. Most of the other diners seemed to be locals, so I think this restaurant is still largely undiscovered by tourists, although that's hard to say since tourist crowds this trip were thinner than usual. We meant to get back here for a second visit, but will have to save that for future SXM travels. Mini Club, Marigot – We went here for the Wednesday night buffet, $40 per person, including wine. I don't eat lobster, but there was plenty of other food to fill me up. A one-man band provided live entertainment and it wasn't long before some of the diners joined in. Le Taitu, Cul de Sac – One of our perpetual favorites. This restaurant does a great job of blending classic French, Basque and Creole dishes, at a very reasonable price. Le Piccolo, Cul de Sac – Another don't-miss favorite. Run by folks from Quebec, Canada, who manage to bring a touch of their native cuisine to the menu. Note that Le Piccolo does not accept credit cards, but prices are reasonable, about $50-80 per couple depending on what you order. Le Cottage, Grand Case – Here we put ourselves into the sommelier's (wine steward's) hands and enjoyed a different wine with each course, especially chosen to accompany the dishes. This place was an excellent choice for French food with a Caribbean slant. Great for a special occasion, at about $100 per couple. Zee Best, Marigot – The façade and seating area of this breakfast/lunch spot has been completely redone and looks better than ever. The croissants and crepes were wonderful, as they always are. Papagayo's – This is where we ate most of our lunches, typically a salad or the fish soup. The food is good and if you like to sit in front of Papagayo's, you can't beat the convenience. Sunset Beach Bar – Technically, we didn't eat here, but we did enjoy several beers. I need to mention it here to dispel the rumors that the whole thing had been swept into the sea by Lenny. While its true the deck area was wiped away, in less than two weeks after the storm, most of the deck had already been rebuilt. GLAD WE WENT, CAN'T WAIT TO GO BACK Ultimately, we do not regret this trip in the least. I was very anxious about it for the week between when Lenny hit and when we left for our vacation on Thanksgiving Day. But if you love this island and you are willing to be flexible about where you stay, you can still travel to St. Martin NOW and have a wonderful time, as we did. With a few months, it will be difficult for most tourists to tell there had been a major hurricane recently. This island depends on tourism for its livelihood and it needs us to visit to help it heal. If you have plans to go soon, please don't cancel them. Just go with an open mind and prepare to have a great time.
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