Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 101
January 1, 2000

Last Update 29 Dec 99 1800 et

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MEXICO: THE GOURMET FOOD OF THE YUCATÁN ARE TO BE FOUND IN CAMPECHE'S LA PIGUA RESTAURANT BY HABEEB SALLOUM

"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.

MEXICO: FROM MAYAN BUILDERS TO CONQUISTADORS AND PIRATES - MEXICO'S CAMPECHE HAS THEM ALL BY HABEEB SALLOUM

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. 

JAMAICA: SANDALS NEGRIL BY LEX WILLIAMS

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.

PUERTO RICO: REPLY TO PREVIOUS POST FROM ELBA GONZALEZ

(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.

ROATAN BY JONATHAN GAL-EDD

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. 

ST. MARTIN: ONE WEEK AFTER "LEFTY LENNY" BY JAMIE SUSAL

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.

The  official  The  Caribbean  Travel  Roundup  World Wide Web site is 
http://caribtravelnews.com.  The  CTR  is  also  available  on America 
Online.  Contact:  Paul  Graveline, 9 Stirling St., Andover, MA 01810-
1408   USA   :Home   (Voice   or   Fax)   978-470-1971.   E-mail   via 
editor@caribtravelnews.com or CTREDITOR@aol.com

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