Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 103
March 1, 2000

Last Update 27 Feb 00

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1/ REGIONAL NEWS AND PRESS RELEASES

JAMAICA SPA RESORTS GO VIRTUAL WITH SPAVIEW.COM

MIAMI  BEACH,  Jan. 5, 2000 -- Shopping for a spa vacation in Jamaica 
just  got  interactive.  SpaView.com  has launched a dynamic Web site 
providing  comprehensive  information  on  fine  hotel and resort spa 
vacations  in  Jamaica  and  around  the  world.  SpaView  users  can 
research  and  book  spa  vacations, take virtual tours of individual 
spa  properties and receive the most detailed, up-to-date information 
on spa services, equipment and staff available. 

Relax  at one of SpaView’s Jamaica spa resorts after taking a virtual 
tour  at  home.  Member  spa  resorts to choose from include, Ciboney 
Ocho  Rios,  Half  Moon  Club, Sunset Beach Resort, Swept Away Negril 
and  coming  soon, Grand Lido Negril, Grand Lido Sans Souci and Grand 
Lido  Braco.  SpaView’s  Jamaica  home  page  can be reached directly 
through  www.SpaJamaica.com  or  by  going to the Caribbean region on 
www.SpaView.com. 

Each  member  hotel  or  resort  spa has its own 25-page section that 
includes  a  virtual  tour  of  the  facility  and  staff, spa menus, 
programs,  packages  and  specials.  Spa-goers  are  able  to compare 
properties  across  Jamaica,  book  their  personal  spa vacation and 
receive instant confirmation in real time. 

SpaView.com   also   offers   a   community-based,   online  wellness 
environment.  Its  engaging content serves to educate (and demystify) 
the  "spa  experience."  This  is complemented by an online forum for 
sharing  spa  reviews and a spa store where a variety of spa products 
may  be  purchased,  including  gift  certificates,  books,  CD’s and 
videos. 

SpaView  member  properties  have  all  received  the  "SALUDSeal  of 
Approval,"  qualifying  the  facility as having institutional quality 
equipment,  certified  professional  staff, and a full range of spa & 
fitness services.

"What  sets  SpaView.com  apart  from  the  competition  are the high 
standards   we  require  of  our  member  properties;  the  level  of 
information  that  we  provide  to  our consumers, and the innovative 
multi-media  applications  we  offer  on the web site, including 360° 
interactive  photography  of  the spa facility, and audio-video clips 
of  the  spa  staff  ,"  said  Melchior  Baltazar, SpaView's Managing 
Director.  " Our goal is to become the preeminent internet source for 
booking  spa  vacations  online,  and to establish an interactive spa 
community  where spa-goers have a creative forum for discussing their 
experiences online," Mr. Baltazar added.

Mr.  Baltazar,  founder  and  managing  director of SALUD, the parent 
company  of  SpaView.com,  is  an  international lawyer and former US 
Navy  SEAL.  He is a sought-after spa speaker and fitness consultant. 
SALUD  is  a  full  service  hotel  and resort spa & fitness company, 
providing   consulting   services   in   the   design,  construction, 
operation,  marketing  and  FF&E procurement of fine hotel and resort 
spas. 

For  more  information about SpaView.com please visit www.spaview.com 
or   call   Patty   O’Rourke  at  (305)  538-4278  or  via  email  at 
por@spaview.com.

2/ JOURNEYS FOR MARCH 2000

COLOMBIA: CARTAGENA WHERE THE LEGEND OF EL DORADO WAS BORN BY HABEEB SALLOUM

>From  the  Monastery  of  La Popa, located on the highest hill in the 
city,  I  gazed down on Cartagena de Indias - once the bastion of the 
Spanish  Main.  It  was an ideal spot from which to enjoy a beautiful 
panorama  of  this  ancient  city,  encompassing  a near 500 years of 
history.  The massive well-preserved walls of the old town brought to 
mind  silver  and  gold-filled galleons, pirates and endless battles. 
It  was not difficult for my thoughts to stray back to the past - the 
time  when  this  Spanish-citadel  port  was  known  as 'Queen of the 
Indies'. 


One  of  the  oldest cities in the Western Hemisphere, it was founded 
on  what  was  once known as the island as Calmarí - later changed to 
Cartagena  in 1533 by the Conquistador Don Pedro de Heredia. Its fine 
defensible  harbour  and  the  stories  of the gold in the hinterland 
made  it  a  perfect  spot  for the treasure-seeking adventurers from 
Spain.  The tales of the Chibcha Indians rolling their chiefs, once a 
year,  in  gold dust had given birth to the legend of El Dorado - the 
mythical  land  of gold and jewels. An exaggerated fable, it drew men 
in  endless  streams to this first bastion of the Conquistador in the 
South American continent. 


In  the  subsequent years, even though the Spaniards did not find all 
the  gold  and precious stones they were seeking, there was enough to 
fulfill  much  of  their  dreams.  They  robbed  the Indians of their 
treasures  and  Cartagena  became  the  storehouse  of almost all the 
plundered South American gold, silver and jewels. 


There  were  so  many galleons carrying these treasures back to Spain 
that  the  route  they followed through the Caribbean became known as 
the  'Spanish  Main'.  In  a short time, the city grew into a wealthy 
center  and  became  the leading Spanish port on the Caribbean coast. 
As  the  years  went  by,  the  town  and  the  treasure ships became 
tempting  targets for English and French pirates. The gold and silver 
plundered  by  the  Spanish from the Indians became the prey of other 
Europeans. 


Cartagena  was  besieged by pirates many times and had to continually 
fight  for  its life. It was burned, devastated, pillaged and rebuilt 
on  an  ongoing  basis.  The  most successful of these attacks was in 
1586  when  it  was  sacked by Francis Drake and forced to pay a huge 
ransom. 


In  response to these assaults, the Spanish built an intricate system 
of  defense  consisting  of 18 km (11 mi) massive ramparts - 11 km (7 
mi)  still  standing  -  and  a chain of outer forts. These saved the 
city  from  the  fiercest  attack  of  all  - that mounted in 1741 by 
Edward Vernon. 


He  came  with  a  huge  British fleet, commanding a naval expedition 
which  outnumbered  the  Spanish  defenders seven to one. So sure was 
Vernon  of victory that a medal was struck commemorating the expected 
triumph.  However,  he  was  forced by the Spanish commander, Blas de 
Lezo,  who  became  a  national hero, to beat an ignominious retreat. 
This  and  the  countless  lesser  battles against pirate fleets gave 
Cartagena the label 'Heroic City' - a name it still retains. 


In  1811, this once proud Spanish citadel was one of the first cities 
in  South  America to declare independence. It was reconquered by the 
Spaniards  but  eventually  freed  in  1819  by  Simón  Bolivar,  the 
independence  hero  of  five South American countries. In the ensuing 
years,  it developed into a flourishing trading center. Today, it has 
expanded  beyond  its  ancient  ramparts  and has become an important 
industrial and tourist-resort with a population of some 900,000. 


The  old  city,  declared  by  the  United Nations a 'World Heritage' 
site,  has  been  admirably  restored.  It  remains locked behind its 
formidable  walls,  a  monument  to  an illustrious past and a living 
museum  of  16th and 17th centuries architecture - the most perfectly 
preserved  colonial city in the Americas. Travelers have described it 
as  one  of the most fascinating and charming Moorish-Andalusian type 
towns  in  the  Americas.  Tree-shaded  plazas  and a maze of narrow-
winding  streets,  lined  with  a  magnificent array of mansions with 
exquisite   balconies,   makes   it   a   gem   of  Spanish  colonial 
construction.  As  in  the  past,  this  citadel of the Conquistadors 
continues to live a colourful existence. 


For  visitors,  the  best  way to explore the old city is to enter by 
the  Puerta  del  Reloj  (Clock  Gate), the main entrance through the 
walls,  and  make one's way to Plaza de Bolívar - the place where the 
town  begins to show its historic face. To one side rises the Palacio 
de  la  Inquisición  (Palace  of the Inquisition), a feared structure 
for  over  two  centuries  and now houses the Colonial Museum; on the 
other  side  of the Plaza stands the Museo del Oro y Arqueologia (the 
Gold  and  Archaeological  Museum),  with  a  fine  display  of  pre-
Columbian  goldwork  and pottery; and a few feet away towers the 16th 
century  Cathedral,  noted  for  its huge hand-carved and gold-plated 
altar. 


A  few minute's walk away are the church-monastery of Convento de San 
Pedro  Claver,  whose  tranquillity  and beauty attracts thousands of 
tourists  and  Iglesia  de  Santo  Domingo,  the oldest church in the 
city.   All   around  these  venerable  structures  are  hundreds  of 
beautifully   restored   historic   mansions  with  their  attractive 
balconies  -  almost  all  housing  museums,  restaurants  and shops, 
saturated with the aura of Cartagena's past. 


To  truly  explore  the  old  city's  important  sites  and savor the 
atmosphere  of the old city, one must walk. On the other hand, to get 
an  all-  round  picture of the stark beauty of the ramparts, a horse 
and  carriage  should  be  hired  in  the evening to drive around the 
illuminated  walls.  The  trip  usually  leaves  a deep impression on 
visitors. 


When  one  tires  of  history, there is Manga Island with its classic 
and  Moorish  type  regal  homes, and Bocagrande, the tourist section 
built  on  a  long  peninsula  which extends from the old city. Here, 
where   most   visitors   stay,  luxurious  plush  hotels,  exclusive 
restaurants,  nightclubs,  discos and beaches have replaced the world 
of pirates and conquistadors. 


To  a  good  number  of  sun-seeking  travelers,  surrounded by these 
amenities  of  the 20th century, old Cartagena is of little interest. 
Yet,  their vacation would be much more rewarding if they combine the 
sun  and  sea  with the exploration of this 16th century walled city, 
legendary for its history 

CUBA BY JOSH SHADE

Trip 7/97

  Books  read  before traveling to Cuba were Insight Guide and Lonely 
Planet  Survival  Guide, Cuba. This was our 2nd trip to Cuba, the 1st 
being  a  3  day  trip  from Jamaica. Rosa and I have been to over 70 
countries,  we  are  well  worn,  rough and tumble travelers. We have 
confirmed  airline  reservations  to  return  to  Cuba  with  our two 
teenage daughters in April 2000.
 
Friday, July 4th, 1997

We  depart  at  11:55 PM Thursday night. Our Mexicana flight from San 
Francisco,  California  to  Guadalajara,  then Mexico City arrives in 
Cancun  on time. We rent a car for $27.00 and drive to Puerto Morelos 
and  spend  the  afternoon  snorkeling and reading. At 4 PM we rent a 
room  at  the  Hotel Liberdad for $10 to shower and take a nap before 
our  flight.  This  hotel  is  south  of town and is comprised of two 
story  bungalows  with  hammock  style,  yet  flat beds. It is run by 
Americans  and  instead  of  the  normal  signs that state chairs are 
reserved  for  guests,  Hotel Liberdad posts signs welcoming everyone 
to enjoy the chairs and decks.

Our  AeroCaribe  flight  to  Havana  departs at 7:30 PM. We arrive in 
Havana  only a few minutes late. Our big box is the very last to come 
out  to  the  carousel. There is now only a short line at customs, we 
almost  make  it  through when the woman in charge asks us to go open 
the  big  box.  After  inspecting the 10 pack of Dial soap with great 
interest  (I  can only guess that my duct tape job makes it look like 
plastic  explosives),  they  notice  the  obvious,  that  we  have  a 
complete  computer  system, including 15" monitor, in there. Well, it 
is  soon  also  obvious  that they want us to pay customs on it. They 
want  us  to  pay  $200.  We argue that a 386 computer has a value of 
$20.00.  They  show  us a Cuban Government list that states computers 
are  worth  between  $450.  to  1,500.  We  balk  at this and express 
incredulity.  I  show them the address on the box that it is going to 
InfoMed  but that makes no difference to them. We have no letter from 
InfoMed  and no receipt for the purchase of this computer showing its 
value.  This  all takes more than an hour and we end up paying $20.00 
to  bring the computer in to Cuba. We are actually relieved that they 
have  not  noticed  the  glaring  HP printer box on the cart nor have 
they  searched  our remaining bags to find the other two computers we 
have with us.

We  take  a  regular  taxis  to  Juan  Carlos'  house  arriving about 
midnight.  He  gives us his room and we say goodnight. He has a plain 
small  room  with  overhead  fan,  extra  floor stand fan and a large 
window  at  the headboard. His room is freshly painted which we later 
learn is very unusual in Cuba. We go straight to sleep.

Saturday, July 5th

We  are up early to the sound of street noise, people walking to work 
and  kids  laughing  on  their  way  somewhere.  Juan Carlos fixes us 
breakfast,  serving  us by ourselves while he eats in the kitchen. We 
head  out to rent a car. Just a while ago the government has recalled 
all  cars  given  to  employees  who  had  then  loaned them to other 
persons.  Many  of these cars had become private taxis. Penalties for 
private  rentals  had either gone up or were to be enforced. This has 
put  a strain on the rental car agencies. We can only find a Diahatsu 
Jeep at $75/day.

We  tour  Havana  Viejo taking a long circular walk starting at Plaza 
des  Armas,  to  Plaza Catedral, past La Bodeguida del Medio to Plaza 
Cenrtral  with  the  Hotel Englaterra and Plaza Hotel. We went to the 
top  floor  of  the  Plaza Hotel (rooms were $90 when we asked at the 
desk)  for a good view of the Bacardi Building behind the hotel. Then 
down  Avenida  de  la  Misiones Street to the Museo el Revolution. On 
the  second  floor  is an exhibit about the Bay of Pigs (Playa Giron) 
and  life  sized  action figures of Che and Castro coming through the 
jungle.  Out  back in a glass box is Granma, a authentic replica, the 
boat  that  Che  and  Castro  and  80 others sailed on from Mexico to 
start the evolution in 1957.

We  then  drive  east along the Malecon under the Rio Almendares in a 
tunnel  into  Miramar  where  many embassies and expensive residences 
are  located.  We  went  to a paladar, Excelente, for a good fish and 
chicken  meal.  Main  courses were $5.00 and $6.00. Drinks were $1.00 
for  club  soda  or  beer.  We  were told we could buy lobster on the 
black  market  and  went  to  find  the right person. We stopped at a 
grocery  store  and  Juan  Carlos  instructs  us  to stay back out of 
sight.  He  came  back  and we walked to the car, got our money ready 
and  drove  ahead  to pick up the jintero who could find the lobster. 
He  had  us  stop  1/2 block from the place we were going looked over 
his  shoulder and got out. It was beginning to feel like a drug deal. 
We bought 18 small frozen lobsters for $12.00.

We  still had not changed money into pesos and wanted to have to stop 
tipping  people  for  watching our car using $1.00 bills, Juan Carlos 
had  said  that  this was excessive and created bad will, that we had 
so  much  money.  It  was explained that we could change money on the 
black  market  at  22 pesos per 1 US dollar or at a government office 
at  23  pesos  per  1 US dollar. This did not make sense and we never 
found  out  if  it was true. Some places accept pesos from Cubans and 
only dollars from tourists.

Sunday July 6th

First  thing  in  the  morning  we  head to the large market on Gomez 
Maximo  toward  town.  JC  says that there are many markets like this 
one but this is the largest. 
Rice is 5 pesos a pound
Pork is 23 or 25 pesos/pound
We  see  mangos,  bananas,  oranges,  guavas, large avocados, garlic, 
potatoes,  yam  type tubers, peanuts, poultry, pork and ham. We buy a 
bunch of items for JC family.

I  have a mango drink mixed in a blender for 5 pesos, I come back for 
3  more.  It  appears  to be made of ripe mango, thick cream and some 
sugar.  The woman's stand is just as you pass through a hall from the 
vegetables  to  the  meat  area.  She  speaks  English and I say that 
tomorrow  I  will  be  back  with  a  large bottle. She explains that 
tomorrow is Monday and the market is always closed.

We  are  psssst  at out front by money changers. We change $60 (at 22 
pesos/$1  US)  with 3 different guys because one cannot change all of 
it,  they even pool their money to take care of the last $20. Later I 
see  them psssting at every 6th Cuban, I wonder what else is up, they 
must be offering dollars to Cubans.

Next  we  drive  out  of  town  to the Parque Lenin. In the park JUAN 
CARLOS  gets  a  little  lost,  we  realize  he  is  not  used to the 
flexibility  of  driving  by  car.  He  has always been on busses and 
although  he  certainly knows his way around we see that sometimes we 
have  to back-track to get on the right road when cutting across town 
on  a new route. The park, which besides having a large area of small 
rides  and  picnic  areas,  is  also  used  for  children  to see and 
practice  trades  when  they are in 6th grade. We have only one goal, 
that  is to get photos of the statue of Lenin. It is a blinding white 
marble  bust  caved  into  a large stone some 35 feet tall. No one is 
there but us and we hurry with the photos to escape the sun.
>From  Parque  Lenin we drive just a little further out of town to the 
CubaExpo.  It  is  set  on a large piece of land with a few km 4 lane 
driveway  back to it from the road. It is kind of a large 4-H fair of 
exhibits  from  all  of  the provinces. It appears that only a few of 
the  many  large  buildings  are open, but we do not wander far as it 
takes  us  only  a short while to see that we have seen enough. We do 
stay  to  have  lunch of fish and rice. We must pay in USD of course, 
even  for  JC  as  he is at our table, but the meal is only $4.20 and 
the  beer  US  30  cents. JC tells us that the unlabeled brown bottle 
beer  which  is  a  bit yeasty, like home-made beer, is the beer that 
the  state  give  3 cases to for each person's 15th birthday and each 
wedding.  Actually  they  give  a coupon for the beer and he says you 
may  have  your  first child or already be 16 by the time the beer is 
available.

Back  home  for nap, boy do we seem to need naps here and we conk out 
for over an hour.

I  want  to  see the Playas del Este and we round up 3 of the 4 kids, 
Tony  age  6  (motor  mouth),  Samira,  age  11  (always  smiling and 
helping)  Ynette, age 15 (more quiet due to her age). The beaches are 
crowded  and  some  food  is available at bamboo stands on the beach, 
everyone pays with US$.

Monday, July 7th

Leaving  Havana  we  head  out of town east past the Playas del Este. 
There  are,  of  course,  hundreds  of people hitching rides. We give 
rides  to  several  groups  of two. Almost all are animated, eager to 
talk,  about  the busses or their next job, cousins and uncles in the 
USA.  We  find  no one bitter about the current conditions but no one 
is happy about it either. 

Our  first  stop  is in Matanzas. It is on the Via Blanca, 42 km west 
of  Varadero,  98  km  east of Havana. We park on the main square and 
inquire  at  El  Vino  if  they have food, no only finger food (small 
appetizers)  they say. The waitress leads us down the street 30m to a 
hotel,  we  would  have  missed it altogether if she had not shown us 
the  entry.  Food  will  be  served  in  10  or 15 minutes so we head 
outside  for a walk around the square. A few feet outside the door we 
are  approached  by  a teenager asking what we want. He talks us into 
going  to  a  palardar  on  the  far  west  end  of  town  deep  in a 
residential  area.  Once there at a table in what was the living room 
we  realize  we  should  ask how much it will cost before we eat. The 
waitress  does  not know, and she asks the owner and returns with the 
figure  of  $10  each, not including drinks. Now this is more than we 
paid  in  Miramar, la Habana. We say it is too much, wait a while and 
leave,   they  never  propose  a  second  price.  They  clearly  have 
something  to  learn  about retail sales. We had seen 2 Cubans finish 
their  meal  when  we sat down, we were sure they didn't pay$10 for a 
meal.

Our  guide  who  has been paid with a pack of gum and bar of soap, is 
still  waiting  for  us  when  we come out. He directs us back to the 
center  of town to a small, mostly takeout restaurant with only a few 
parlor  seats.  Its  sign says, Comidas and Meriendas. It is on Calle 
83,  29010,  1/2  block from La Vina. Its really a take out place and 
is  1/2  story  up  off the street, we ate in the alcove looking over 
the  narrow  street.  It  is  just  a  few  blocks  from where he had 
originally  found  us. We order rice and beans and chicken. We sit on 
2  of the 4 chairs after having commandeered the only coffee table in 
the  place.  The  chicken  is  better than good, it is delicious, the 
rice  and  beans  are  exactly as they have been 6 or 8 times before, 
dry and bland.

In  front  of  the  second  restaurant we acquire a 2nd assistant, he 
will  guard and wash the windows of our car. Not being able to convey 
that  we already have a guide that will not leave us, he stays and he 
start  cleaning  the windows. A while later I go out to get my camera 
and  give  him  30  cents  of convertible money but he asks for food. 
When  we  finish  eating  I  ask for a cardboard box that I have seen 
them  sending  food  out  with  and  give  a  full  box. He thanks me 
profusely and runs off, apparently in a hurry to eat.

In  Veradero  we  find  a modern hotel (built in 1953) on the sea for 
$39.00.  The name is Hotel Herradura, on Avenida del Playa between 35 
and  36,  tele. (535) 6-3703 and 3303. The new high-rise fancy places 
are  at  the  tip  of the peninsula several km from the town area. We 
had  earlier  checked  the  price at the Hotel de las Americas and it 
was  $165/night,  sin comida (without meals), he made this very clear 
repeating  it twice. We find that the rooms apartment style. We share 
an  entrance,  living  room  and  kitchen.  Then there are two master 
bedroom  suites and AC is in the bedroom only. I looked at the 17" TV 
long  enough  to  see that it had many US shows on and was clear as a 
bell.  The  brochure  says 79 rooms in apartments. But all rooms face 
the  sea  and  it  is  actually interesting to be forced to meet some 
other  visitors.  A Crystal beer at the bar was $1.60 but only US .75 
cents in the adjacent dollar grocery store downstairs.

At  night  we  go into Sale, the small town just before the peninsula 
but  the  only restaurant we find is the franchised El Rapido, we may 
like  local, cheap food but the greasy Cuban version of MacDonalds is 
not  our choice. On our way back we pick up more hikers and one shows 
us  where  Cubans  eat.  It is on 64th just off of Avenida PrimeroThe 
waitress  starts  off  with,  "Let me explain something, we only have 
pork  and  rice  and  beans,  nothing  else." For us that is fine. We 
order  a  beer  and  get  the brown bottle with no label. We had been 
charged  US 30 cents for this 'brand' at ExpoCuba. Here it was a$1.00 
and  the  total  meal  was  $18.00,  the last $4.00 appeared to be an 
included  tip. Next door was a club with music which also looked like 
a local place. It looked intriguing.

Tuesday, July 8th

We  drive  back 10 or 15 km west toward Havana to the $2.00 toll both 
where  the coast turns to rocks to try a little snorkeling. I see the 
usual  assortment of fish but the water is murky from churned seaweed 
and  decide  it  is  not  worth  more time. Back in our apartment our 
Portuguese  neighbors  tell us of a hotel near Cienfuegos. We hope to 
try it.

I  hope  to  cover  a lot of miles today and we are successful due to 
good  roads  and  few  cars.  We  follow  a  route  from  Veradero to 
Cardenzaas,  Maximo  Gomez,  Colon,  Santa Clara, Cabarien, Moron and 
then to Cayo Coco, 450 km total for the day.

We  pick  up  more  hikers  than  I can remember, each one telling us 
about  the  countryside  and  answering  our  questions.  We  hear of 
doctors  and engineers working as receptionists in hotels and several 
young  people  are studying English to get jobs in new hotels. I find 
no  one  who actually can carry on a conversation in English. One old 
man  says,  "Why, I've never been picked up in this class of car, Ava 
Maria!"  He  tells us about all the crops and where to stop for sugar 
cane  water and offers to buy us one. We have a couple of them but we 
pay for him after several polite refusals.

Santa  Clara  looks  quite  pleasant in its central square. The guide 
books  are  right, there are many kids hustling to be your guide. The 
narrow  streets  make  us  bless the embargo, we wonder how awful the 
traffic  would  be  if  gas  was available at local prices. There are 
thousands  of  bikes  and  on  and  near  the square we see many bike 
parking  garages in the front rooms of peoples homes. As we travel we 
find  small  dollar  stores  even  sometimes  in  fairly small towns, 
sometimes  along  the road in the middle of nowhere, they always have 
beer  and  cigarettes  but  out  of  cities they do not have colas or 
bottled water.

Caya  Coco  seems  to  be playing a Cuban joke on the tourists. There 
are  no roads signs at all and there is no one too ask directions. We 
stumble  up  a long road to cave converted into a nightclub, it is at 
the  end  of  the road so we must turn back and retrace our steps. We 
had  been  told  that  there was one hotel that cost only $30 and the 
others  were  $85  to  $95. We actually find the place located in the 
center  of the island (not along the coast), it is La Sitio de Guira. 
It  is  getting  dark and the mosquitoes are on the rampage. Our room 
is  in a cabin, it turns out to be the only cabin available. We learn 
that  we are in a museum of how typical Cuban farmers live. The cabin 
has  a  13' x 22' entry living room, 2 - 13' x 22' bedrooms on either 
side  of this, a 13' x 18' dining room and a 12' x 18' kitchen behind 
this  plus a standard bathroom off of the dining room. In other words 
all  of  the  rooms  were  huge  (1  meter  = 3'). Electricity is run 
throughout,  the  lights  are  lanterns  with  60 watt bulbs in them. 
Everything  is  lacquered  on  the inside, there are wood chairs with 
leather  seats in the dining and bedrooms and wood solid wood rocking 
chairs  and  a  beautiful  coffee  table  in  the  kitchen.  It  is a 
beautiful  place,  many  American  family  don't  have this nice of a 
house.

Wednesday, July 9th

We  wake  up  with  the  cocks crowing even before light, I go out to 
quiet  the  cocks  by scaring them but I run into a peacock almost as 
tall  as  I  am and nearly die of fright myself. Eventually they stop 
and  we  drift  back  to sleep. Early in the morning busses arrive to 
drop off workers, there must be 20 workers here. 

We  take  the  tour  of  the  charcoal  manufacturing area, primarily 
Spaniards  had  lived there until 1963 making charcoal. We saw a cock 
fighting  pit  even  though  it  is  illegal  in  Cuba.  Tio said the 
authorities  look  the  other way on this issue. we have breakfast of 
fresh  squeezed  mango  juice  and  the  ever  present ham and cheese 
sandwiches.  Then we head to the Italian hotel on Caya Guiremo. It is 
exclusively  Italian  and is an all-inclusive @ $165.00 for a double. 
We  drive  on  west to Villa XX and see that it is as nice and bigger 
and  find  out it is $150.00 for a double. This is not what the guide 
books  said  and we reluctantly head back east. Passing the airport I 
think  they might have a map on the wall. We pull in and look around, 
several  people  jump  up to help us and a man draws us a map of both 
islands  and  makes  4  or  5  phone  calls  to  find  out prices and 
availability,  The  last  hotel  is Tryp Hotel and it is $220/double. 
They  suggest  we spend the day at Playa Pilar at the west end of the 
island  and  then  spend the night at Hotel Moron on the mainland. He 
calls  to  confirm  that  the  hotel  has  room  and  finds out it is 
$38/night  for  a double (w/AC). We ask if there is food and a shower 
at  Playa  Pilar  and  he  makes  another  call. There is food but no 
shower.  It  is  26 km back to Playa Pilar. We find a nice beach with 
trees  and  a thatched roof restaurant. We spend the afternoon on the 
beach and snorkel just around the corner further west.
On  our way back I decide to stop back in at El Sitio de Guire again. 
We  start taking Polaroid shots of the employees and a crowd gathers, 
we  are  instant hit with these folks. We end up taking two employees 
into  Moron  so  they do not have to take the slow Guagua (pronounced 
wawa)  back  to town. We laugh and talk all the way back to town some 
70  km.  They  are delighted as I am speeding along at over 100 km/hr 
and  we have saved them 2 hours on the guagua. They show us a paladar 
in  town  (Paladar La Rueda) which is 1/2 block, dead center in front 
of  the  train  station on the one way running away from the station. 
It  was  a  good  meal  of  pork, rice and beans and a cucumber salad 
($5.00  each,  drinks  $1.00 each. Maria, one of the hitch hikers had 
invited us for coffee after our dinner and we go to her house.

Maria  used  to  work  at  the  Hotel  Moron which is just across the 
street,  a 5 minute walk. It is a training hotel and she worked there 
the  required  two years before graduating to a tourist hotel on Caya 
Coco.  Both  her  cousin  and  her  cousin's  husband work at tourist 
hotels. 

The  Hotel Moron is quite nice, large rooms several restaurants and a 
bar at the large pool with surrounding deck. It has cable TV and AC.

Thursday, July 10th

We  go  into  town  to  mail  our  post  cards,  we  have been told 3 
different  prices  for  cards  .35, .50 and .65 pesos. We go with the 
safe  one  and  pay  .65  pesos (± US 3 cents). Catty corner from the 
post  office  we  have pizza for 3 pesos and then a little further on 
we  have  another pizza for 5 pesos. Heading out of town for Ciego de 
Avila  we  start  picking  up  hitch  hikers. I slow down somewhat to 
cross  railroad  tracks  but a motorcycle cop is coming toward me, he 
flags  me over for not having stopped. He is not a tourist police and 
we  are  told  that  he cannot give me a ticket and he does not spend 
much time to tell me to stop at all the crossings.

Our  last two hikers before entering Trinidad suggest that we stay in 
a  private  home  in  La  Boca on the sea. We agree and take them the 
extra  7 km to La Boca, which appears to be the Cuban beach area. The 
woman  there  offers  us  a home in Trinidad for $15/ night. I see on 
the  map  that  there  are two hotels farther out on the Peninsula de 
Ancon  and  we  check  them  out.  We opt for the Hotel Costa Sol for 
$33/night  for  a  room  in one of the main buildings. Cabins are $10 
more  but appear to be worth it as they are larger, on the waterfront 
and  have glass window (meaning the bugs don't get in). At the end of 
the  road is the larger, 'fancier' Hotel Ancon, for $58/night, but it 
only  has  sandy beaches while Hotel Costa Sol has area of rocks that 
are  better  for  snorkeling.  Cubans  can  come  out  to the beaches 
between  the  hotels but not to the hotels themselves. While checking 
the  hotels  we have picked up two more women hikers in beach clothes 
and  while  Rosa checks the price we park under the overhang of Costa 
Sol.  Quickly a guard comes to the rear window and taps on it to tell 
the  girls they are not allowed there. I jump out of the car and over 
the  hood  say  there is no problem here and we will be going when we 
finish  our  business  at  the  reception.  I don't know if it my bad 
Spanish,  my  tone  of  voice  or  the  touchy  subject matter but he 
retreats.  I find this to be an ugly blotch on Cuba's "all people are 
equal" policy.

I  see  my favorite billboard on this route, "200 million children in 
the  world go to sleep in the streets every night but none of them is 
Cuban"

We  snorkel at the west end of the hotel grounds and then pack up our 
gear and drive a few km to a Cuban beach. 

About  6  PM  we head into Trinidad, taking two hotel workers with us 
who  had  not  dared  to show us they were hiking. As always they say 
that  our  car  is  much  better  than  the wawa and they show us the 
Paladar  Rosa  up  above  the  Plaza Mayor. We drop off the women and 
drive  down  the  cobblestone streets to the Plaza Mayor. It is late, 
everything  is  closed  and  all  of the tourists have departed, that 
leaves  just  us for all the jinteros and we are soon mobbed with our 
car  surrounded.  We decide to drive to Parque Cespedes on Calle Jose 
Marti  and  buy drinks at the store next to the Hotel La Ronda. It is 
very  quiet  and  we  are  only  approached by a very drunk, slightly 
crazy  man  that  I  need  to  get  a  bit  forceful to make leave. A 
teenager  comes  over  and  also  moves  the  old man along. Then the 
teenager  wants  to  assist us and we accept by asking him to show us 
how  to  get to the Palador Rosa. His route seems long and we realize 
that  he  is  taking  us  on a small tour of the town, past the music 
hall (no roof), the three crosses and finally to Rosa's. 

While  waiting for our food we sit out on the curb across from a 1950 
Studebacker  that  is  up  on blocks. Two girls about 7 years old are 
playing  around  it  and I make playful threatening moves toward them 
as  I  go  to  the  car for my camera. They keep an eye on me but not 
well  enough,  as  I am able to sneak up to the other side of the car 
and  get  a photo of them through the car. Then getting the Polaroid, 
we  get  them to pose for us and give them the photo. We suggest they 
have  one for each of them and they both run off apparently to try to 
talk  their mothers into joining them, neither wants to do so. We get 
one  small  brother (4 years old) to join them and an older sister to 
refuse.  We  take  another  photo and then the older sister wants one 
also.  I  am  out of film with the Polaroid so I use my 35 mm and she 
approaches  with her hand out, we tell her its too late and she pouts 
away.

I  order  the seafood plate with lobster, shrimp and fish for $10.00. 
It  comes  over-flowing  with  food  and I am glad I was extravagant. 
Rosa  has the fish for $6.00 . We see that there is a waiting line so 
we  move to the living room for coffee, he appreciates this and gives 
us  coffee  for  free. The children keep running in and out, speaking 
with  us.  One  of  the  little  girls asks her mother if she can get 
something.  She  comes  back  with  a  knitted purse she has made and 
offers  it  to  us  for sale. She is starting early on the capitalist 
trail.  We  drive  back to the hotel through a lightening storm, with 
the  first  torrential  downpours  hitting  just  as we pull into our 
hotel. It is a dramatic ending to a very pleasant day.

Friday, July 11th

>From  our  hikers  we  learn  that some people work 16 hours straight 
with  two  days  on  and two days off and some work 24 hours straight 
and  then  have  2  days  off. Since most people live a ways from the 
hotels  and  transportation is slow and limited, we can see that this 
saves on gas and time.

We  see  coconut  trees but never see a coconut for sale. We are told 
they are used at the homes for sweets.

The  sea is calm and we go snorkeling again. As we approach the beach 
a  guard  approaches  and starts speaking quickly, "I want to explain 
something!  Yesterday  when  you  came to the hotel if I had not said 
something  to  the  two  girls  I would have lost my job. Do not take 
offense,  it  is  just that way. I have a daughter of my own and even 
she  cannot  come here" I was taken aback, it appeared that the guard 
had  been  thinking  about  this  and was eager to have the chance to 
explain.  I was now embarrassed and we gave him some shampoo and soap 
for his daughter.

It is only a few km to Cienfuegos so we have an easy day of driving.
We  check  into  the Hotel Faro Luna, it is 16 km east of Cienfeugos. 
It  has  no  beach but the snorkeling looks good and proves to be so. 
Cienfeugos  has  a bay with two large peninsulas encircling it. There 
are  three  hotels  out this way, the other two, Rancho Luna ($54 and 
Hotel  Pasa  Caballo  ($24)  are both much bigger resorts with larger 
pools  and  patios. Hotel Pasa Caballo is inland and is not a tourist 
hotel  but  apparently  anyone  can  stay there as we were not turned 
away  when  we asked for the price. We drive all the way to the point 
of  the  peninsula  where  there  is a bar/restaurant, Casa Pescador. 
There  is  a tour bus there with Cubans on vacation from Havana. They 
are  dancing  and having a good time, we watch a storm roll in across 
the bay. It is spectacular. 

Just  as  we  get back to Faro Luna the lights go out and food cannot 
be  served,  everyone  else  sits  around waiting but Rosa and I head 
back  to the palador that we had seen next to Casa Pescadero. We find 
it  boarded up in the storm so we go to Hotel Pasa Caballo. We ask at 
the  door  if  they are serving food and are escorted to a completely 
dark  and  deserted  dining room. But food is available. While we are 
waiting  for  our  order  I  wonder  off and find 60 Cubans eating in 
another  restaurant  and  30 people waiting outside. I go back to our 
dark  dining room and we ask if we can sit in the other room with all 
the  people.  He hesitates because they are paying with pesos, we say 
we  will  pay  with  dollars  but  do  not  want to sit alone. We are 
escorted  to  the main dining room and only cause a small stir. A man 
comes  with  a  musical keyboard and to a background of percussion he 
slowly  taps  a few notes. Later when our waiter is sitting with us I 
ask  when  did  the  musician  die. He nearly falls over laughing and 
agrees  that  the musician is lame.In pouring rain we go back to Faro 
Luna.

Saturday, July 12

We  are  sad  to leave Hotel Faro Luna and wish we had another day to 
explore  the  area and rest. We drive to Cienfeugos and then take the 
'back'  way  into  Playa Giron. Finally a few pot holes appear in the 
roads  we  take  on  this  route,  until now they have been uniformly 
smooth.  Once  again  picking  up  hitch hikers keeps us from getting 
lost. 

We  arrive  in  Playa Giron just before the museum closes. I give the 
June  22,  1997 front section of USA Today to the person at the desk. 
It  has a two page article about JFK's involvement in the Bay of Pigs 
affair.  They are polite but uninterested. The museum is small and we 
are  soon  across  the street in a dollar store buying soda water. As 
we  come  out  we  see the museum fellow running across the street to 
us.  He  has  now had time to look at the article and wants to get my 
name  for  their  special  display that they put up every two months. 
Rosa  regrets  me  giving  my  name,  for  fear  of retribution but I 
welcome it.

We  have lunch at the Playa Giron Hotel. Rosa asks a man on the beach 
where  we  can  buy  coconuts and he says you don't buy them you pick 
them  and  proceeds  to climb a tree and gives us 4 coconuts and even 
gets  them open buy using a concrete corner of the retaining wall. We 
all have knowing smiles at this situation.

We  head  west  and  north to the central freeway. Once on the 6 lane 
road  we see people standing in the center divide with their hands up 
and  out.  We  see  that  they  are  offering the motorists fruit and 
vegetables.  The  old  lady  with  us  says "Don't say a word, I will 
negotiate  the  best  prices." We find that oranges are 10 for 1 peso 
(about  4.5  cents), I have to use restraint not to fill the truck at 
that  price  just  for  the  fun  of  stopping  and chatting with the 
vendors.

Sunday, July 13

We  wake  up  early  to go to the Malecon to see the sun rise. But we 
are locked inside the house until someone gets up.

We  take the kids to the market, but they are not interested in much. 
As  we  get back in the car they decide we should go to see the forts 
on  the  other  side  of the river (el Moro and La Cabana) and we are 
off.  This is not what Rosa and I had planned but we see the kids are 
eager  to  go. At the entrance kiosk there is some argument as to how 
much  we  have  to pay. Two of the kids that are 12 and over say they 
are  11 to save us 5 pesos each. They also try to convince the ticket 
seller  that  Rosa  and  I  are  Cuban so we can get in for the local 
price.

We  end up at a fort and I sit down, not wanting to walk up the hill. 
Later  Rosa says that this fort was not included in our entry fee and 
when  they  got to the gate the kids argued in Spanish over the entry 
fee again. She just chuckled to herself and said nothing.

To  save  Melan and Toni 3 hours on the guagua, we drive over to pick 
them  up  in  a  neighborhood  several  km  away.  While we are still 
waiting   at   the  curb  the  local  police  come  by  and  ask  for 
identification  from  J-C,  Melan  and her husband. I go to show mine 
and  am  waved  away.  It starts to take a long time and I get out my 
Polaroid  to  take  pictures  of  the  kids.  In a weak moment I spin 
around  and  'inadvertently'  take  a  photo  of  the police car. The 
officer  immediately  sees  the  flash  and  jumps  out  of  the car, 
demanding  the  film.  I  give him the shot but he does not know what 
that  is  as  it has not yet developed. He wants the rest of the film 
and  reaches for the camera to take it away. Rosa in a flash snatches 
it  out of his hand and shouts in Spanish, "Oh no, you are not taking 
this".  Everyone  is  a little stunned at her reaction and now things 
have  escalated  a  bit. We are asked to leave the car and sit in the 
house.  The  officers call for their superior using their radio. This 
only  takes about 10 minutes and everything is fine. Later learn that 
the   second   officer  has  extended  the  apologies  of  the  Cuban 
government  to  us. Actually I am very embarrassed by my stupidity, I 
could have caused our friends lots of trouble.

Then  to  the  car  rental  agency  in Hotel National where I have to 
argue to only pay $50 for the extra 1/2 day

Monday, July 13th

We  do  not  sleep  much  in  a house with no alarm clocks and we are 
fully  up at 4 AM. At the airport we keep finding more little packets 
of  Cuban pesos. We only changed $80.00 and in a week had a hard time 
spending  $40.00.  This  was  even  with buying lots of food for Juan 
Carlos'  family.  We  did buy many things in pesos but at 22 pesos/US 
$1  it is hard to spend it all on 3 peso pizzas and 1 peso drinks. We 
give  what  we  have left to Juan Carlos, he accepts it sheepishly as 
though he were being paid. 

The  airport  is  packed  and  the  lines  are slow. The Cuban Custom 
official  engages  us in conversation, which we find strange until it 
dawns  on  us that he is really just making sure we are who we say we 
are.  On the plane, Rosa and I look at each other and make promise to 
return with our daughters one day. 

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC : PUNTA CANA IBEROSTAR BAVARO RESORT JENNIFER AND ARTHUR DUDECK

My  new  husband  and I visited this gorgeous island from Jan. 19-26, 
2000  and did the all-inclusive deal. We went through Apple Vacations 
and  paid $2,345 for everything. Our travel agent didn't have much to 
offer  so  I  logged onto debbiesdominicantravel.com for an extensive 
review  of  hotels  and  things to do and see. When we arrived at the 
airport  we  were  greeted by two beautiful women and had our picture 
taken  (when  you  go  home,  be sure to look for your photo, it cost 
$10u.s.)The  airport  was  just  how the reviews described it, rustic 
like. It was a 35 min. ride to the hotel. 

This  hotel  has three in one, BAVARO, PUNTA CANA and the DOMINICANA. 
We  were  the only people on the bus to stay at the BAVARO so we went 
in  a  golf  cart from the Dominicana. Upon arrival we were amazed at 
how  gorgeous  the  lobby  area was. Check in was quick, friendly and 
easy.  We  were  given  a rum drink and told where everything was. We 
didn't  have  an  oceanview  room and opted not to request one b/c we 
didn't  need  a  hassle  and we weren't planning on spending a lot of 
time  in  the  room anyway. The room was clean, marble bathroom, king 
size  bed,  fresh  flowers,  rum,  t.v  and  small porch, couches and 
table.  The  food  was  good. My husband is a very picky eater and he 
got  along  just  fine.  It took a few days to get used to the greasy 
food  but  we  had  the Pepto. People did dress up for dinner and the 
hostess  is  strict about wearing shorts. My husband wore docker type 
pants  with  a  short  sleeve  button  down  shirt  and I wore a long 
sundress  with  straps  and  felt comfortable, I was glad I brought a 
light  jacket.  The  buffet was different every night. Everything was 
marked  in  different  languages.  They  always  seemed  to have some 
American  entrees.  I  really got into the cheese and crackers table. 
Stayed  away  from unpeelable fruit and went with my instincts. I ate 
a  lot  of  bread  and  crackers  to  absorb all the grease. We never 
seemed  to have an illness from the food, maybe the rum, but that was 
our  fault!  They  did  have  a Mexican theme night but I stayed away 
based  on  the  reviews  just in case. The coffee is very strong, the 
sugar  very  sweet and the sweet and low is brown not white. I had an 
expresso  and  was  up  all  night.  A  lot  of fish on Friday night. 
Lobster  was  at  both  beach  restaurants  and  was  great. A lot of 
pizzas,  very  greasy.  Breakfast was awesome! We tried to sit by the 
lagoon so we could watch the flamingos and ducks. 

We  made  reservations  at  the  a  la carte resturante through GUEST 
SERVICES  in the lobby. Had no problem making them b/c I took reviews 
advice  and  planned ahead. This was a more high class resturante. My 
husband  had steak and I had Lobster. He was leary of the meat b/c he 
didn't  like  it at the beach , but was really happy with it here. He 
ate  cheeseburgers  at  the beach and was happy with those. If he was 
happy  with  the  food,  I think anybody would be. I tried everything 
that  I  felt comfortable with and I was fine. Your body does make an 
adjustment.  We  did  eat the buffet at the DOMINICANA and we weren't 
happy  with  it at all. The atmosphere wasn't as friendly and relaxed 
as  the BAVARO. We ate at the Italian resturante based on the reviews 
and  it  was  nice.  I  wish  we  would have made reservations at the 
resturante  near  the  lobby  ,  the menu looked great and so did the 
atmosphere, I think it was French. 

The  grounds  of the BAVARO were absolutely fascinating. We stayed in 
cabana  type  units while the PUNTA CANA and DOMINICANA had one large 
unit  for  everyone,  didn't  seem  very  secluded  like we were. The 
BAVARO  had more class to it and was considered more of a 5 star than 
the  other  two in our opinion. We were glad we spent the extra money 
to  stay  here especially with all the concern over food, cleanliness 
and  water. We had our Hepatitis A shots also. There was a lagoon set 
up  around  the lobby and resturantes and there were Flamingos, ducks 
and  peacocks.  Very  beautiful  flowers. shrubs, trees and walkways. 
The  staff  was  always  manicuring  the grounds. Roosters woke us up 
every  morning  around 7:30. At first it seemed like we were the only 
Americans  but we heard some and we were really glad we did. A lot of 
Germans,  French  and  South  Americans.  I  knew some Spanish and it 
really  came  in  handy.  I  highly  recommend a phrase book and some 
knowledge  of the language, we needed it. Some of the wonderful staff 
spoke  some  English  but  some didn't. Memorize your room number b/c 
you  will  need  to  sign  allot  b/c  they keep track of the drinks, 
knowing your number in Spanish will be appreciated. 

The  beach  was awesome! Powder like sand and crystal clear water. we 
did  some snorkeling, my husband did the most and dove for shells and 
coral.  The  first  day  we got up early and had no problem getting a 
lounge  chair  in  the  shade. The next day we didn't get there until 
10;00  and  had  to  lay  on  the  sand, I was glad I brought a beach 
blanket.  There  weren't  palm  trees  for  shade,  but  there  was a 
thatched  roof  umbrella  type  thing.  Bring  A  LOT of sunblock. We 
brought  2  bottles of SPF15 and 1 SPF30, went through the 15, I used 
the  30  for  the sensitive spots and by the last day we were down to 
our  last bottle of only SPF4. The lotion was expensive in the shops. 
A  lot  of topless bathing and thongs. I went and felt fine, it's not 
everyday  you  have  the  opportunity  to  feel  totally free without 
getting arrested. 

We  went  deep  sea  fishing through BLUE SKY which was near the dive 
shop.  It cost $70u.s to fish and $50u.s. to observe. I observed, but 
I  could have fished if I was able to. I wasn't into the fishing trip 
b/c  I  was VERY much seasick and just wanted to get on land. The sea 
was  VERY,  VERY  rough  and it was becoming too much for everyone. I 
was  very  grateful  to  have  at least had the experience despite my 
sickness.  My  husband  caught a Wahoo marlin and got it 10 ft to the 
boat  and  it  got away. He wasn't happy especially b/c he though the 
price was to high. 

We  went  on  the  BAVARO  RUNNERS jeep safari and it was amazing. We 
highly  recommend  this  to  everyone  who  wants  to  see  the  real 
Dominican  Republic. We made reservations with the Apple rep near the 
tour  section  by the gift shop. It cost $75u.s each and can use your 
credit  card. Make sure you save the receipt the rep gives you so you 
can  give  it to the pick up man. Be sure to bring candy, small toys, 
pens,  paper,  etc.  so  you  can  give  then  to the children in the 
villages  and throw the candy from the jeep, the children loved this. 
They  do  run after the jeep yelling "money, money" and come out from 
their  homes  when they hear the jeep. This was heartaching for me to 
see  the  reality, but I did give them some pesos and candy. This was 
the  best adventure we were on in our entire life. You definitely saw 
the  real  world  out there in the jungles of the Dominican Republic. 
We  went  to  a  sugarcane  plantation  that  was manned by Haitains, 
Maria's  house  to  see  how Dominicans really live and learned about 
the  coco  plant and bought some fresh coco and coffee beans, went to 
a  small museum, a ranch for a safe, great lunch and horseback riding 
and  finally to a secluded beach for a swim. This was worth the money 
if not more. 

Bring  a  lot  of  film  and a video camera if you can b/c it will be 
hard  to  describe  this  experience to people back home. I did get 3 
bug  bites  even  though  I had replant on, my husband didn't get any 
and  mine  don't  itch  but  I'm  still  watching  them.  We packed a 
backpack  of  extra  clothes, towel, swimsuit (wear it) baby wipes. I 
suggest  you  wear socks and tennis shoes. You will get dusty and wet 
but  it's  not overwhelming. Just like past reviews there wasn't much 
shopping.  We  bought  2  bottles  of  rum,  a box a cigars, a wooden 
statue  and  murracas  and the total eventually came to $120u.s. Most 
of  the  shopping was in the blue shacks at the end of the beach. The 
Iberostar  runs the merchants off the beach. They are very pushy, you 
must  bargain, bargain, bargain. Know how much you want to spend, use 
the  gift  shop  as  your guide and don't let them see how much money 
you  have.  We brought $600u.s with us and we were fine, a lot of our 
money  was spent on tips and the tours. I kept my wedding ring turned 
around  and  never  wore  nice  jewelry except at dinner , I left the 
wedding  set  in  the  hotel  safe when we went outside the resort. I 
wanted  to  buy  a  woven multicolored belt but couldn't find one. We 
did  a  lot  of tipping. At first it was difficult on deciding WHO to 
tip  b/c one person would take your order, the other would bring your 
drinks  and a third would bring your food. We tipped the one who took 
the time to serve us the best. 

This  hotel was worth every penny and we really got our moneys worth. 
The  staff was always working. One thing about this place in general, 
there  is  not much to do inside the resorts except breakfast, lunch, 
beach  and  nightly  entertainment.  A  very  good  place  to  have a 
honeymoon  or  to  get  back  to reality with your spouse. Based on a 
review,  we took the opportunity to enjoy the secluded beach at night 
and  took every advantage of this.There were kids activities and they 
all  seemed  to have a good time, but not a place for the kids in our 
opinion(  we don't have any) The resort has everything pretty much on 
schedule  as far as eating and entertainment. The shows were the only 
form  of  entertainment  at night. They started at 10:00 and everyone 
usually  headed down after dinner to get a nice seat. The show lasted 
until  11:00  and  then  you either went to bed, went to the disco or 
took  a  stroll on the beach. We did the disco thing twice, the first 
time  we  were  to tired and had to get up for the fishing adventure. 
The  last  night  we  were  there  we took advantage of it and stayed 
until   3:00a.m.  All  Latin  music  played,  a  4ft.  man  from  the 
entertainment staff tried to teach me the merengue, it was a riot. 

A  word  of  advice on trying to call the U.S., be sure to check with 
your  calling  card  company  before  your leave. MCI doesn't work. I 
tried  8  different  times  and  got  different answers every time. I 
eventually  got  through with my local phone company's card. When the 
hotel  operator  connects  you to the international operator (15pesos 
every  connection)  chances  of  you  getting through collect without 
asking  is sure to happen. Would we come back here again ? Yes, maybe 
not  Punta Cana but would like to check out the North and South parts 
of   the  island.  Would  we  stay  at  the  Iberostar  chain  again? 
Definitely  and  we  will  when  we  go  to Mexico, Spain and back to 
Dominican  Republic. This chain is based in Spain and also has hotels 
in  Cuba.  We  talked  to  some Americans on the Jeep Safari trip and 
they  were  staying  at  the CATOLINA and it didn't seem as classy as 
the  Iberostar.  I  think  everyone  on the jeep was impressed by the 
guarded  gate and wonderful front entrance. The woman said they had a 
roach  problem  in  her room, we only had one problem and that was at 
breakfast  and  other  than that everything was very clean. We highly 
recommend this hotel.  

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: JACK TAR VILLAGE BY MICHELE D'ALESSANDRO

What  can  I  say,  there are too many US properties to visit without 
wasting  your  time going to the Dominican Republic. Jack Tar Village 
was nice but if you left the resort, you were in for a let down.

It  started  with  us  arriving  at  10:30 PM. We got our luggage and 
immediately  the  customs  man  told us to bring them to him. He felt 
them  and then passed them off to one of the locals who took off with 
them.  We  had to tip him $5.00 for our bags and then he gave them to 
another  local.  All  of  this  was  intimidating for us to have just 
landed  in a foreign country. Anyway $20.00 later we got our luggage. 
Oh  did  I  mention that it costs $10.00 per person for a tourist tax 
to get into the country?

Got  to the resort, it was nice. In fact I really don't have too much 
bad  to  say  about  the  resort.  We  were  looking for relaxing and 
peaceful and it was both.

However,  we  decided  to take one of the tours. We wanted to see the 
Whales.  The  bus  was to pick us up at 5:30 AM and we were to return 
at  5:30  PM. Well it was a day from hell. The roads are terrible and 
the  bus  would  pass  on blind curves. In fact we saw two really bad 
wrecks  that day. There was breakfast included. It was disgusting! We 
stopped  at  a  little  restaurant  on  the  way.  If  I had seen the 
restrooms  first, I would not have been able to choke down what I did 
eat.

After  about 5 hours of being on the bus, we get on a boat to go look 
for  whales.  It  seemed  like only moments after we got on the boat, 
one  of  the  crew  can around asking for tips. I thought that was in 
really  bad  taste. All day long we were getting hounded for tips. It 
would  take  5  pages  to  explain all the awful things that happened 
that  day.  We finally arrived aback to the resort at 8:30 PM. (Did I 
mention  that  on the boat with close to 100 people on it, there were 
only  7  life  jackets?  Just  enough for the crew of 7 operating the 
boat. I guess there is no water patrol there!)

The  next  day  I went back to the Signature tour booth and told them 
of  our  day  from hell. She explained that she had booked us through 
another  company,  it wasn't them. I told her I wanted my money back. 
After  having  to go back by the booth 4 times and her telling me she 
was  trying to get something resolved I showed up on Thursday morning 
(while  it  was  pouring  down  rain)  and  told  her  I was tired of 
spending  my  vacation  at her booth. I told her to call who ever she 
needed  to  call  to  get my money back or I would stand at her booth 
the  next  2 days of my vacation and tell all the people that came to 
her  booth  what a scam it was. She got on the phone and then told me 
she  would  be  back  in ten minutes with my money back. She did come 
back and give me my money back.

Anyway  I am trying to keep this short and there is not too much good 
I  can  say  about  the Dominican Republic. Do not waste your time or 
money  going there. It is the one tropical place you can visit and be 
ready to go before your vacation is up.

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