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Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
April 1, 1995
| Contents CTR April 1995 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 |
Dominican Republic: Paradise Resort by Richard Kenner
(Ed Note: Richard reminds readers that the report was based on a trip four months ago and that the resort is new and changing rapidly, so much of the information in that post may be dated.)
I'm typing this while sitting in a cottage in the Paradise Beach Resort in the Dominican Republic. On this trip, I'm with the same two friends who joined me at Club Orient last month (my 15th trip there, one of my friend's 7th and the other friend's first). The three of us have discussed our impressions of the two resorts. Although our individual perspectives don't agree, we all agree on most of what's below. In September I was at Paradise Lakes with another two friends (my 6th trip, their first), so I will also contrast both of Fred's properties.
DISCLAIMER: I own one of the cottages at the Paradise Beach Resort and receive a share of the rental income from that cottage so I have a financial interest in the resort.
I was hoping Paradise Beach Resort would be a mix of the best of Paradise Lakes and Club Orient and thus the ideal naturist destination. However, this did not happen. Instead, it's a third distinct resort with its own unique flavor.
Let me start with some broad comparisons between the resort and Club Orient. I make this comparison because these are the two resorts that are in most people's mind competing for the naturist visitor to the Caribbean. However, the Paradise Beach Resort is closer in many ways to Paradise Lakes (in Tampa, Florida) than to Club Orient.
Paradise Beach Resort is more integrated into its cultural environment than Club Orient while Club Orient is more integrated into its physical environment. Club Orient is centered around the beach and ocean while Paradise Beach Resort is more centered around pools and pool decks.
Paradise Beach Resort is more centered around various activities and night life while Club Orient is a good place to get rid of all your clothes and just relax. Surprisingly, Paradise Beach Resort, at least right now, is much less nude than Club Orient. Newcomers to naturism will not feel as comfortable nude as at Club Orient. Someone who is just barely comfortable nude at Club Orient will not be comfortable nude at Paradise Beach Resort.
Club Orient is in a more developed part of a more developed country, but the grounds themselves are very tropical in flavor. Paradise Beach Resort, while in a much more rustic part of the country, has a suburban architecture for the bulk of the resort. Both resorts are very beautiful, but the beauty is of a different kind in each.
In reading the details below it is important to note that there were very few people (35) around when we were at Paradise Beach Resort. The resort has well over 100 accommodations, so that represents an occupancy rate of around 10%. Many of these people were off the grounds at any given time and the resort is so large that much of it was nearly deserted most of the time.
This certainly contributed to some of the negatives we encountered. For example, it was almost certainly why there were less nude people around; the number of clothed staff outnumbered guests at many locations and covering up is contagious. It also was the most likely reason for the very limited menu at the restaurant and probably was a major contributing factor to the rather poor food. Also, keep in mind that the resort just opened in September, so there's lot of time to improve things. However, some physical things can never improve.
For those who are not familiar with Caribbean geography, the Dominican Republic occupies the easternmost two thirds of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with Haiti. Hispaniola is a few hundred miles long and about a hundred miles wide and is located between Cuba and Puerto Rico. Paradise Beach Resort is located at roughly the center of the northern coast, about 60 miles (an hour and 15 minutes) from the modern but disorganized airport at Puerto Plata (POP). POP is served by nonstop flights from New York, Miami, and San Juan. The ride from the airport to the resort goes through a number of towns and gives a good feel for the Dominican culture.
There are three ways to travel between the airport and the resort. You can take a taxi at around $60 each way, you can take a van run by the airport for $50 per person, or you can rent a car (around $50 per day). Which is cheaper of course depends on how many people you are and how long you'll be there. Paradise Beach Resort does not have a store. So if you rent a cottage and want to purchase food, you'll want to do some shopping in Sosua, near the airport (about an hour from the resort). You can do this by either renting a car or taking a cab (they'll be happy to wait for you while you shop). One problem with the resort's van is that you may have to leave much earlier than you'd want to. For example, we had a 4:30 flight but they wanted us to leave at 1:15. We chose to take a cab and leave at 2:00 instead. However, the cab never showed, so someone at the resort drove us to the nearest town to get a cab there.
Unlike Club Orient, Paradise Beach Resort itself is isolated from its immediate neighbors. The gatehouse is protected by an armed guard and there is no way into the resort except through the front gate.
As Fred says in his promotional material, the Dominicans are extremely friendly people. Unlike Club Orient, the majority of the staff at the resort are locals, which ties one into the Dominican culture. However, a downside is that many of the staff, most seriously those in the restaurant, do not speak English well (or in some cases at all). If you plan on visiting the resort in the near future, you may want to consider inviting someone who speaks Spanish.
The resort itself is built on a large piece of land purchased from a Dominican General. He also sold his $2M house, which was a four bedroom mansion. This house is now being used as the restaurant, game room (pool table, TV, VCR, and book, tape, and magazine library), and reception office. Much of the house is still unused and will be used for other things in the future, such as a disco.
There is a bar inside the restaurant, but there is also one by the pool outside the main structure. You can swim up to this bar. The pool is a moderate-sized free-form design with ledges in some spots (like in a hot tub) for socializing. Because of the peculiar depths, this pool is not the one I would recommend for lap swimming.
There is supposed to be a boutique somewhere, but it seems rather ephemeral at this point. Some say it exists, others that it hasn't opened yet or just closed. We haven't seen it in our wanderings.
To the east of the main building are two hotel wings, sitting in the middle of a large field and on a cliff overlooking the ocean. To the west are four rows of cottages, most one-bedroom, but some two-bedroom. These cottages are built on a cliff, with the bottom two rows on level ground. There is a very long (45 flights) staircase connecting the restaurant/hotel/pool area with the cottage/beach area. My cottage is a one-bedroom cottage in the middle of the row closest to the ocean.
The cottages are quite nice. They are pink stucco and large, though the furnishings are a bit sparse. The bedrooms have either a single king-size bed or two double beds, depending on the owner's choice (mine is two double). The bathroom is off of the bedroom, which can be inconvenient if you're planning to have a group where the folks in the bedroom want privacy. Also, unlike Club Orient, it is not convenient to sleep in the living room. The couch is sleepable, but barely and there is only one couch, not two. There is a full kitchen with stove and toaster, including a set of plates, silverware, pots and pans, and utensils,
I haven't seen the other cottages in detail, but the beach front cottages have three entrances: one towards the beach from each room and a main entrance off to the side. There is a closet with shelves in both the living room and bedroom and a place to hang coats in the bedroom.
Adjacent to these cottages is a beach. However, most of this beach ends in a rock wall with a drop to the rocky coastline. There is an area about a hundred feet wide where you can enter the water, but the bottom is currently very rocky. There is also often a significant amount of waves since there is no protecting reef.
This was the main disappointment about the resort. If you look at the drawings and pictures, you may have the idea of a 1/4 mile of sandy beach giving access to the water. But this is not the case. These depictions are misleading and it's probably best to
view this as a resort without a beach at all (but with a view of the ocean). Specifically, the resort plans I've seen make it look as though the hotel buildings were on the beach. However, they are not by most people's definition of "beach". Instead, they are on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic below.
There's a volleyball court on the beach and also a beach bar and pool for water volleyball. When the pool isn't being used for volleyball, it is perfect for lap swimming since it is a rectangle with constant depth (about four feet).
The resort has its own backup generator. It's quite clear this is needed because there are numerous short blackouts each day (once their generator went out too and everything went dark for a few minutes). They also have their own desalination plant, so the water is perfectly safe even though the water on the rest of the island may not be. There is a tennis court near the boundary of the resort.
Clothing is required in the reception office and optional everywhere else in the resort. The resort rules appear identical to all the relevant rules at Paradise Lakes except for an added rule that prohibits resort staff from dating owners or guests, on or off the premises.
As I said in the summary above, there was surprisingly little nudity within the resort during our stay. At Paradise Lakes, nearly everyone on the pool deck is nude. This was also true here, except that there was almost no one on the pool deck at all! Perhaps due to the large number of clothed staff and the small number of guests, many people wore at least something much of the time. Although most people eating breakfast and dinner were topfree, few were nude. A small number were nude for dinner, but most were fully dressed. At Club Orient, the pareo was a nearly universal garment, but it was much less common here.
I was comfortable remaining nude all the time, but the other two members of my group were never comfortable enough to be nude at all and one of them had recently become comfortable nude at Club Orient (she rarely wears a top at Club Orient, but felt the need to here except when sunning or swimming). Since I suspect the present situation will improve when business starts picking up, I would not go so far as to not recommend the resort to first- timers, but you should be aware of the present situation. However, there is nothing in the environment that would make it uncomfortable for a confident naturist to remain nude if he or she wanted to.
In fact, the weather is quite conducive to all-day nudity. Unlike Club Orient, there are no strong breezes to bring the perceived temperature down in the evening. It was quite comfortable remaining nude throughout the day and even swimming in the pool at night. It was sunny much of the time we were here, except for the first morning, which was quite cloudy.
One thing I must mention, though. Even with only 35 people, a woman came to dinner one night wearing lingerie. The rules, just like at Paradise Lakes, do not prohibit such dress. It is dangerous to extrapolate from that one incident but it, along with the added rule about staff dating guests, means there is a real potential for this resort to get the same type of reputation (which some consider good and others bad) Paradise Lakes has. This bears watching. In fact, another guest I was speaking to expressed the concern that Fred may feel the only way to compete with Club Orient without a beach may be to make this the swinging place of the Caribbean. I hope he's wrong.
Like Paradise Lakes, Paradise Beach Resort presents a program of organized activities and distributes an impressive-looking schedule of events. Those who have been to Paradise Lakes know their schedule is somewhat illusory. It remains to be seen what will happen here. The fact that there was only a very small number of people works both ways: on one hand, it's easy to give personal attention to only 35 people, but on the other, many organized activities such as contests don't make sense for so few people.
So it's too early to tell what the story is here.
However, with the absence of a beach, the capability to run an active schedule may turn out to be quite important to the resort. Unlike Club Orient, they cannot have a large amount of Watersports activities within the resort; they only have kayaking, SCUBA, and snorkeling. Many of the activities (such as horseback riding, like Club Orient) go off the resort, meaning you must wear clothes. Like Paradise Lakes, they are planning an ambitious set of sporting activities, dance classes and contests, and nightly dances.
There are also a large number of listed off-resort activities. However, most of these are tourist in nature and it is unclear to what extent they will be of interest to the repeat guests which are so important to a resort of this type. Attracting first-time visitors is important, but keeping them is even more so and these kinds of activities aren't nearly as interesting for repeat visitors.
Another area in which the resort needs to improve is in management, specifically in the restaurant. The menu and food quality right now is quite bad. As I said, some of this (like the small menu) is undoubtedly due to not having enough customers, but it's also clear that the restaurant staff need a lot of training in addition to learning English. I assume Fred realizes this and plans to make the required investment. I was specifically told they have plans to hire someone with experience in hotel management.
There was also talk about trying to improve the beach and access to the ocean. However, the way I see it, about the only thing they can do is remove some of the rocks from the area, but given the wave motion I doubt they will stay removed for long. There was also talk of building a protective sea wall, but that seems an almost hopeless proposition to me. Best to just accept the lack of a real beach and concentrate on those things they can improve. I heard talk of constructing a salt-water pool, but I didn't see the point.
In September there were about 50 people in the resort at one time and in October there were the 43 travel agents plus 10 guests. The estimate for Christmas is around 80-90 people and even more are expected for early next year.
It is, of course, interesting to contrast Paradise Beach Resort and Club Orient from a competitive point of view. However, I suspect there is a large enough market for both of them to do quite well. Interestingly, if competition does form, I think Club Orient is in the better position to respond. The things missing from Club Orient are a pool and some organized activities, which they can fairly easily add. The major thing lacking from Paradise Beach Resort is a better beach and that's not something that can be easily added.
So how do I see the bottom line? First, I'm confident that the resort will do well and I've made a good investment. However, as I expected, I personally do not expect to use the resort much since a good beach for walking and swimming is very important to me. On the other hand, both my friends prefer Paradise Beach Resort to Club Orient due both to activities within the resort and opportunities outside. However, there are plenty of things to do at Club Orient, though you have to search for them somewhat. What the situation and tradeoffs will be like in the next year or so for people like them is somewhat unclear as both resorts change.
I expect it will always be the case that a younger and more active crowd (except for water sports enthusiasts or people who really like beaches) will be more drawn to Paradise Beach Resort and the more laid-back, relaxed type will continue to visit Club Orient. A business concern is whether the younger crowd in general has sufficient money and free time to make the number of visits required for the resort to be a success. There's also the concern about it becoming a "swinger's haven" I mentioned above.
My overall recommendation: if seeing and experiencing Hispanic culture is an important part of a vacation for you (as it was for my friends), you prefer pools to beaches and you want an organized set of activities, Paradise Beach Resort is ideal for you. If you are interested in relaxing on the beach, don't care about the lack of a pool and can find your own activities (or don't feel a need for having any), I continue to highly recommend Club Orient. On the other hand, if a good night life is more important than a good beach, you should consider Paradise Beach Resort.
Paradise Beach Resort and Club Orient are the only two fully-naturist Caribbean resorts I'd recommend. The other two resorts are Cutlass Bay Club in Cat Island and Sorobon Beach Resort in Bonaire. However, most things I've heard about them have been quite negative, though Sorobon is considered very nice if diving is your preferred sport.
As I said above, I think the naturist tourist market is large enough to sustain both resorts, but if the market ever gets competitive and Club Orient adds a pool and activities, Paradise Beach Resort will be in big trouble. If that happens, they may indeed be forced to encourage a partying and swinging clientele.
Jamaica: Swept Away by Bob and Debbie Gebheim
My wife Debbie and I recently returned from a relaxing week of vacation at Swept Away located on Negril's famous 7 mile beach. For those of you not familiar with Swept Away, it is an all inclusive resort located approximately midway between Hedonism on the north and Xtabi on the south.
Swept Away is more of a laid back type of all inclusive, you won't find any Playmakers or activity directors. There are more than enough folks to help with whatever activity you would like to get involved, whether it is scuba, snorkeling, aerobics, tennis, squash or nothing at all. All you need to do is ask and you will get the familiar No Problem Mon, and you are expertly and courteously helped and on your way.
Our trip started with a flight out of Chicago on Trans Lift Airlines on February 8th. Our flight was uneventful and was about 3-1/2 hours in length. We landed in Montego Bay where we were first shuffled through customs and then off to an Apple Vacations greeting area where we were directed to a bus that was to take us to Swept Away. We had the usual 3 levels of baggage handlers all wanting a tip, but what's a few bucks. The Jamaican's don't have as many ways to make a living as we do, so our tips probably do make a small difference. I have to say that they were all very cordial and courteous.
We were handed a Red Stripe and off the bus went for what I thought would be a short trip. Before the trip I checked the mileage from Mobay to Negril and it was about 71 kilometers. I thought about 45 minutes and we would be at the resort. Boy was I wrong! The bus ride took over 1-1/2 hours and was quite the experience. It was kind of like a 1-1/2 hour carnival ride. There is shuttle plane trip available to Negril for $66 each that takes twelve minutes. We may try that next time in lieu of the bus ride.
We arrived at Swept Away and were greeted with a glass of champagne. We checked in and put on our swim suits and headed for the beach. The place was gorgeous. Palm and banana tree's, ferns, hibiscus; a far cry from what we left in Wisconsin. My only complaint was that the staff at the main desk was somewhat "detached" (for lack of a better word). They weren't rude but I did expect a more congenial greeting. There was an introductory meeting the first evening which covered the what, where, when and how of the facility and any tours or activities that would be available. I found this to be very helpful. Regular trips include YS Falls, Dunns River Falls, Rick's Cafe, horseback riding, shopping, you name it. Outside trips are extra charge but seemed to be reasonable.
The main lobby is open at one end to the road entrance and at the other end to the paths to the buildings. There is a nice gift shop in the main lobby area. I learned from the clerk in the gift shop to bring small bills on my next visit. Seems that they never have enough change, so if you use a $20 or $50 bill you will get change in Jamaican. Next time I am bringing more $1 and $5 bills. I suggest $100 in $1's, $100 in $5's and if you think you need more bring the balance in $10's. We spent about $200 on gifts and extra's.
There is a main dining room, bar and entertainment building which is a two story open air facility. The first floor has a multi-purpose serving area that serves as a breakfast and lunch buffet and at night becomes a salad and pasta bar. The main liquor bar is next to the serving area. The dining area surrounds this. The stage is at the back of the building. The decorating was simple but elegant. The upstairs houses the piano bar, another small bar where you can do "shots", a TV room, a billiards room, ping-pong, and a balcony overlooking the pool. There are some large couch like things with sheer curtains that you can sit or lay on. This would be a great place to spend with your significant other to relax and take in the view. The piano man is named Ultimate. He sure can play the 88's. The first evening when we were at dinner I thought that they had a great sound system or one of those new player pianos. When I found out it was live, I was amazed. The sound bounces off the ceiling and engulfs the dining room. Wow!! is about all I can say.
The food that is served is not your conventional fair. The first evening I had curried goat. There were steamed green banana's at breakfast, conch with calaloo, and quail egg's. You can't get that in Wisconsin! Local fruits and vegetables are used. Five main entree's are available every night along with appetizers, salad and pasta to your liking, desert; well I could go on and on. The food was very healthy and presented nicely. You will not find any pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers or french fries.
There is a veggie bar next to the pool on the beach, which serves pita bread sandwiches, Mediterranean vegetable platters, quiche and every fruit known to man. The gal at the veggie bar spent some time introducing us to many items we never had before. This is an absolutely, must do. The food is great. There is a grill next to the veggie bar with fantastic barbecued chicken and grouper sandwiches. The grill man is named Eric. We ate there every day.
Dinner was served on the beach on Monday evening. There was a dance group, a steel drum band, a fire eater, and a balancing act provided during and after the beach party. This was really nice, and after dinner we went to our room and listened to the steel drum band. It sounded like they were on our verandah.
Lunch on Wednesday was served on the beach along with a craft sale. Merchants were invited to setup on the beach and we bought a few pieces of jewelry for our daughters from them. We missed the lunch because Wednesday was our travel day.
There is a beach bar towards the west end of the property. Drinks are made to order, with Pina Colda's on tap for self service. A drink menu of some sort would be handy. I felt somewhat lost at first as to what to order, but the Dirty Banana seemed to be popular along with the Yellow Bird, Ting and Gin, and Red Stripe. Desiree' the hair braid gal and Tony the hat man are next to the bar. My wife had her hair braided and my friend, his wife and I had hair extensions. We each bought a hat that Tony made for us from banana leaves.
Swept Away's portion of the beach is very clean and is approximately 1000 feet long with plenty of lounges, chairs and cushions. The east end of the beach has the water sports and scuba buildings. There are kayaks, sunfish sailboats, Hobi catamarans, and sailboards available along with individual instruction on their use. Snorkeling trips out to the reef are at 11:30 am and 2:30 pm. Glass bottom boat rides are at 9:30 am. Water skiing was available any time. We don't scuba but I know that there was a regular trip for that each day also. Scuba lessons in the pool were no charge. The only extra charge was for PADI certification otherwise all water sports were included.
One of the best features of Swept Away is the great sports complex which is located across the street from the rooms and beach. There are uniformed guards to make sure that you cross the street safely. Tennis lessons are available with local and a visiting Pro on 5 clay and 5 paved courts. There is a weight building with Stairmasters, Nordic Track, Lifecycles, weight machines and free weights. There is a exercise building for aerobic and step classes. Another building houses racketball and squash courts. A central building houses another bar, a pool table, ping-pong, locker rooms and TV tuned to sports. A large lap pool is between the tennis courts and this building. A hot tub is next to the pool and a massage building is next to that. There is a sauna, and a salon. I probably left something out but it is a very complete facility.
The gourmet restaurant Feathers is located in the sports complex. You need to make reservations because they will accept people from outside the resort, but it is included in the package with everything else. The food at Feathers is very good and the service is great. We ate there three nights.
Our room was facing the beach and was located in a building with three other rooms. It was on the second floor and had a large verandah with a built-in couch, a coffee table and a large rocking lounger. We had breakfast delivered to our room every morning and we ate on the veranda. The room had a king size bed. The bathroom had a large shower big enough for two. There were no windows but instead there were redwood louvers that you could open or close for ventilation or privacy. There was an air conditioner for each room. There was no TV or radio, but it wasn't missed. Many of the buildings were similar to ours. Most rooms did not face the beach. There was one building that faced a center garden area that had more rooms. They appeared to be smaller.
The owner of Swept Away, Lee Issa was at the resort every day. He usually had dinner in the main dining room every night and he could be found on the beach during the day. The help seemed to like Mr. Issa, which was comforting. I understand that a member of the Issa family owns many of the resorts in Negril and is or was involved in the Super Clubs such as Sandals and Couples. I wish they would adopt me!
We were very satisfied with our stay. I strongly suggest it for anyone interested. The total cost for our week including airfare from Chicago, bus transfers to and from Mobay tips, and departure tax was $4076.00. The week went with out any major problems, other than Debbie's getting stung by a fish snorkeling and a shiggela intestinal infection she brought home. She is taking antibiotics for the infection and had to report to the health department in our home city. We will never know where the infection stemmed from, but her spirits are good and it hasn't seemed to tarnish the trip for her. Given the opportunity, we will return. We have a Jamaica party planned for April with a couple that came with us and I can't wait. Never know, maybe we will plan our next trip.
Jamaica: Hedonism II by Kirk Singer
We just returned from the best vacation (without kids) that we have had in the thirty four years we have been married - seven days and nights at Hedonism II! Seven wonderful days without a telephone, television, newspaper, or anything remotely related to WORK! Seven days to meet a lot of new interesting people from all over the country, from an iron miner from Minnesota, a bank president, school teachers, university administrators, a farmer, a salesman etc. etc. etc. And seven days of wearing far fewer clothes than we had ever worn before!
Before we went, we could not understand how anyone could continue to go back to any single resort time after time after time. Now we know! There simply is not any other place like it! We, like so many others, are "hooked" and will be going back many, many times.
But, rather than repeat what many have already written, I have decided to answer some of the questions that we had before we made our first visit.
1. Age - My wife and I are in our mid fifties and after looking at the brochure with pictures of all of the beautiful people (and there were some memorable beautiful people!!!) wondered whether we might be out of place.
NOT TO WORRY! There were more than just a few of us over the age of 45, and even a few that looked as if they had seen 70 come and go!
2. "Real people" vs. the Beautiful people. Oh yes, as mentioned above, it was a treat to be on the nude beach. But what was even more interesting was the number of "less than perfect" women and men who just did not give a damn - who had so much self esteem, that they were perfectly comfortable with themselves, and thus, with everyone around them. Sure, our experience has made our motivation to go on a killer diet before we go next year much greater, but just like the others, we were perfectly comfortable on the nude side of the resort.
3. With all of those attractive babes, what about the "male" problem? Well, again, in so many words, "not to worry". It is not "erotic" (at least the beach isn't <grin> but, to paraphrase a song sung at Veronica's Piano bar, the "Big Bamboo" stayed under control!
4. "Pre Tan". Next year, we will be hitting the tanning booth! One, it will "prepare" those parts which don't see sun very often! (My wife and I were name "Mr. Red Butt and Mrs. Lobster") Secondly, it will help in looking better 'all over" faster. Lastly, it will save a lot of money on aloe sun burn lotion!
5. A tip we learned from others: each NIGHT at Hedo costs $300/400 per night! If you are getting in late (after 4 PM) stay elsewhere. We flew on Continental because of frequent flyer points that got me two First class tickets, but it required a hotel stay in Newark going and coming (as we live in Colorado). Next year, I plan on flying from Albuquerque to Montego Bay (via AA, and getting in about 8 pm), and either stay in MoBay or Negril, and check in first thing in the morning, thus really getting my moneys worth, not to mention my 10:30 AM Orange Cooler from Delroy.
6. "Toys to bring". Next year, we will bring our own air floats. While we did find some that had been left (we watched them for two days before we figured that they were "extra") some friends we met were a bit put out when someone very brazenly just took theirs without asking! I am, however" going to try to find something unique. Someone had a blowup Pink Cadilac. Neat idea! Or I am thinking about a surplus USMC "rubber lady" - the fabric/ rubber might be easier to get on without making a fool of myself.
We will also be bringing our own large insulated cups (you know, the kind you can get at the 7-11, with the caps) for use on the beach. They hold much, much more than those little plastic cups, and keep the drinks colder longer.
7. Toga Night. The best party by far. We knew we would be coming in in mid afternoon and didn't know whether we would be in time for the toga tying lessons, so we made our own before we left. Next year, we will do the same, but will be a bit more daring.
8. PJ Party. Definitely something to at least see, but, unless you are into the crowded smoky disco thing, you may not stay long. There was everything from regular men's PJ's (yours truly) to red long johns, to everything imaginable see-through nighties.
9. The Entertainment crew was terrific, and the house band is first class (except for being too loud at dinner - it was hard to carry on a conversation with others at the table.) Don't miss the lead-in for Elvis or the two nights of reggae music on the prude beach - terrific! And Lenworth, the piano "man" at Veronica's is the best you will ever see - anywhere!
10. The "Island Party" - to quote one of the many returnees that we asked, if you are into college type "drinking till you drop" kind of parties, this could be fun. But as we were already spending twelve hours a day on the nude side, had experienced our first Toga Night, and were already drinking more than our fair share, we did not think we had any more inhibitions to lose, or needed anything sweeter than our Johnnie Walker Black to make us "fun." But for the singles, and younger crowd, it is worth it.
11. You don't need to go on the snorkeling cruise to be amazed. Just check out a mask and fins at the Dive Shack (bring your room key that they keep for a "deposit") and paddle around the 'swimming area" off the beach. It is like swimming in an aquarium.
12. Your experience at Hedonism II is really going to depend on how gregarious you are, i.e, how easy it is for you to meet others. And at Hedo, it is VERY easy. Everyone wants to talk, and to meet new people. And pretty soon, someone is asking where you are from, or you are asking if they want to sit with you at dinner, and pretty soon you are meeting more and more friends, so that, on the day you leave, it is almost sad that you are going to be leaving so many great people who have become your new close friends.
And the first place to go to meet people? The nude hot tub in late afternoon (or if it is raining, you may find that you spend the entire afternoon there!). Pretty soon you meet the couple next to you, and then the rest of their group, and on and on and on.
The hot tub at night? Well, the few nights we could stay up that late were pretty mild, just a few couples in the 'pool". but, then again, we have a spa at home (along with two feet of snow right now) so it really wasn't the thrill it might have been. However, the voyeur in me made me give it a try. It is dark and secluded enough that you and your significant or her can enjoy yourselves.
13. We took the suggestions about taking the bus on the way in, and flying back to MoBay on the way out, and highly recommend it. Not only is it faster but you will, on the ride to Hedo, see all of Jamaica that you will probably see, as you won't leave the property! Someone suggested that we visit some famous falls. but we found that it would take all day and we passed. If we couldn't walk (and it better not be very far), or take a sea kayak, we just didn't want to give up our beach time to go.
14. As many have said, Hedonism II can, and will be anything that you want it to be. Participate in the afternoon activities or not, watch the nude body painting or not (do it!), sing the oldies at Vernonica's, learn how to dance to reggae or not, play tennis or not, play the slots in the game room or not, participate in or judge the wet t-shirt contest or not, participate in the games after lunch or not, learn how to fly on the high trapeze or not, kayak, sail, snorkel, scuba, do or do not do almost anything you have ever fantasized about ( well, almost anything or just sit on the beach, meet a whole lot of great people, read a lot of books that you didn't have time to read at home, and just totally relax! That is Hedonism!
15. If flying back to MoBay, give yourself enough time! By the time our luggage was picked up, and we were delivered to the Negril Aerodrome for our perfect flight with TIMAIR, we got to MoBay about 12:30 for a 1:50 flight. And it was barely enough time! By the time, you get by the TIMAIR desk (to pay), check in at your airline, pay the $400 Jamaican to get out of the country ($14 US), go through Jamaican Immigration again (to check your papers), go though the typical airport security, and have your carry- on luggage searched before you get to your gate, there is little time left to shop at the duty free stores or the other shops in the air port.
Well, its 9 PM here. That means 11 PM at Hedonism II. So, I think I will mix up two large Orange Coolers (orange juice, Appleton white Jamaican rum, Sangster's Old Jamaica Wild Orange Liquer - shake twice) take off our clothes and head for our hot tub.
Jamaica: Treasure Beach by Pelle Braendgaaard
(Ed. Note: Pelle advises that this report is compiled from a September 1993 visit.)
Treasure Beach is a very tiny fishing community on the SW coast of Jamaica. It consists of a bunch of gray sand beaches. Therefore not many crowds. I thinks its main attraction are its people, whom are all extremely friendly. Most of the men are active fishermen who go out on fishing expeditions to the tiny offshore Pedro cays some 100 kms out. (I bet if you paid one of them a small fee, he would take you out on an excursion that few tourist have ever been on before.) I don't know anything more about the cays, except that there is a seasonal fishing camp out there.
There are actually quite a few guest houses and a small handful of hotels there. All the guest houses we saw were of very high quality compared to what we saw elsewhere in the more mainstream tourist resorts. Very reasonable prices as well. We stayed with a retired English woman, Lillian Brooks, who runs a small guest house as a hobby. Her rooms are of a very high standard, better than most mid range luxury resort rooms anyway. Price? US $35 a double including breakfast. If you stay for a week, the price comes down even more. If there is any interest I will find her address, as my wife and her are corresponding regularly after we stayed with her. BTW, she isn't your typical British ex-pat, as she has been more or less completely integrated into the TB community. She has even become a Jamaican citizen now. Respect to her.
Lillian's next door neighbor will provide cooking if you don't want to leave her house. Otherwise there are a couple of small bars and restaurants. Try Translove Sweets and Breads for food. It's owned by an American couple, Julie and Mike. While waiting for the minibus outside their shop, I went in to buy some water for my thermal flask. He graciously filled it up with ice tea and refused to take payment. On the wall there is a picture of a New England snow scape, perfect for cooling down.
The many bars are typical Jamaican bars/general store/gossip hole. Great places to meat the local fisher men.
Most of the tourist are German or Italian (at least when we there during September). About the scenery. TB is not as lush as most of Jamaica is, there is plenty of cactus and other dry shrubbery. But also lots of Lignum Vitae. It all reminded me a bit of a cross between Zimbabwe and Arizona (not that I have ever been to any of those places). As I said the beaches are mostly gray sand. But there is lots of it and you can probably have a whole beach to your self. Some of the beaches have a surf on them, and others have corals close to the beach. But there are supposed to be some good swimming beaches as well (Some how I didn't manage to move around much when I was there).
Now what's there to do. In TB it self, just relaxing, snorkeling, swimming etc. If you need Negril style action it's not for you, but I find its great combined with Negril. Within a short distance of TB are many interesting attractions (I haven't tried too many of these my self):
Black River Town: Perhaps your most stereotypical little dusty but nice Jamaican harbor town. It's right on the sea, with some quaint little ginger bread guest houses. I quite enjoyed just walking around the market and town center for an hour or so. Also home of the South Coast office of the Tourist Board, be sure to go visit them, they are very helpful.
Black River Safari: Similar to the Florida Glades, with Crocodiles, Egrets etc. Supposed to be very interesting.
Y.S. Falls: Friends of mine went here and said it's as beautiful as Dunns river but with out crowds and Disneyworld atmosphere.
Mandeville: Take a drive up to cool 'Alpine Jamaica'. On the way you pass Middle Quarter (I think) famed for their spicy pepper shrimp, which you can buy through your car window from road side higglers. You also go through Bamboo Avenue etc.
Actually there are lots of really nice places on the SW coast of Jamdown. Next time I go, I have to visit the White House/Bluefields area. We drove past it (with 9 other people in a shared Lada...). Very long beautiful white sand beaches a'la Negril, but with very little development. Almost like that scene of undeveloped 50's Negril from '20,000 leagues under the sea'. I hear that Sandals are building a resort there, so we better go before the crowds come.
It's supposed to be pretty easy to get accommodation there even during High season, so I recommend going to Negril first and spend some time there. While in Negril get the 'Discover Jamaica's exciting South Coast' brochure at the tourist board. If they are out just pick one up from the office in Black River. Just remember - No rush, it'll be all right. The easiest way to get around is by rental car. There are only two minibuses servicing TB from Black River, and they get kinda Jammed, like everywhere else in JA I hear you say :), and I can only agree.
I hope this will give you a good idea about the area. Good books are Moon Publications "Jamaica Handbook" (by Karl Luntta) and "Trade and Travels Caribbean Islands Handbook" (The latter I think is absolutely essential for any kind of independent travel anywhere (I repeat anywhere) in the Caribbean). As before if anyone has any more questions, just ax a way.
Jamaica: Grand Lido by Terry Minnick
My wife and I just got back from a week at Grand Lido, our second trip to this resort. We had a wonderful time and are already wishing we were back in Jamaica.
I won't bore all the Grand Lido regulars with a detailed list of our day's activities. I'll just make a few comments about this trip versus last time:
We love the Caribbean and we have enjoyed every island we have visited. However, Grand Lido remains a special place that we will return to again.
Jamaica: Maya Lodge by Al Sykes
Peter Bentley owns Maya Lodge and also runs JACHTA, an ecotourism referral clearinghouse for Jamaica lodges. You'll land at the small Tinson Pen airport. You can either arrange for Peter to pick you up there or just ask the white bearded Mr. Smith to taxi you up. Peter Bentley owns Maya Lodge
Maya is located at 2000' above Kingston in Jack's Hill, a small town of 3000. Any taxi will know but Maya is NE of the city off Barbican Rd. A spectacular vista of the capital below glows in the night from Jack's Hill. A cab fare from the airport would be about $20. The Bob Marley Home is on the way so a visitor might want to take that in as well.
The main lodge is great house, with a library, living room, attached dining under thatch and has a shared cold water shower and stool. I think there is one bedroom in the main house. Outside the house are 4 wood cabanas with kerosene lamps and lofts ($22.50). Up the hill from the cabanas are tent sites at a lower price. Meals are served for breakfast, lunch and dinner off a menu ($6.00) and are excellent. They tend toward the vegetarian.
The guests are an interesting lot ranging from middle aged adventurers, like myself, to young backpackers. Much time is spent in the dining cabana swapping tales, relaxing or reading.
Peter has organized many activities for those inclined. The premier attraction is a hike to the top of Blue Mountain Peak. ($126.57) You and your guide and driver will leave Maya about 2 PM for the LandRover journey to Wildflower Lodge, the base camp (35 miles). The journey is an adventure in itself through small Jamaican villages (the driver knows everyone, will give half a dozen a ride, and stops to talk to all), over rutted roads and up to the 4000' mark (3 hours). Wildflower Lodge is near Whitford Hall, another traditional base camp. Wildflower is in a beautiful setting over- looking the verdant Blue Mountains with a hammock to rest in and home cooked meals. Sleep must be attempted by 6 PM in the bunk room, though, because the guide will awaken you at 1 AM. (I didn't get much sleep do to the anticipation).
We then put on the backpacks with our sandwiches and turn on the flashlights for the seven mile trek up the mountain. Gathering the local dogs along the way, we hike up and up along the rocky rutted path, up Jacob's ladder to the park, then the saddle, then the peak (7420'). Many vistas overlook the shimmering lights of Kingston below and the stars above. The hope is to arrive at the top at sunrise to see both Port Antonio and Kingston and the ocean all around in the orange glow.
On my trip the peak was in fog and cloud and a cold, damp, windy 45 deg F. After a photo of my sweaty but victorious self, we started down. Now we could see the beauty of the tropical forest that was in blackness on the way up. Elfin forest, giant tree ferns 100' tall, bromelids, mosses, then pines and grasses. Many birds. Finally, and with knees aching at 10 AM we arrived back at Wildflower Lodge in time for a nap and lunch. Then the Rover trip back to Maya. My driver was Jr. and my guide, Clifford Bogle. Another guide may be Mr. Willy, who has been in many nature magazines describing the trek. I tipped them as well as I have no idea how much they received from Maya. Clifford definitely needed a new pair of hiking boots and I hope to send him some soon.
Peter can also set the visitor up with almost any other activity around the Mts. or Kingston; a city tour, market, diving, beach and snorkeling at Lime Cay, Port Royal and a trip to Mr. Willy's farm. One can also walk around town or on some of Peter's self guided trails. Some of the group went to a local dance in Jack's Hill.
The place is very laid back. The people are nice. The food great. I
recommend it. The address is: Maya Lodge Juga Spring Peter's Rock Road,
Jack's Hill PO 216 Kingston 7 Jamaica.
phone (809) 927-2097.
Martinique: by Daniel Bereskin
(Ed Note: Daniel also contributed a file on St. Lucia. See below)
We left for Martinique on Friday night, February 24th, 1995. The problem with going to Martinique from Toronto is that Air Canada no longer goes there, and so you have a choice of either going by American Airlines, or a charter. There are no charters, as far as I know, out of Toronto, only Montreal. The Montreal based charters leave from Mirabel airport, which means, in general, you have to overnight in Montreal, because no flight leaves Toronto for Montreal early enough to enable you to get there on time. Most of the flights from Toronto to Montreal go through Dorval airport, which means a transfer. Thus, you lose one night, and there could very well be a problem (which I did not do any research on to find out) on the return portion as well, in case the return flight arrives at Mirabel late at night.
The American Airlines situation is not much better. You have to leave Toronto early in the morning, fly to Chicago, transfer to a flight to San Juan, and then transfer to a flight to Martinique. By the time you arrive in Fort de France, it's late at night, and there is no alternative except to take a hotel in the city. Thus, you lose a whole day traveling this way as well. Going through New York is not a solution, because you have to change airports, and the schedule at present is such that you'd have to overnight in New York to gain any benefit.
The option that we chose was to fly to Guadeloupe, because it turned out there was a non-stop Air Canada flight from Toronto to Pointe de Pitre. The problem is that the flight does not leave until late in the evening, and it arrives at 2:00 A.M. The first flight out of Guadeloupe for Martinique leaves at 7:00 A.M. When I booked the flights, I had in mind that we would spend a day or two in Guadeloupe before moving on to Martinique. We subsequently decided that we might as well tough it out at the airport, which is what we did. This proved to be quite an ordeal, as the seating was very limited and uncomfortable. At least, the airport was open 24 hours! At any rate, we survived, took an Air France flight to Fort de France at 0700 on Saturday morning, and within about a half an hour of our arrival, had the keys to the rental car in our possession.
I had booked through a car rental agency called Auto Europe, who offer the lowest prices around, and who gave a special discount. The problem is that when you book through such an agency, you specify the category that you want, which in this case was "Tercel or similar." Auto Europe does not themselves operate a location in Martinique, but they have a deal with Budget, who have a large presence there. The clerk tried to palm off a sub compact on us, but I gave him an argument. I didn't have a good bargaining position, though, because the only thing that was specified in the coupon was the amount of money that I had paid, and "Tercel or similar." Budget didn't have any Tercels, so it was hard for me to argue that the car they were trying to palm off on us was smaller than the one I had paid for. At any rate, we were given a Renault "Twingo" that had an open top. Although the car was smaller than a Tercel, it was set up as a hatchback, was quite cute and fun to drive. As will be explained later, it also proved to be very practical on rough roads. In the future, probably the best thing to do is to book, through an agency like Auto Europe, the very cheapest category, and negotiate from there, on arrival.
We arrived at the hotel in St. Anne, La Dunette, around 9:00 A.M. St. Anne is the most southerly community in Martinique. La Dunette is right in the center of St. Anne, on a nice beach, but is a very sleepy place. I had called from Toronto several times, receiving no answer. Faxes were returned, but only after several days wait. When I asked the person at the reception desk when we could expect to have our room, she told me l2:00. Of course, we had been up pretty much all night, were tired, etc., etc., so I asked if the room was vacant. She said it was, but hadn't been cleaned. "Could the room be cleaned earlier?", I naively asked. The response was that the chambermaid is also the waitress, and she is not finished serving breakfast until l0:00 A.M. "Could the room be cleaned after she finishes with the breakfast?", I inquired, hopefully. The receptionist asked the waitress/chambermaid and was told that she would see what she could do, but made no promises.
We kept inquiring from time to time, and each time were told that the room was not ready. At 12:00 the room was still not ready, at which time I announced that we would not be staying at La Dunette. This news apparently had some effect, because the room was ready a few minutes later. I had not paid a deposit, and I certainly meant to leave if there was no action.
La Dunette is a two star establishment, and we found the rooms to be of adequate size, clean, but quite Spartan. The room we initially were given was on the third floor (in the French system, the 2nd floor), room l8, and it had a partial view of the sea and of the street. It turned out that we had arrived just in time for Carnival, which runs three whole days and nights. The nights especially were noisy, and the fact that our room picked up all of the street noise was a problem, although the noise seemed to die down by about midnight.
Later in our stay, we were able to move to room l2, which had a very lovely view of the sea, including the famous rock Diamante, and which was quite acceptable. We were looking west, and each night enjoyed a beautiful sunset framed by palm tree branches, just like you see in travel brochures!
The breakfast at La Dunette varied from adequate to awful. The coffee was always lukewarm. One morning, we were served stale pieces of bread which they tried to pass of as toast. We took the precaution of buying bread from the bakery around the corner and eating it in preference to what they tried to serve us.
It appears that the policy of the hotel is to change towels once every 2 days, or if they can get away with it, once every 3 days. We objected to this, and were given fresh towels when we asked for it, but if you don't ask, you don't get them. In short, while we were not very comfortable at La Dunette, and while the location was fine, I don't recommend it.
We chose the St. Anne area because of the proximity to the beach at Salines, which is reputed to be the best in Martinique. When we were in Martinique 6 or 7 years ago, we thought the beach was fabulous. It is bordered by lovely palm trees, the sand is like flour, and the surf moderate. Above all, there were virtually no people. This time, the beach was very crowded with people. In partial compensation for this detriment, almost all of the women were topless! At any rate, the beach at Salines is not what it was. It's only about 5K from the town of St. Anne, but there are other nice beaches in Martinique, so I'm not sure that one has to go to St. Anne.
The accommodation in the St. Anne vicinity is quite limited. There is the Manoir Beauregard, a lovely old manor house, which suffered a serious fire a few years ago, and is still showing the effect. They are asking a fair bit of money, despite the fact the hotel and the grounds are not what they were. The published rate is ll00ff, but apparently they will accept 900ff. Apparently they try to get this rate regardless of whether they have any clients or not. Another possibility is the Hameau de Beauregard, which is a relatively new complex, quite tarted up, next to the Manoir de Beauregard. Being new, and being French, the accommodation is probably O.K., but is not my cup of tea-too many people, and no charm.
Still another possibility is the Anchorage, which is located in the Domaine de Belfond, just outside St. Anne. This is near the Club Med. The Anchorage is a complex of four separate hotels, all interconnected or commonly run. It is quite expensive, but each unit apparently has a light housekeeping facility, and probably mostly French families go there. It's a short walk to a decent beach. Again, probably not our cup of tea. For extended stays, there are lots of "gites" or cottages, and other forms of accommodation that are probably well worth considering.
Each morning, I went on a bike ride. Typically, I would first travel to beach at Saline, turn around and then go to the town of Marin, turn around there and come back to La Dunette. Although my fitness is not what it was, I managed O.K., though readers should be warned that Martinique is all up and down! I take a bike with me when I travel, so I made sure the gearing was O.K. One or two mornings, I did a little bit more by going inland, east, to the Cap de Chevalier. I was told by one of the locals that there was an interesting walk nearby (in French, a "sentier"), so one day Corinne and I decided to take the walk. We drove the car to the end of the road, where they have a boat service called "Taxi Cap", the main purpose of which is to take people from the end of the road to 2 or 3 little islands just a few hundred metres away. These islands looked to have beautiful sandy beaches, and they are very secluded. It looks like they would be well worth a visit, if you can go there with something to sit on. At any rate, we put on our walking shoes, and took off along the Sentier, heading in the general direction of southwest.
The path was well marked, and was generally flat. At last, we came to a very rough road, along which the path continued for some time. We eventually decided to turn around and go back. Rather than getting back on the Sentier or path where it met the road, I decided that the road had to go back to the main road on which we had traveled by car, so we continued along the road. After a while, it became pretty obvious that we were going in the wrong direction, and were unlikely to reach the main road. When we came to a cluster of houses, we found somebody who gave me directions how to get to the Taxi Cap location. He said it was only l0 or l5 minutes away, by foot, but in fact it took me 50 minutes of fast walking/running. Corinne was getting a little peaked at this point, so I left her on a shady bench (a plank, she claims), and took off.
The road became exceedingly rough and steep, deeply rutted, and it was pretty obvious to me that I was not going to be able to get our little car back along this route. It was also obvious that I was going to have to figure out how to find Corinne from the main road. On retrieving the car, I started trying each of the side roads going west, with the idea that I would eventually run into the place where Corinne was. Each such attempt proved to be unsuccessful. None of the side roads resembled the road that she was on. I asked directions at a little supermarket near Cap Chevalier, giving a general description of the area, and was told that they had no ideas. There was an old abandoned silo or windmill or something of that sort nearby, but this did not register with the locals.
At any rate, after frantically trying to get to Corinne by car, I came to the conclusion that the only way I was going to be successful was by retracing my steps on foot. By now, it was about an hour and a half or two hours after I had left her. I drove the little car along the rough road and got to the place where it was really steep, and horribly rutted. I tried to get up once, then twice, without success, and came to the conclusion I was going to have to park the car and go back on foot, another half hour. I left the car and started up the hill when I turned around and looked and saw what seemed to be a route through the rubble. Getting back in the car, I took a run at it and was successful in getting up the steep hill. The road was incredibly rough, and some horrible noises were heard coming from the oilpan a few times as we hit rocks, but eventually I made it. On arriving at the bench, plank, etc., Corinne was nowhere to be seen.
I went into the adjoining house and asked the lady of the house, who was stretched out on some sort of bed-like affair, if I could use a telephone to call the hotel. She asked me if I knew the number of the hotel, and I said I did not. She then seemed to dismiss me, so I started to walk out. Her mother intervened and, I guess, told her in Creole not to be a jerk, so she got her daughter to look up the number for me and dial the number. I asked the receptionist if Corinne had called, was told that she had not, and left the message with her in case she did. After waiting around for about l0 minutes I decided to drive up the road, and, sure enough, found Corinne walking back.
It turned out that the road that we had reached actually went to the main road linking St. Anne and Marin, and there was no way of getting from that road to the road that went to Cap Chevalier. This was a big surprise, but we apparently had walked quite a long way over some significant hills that prevent easy passage between the two areas. It's easier to see this on a map than to describe, but at any rate the mistake was obvious once I saw a proper map. Anyone interested in walking in Martinique would be well advised to pick up a guide, which gives particulars of some 60 marked trails. It's available in bookstores.
There is not a lot doing in St. Anne. The bakery is rather ordinary, but they do produce good French baguettes. There's a moderately large supermarket, a smaller supermarket, and the Martinique equivalent of David Woods, i.e. a Toronto gourmet shop, where it is possible to get things of better quality. There are a few restaurants, the one that we enjoyed the most being "Poi and Virginie." The latter restaurant is right on the water, and they have a single table for two, in the corner, that has a beautiful view of the water. The food is fresh, but not cheap. In fact, the food in general in Martinique is very expensive, even if you eat locally caught fish. There is another quite nice restaurant on a side street, one block east of the hotel, that we found to be quite nice, but otherwise, nothing special. Marin is a much more substantial town, and probably there are better places to dine there, but we went to only one of them, a marina restaurant right on the beach, where all the yachts are moored. The food was quite good, but the best thing was the nice view of all of the international boats. All of the other diners there were German.
As soon as I was able, I unpacked the computer and all of the various accessories, with the idea of trying to reach the office. I immediately discovered that the modem was su
Dominican Republic: Paradise Resort by Ric volts. La Dunette did not, needless to say, have a ll0-220 volt transformer, nor did they have 110 v. in the bathroom. Worse, the adapter produced 9 volts AC, not DC, so I did not have the option of getting a 9 volt DC adapter. I discovered the problem on Saturday, the day we arrived, but by then the various stores that could have dealt with the problem were closed. Sunday they were closed, of course, and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were Carnival, so they were closed. Frustrating! This is something to remember, if you go to the French Antilles around Carnival time, and need to go the bank, for e.g.
At last, on Thursday, we went into Fort de France, and I looked up a dealer in small electronic parts, hi-fi stuff, etc., who had been recommended as having a transformer. The people doing the recommendation were called "Electronic Assistance" in Ducos, just off the highway. The local Apple dealer had nothing. When I arrived at the shop, and explained what I wanted, I was told that all they had were 9 volt DC adapters. After some fruitless dialogue, I pointed to a printed circuit board, and asked for a transformer like the one on the PC board. They thereupon produced a 220 volt transformer, that had a 9 volt AC output. I took it around the corner to a hi-fi shop, and bought a power cord. The store owner was kind enough to do the soldering himself. I cut the cord off the ll0 volt AC adapter so that I could use the DC plug, and all was well.
When I got all of the paraphernalia back to the hotel, I tried to log onto the office, without success. I seemed to be experiencing the same trouble that I did last summer in France, when I was generally unsuccessful in having the modem recognize the local dial tone. In frustration, I tried the manual mode setting of Apple Remote Access, but this didn't work either. It's very, very expensive to go through the hotel at any rate. The hotel's telephone system seemed to be tone based, but you could hear pulses in the background, as if the local phone company is still a pulse system. I gather this means that the system is "mixed", but I'm not sure.
We spent 6 nights in St. Anne (I think), and the time seemed to pass quite quickly. With the heat, it doesn't take long to adjust to a slower life- style. The temperature was perfect, generally around 26 or 27 C, but of course hotter in the sun. There was a little bit of rain for a few minutes the first day, and then it was dry, and generally clear or with soft cumulous clouds. In general, the weather during our whole stay was perfect.
Beside going to Fort de France one day, where we did a little bit of shopping, we visited Marin and watched Carnival one day, which was quite noisy and fun, though it didn't seem to last all that long. Six or seven communes get together to put on the show in Marin, or possibly they vary it from year to year, but at any rate, it wasn't just the Marin community that was involved. In fact, we had drive through the town of Diamant, and saw 4 or 5 girls (whose photo we took), all dressed up, and later we saw the same girls in a bus in Marin.
One day, we visited Trois Islets, where the big Meridian and Bekouah hotels are located. This is very upscale and expensive. The Bekouah was full, they told me, although I think the rooms are around U.S. $250.00 - $300.00 per night. From Trois Islets, it had been my intention to take the coast road to Diamant, but we ended up going overland, which was very pretty and, a bit scary. The roads were very sharp hairpins all the way, and I thought it would be wonderful on a bicycle if one was fit enough!
At Diamant, we visited a new hotel complex called, as I recall, the Diamant Club. It's quite a big place, but it's not right on the beach, though they have a nice pool. The units are two level, and I think each has light housekeeping facilities. They were far from full, and I think deals were there to be had. Hotels I didn't get a chance to see, but seem worth investigating, are the Novotel and the Marine, is perched high above Diamant. Probably you'd need a car to take you to the beach, but it doesn't seem to be far.
It wasn't long before I discovered, or rediscovered, "Ti-punch", which I thought had been a cocktail of some sort. In fact, it turns out that it is really just rum. If you use white rum, you mix with it, an equal amount of cane sugar syrup, and you add a slice of lime. If you use old rum, you just add lime. I bought a bottle of old rum in the grocery store across the street from La Dunette, and got into the nice habit of having a ti-punch every night at 5:00. Surprisingly, there was still some rum left at the end of the trip! It appears that the best rum made in Martinique is by a distillery near the Plantation Leyritz, called "JM". We visited the distillery, and found that l0 year old rum was l60ff. This was kind of expensive, because I had only paid l30ff for l5 year old rum by another company. The employee explained that the prices were cheaper at the airport, where one could take advantage of the 9-l/2% duty free discount. We elected to wait, which turned out to be a mistake. At the airport, not only was the store closed, but the sign for the JM rum was marked 239ff!
When the time finally came to leave, we took the road to Plantation Leyritz that passed by Robert, Francois.....the Plantation Leyritz was just as beautiful as I had remembered it. The room to which we were assigned was up the hill, and not, as a newspaper journalist had recently claimed, in the house of the plantation owner. An article I read not too long ago said that the only place to stay was in the house of the plantation owner, but I was told that this house has not been available for guests for about 7 years.
The place we stayed was one of 3 or 4 units, in an old building that had been converted to rooms. Our place was quite nice, with a large four poster bed, and a terrace overlooking the plantation. We had no complaints at all, and the tariff was very reasonable. The breakfasts at Plantation Leyritz were wonderful. There was a very substantial buffet, with a lot of everything, but there were no hot foods.
We took most of our meals at the plantation, but one night we ventured out to a place in Grande Riviere called Chez Yava, or something like that. We chose this spot because they said that they had received the Gault Millau award for culinary excellence, and were one of the best restaurants in the Gault Millau guide. The place itself looked like a dump, but who cares, if the food is terrific? I asked about making a reservation for dinner the next night, only to be told that (a) the food had to be ordered a day in advance, and (b) we had to sit down at 6:30 P.M. I couldn't understand why we had to eat so early, so I assumed that they are trying to get two sittings. This proved not to be the case.
When we arrived the next night, we were the only guests, and it seems obvious that if they do any business at all, it is done only at noon. They forced us to eat at 6:30 so they could relax and watch TV! We each ordered Langouste, a form of lobster, which was very fresh and tasty, but nothing one would not expect in a place that is right next to where the langoustes are pulled out of the water. The sauce was a creole sauce, nice, but certainly nothing fancy.
We had a book that was given out at one of the restaurants, that entitles the bearer to a free drink at any of the listed restaurants. On presentation of the book, we were told that the cocktail would be made available at the conclusion of the meal, not before. Could you make an exception? No.
The service was awful, the bread was stale, and midway during our meal, the waitress started ironing tablecloths right next to us. To alleviate her boredom, she turned on the television, and tuned in a French news broadcast. I've found Gault Millau to be generally accurate, but this time they have really goofed. I have in mind writing them.
Although I cycled a few times around Plantation Leyritz, the road is extremely hilly in every direction. The most beautiful ride, but also the most difficult, is the ride between Plantation Leyritz and Grande Riviere. It's only about 20 km, but it's very steep, and all up and down. One day, I felt I was finally up to it, and got as far as the outskirts of Grande Riviere before I turned back. It was horrible. The last time I did it, I don't recall having so much distress, but then I was younger and a lot lighter!
The Plantation Leyritz is very well organized, unlike La Dunette, who had received a fax addressed to me that they sat on for 24 hours before I got it (and then, only by asking). The Leyritz front office was very efficient and considerate. I asked about nature walks, so they immediately called the Syndicate D'Initiatives in Grande Riviere. Luckily, it turned out there was an organized walk from Grande Riviere to Pecheur, which was the very walk I had intended to attempt. It is a 6 hour walk through the rain forest. The cost of this was not cheap (l40ff), but this included a boat ride back, and a meal. I signed up, and showed up along with about 24 other people.
I was a little afraid that the other people would be super fit, and I would have to struggle to keep up. This was not to be the case. In fact, I was by far the fastest of the group, and finished the walk about a l/2 hour ahead of everyone else. Even at that, during the early going, when I was still with the group, I had to stop from time to time to help some people up some of the more difficult portions of the trail, although it was generally pretty easy. The walk is all up and down, but very pleasant, and generally in the shade. In all, I went through one litre of water, and did not feel thirsty. I should have taken a bathing suit with me, but as I was walking in shorts, when we arrived at the beach at the end of the walk, after a little hesitation I jumped into the water and felt terrific.
The return journey was not very well organized. One fisherman's boat showed up, which rapidly filled with 10 or 11 people. Not being French, I didn't push my way on board like the others, so I thought I was relegated to the second or third boat. Fortunately, as I was standing around, slightly annoyed, they yelled out for 2 more passengers, so I quickly hopped in. The boat ride back to Grande Riviere only took about 25 minutes, but on reaching Grande Riviere, the driver immediately turned around and went back, so it was pretty obvious that the stranded walkers had quite a wait.
I was going to forget about the meal, but decided to join in for a bit anyway, and was directed to a restaurant just down the street from Syndicate D'Initiative. I can't remember the name of the place, but it was really a nice restaurant, and if we're ever in the vicinity, we should go back. The meal was really quite terrific, although I did not stay for the main course. The meal included wine, soft drinks, etc. as well as an appetizer, a fish main course, and dessert.
Our stay at Plantation Leyritz was very enjoyable. They have an excellent swimming pool, which was not very crowded, the only slight blot being the fact that Plantation Leyritz is a destination for various tours. In general, though, the people wandering about the plantation are well behaved, and the noise level is not high. By 5:00 or 5:30, all of the day visitors have left, and the place becomes very tranquil. We particularly enjoyed the calm of it after the noise of St. Anne.
One day, we visited the gardens at Ajoupa, called, as I recall, Les Ombrages. This was very worthwhile, although Corinne spent extra money to tour the butterfly garden, which turned out to be a big disappointment. We then went up the hill to Morne Rouge and visited the Macintosh Plantation, where they grow antheriums. Of course, they have thousands of them, and the place is lovely. We then went on St. Pierre, did not go into any of the local sights, but instead went north and ended up at the very cove/beach where my walk had ended the day before. There, we had an enjoyable swim, and finally returned to the Plantation Leyritz. The cove was very secluded, and its main attraction was the fact that not many people go there, because it can only be reached after a very hilly ride. There is a beach that is just as nice that is much more popular, just before this cove, and they have all kinds of facilities including showers. If we ever go back, that's probably where we would go. The beach looked to be as good as the one at St. Anne.
There is a big difference in the water between the Atlantic and the Caribbean sides. On the Atlantic side, the breakers are very high and powerful, and I gather there must be a very strong riptide. You don't see any swimmers, or at least I didn't. At Grande Riviere, though, there seem to be a few windsurfers about, but these are no doubt very strong swimmers.
When we finally left Plantation Leyritz, we drove to the Caravelle Peninsula, which I had read about but never previously visited. We were a little concerned about the time, so didn't drive the whole distance, although it's not all that far. We drove enough, though, to see that they have lovely sandy beaches and a variety of different kinds of accommodation. Staying there is definitely worth consideration. Trinite is a very sizable, rather prosperous town, so it looks like it would be a good place to be near, and the Caravelle Peninsula is just off Trinite. I noticed a fairly sizable hotel/restaurant called La Madras or something like it, with its own beach. It seemed to be in a fairly busy location, though, and there may be other, better places further along the Peninsula.