Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 94
April 1, 1999

Last Update 29 Mar 99 1700et

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SAINT MARTIN BY RICK MOLLICA

Trip 1/99

You  can  access  the  original  version of this travelogue and others,
complete with graphics, at http://www.mollica.net/travel.htm

INTRODUCTION

1999  marked the fifth year that I went to Saint Martin during January.
Our  original  plans were for me to spend the first week by myself, and
then  my wife and son, Joey, were going to join me for the second week.
Unfortunately,  Joey  was  diagnosed  with strep throat on the day they
were to join me, so I spent two weeks on vacation by myself!

You  can  find  more  travelogues on my Travel Page or in the Caribbean
Travel  Roundup (which has hundreds of travelogues about St. Martin and
other Caribbean islands).

This  year's  travelogue  covers  the  weather,  rental  cars, beaches,
restaurants,  and  miscellaneous topics - in that order. There are lots
of  great things about Saint Martin that I didn't cover this year - but
you  can find information about those things in my travelogue from 1997
and 1998.

WEATHER

Twelve  out  of  14  days  were  gorgeous  at least half of the day and
usually  all  day;  the other two days were rainy and windy most of the
day.

I  know that a lot of people hang around Orient Beach and other beaches
on  the  northeast  and  east  parts  of  the  island, which are on the
Atlantic  Ocean  side  - but I find that the wind is often so strong on
the  Atlantic  side that it spoils the beach experience. The beaches on
the  west and southwest parts of the island face the Caribbean Sea, and
they  are  better  protected  from  the  strong easterly winds that can
spoil a day at Orient Beach.

I  recommend  that  people  who  limit themselves to Orient Beach try a
beach  on  the  Caribbean  side  on  those  incredibly windy days - the
difference can be unbelievable.

RENTAL CAR

I  am  continually  surprised that so many people do not rent a vehicle
in  St.  Martin.  They spend thousands of dollars to have a week or two
of  what  ought  to  be  a  great  vacation,  and then to save a couple
hundred  dollars  they  don't  get  a  rental  car.  Big mistake, in my
opinion.  They  miss  out  on  90%  of  what St. Martin has to offer by
limiting  themselves  to  an occasional taxi or just hanging around one
resort  area  or  beach.  It's  amazing  how  many people never venture
outside  of the Orient Beach area or the Maho Beach resort area. I feel
badly for those people.
I  used  Empress Rent-A-Car again this year. I had not reserved a jeep,
as  I usually do, so I had to rent a car for a day and switch to a jeep
when  it  became  available  the  next day. The car was adequate - like
most  cars on the island, it was well used - but the jeep was good. Its
antenna  was  gone  so the radio didn't work, but a jeep on that island
is  much  better  than a car in terms of fun and practicality. The jeep
rented  for  $270/week  during  high  season (Dec 22 - April 14); a car
with   automatic  transmission  was  $216,  and  one  with  a  standard
transmission was $162.
Empress  is  located  at  the  Pelican  Resort,  which  might  not be a
practical  option  for  vacationers  who don't stay at the Pelican or a
nearby  resort.  I  would  still  recommend Empress to people renting a
jeep (011-45293 Ext. 5190), but I was unimpressed by the car. The best-
looking  rental  cars  on  the island were from Best Deal (I don't have
the  phone  number),  Adventure  Car  Rental  (011-43688),  and  Safari
Rentals  (011-53186)  -  they  all  have  offices  at the Airport right
outside of the baggage claim area.

BEACHES

ORIENT BEACH

Orient  Beach  "...was the best of times. It was the worst of times..."


The worst first:

The  restaurants  and  concessions  have  almost totally taken over the
beach  area.  Restaurants  extend  from  the  treeline halfway down the
beach  and  then  the lounge chairs and umbrellas continue the march to
the  sea,  side  by side, armrest to armrest. But the beach in front of
Club  Orient is still fine. In fact, at first I wondered why there were
so  many  non-naturalists  at Club Orient's naturist beach, but I think
it's  because  there are so few good places left on the main beach that
a  body can just plunk down on the sand without renting a lounge chair.
Reminded me of little vinyl apartment complexes.

The  other  annoyance  at  Orient  is  that  the  winds  can  be  a bit
overwhelming.  As  noted under the 'weather' section above, try heading
for  a  beach  on  the Caribbean side of the island if the winds on the
Atlantic side get too strong for your enjoyment.

And now the best:

There's  simply  no  place  like  Orient  Beach for people-watching and
beach  excitement.  It  really  is a fun place to spend a day or two. I
don't  know if it's more fun watching the sunbathers, the strollers, or
the  people  bussed  in  from  the  cruise ships and navy ships who are
watching  the  sunbathers  and  strollers.  Shopping, eating, drinking,
parasailing...people from all over the planet...it's a fun beach.

Orient  is  also  a  good  place  for  folks  who  want  to do a little
"anonymous  skinnydipping."  Who  the  heck  do you know there? Nobody!
Then  again, I did overhear one naked guy unexpectedly greeting a naked
woman,  who  apparently  was  a  neighbor or co-worker from the States:
"Well,  this  is  a  little awkward, but I guess we'll get used to it!"
Check out this web site about Orient Beach.

Oh yeah, the water was fine!

BAIE ROUGE

I've  been  telling  you  for  the last few years that Baie Rouge is my
favorite  beach.  And  it's  still one of my favorite beaches (though I
have  a  new  favorite  to suggest this year). Baie Rouge is a spacious
beach  and  very  picturesque; it is a wonderful place to swim. You can
rent  a  chair  and  umbrella for $5 each, and you can get good food at
either  of  the two beach lo-lo's (Gus' Place and Raymond's). I paid $8
for  a plate of spare ribs with rice and salad; a burger and fries were
$4; a bottle of beer was $2.

The  beach  is  a  nice  family  beach  and  your  car will be safe - a
security  guard  is  in  the  place they call a parking lot (you'll see
what I mean when you get there). Tops Optional.

PRUNE BAY

I  always  rave  about  this beach, but this year I thought I had found
beach  perfection.  I  went to Prune Bay twice and each time there were
about  a  dozen  people,  mostly  French  and  American.  There  are no
facilities  and  no  concessions.  It  is  a  gorgeous beach with great
swimming  conditions. An excellent place for the family. Tops Optional.
I have three tips that might help you.

#1:  Prune  Bay is notoriously difficult to get to because there are no
signs  after the one on the main road and the access road is horrendous
-  so  most  people  don't  bother.  Here are driving directions that I
think  will get you there on the best roads (still bad) in the shortest
distance:

You'll  see  the sign for Prune Bay from the main road, so use your map
to get at least that far. When you see the sign, leave the main road.
Dodge  potholes  for  one mile, at which point you'll see a cement wall
on  the  right  side that is about eight feet tall. The wall is weird -
just  two  small  sections  that  intersect  with  each other to form a
wedge.   The   wall   is   at  an  intersection.  Turn  right  at  that
intersection.
Go  for  another  mile  to  the  beach  - lots of zigs and zags, but no
turns. The beach is at the end of this winding road.

#2:  I  noticed  that there were police officers in the parking area in
the  afternoon  during both of my visits, but not in the morning - so I
would recommend going to Prune Bay after noon.
#3:  Stop at Subway or someplace to get food and drink before you go to
Prune Bay - there are no facilities there.
You're going to love this beach. Go there.

FRIARS BAY
I  thought  Prune Bay was perfection, and the next day I went to Friars
Bay  and found more perfection. I told you last year about Kali's Beach
Bar  at  Friars  Bay. This year Kali's has competition from Friar's Bay
Beach  Cafe and Cranberry Cafe. I would recommend - strongly - that you
head for the area in front of Friars Bay Beach Cafe (FBBC).

The  beach  is  excellent  and there is good snorkeling at both ends of
the  beach.  This  is one of the few beaches that I saw yachts come and
drop  anchor  offshore. The lounge chairs and umbrellas in front of the
FBBC  are  free if you eat at the FBBC...and I assure you that the food
there  is  excellent.  They have an extensive menu with very reasonable
prices.  And  the  music...you  have  to  hear  this music - talk about
eclectic!  Frank  Sinatra...French  crooners  a  la Tony Bennett...Jazz
with  American Indian interludes...you name it..and it's all playing on
Bose  speakers.  Gawd...life  is good! (Of course, they could have done
without that Bee Gees interlude.)
I  visited  Kali's  and I still thinks it's a good place, but I thought
the  FBBC  was  better.  I  didn't try the Cranberry Cafe, but they too
looked  good...interesting,  they  have  a concession where you can get
temporary tattoos.

I  went  to  Friars twice this year. French, Italians, Latin Americans,
and  folks  from  the  USA  made  up the bulk of the vacationers. Those
Italians  were  having  so  much  fun telling stories and taking family
pictures.  It's  a  nice family place. Also, my completely unscientific
assessment  is  that,  percentage-wise, there's much more tops optional
at Friars than at Orient.

HAPPY BAY

I  think  very  few  people  ever  find Happy Bay. If you want to add a
postcard-perfect  beach  to your St. Martin experience, find Happy Bay!
I'm  not  going  to post a picture of the beach for you because I don't
want   to  spoil  your  experience  of  "discovering"  this  beach  for
yourself.  It  is simply gorgeous. You'll think you're in a movie scene
when you emerge from an overgrown path and see this beach.

First,  go  to  Friar's  Bay...park your vehicle...and then walk to the
path  that  starts  right behind the Cranberry Cafe. You'll be safe, so
just  do  it. When you get to a point where the path splits, you can go
left  to  follow the longer, more interesting path (which also passes a
very  small  beach  that is full of sea shells); or you can bear to the
right.  On both paths you'll step over a small rock wall that is topped
with  a  trampled  down string of barbed wire. On the right path you'll
see  some  houses  that were ruined by Hurricane Luis...just follow the
path  that  passes  the  houses  to  the ocean. In either case the walk
takes about 15-20 minutes.

On  the day that I went, there were no facilities (so stop at Subway or
somewhere  before going), but I saw a small building that made me think
there  is  a  concession  that  sets  up  sometimes. All I know is that
you'll  find  a  300-yard long crescent beach with about four people on
it.  Wear  your  bathing  suit  or  take  off  your clothes. Who cares?
There's only four people there whom you'll never see again.

CUPECOY BEACH

This  was  my favorite beach this year. Like Friars, it's a great beach
with  good  facilities but not too much commercialization. As you know,
there  are  several  small  beaches  that  make up Cupecoy. I'm talking
about  the  beach  furthest  from  the  Sapphire  resort. It's mostly a
naturist  beach,  but there are plenty of people who wear their bathing
suits. So why was this my favorite this year?

First  of  all, your car is safe parked up on the road because the guys
who  work  the  beach  concession  also keep an eye on things up on the
road.  More  importantly,  the  beach  itself  is  wide  and  the water
conditions  are  perfect.  The scenery (not counting the human scenery)
is  lovely.  The  guys  who  work for Rolland's Beach Bar make sure you
have  a  lounge chair and umbrella if you want them ($5 each), and they
bring  your  drinks  to  you on the beach (a beer is $2; give the guy a
tip  and  you  get impeccable service the whole day). The guys remember
you  from  day  to  day; they are polite and friendly. I didn't try the
food  at  Rolland's, so I can't comment on it - but it's barbecue fare,
so it ought to be fine.

You  folks  who like the naturist scene at Orient would find this beach
a great alternative.

PINEL ISLAND

I  had  been  to  St.  Martin four times, but never to Pinel Island, so
this  time  I went. You'll see signs everywhere on the island, like the
one  on  the  right,  that  direct you to Pinel Island [you can see the
island  off  to  the  left from Orient Beach]. These signs point you to
French Cul de Sac where you can take a boat to the island.

Use  your  map  to  find  the  turn-off  to  French Cul de Sac - at the
intersection  where  Surf  Club  South  is located. When you get to the
parking  area  at  the  end  of  the  road  you'll  find  some shopping
concessions and a dock with several boats lined up.
A  fellow  with  a  loud whistle will sound the call to board the boat,
and  he'll  collect  $10  to  cover the round-trip to Pinel Island. The
boat  comes and goes about every 15-20 minutes, with the last trip from
the island scheduled for 4:30PM.

The  island has a nice beach - kind of reminded me of Gilligan's Island
-  but  the  local  tourist  companies  bus in so many vacationers from
cruise  ships and who-knows-where that the beach is jammed. There was a
big  group of Panamanians on the beach the day I went. They were having
one  helluva  time,  but  the  place  was  crowded. I couldn't even get
service at the beach restaurant.
On  a  more  positive  note,  there  were a couple of singers who did a
karaoke  style  of  "live  act"  that was actually very good. They were
nice  guys  who  played  the crowd well and livened up the action. Also
the  snorkeling  at  Pinel is supposed to be good (though I overheard a
father  and  daughter saying that the coral was so close to the surface
that it was hard for them to snorkel safely).

Overall  assessment: You might disagree, but I found Pinel Island to be
very  touristy  and  not  worth  the $10 and extra time that could have
been better spent at Cupecoy, Friars, Prune Bay, or even Orient.

SMALL BEACH (at the Grand Case Beach Club)

I  always  tell  you that this is a great little beach that has lots of
amenities  without  being  overrun  by people. I stand by that opinion,
but  this  year  there were two differences: access to the beach is now
limited  to an unimpressive path next to the Grand Case Beach Club, and
the beach seems really small this year.

I  love  the  Grand Case Beach Club and recommend it to anyone who will
listen.  But  folks  who  don't  stay  there who now have to access the
beach  via that bogus little path might be turned off a little. You can
still  rent  their  lounge  chairs and umbrellas, and take advantage of
their  beachside  restaurant,  but  you just can't park your car at the
GCBC or access the beach from the GCBC itself.

LE GALION, also known as Coconut Grove or Baie de l'Embouchere

This  beach  is  next  to  Orient  Beach,  just  down the road from the
Butterfly  Farm  (a  great  place!)  and  a horse-riding stable...but I
don't  recommend it. The guidebooks always say what a nice family beach
it  is.  I think it could be nice, but it's trashy and I wouldn't waste
a precious vacation day going there.

PELICAN RESORT BEACH

Real  beach  aficionados probably wonder why I mention this beach every
year,  but I'm tellin' 'ya, this is a good little beach - especially if
you  have  little  kids.  The  Pelican  provides free lounge chairs and
umbrellas,  a  very nice beach protected by rock jetties on both sides,
and  two  beach  bars  -  the thatched one serves up the best barbecued
burgers  I've  had  on the island. And of course you have all the other
amenities of the Pelican Resort right there.
If  you  go  to the Pelican's beach, take 20 minutes to stroll down the
beaches  to  the  east  -  towards  the  Flamingo Resort...start at the
Pelican  Beach  and  just follow the shoreline. And if you're with your
spouse  or sweetheart (could be the same person?), without kids, you're
in  for  one  heck  of  a romantic walk. It is absolutely lovely (and a
great place to collect seashells...and take sunset pictures).

RESTAURANTS, CAFES, BARS

My  descriptions  of  restaurants, cafes, and bars are in no particular
order  this  year. You'll find my favorite restaurant on the island...a
place  where  topless  women  drink  for  free...an  informal cafe that
serves gourmet food...(they're not all the same place)...read on.

Ren & Stimpy's

One  of  my favorite little restaurants on the island...is gone. What a
shame.  Ren & Stimpy's served outstanding Creole dishes in Simpson Bay.


The Globe

This  is  a new restaurant that opened in mid-December 1998 next to The
Boathouse  restaurant  in  Simpson  Bay. The front of the restaurant is
freshly  painted  in a deep stucco color. At night the lighting is very
dramatic  and gives the restaurant the church mission look of The Alamo
in San Antonio, Texas.

The  restaurant  has a nice bar area and tables inside and outside. The
Globe's  interior  decor  is an imaginative mixture of the southwestern
USA,  the  Mediterranean,  and  the Caribbean. Heavy cross beams in the
ceiling  are  painted green and concave-shaped pillars - thicker in the
middle  than  at  the  top  and bottom - are painted a mauve color. The
staff, at least partially from Canada, is attentive and polite.

When  I  asked the waiter what the theme of the menu was, he responded,
"Global."  And he was right. The menu listed appetizers, salads, meats,
fish,  pasta,  Texmex,  and  desserts. I had tapas for an appetizer, an
Indian  chicken  dish  for  the  main  course, and chocolate mousse for
dessert.  The  food  portions  were  large  but  the quality was pretty
mediocre  -  in  fact,  I  wouldn't  go back for the food. I'm no tapas
expert,  but  there  sure  seemed  to be a lot of little dead fishes in
mine;  the  chicken  was  dry  from  being  too heavily spiced; and the
mousse  had  an  out-of-the package, too-long-in-the refrigerator taste
and look.

The  prices  were  very reasonable, so maybe you ought to try the Globe
for  yourself.  It  takes  time for a new restaurant to get things just
right,  and maybe some of their other dishes are prepared very well. If
nothing  else, stop in for drinks so you can enjoy the personable staff
and great decor.

Lynette's

This  place  is so dependable. Located in Simpson Bay near the airport,
Lynette's  has  been  a  favorite  of  regular  visitors for years. The
ambiance  of  the  restaurant  is  very nice (though you wouldn't guess
that  from  the  outside),  the quality of the food is outstanding, and
the  service  is  very  good.  I had their Lobster Creole dish which, I
think,  is their most expensive entree at $30. It was scrumptious. Then
again, everything I've eaten there is delicious.
Lynette's  (like  many  restaurants in St. Martin) has a 15% surcharge,
which  you  will  see on the check but not on the credit card slip. Add
more  tip  if  you  want - just remember when you're signing the credit
card slip that it already includes 15%.

Turtle Pier

You  have  to  love  Turtle  Pier  -  another  dependable restaurant in
Simpson  Bay.  I've never eaten supper there, but I frequently go there
for  breakfast  or  lunch. The kids will love all the birds and animals
that  line  the  walkway  into  the  restaurant. Be sure to take a seat
right  at  the  water if you bring kids - they'll love to toss bread to
the fish.
Turtle  Pier  serves  an  outstanding  breakfast  with plenty of coffee
refills.   Lunches  are  also  dependably  delicious  -  everything  is
flavorful,  fairly  portioned,  and  reasonably  priced. For example, a
lunch  of hamburger and onion rings costs $6.50. All that and you get a
great view too.

Tutta Pasta

I  said  I  wouldn't go back to the Tutta Pasta because the service was
too  bad,  but I did. The service is still lousy, but the food is still
great.  The  wait  staff  is  so inattentive and poorly trained that it
detracts from the enjoyment of the truly excellent food.
I  suspect  you can order anything on Tutta Pasta's menu and it will be
excellent.  I  overheard  one  self-important  guy  say  to Warren, the
proprietor,  "This  is  some  of the best Italian food I've ever eaten,
and  I  ought  to know because I'm from New Jersey." Like New Jersey is
in  Italy, right? Probably more authoritative is the author of the book
Mangia  Pasta, who wrote a complimentary letter to Warren after she ate
there.

Prices  at  Tutta Pasta are good - appetizers mostly in the $5-6 range,
entrees  between  $10-22.  Bring  cash because they don't accept credit
cards. My bill, including an appetizer, entree, and wine came to $22.

Sunset Bar

So  I'm driving back to the Pelican Resort after spending a day at Baie
Rouge,  and  I decide to grab a beer at the Sunset Bar, located on Maho
Bay  at  the approach to the runway at the airport. Standing at the bar
facing  the  street are two beautiful, buxom, blonde women with no tops
on.  After  nearly  crashing  the  jeep, I parked it and headed for the
Bar.
The  writing  on  the  chalkboard  behind  the bartender says, "Topless
women  drink  for  free," which explains the bosomy beauties (they were
American,  by  the way). I returned to the Sunset Bar five or six times
during  my  visit;  though I didn't see any more topless women there, I
kept  returning  because  it  is a great place to relax with a $2 beer,
enjoy  the  view of Maho Bay, and watch the airplanes coming and going.
The  bar  serves  barbecued  foods too; I didn't sample any but I heard
one guy say that the food was great.

The  bar  has  picnic  tables  on a large deck overlooking Maho Bay and
Juliana  Airport.  It  is a lot of fun to watch the huge jets and small
commuter  flights  taking  off and landing. The WinAir commuter planes'
landing  are  the  best...those  pilots  pay no attention to the proper
approach  and  glide  path...they just come winging in from all angles,
line  up  on  the runway at the last possible minute, and touch down as
close as possible to the start of the runway. They're a riot.

Top Carrot

This  restaurant  with  a natural foods theme is located at Simpson Bay
in  the  Plaza  del  Lago by the Marina. I went there for lunch one day
and  they  turned  a  simple turkey & cheese submarine into a veritable
feast.  Fresh  baked  bread  and ingredients made for a great lunch for
about $5.

Michael's Cafe

Imagine:  you're  sitting  in an informal, relaxed cafe; you're looking
at  the  island of Anguilla and the beautiful bay at Grand Case; you're
chatting  with  Marilyn  and  Michael,  two  warm and friendly American
expatriates,  listening  to their stories (adventures is more like it);
and  you're  eating  gourmet  quality  food at an incredibly reasonable
price. There. You're in Michael's Cafe at Grand Case.

Michael's  Cafe  is  a  delight.  I told you about Michael's last year,
remember?  Michael  and  Marilyn  Petone are a couple of Americans from
Harvard,  Massachusetts;  they  opened  the place in the summer of 1997
(you  can read more about them in my 1998 travelogue). Last year my son
Joey  gave Michael's Cafe his 5-Star Joey Rating for the best breakfast
on the island.
Anyway,  one evening on this year's vacation, I had just ordered dinner
at  Michael's  and was chatting with Marilyn. Something I said made her
say,  "Wait  a  minute.  You're not Joey's father, are you? The kid who
gave  us  his 5-star rating?" I burst out laughing and said that I was.
Next  thing  you  know,  Marilyn  brings  out  Michael and a copy of my
travelogue  from  last  year, saying that all year long people had been
coming  into  the restaurant waving that Internet article and shouting,
"Joey sent me!"

Michael  and Marilyn now serve dinner from 6:00pm to 9:00pm in addition
to  serving breakfast and lunch during the day. And let me tell you, if
Joey  had  been  with  me,  he would have awarded his now famous 5-star
rating  to  their  dinner  menu. I ordered Salmon with Lemon Capers for
$13,  and  it  was  simply outstanding (the same entree would have cost
twice  that  price  at  most  of  the restaurants in Grand Case). Bring
cash...no checks or credit cards.
In  addition to the fantastic food and magnificent view, engage Marilyn
and  Michael  in  conversation.  Their stories about life in St. Martin
will  keep  you  laughing. Be sure have them show you the "cruise ship"
that  shows  up on Anguilla every night; ask them to tell you the story
about  the  son  of  a  woman  down  the street who had 17 children (23
pregnancies)  -  I  can't  do justice to that story; also, have Marilyn
mix up one of those coffee cappucino things she makes - delicious.

And  what  was Marilyn's response when I asked what it was like to live
in  St.  Martin  now  that  they  had  been there for almost two years?
"Still lovin' it!"

Pelican Reef Steak and Seafood House

Pelican  Reef  is  located  at  the  Pelican Resort and is acclaimed by
travel  writers  as  the  best  steak house on the island. I ordered an
Argentinian  cut  of  beef  that  they call The Gaucho for $28.50 (many
entrees  were  smaller  and  much  less  expensive).  The meat and side
dishes  were cooked perfectly, but I didn't care for the texture of the
meat  -  I  mentioned  my comment in an e-mail to Jean and Marvin Rich,
the  folks  who  run the Pelican Reef, and they explained: You're quite
right  about  that  steak's  chewiness  and  that  is characteristic of
Argentine  beef.  This,  our  signature  El Gaucho steak and its little
sister  the  petit  Chateaubriand ($ 14.50), is flown in from Argentina
and  is  the tenderloin cut...12 oz. of pure meat with very little fat.
While  any  animal can be tougher than others, in general the Argentine
beef  is  more  flavorful  and  more chewy compared to USA beef because
it's  grass  fed and very lean (as described on the menu). In fact, the
Argentine  beef is all natural, no hormones and hasn't been fattened at
those  famous  mid-western  feed-lots  as in the USA. (Wine Spectator a
month  or  so  ago just had a whole article about the Argentine beef as
health  food  for  that  reason.)  USA  beef is more melt-in-your mouth
style because of the fat and the homonal influences. The Gaucho's lean-
ness  is  also  why the waiters are supposed to recommend to our guests
to  have  the  Gaucho  grilled  a little more on the rare side than you
normally  order  your  USA  beef cuts done/ they're supposed to suggest
that  people  order a different steak if they like steak more well done
than  medium  because  that makes this meat actually tough. Most people
tell  us  it's  the  best steak they've ever had because of the flavor.
But  if  that  chewiness doesn't appeal to you, I suggest the next time
you  have  our Nebraska corn-fed filet mignon --it cuts with a fork and
melts  in your mouth. We also have 2 prime rib cuts and 2 sirloins from
Nebraska feed lots. All are more tender than the Argentine.

How's  that  for  great  customer  service?  You  can  bet I'll try the
Pelican  Reef  again.  I should also point out that all of the food was
prepared  very  well  and  the service was good. A caberet singer named
Rick  Day was performing on the night I was there, and he really does a
nice job making you feel right at home.

Crocadile Cafe

An  informal  cafe at the Pelican Resort, the Croc's food is great, but
the  service  is  inconsistent. They do a good breakfast and lunch, and
one   evening  I  had  a  Mahi-mahi  dinner  there  for  $25  that  was
unbelievably  good  -  expensive  for that setting, but good. I ordered
their  Grilled  Chicken  Breast  Caribe  at  lunch  one  day, which was
delicious,  but  again,  a little overpriced at $12.25. You wouldn't go
out  of  your way to eat there, but it sure is convenient for folks who
stay at the Pelican Resort.

Le Bistro Gourmand

Le  Bistro  Gourmand  has a restaurant and a delicatessen at Cupecoy. I
ate  breakfast  at  Le  Bistro Gourmand's deli a couple of times before
heading  for the beaches. They make a delicious omelet - packed full of
flavor.  I tried their grilled ham and cheese sandwich too, which looks
incredible  in  the  deli  case,  but actually tastes pretty average. I
didn't  try any other food there, but the submarines I saw them prepare
for someone else looked great.
You  can  also pick up newspapers, beach gear, film, and other sundries
at the deli. I never did make it to their restaurant.

Kangaroo Court

As  you  face the courthouse in Phillipsburg, to the right you'll see a
sidestreet.  Walk  a few yards down that sidestreet and you'll find the
Kangaroo  Court. It is a spiffy little restaurant with good service and
reasonable  prices.  I  ate breakfast there one morning, and except for
the  excellent  fresh-baked  bread,  there wasn't an ounce of flavor in
anything  on  my  plate.  Bacon, eggs, fries - how the heck do you take
the flavor out of bacon?

Cheri's Cafe

Cheri's  Cafe  is  Cheri's  Cafe...I paid $3.50 for a Carib beer that I
got  for  $2 everywhere else. If you want to pay high prices to sit and
watch  the  same  people  you  came over on the plane with, you'll like
Cheri's.

Le Pressoir

This  is  still,  in my humble opinion, the one restaurant to eat in if
you  can eat at only one. I can't say anymore than I said in 1997's and
1998's  travelogues  about  this Grand Case restaurant except that it's
harder  and  harder  to  get  in  without  a reservation, so do reserve
ahead.  You'll  probably pay about $50 per person, but you will have an
exquisite meal and perfect service in the oldest house on St. Martin.

Miscellaneous Notes

There  seems  to  be  a  lot  more tourism activity on the island these
days,  but  Phillipsburg  and  the  Dutch side extending east and north
from  Phillipsburg  are  an  eyesore.  Aside from a day for shopping in
Phillipsburg, I can't see much reason to go there.

I  still find that when the Timeshare Gnomes approach you, the quickest
way to get rid of them is to say, "I live here."

There  are  only  three  or  four  stealth speed bumps left on the road
between Maho Bay and Cupecoy - there used to be more than a dozen.

The  Caribbean  Cyber  Cafe in Simpson Bay charges $15/hour to surf the
net  -  extra  for  e-mail. Using America On Line is cheaper, but still
pricey.

On  an  island  where topless and clothing optional beaches are common,
why is there a market for a Hooters Restaurant? [Simpson Bay]

I  feel  badly  for  the  guy  whose  ruined yacht is being stored at a
salvage  yard  that  is  visible  from the airport road. Hurricane Luis
destroyed the yacht. Its name is 'No Problem.'

Need  money  while  you're on vacation? There is a Western Union office
located  in  Cole Bay, across the street from the Lightning Casino, and
a  couple  of  them in Phillipsburg. My wife wired money at 10:30am one
day  from  Maryland  and  I  had  it in St. Martin at 10:45am. Fast and
trouble-free.

Saw  a  couple of interesting headlines in the Daily Herald while I was
in St. Martin:
Son Returns As Daughter After 2 Years In Holland
"I Know He Is Sorry Every Time He Beats Me," Says Battered Woman

That's it for this year, Folks! Have a great time in St. Martin!

TOBAGO BY ROBERT BUDD

TRIP FEB/MAR '99

Last  year, returning from a very pleasant week in Grenada, Sally and I
vowed  that  we  would not travel with BWIA again. The plane was tatty,
they ran out of wine and the food as awful.

However,  this  year  we decided we wanted to visit Tobago and the only
flights we could get from London were with BWIA, so here we are again!

The  flight  to  Antigua  - the first stop -  wasn't too bad. The plane
left  on  time,  the  food was almost edible and they hadn't run out of
wine  -   we  were  quite  close  to  the front! At Antigua there was a
problem  with overcrowding on the ramp - a Virgin Atlantic Jumbo was in
residence,  together  with  a  German  charter  767  and assorted small
turboprops. Eventually they found us a space and we parked.

After  about  forty-five  minutes on the ramp, we took off for Trinidad
as  the  sun  set.  Trinidad was chaotic. The immigration hall was full
and  only  the  locals  were  going anywhere. After a while an official
called  for  anyone  going to Tobago and led us to an empty line, where
we  were  processed  quite  quickly.  Then to the baggage hall, where I
stood  scrutinizing bags on the carousel for some minutes until finally
discovering  our  suitcases  had  been  removed and placed to one side.
(It  was  impossible  to  through-check the luggage, as our last hop to
Tobago  is  a  "domestic"  sector and we had to pass through Customs in
Trinidad.  Getting a direct flight to Tobago would prevent a great deal
of hassle.)

We  found  the  domestic  check-in and handed our bags in again. It had
taken  about  an hour from landing to this point, and I had just enough
time  to  change  some  money  at  the  Bank before boarding our twenty
minute   flight  to  Tobago.  We  finally  arrived  at  nine-forty-five
(quarter-to-two  in  the  morning  UK  time) collected our baggage once
more  and  got  a  taxi  to our hotel, Le Grand Courlan Resort & Spa on
Stone  Haven  Bay.  This  was  not a problem; taxi prices are fixed and
displayed  in  the  arrivals  hall for most destinations on the island,
and they increase by 50% after 10 pm.

The  Hotel  provided us with the customary welcome drink before we were
shown  to  our  room overlooking the large angular pool and, beyond it,
the  sea.  All  rooms  face  the  sea,  though none are actually on the
beach,  which  is  reached  down a fairly shallow flight of stairs. The
room  was  of  a  better  standard  than  we  have been used to in  the
Caribbean  -  we  have  previously stayed in Rex resorts.  Good quality
furnishings  were  accompanied  by  little  extras such as a room-safe,
robes, satellite TV and a remote-control air-conditioning system.

In  the  morning  after  a substantial breakfast, we walked down to the
beach.  It was only nine o'clock and we had the pick of a good quantity
of  sunloungers  under  palm-thatched  rondavels.  The  beach  is quite
unspoiled,  vegetation  successfully  concealing any development. There
are,  in  fact,  a  number  of  buildings  hidden  away but much of the
shoreline  and  beyond  is scrub. Next to "Le Grand" on one side is its
sister  hotel, the Grafton Beach. On the other side are the "Plantation
Beach  Villas",  an  attractive  group  of three-bedroom colonial-style
rental villas.

Although  a  delightful  beach  for  sunbathing, Stone Haven Bay is not
particularly  friendly  for  swimming,  with quite large waves crashing
in.  Beyond  these  the  water  is  okay, but the waves defeat numerous
would-be swimmers. We did our swimming in the hotel pool.

Food
Breakfast  turned  out  to  be the meal of the day at "Le Grand". Lunch
was  mostly  snacks  taken  in  the  lounge bar or on the pool terrace.
Dinner  in the "Pinnacle" restaurant turned out to be a disappointment.
Clearly  others thought so too, as we only ever saw a handful of guests
in the restaurant at dinner time.

For  dinner  on  our  second night we visited the resort's other dining
room  "Leandros",  styled as Mediterranean. I had an appalling Gazpacho
and  their  "speciality" of seafood Paella, which was boring and tasted
mostly  of  chopped olive. Sally quite enjoyed her Chicken salad Romana
and  her  "open  ravioli of chicken and Victoria ham". Again we had few
fellow diners.

During  the  rest  of our stay we dined at The Seahorse Inn, right next
to  Le  Grand,  the  Shirvan  Watermill,  Patinos   -  both on the road
between  Stone Haven Bay and Crown Point - and the Papillon restaurant,
which  is  at  the  Grange Hotel. Of these the nicest were the Seahorse
and  the  Shirvan  Watermill,  with  very  pleasant  surroundings, good
service  and  very  acceptable  food. Patinos was okay, but we were not
very  impressed  with  the Papillon. All offered a varied menu of fish,
seafood  and  meat.  Prices for three courses and a bottle of wine were
roughly TT$500 - #50 or US$85 - for two.

We  looked  at several other restaurants around the island. The Peacock
Mill  is  quite  near the Crown Point area but a long way down a rutted
track.  Eleven  Degrees  North  and  Dillons  Seafood  are  both within
walking  distance  of  the  Coco  Reef, but neither looked particularly
inviting.  Arnos  Vale Waterwheel is deep in the interior of the island
in  a  very attractive setting, but not one you would relish driving to
or  from  in  the dark. What's more it is part of a nature park and you
have  to pay an admission fee even to look the place over - though they
have  a  menu  at the gate house. The Black Rock Cafe is on the edge of
Black  Rock  village.  We were told it was good, but its position isn't
the  prettiest! Another couple we met recommended Rouselles in Bacolet,
but we didn't get there.

The Island
After  some  days  on the beach/at the poolside we hired a jeep (TT$260
per  day) and explored the island over a three-day period. On the first
day  we  drove  to  Scarborough,  the  island  capital.  This  is a no-
nonsense,  busy  little  place  with a permanent market and a "shopping
mall".  There  was  a  small  cruise  ship  in port, but there were few
concessions  to  tourists.  On  the  way  there we looked in at the Rex
Turtle  Beach  Hotel  on  Great  Courland  Bay.  This  is a long narrow
building  right on a very pleasant sandy beach, excellent for swimming.
The  hotel looked a bit tatty, but its position is probably the best on
the island if you're looking for a beach holiday.

From  Scarborough we drove down the main road to Crown Point, where the
airport  and much of the cheaper accommodation is located. For a small,
relatively  undeveloped  island  this area is a surprisingly unpleasant
jumble  of  buildings,  ranging  from shacks to the up-market Coco Reef
Hotel.  Store  Bay, between the Coco Reef and the airport, is where you
get  boat  trips  to the Buccoo Reef and around the island. It sports a
number  of  traditional  island  ladies selling traditional island food
from a row of newly constructed concrete kitchens!

The  Coco  Reef  looked  palatial  but did not appear to have much of a
beach.  (This  was  confirmed  by  some  fellow  Brits  we met who were
staying  there,  who  incidentally  had  little  to  say in the Hotel's
favor.)   Nearby is Pigeon Point, reputedly the island's best beach. We
didn't  look  because you have to pay to get to it, and it was raining,
but in photographs it looks lovely.

On  the  second day we drove up the north west coast past several small
bays.  One  such, Culloden Bay, is the location for the Footprints "Eco
Resort",  a  grouping  of  rooms  and  villas  constructed out of local
materials  trying,  with  a  lot  of  success, to mould itself into the
environment.  Within,  the  rooms had every convenience, including air-
conditioning.  We  met  a Canadian couple staying there who told us the
food  was  excellent,  and it would need to be, as it would not be very
feasible to drive anywhere else for dinner!

The  prettiest bay we found was Englishman's Bay, set just off the road
through  a dense grove of bamboo. There were a few  stalls selling soft
drinks,  crafts  and "roti", the local curry dish. Further up the coast
we  came  to  Castara,  a  village  on  quite  a pleasant beach. It was
lunchtime,  and the only obvious option was the L & H Sunset Bar, which
had  four  small  tables  upstairs.  The food choice was stewed fish or
chicken,  served  with  rice, potato salad and pink beans. Two of these
and  two  Caribs  came  to  TT$50!  The  stew was quite edible, but not
particularly hot. They were doing a steady trade.

A  little  further  north,  at  Bloody  Bay,  the road turns inland and
climbs  through  the Main Ridge Forest Reserve which forms the spine of
the  island.  There are hiking trails through the rain forest but it is
hard  to get any specific information on these trails as it is expected
that  you  will take the services of a guide. Once again it was raining
as  we  reached  the  main  trail-head,  so we decided to press on. The
interior  of  the  island  is  very green, interspersed with trees with
vivid orange flowers. There are palms and bamboo everywhere.

We  reached  the  Windward  side of the island at Roxborough and headed
back  towards  Scarborough.  The  road  is particularly windy down this
Atlantic  coast.  There  are several spots where the waves threaten the
roadway as you pass.

The  following  day we drove back up the Windward road to Roxborough to
visit  the  Argyle Falls. You have to pay to see the falls, and for the
services  of  a  guide to take you along a very obvious trail for about
fifteen  minutes  to reach the bottom of the falls. Here, and along the
way,  are  pools where you are encouraged to swim. Our guide identified
a  few  birds  along  the trail and then, back at the trailhead, waited
very  blatantly  for a fat tip! Incidentally, you are warned in all the
brochures  and  guide  books  only  to  accept qualified guides bearing
badges,  but we had great difficulty persuading one to accompany us, as
they  were  trying  hard  to  fob  us  off  with a "trainee". The falls
themselves  are well worth the journey, but we couldn't help reflecting
that  last  year  we  had been able to hike alone for several times the
distance  to  a  fairly  remote  waterfall  in Grenada for free. For an
undeveloped  island,  Tobago  is not slow at finding ways of extracting
the most from the visitor!

From  here  we drove up to Speyside to lunch at Jemma's, which had been
recommended  both  here  on the CTR and by people we met on the island.
Sadly  it has been overtaken by its own popularity. It is on the round-
the-island  tour  schedule,  and  when  we arrived there were two buses
outside  and  a  large  party in occupation. There were still plenty of
tables  free, but they have tried to fit too many seats in so our lunch
was  spent  moving  around  to allow others access to their tables. The
food  -  "chicken,  fish  or  lobster"  -  was okay, but it was not the
dining  experience  we  had anticipated. The bill for two chcken stews,
two  soft  drinks  and two cups of tea was $TT135 - not quite the value
of the previous day.

Just  before  we  reached  Speyside we detoured to Kings Bay. This is a
very  pleasant  beach,  on  the  Atlantic coast, but sheltered from the
rollers  and  it  looked  as good for swimming as any of the supposedly
calmer beaches on the leeward side of the island.

Overall  we  were  a  bit  disappointed with Tobago. Our hotel was very
comfortable  and  in  a  good  position,  but  the  food  at dinner was
unacceptably  poor.  The  restaurants  we visited were not generally as
good  as  those we had been to in Grenada or Antigua in previous years.
The  development around the airport is really rather unattractive; this
didn't  fit  in  with the image of the unspoiled island paradise we had
hoped for.

The  return  journey  with  BWIA  reinforced my desire to avoid them in
future.  On  the sector between Trinidad and Antigua they served drinks
and  some  cheese  snacks,  but when I asked for a beer I was told they
were  still warm - the flight hadn't been going long enough for them to
cool  down.  When  I suggested that their caterers might keep the beers
refrigerated  I was treated to a lecture on the perils of allowing beer
to  cool  down  and  heat up repeatedly!. After the stop at Antigua, by
which  time  it  was  after  ten  pm,  it  was an age before dinner was
served,  and  a  further  age  before  we were offered anything more to
drink.  At least the stewardess didn't say "would you like something to
drink  with  your  meal?" as it was apparent we had long-since finished
eating

The Caribbean Travel Roundup is available worldwide via Compuserve and INTERNET and is distributed through the facilities of America Online. The official CTR World Wide Web site is http://caribtravelnews.com. Contact: Paul Graveline, 9 Stirling St., Andover, MA 01810-1408 USA :Home (Voice or Fax) 978-470-1971. E-mail via editor@caribtravelnews.com or CTREDITOR@aol.com : On Prodigy - MKWC51A


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