Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 105
May 15, 2000

Last Update 13 May 00

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JAMAICA: GRAND LIDO NEGRIL BY SARA M. SCHARPF

Trip 1/00 

Grand Lido Negril, P.O. Box 88, Negril, Jamaica, West Indies
PHONE (876) 957-5010-8; 
FAX (876) 957-5517

Walking  through  the  resort,  guests can be seen wearing these Grand 
Lido T-shirts. The backs of which read "We do Lido again and again." 

The  first  time  we  visited  Grand  Lido  Negril - five years ago- I 
thought  to  myself,  "Why would people want to come to the same place 
over  and over and over again? That's crazy ... There are other places 
to visit." 

That  was  fifteen  Jamaican vacations ago, ten of which were based at 
Grand  Lido  Negril.  I now understand why some people choose to visit 
again and again. 

Destination  Jamaica:  What's  so  great  about it? 1. Raw beauty. The 
impression  of  gray  rock  cliffs  plunging into the raging Caribbean 
water  sprays  are  contrasted by tranquil, smooth, white sand beaches 
with  gently  lapping  waves. Nearly iridescent, the hues of Jamaica's 
water  glow green and blue. Foliage radiates every imaginable color of 
green,  whether  hibiscus  and  palm  carefully  landscaped  on resort 
property,  or  bamboo,  banana  and coconut palm growing wildly in the 
dense  hills of the island. Sunsets are postcard perfect and the stars 
are  never  so vivid as they are on a cloudless night in Jamaica, with 
even the smallest twinkling brightly at the beach below. 

The  sounds  of  Jamaica  are exceptional, too. Hidden tree frogs make 
their  vocal  appearance only after sunset when they lull islanders to 
sleep.  Whether  mild  or  rough, the waves seem to roll in a round of 
three;  quiet,  louder,  loudest.  Every once in a while the squawk or 
chirp of a bird wakes visitors from their vacation-state of mind.

Human  nature  is  at  its  finest  in Jamaica, too. The spirit of the 
Jamaicans  is  beautiful. Patience is a virtue, a way of life. Sharing 
is never given a second though, it just happens. Friendliness is ever-
present  and humor is a necessity. One will find the resort workers to 
be genuine and kind, and the locals are the same.

2.  The  rhythm.  Along  with  nature's sounds, the Jamaican tempos of 
reggae  and soca are unique, even to the Caribbean. The tropical beat, 
heard  almost  everywhere,  challenges even the laziest of moods. Feet 
tap, hands clap and hips swing to the sounds of the island.

3.  The  pace.  My  husband  and  I often say we have a 'love and hate 
relationship'  with  Jamaica.  I remember the first time we were shown 
from  the  lobby  to  our  room  by  Lorna,  who is now the front desk 
manager.  We  were  so  excited  to  be at Grand Lido. It was our fist 
vacation  in  a  long  time:  we  were  looking  forward to seeing our 
accommodations  for the next seven days and then going on to check out 
the  resort.  But,  Lorna was walking at a slow pace, stopping to talk 
and  explain things to us. Couldn't we walk and talk at the same time? 
We  found  the  same pace among most every Jamaican we encountered. At 
first,  we  found it irritating. That was then...once the vacation set 
in,  we  found  that  we,  too, had picked up, or shall we say, slowed 
down  to  the  Jamaican  stride.  It is a wonderful diversion from the 
hectic  rate  to  which  we  are  accustomed  and  makes  for  a great 
vacation.  And, as hot as it can get down there, the pace is certainly 
understandable.  We  now  look  forward  to  adapting  to  the pace of 
Jamaica.  To  slow down, stroll along and relax, that is what vacation 
is all about, isn't it?

Here's  where  the  'hate'  part  of  the 'love and hate relationship' 
comes  into  play  ...  Travelers  should  remember  to pack a dose of 
patience  in their luggage to be prepared because we Westerners simply 
are  not  accustomed  to the stride. While it is enjoyable for a time, 
most  will  find  it  nice  to  return to the world of 30-minute pizza 
deliveries  and  automated  teller  machines.  The  time  challenge is 
magnified   by  a  mis-translation  of  terms.  To  help  prepare  the 
traveler, here are the actual meanings of a few commonly used terms:

No  Problem.  Jamaicans  are  famous  for  saying  'No Problem' and it 
usually  has  a  good  connotation. But there are various translations 
...  Sometimes  it  means  "absolutely."  Sometimes it means: "glad to 
help."  And, sometimes it means: "I'm listening, I hear you, but there 
really  is not much I can do, so I'm going to tell you no problem. Que 
sera, sera." Simply put, 'No Problem' is an acknowledgment.

Soon.  Question, " When will you return?" Answer, "Soon." … In Jamaica 
"soon"  doesn't  always  mean "soon." Sometimes it means five minutes, 
sometimes  it  means  next  week.  "Taxi be here soon," could actually 
mean  it  is  just around the corner, but it could mean that they have 
not  gotten  around  to  calling one yet and you should be patient. If 
one  isn't  not  sure  what  the context of "soon" is, one should ask: 
"Does  that  mean in the next half hour? Or does that mean I should go 
lay on the beach until next week?"

4.  Weather.  There is a reason that SuperClubs is able to offer a 'No 
Sun'  policy  ... the sun shines most every day. Our most recent visit 
to  Jamaica  allotted  only  two  individual  rain showers that lasted 
about  10 minutes each. While, it may get windy and the sky may drop a 
bit  of  rain in the afternoon, we've yet to experience a day that was 
not  warm.  Even  the  clouds  are  pretty  in  Jamaica.  We  love the 
predictable climate, and who wouldn't?

Ten  visits  to  Grand  Lido  Negril,  Why?  In addition to the varied 
beauty   of   Jamaica,   Grand  Lido  Negril  has  its  own  unmatched 
attributes.

1.  A warm welcome. We anticipate the "Welcome Home" which is bestowed 
upon  us at with each return. The familiar faces remember us and greet 
us  warmly,  as  if we are returning to our summer cabin ... with much 
better weather. 

2.  Subtle  grace. While the resort is elegant, it is not pretentious. 
The  spaciousness  of  the resort makes it comfortable and airy. There 
are  days  that  the  resort  is  full  and  we'll  wonder,  "Where is 
everybody?"  There  is just so much acreage of beach and activity area 
in  which guests may disappear. With so many options, the only time it 
may  seem  full  is  at  mealtime.  The  vibes  can  be really fun and 
playful,   still  guests  are  treated  to  first-  rate  service  and 
attention  to  detail.  The grounds are elegantly manicured with every 
type  of tropical plant imaginable. Restaurant service is consistently 
pleasant. 

3.  Put  the  money  away.  Certainly adding to the 'less stress, more 
fun'  feel  of  our  Grand  Lido  Negril  vacations  has been the all-
inclusive  aspect. It is such a relief to put away the cash and credit 
cards  for  an  entire  week.  We  are  no dummies; we know we pay up- 
front.  Yet  there  is  something  liberating about not having to deal 
with  cash  exchanges every single time we belly-up to the bar or need 
a  cup  of coffee. Meal decisions are never made on the basis of cost. 
Normally,  if a person were not terribly hungry, they would not choose 
a  continental  restaurant  for dinner. With the all-inclusive aspect, 
we  can go out for a 'little bite' in any restaurant, maybe only order 
one  course,  and not feel bad or like we have wasted money. Still, we 
are  able  to  enjoy the nice ambiance. No offense Ronald, but it sure 
beats the Golden Arches for a light dinner!

4.  No  tipping. It is amazing to see people so interested in making a 
guest's  stay  enjoyable,  even  without  vision of great tips dancing 
through  their  heads.  At GRAND LIDO NEGRIL, everything is included … 
that  means  tips,  too. While vacationers sometimes wonder if that is 
appropriate,  they  should know that employees are not to accept tips. 
Giving  an  employee  a  tip  can  lead  to their immediate dismissal. 
Visitors  should  know  Grand Lido employees are paid well by Jamaican 
standards.  Plus,  a  certain  percentage  of  the  hotel's  income is 
allotted   for  gratuity  that  is  distributed  to  all  staff,  from 
housekeeping  and  grounds  to  wait staff and laundry. Many employees 
have  told  us  that  the  gratuity  is,  many months out of the year, 
greater  than  their  salary.  In  lieu  of cash tipping, the friendly 
words  'please'  and  'thank you,' accompanied by a warm smile are the 
only gratuity needed.

5.  Location,  location,  location. As beautiful a the grounds are, so 
is  its setting. To walk the expanse of beach that curls around Bloody 
Bay  is  like  a  walk through the Pearly Gates. We were able to enjoy 
pristine  beach for a couple of years, until two new resorts popped up 
along the beach adjacent to Grand Lido Negril. Still, beyond the soon-
to-be-  completed  Beaches  resort  to the North, walking the beach is 
just as enjoyable as ever. 

6.  Removed from reality, with modern communications. Try as we might, 
it  is  a  challenge to completely forget that the entire world around 
us  exists.  To  check  in,  we  are  thankful for in-room telephones, 
internet  hook  up  via  InfoChannel  (which must be arranged ahead of 
time,  www.infochan.com),  and  satellite  television  at  the resort, 
especially CNN. 

7.  Robust  coffee.  Java, brew, Joe: whatever you call it, the coffee 
is  awesome.  Anyway  you  pour it, the coffee is great, and it tastes 
even better there than it does at home. 

What  to  expect, arriving to Grand Lido Negril. The 22-acre resort is 
located  on  the  shore  of  Bloody Bay, which is located northeast of 
Negril's  world-famous  seven-mile  beach.  After arriving Jamaica via 
Montego  Bay's  Sangster International Airport, GRAND LIDO NEGRIL is a 
one  and  a-half hour drive west, on a nasty, bumpy, winding road. The 
road  is  not  pleasant,  but  one  can  learn  a lot about Jamaica by 
observations  made  along  the  way.  Guests  planning  to arrive into 
Montego  Bay  with enough daylight left have the option of arranging a 
15-minute  flight  to  the unlit single-strip Negril Aerodrome located 
directly across the street from the resort.

Grand  Lido  Facilities:  Guests arrive through the main entrance hall 
and  are guided through the marble lobby and into the lounge for guest 
registration.  Here  is  a  summary  of  Grand Lido Negril facilities, 
grounds and amenities.

The  main  building,  which includes the Terrazza, Main Bar, Lobby and 
Lounge,  Main  Desk,  Piacere,  LaPasta, Café Lido, Amici, Games Room, 
Atlantis   Disco,  Video  Theater,  Library,  Salon  Delores,  Nurse's 
Office,  Boutique/Duty-free  Shop  and  Gift  Shop. (All are described 
below)  Lobby  --  Home to a collection of art available for sale from 
Chelsea Gallery. This is also where afternoon tea is served. Lounge --
  Just  beyond  the  lobby  and front desk, an airy lounge area is the 
stage for registration
  and  is a great gathering point throughout the week. The concierge's 
desk  and  the  tour  desk are located here. The Terrazza – (Sometimes 
called  the  Gran  Terrazza)  This is the spot for buffets, as well as 
lunchtime  and  evening  entertainment.  Amici -- For Karaoke or great 
music  by the resident pianist, Ike, the piano bar is a quiet place to 
have  a  drink  and  conversation.  Games  Room – Offering backgammon, 
board  games,  cards,  dominoes,  pool  tables, ping-pong, and a small 
collection  of  slot  machines.  Atlantis  Disco--  Adjacent the Games 
Room,  the  Atlantis  Disco  starts rockin' at about 10:30 each night. 
Video  Theater  –  Open 24-hours a day, the video theater offers a big 
screen  satellite  television  and  use of a VCR (tapes available from 
concierge).  Library  – Available are books, magazines, and newspapers 
–  limited  quantity  and selection (guests seem to "forget" to return 
items).  Boutique/Duty-free  Shop  and  Gift  Shop  –  toiletries  and 
munchies  are  expensive,  but when in need, one can buy! Compare gift 
items  with  those  in the market across the street, and one will find 
the  prices  at the gift shop are very fair. Salon Delores -- Although 
hair  services  are not included in the all-inclusive rate, across the 
open-air  hallway  from  the  gift  shop is Salon Delores which offers 
every  guest  the  opportunity for a good hair day. Staysie, the beach 
walking  hair-braider  works  for  Salon  Delores and offers authentic 
Jamaican  hair  braiding  to  guests right on the beach if so desired! 
Nurse's  Office  -- It is comforting to know that a nurse is available 
on  property.  Piacere,  LaPasta,  Café  Lido  --  described  below in 
restaurant section.

Eight  Bars  –  the  main  bar  on  the Terrazza, the Amici Piano Bar, 
Atlantis Disco, three clubhouse bars, main beach bar, C/O beach bar.

Club  Houses  –  Stone,  Timber  and Beach House – each offers a light 
menu, a bar, whirlpool and terrace.

Fitness  Center  –  The air-conditioned gym is divided into two areas. 
Treadmills,  Stairmasters,  stationary  bikes are located in one, with 
free-weights  and  resistance  training  equipment  in  the other. The 
equipment  is  excellent. Patrick, the resident instructor is pleasant 
and helpful. 

Aerobics  deck  --  Now  a year old, this exercise area is adjacent to 
the  main  pool  yet out of view of the Terrazza. A beautiful seascape 
provides  a  great  backdrop  for  sweat  and  heavy  breathing ... of 
exercise.

Spa  Area  - The newly constructed spa area is peaceful and beautiful. 
Facilities  include  a  plunging  pool,  steam  room  and sauna. It is 
professionally  run,  but not ostentatious. Daily spa hours are 9 AM – 
6  PM.  The  former  assistant spa manager from Grand Lido Sans Souci, 
Millicent,  came to GRAND LIDO NEGRIL to run the spa. Spa services are 
charged to the room, and no tipping is allowed. 

Three  massage  huts – each overlooking the ocean, these can be breezy 
but pleasant place for a massage. 

Four  Tennis  Courts  - There are two on either end of the resort, one 
by  the  Beach  House, and one on the C/O side. Two courts are lit for 
evening play. 
 Golf - is available at Negril Hills, see the concierge. 

Large  pool/whirlpool  area - Adjacent to the Terrazza and directly on 
the  ocean  this  pretty pool area is newly tiled, kept neat and clean 
with plenty of towels and chaises and foam cushions. 

Clothing  Optional  (C/O) whirlpool and pool area -- The beach bar and 
grill  on the C/O side of the resort is much nicer than it once was. A 
year  ago,  the  deck  around  the  pool was expanded to make room for 
additional  chaises,  and now they have completely resurfaced the deck 
to be prettier.

Watersports  -  The  watersports  center is located on the main beach. 
Available  watersports  include  wind  surfing, sailing on sunfish and 
catamarans,  water  skiing,  kayaking,  snorkeling,  water  tricycles, 
water  "bicycles," glass-bottom boat rides. Instruction for each water 
sport  is  included.  Although  Grand Lido Negril does not offer para-
sailing,  it  is available for a charge by letting a watersports staff 
person  know,  who will then call over an area para-sail boat. SCUBA – 
daily  dives  are  offered  for beginners and PADI certified divers. A 
resort  course  is  available.  International  PADI  certification  is 
available for an additional cost.

Resident  Yacht  – Originally given as a gift from Aristotle Onasis to 
Grace  Kelly  and  Prince  Ranier  of  Monaco  as  a wedding gift, the 
motorized  yacht  Zein is 147 feet long and a graceful beauty. The M/Y 
Zein  offers  a  daily  sunset cruise, weather permitting. There are a 
couple  other  cruises  available  throughout  the  week,  including a 
morning  C/O  trip.  Reservations  with concierge are required for the 
pleasant  cocktail  cruise  that takes all aboard past Rick's Café and 
the  Negril Light House on the West End. It includes entertainment and 
light  appetizers.  The  Zein  is  a beautiful place for a wedding, as 
well.  If  the M/Y Zein is in dry dock or out for maintenance, another 
boat is contracted by the hotel to provide a sunset cruise. 

Laundry  and  Dry Cleaning -- Valet laundry service is available at no 
charge.  Guests  must  simply  press  the  'valet/laundry'  speed dial 
button  on  the  in-room phone before 10:30 AM. A worker then picks up 
the  bag  of  your  clothing,  which may be left just inside your door 
with  appropriate  paperwork. Valet orders are returned to your closet 
within two days. 

Two  Beaches  -- A main beach and clothing optional beach are arguably 
the  most  beautiful  of  beaches  on that side of the island. The C/O 
beach  offers  intermittent  areas  of crashing waves on a rocky shore 
and  along a sand beach. The "textile" or main beach is clean and wide 
with  white  sand  …  very  few  rocks and shells wash onto the beach, 
which  is groomed daily. The main beach continues on to the northeast, 
separated  by only a guard's post, where a new Couples resort recently 
opened,   and   where,  further  along,  a  Breezes  resort  is  under 
construction.

Guest  Rooms  --  All  beachfront and ocean view room blocks are built 
two  levels  high,  with  open-air  covered  walkways  connecting  the 
backside,  and  paved  paths  connecting  the  oceanfront side of each 
room.  The  resort  is  home  to  200  sleeping rooms and a few deluxe 
executive  suites,  as  well  as one grandiose Presidential Suite. The 
suites  are located on the main beach between the watersports building 
and the first room block. 

The  junior  suite  --  This  is the standard room type. It is divided 
into  two  areas:  a  raised  bedroom  and  a sunken lounge area. Both 
sections  of  the  rooms  are tiled, as is the bathroom. The furniture 
and window treatments are tasteful and in fair condition. 

The  lounge  area  includes a love seat, floor lamp, a coffee table, a 
TV  stand complete with satellite television, a CD/cassette/radio boom 
box,  and a table lamp. There are no screens or glass on the two small 
windows  that  face  the  ocean, only lockable louvers which allow the 
ocean  and  tree  frog  sounds  in  at night. In-between the two small 
windows  is  a  patio  door;  upstairs  rooms  have  a  tiny  balcony, 
downstairs  rooms  have  a  beachside  patio (if it is a beachfront or 
ocean-view  room).  The ceiling fan and air conditioner are located on 
the lounge side of the suite. 

The  sleeping area of the room includes a bed with bedside lamps and a 
telephone.  Across  from  the  bed  is  an  attached  wood vanity with 
upholstered  vanity  chair and a lamp, and a full-length mirror. Hotel 
information  is available in the folder found on the vanity, including 
laundry  information,  room  service  menu, spa 'menu', in-house phone 
numbers, etc. There are more than enough pillows to choose from. 

Near  the  entrance  of each room is a built-in armoire which houses a 
mini  safe, a built-in dresser, three shelves with vanity top, a light 
and  mirror.  There  is  a  coffee/tea maker on the vanity next to the 
electrical   outlet.  A  dispenser  in  the  bathroom  tub/shower  has 
shampoo,  bath  gel  and  lotion. Towels abound! A hair dryer hangs on 
the  wall in the bathroom, next to the sink and mirror-- but if you're 
used  to a standard hair dryer, this one may not be powerful enough to 
dry  your  hair.  Louvered-glass windows help to keep air circulating. 
Daily  maid service includes full cleaning in the morning and turndown 
service in the evening.

Dining  Information  GRAND  LIDO  NEGRIL  has  added  "heart  healthy" 
notations on most menus to guests interested in making wise choices.

BREAKFAST  AND  LUNCH BUFFETS, on the Terrazza: Breakfast 8:00 – 10:30 
AM;  Lunch  12:30  – 3:00 PM. Attire is casual; cover-ups must be worn 
over swimsuits.

Breakfast  Buffet Menu: Hot items like sausages, bacon, eggs Benedict, 
scrambled  eggs,  breakfast  fish,  corned beef hash, French toast and 
pancakes;  Bagels, muffins, English muffins, banana bread, whole wheat 
bread,  multi-grain bread and white bread. Toaster and condiments like 
marmalade,  jam,  jelly,  butter,  cream  cheese, locks, etc. Made-to-
order  omelets.  Fresh  fruit.  Cheese  display.  Yogurt. Sweet rolls. 
Juices, coffee, tea, soda, mimosa (etc.) served at the table.

Lunch  Buffet  Menu:  Hot items differ from day to day; usually ethnic 
cuisine  is  featured  (Mexican, Jamaican, Italian, and Oriental). Hot 
soup.  Bread  display.  A  newly  added  feature  is the made-to-order 
sandwich  and sandwich grilling station - wonderful. Cold salads and a 
salad  bar.  Desserts  are  incredible  …  a  full dessert display and 
limited  ice  cream  sundae  bar  is offered. Wine, coffee, tea, soda, 
juices and bar drinks are served at the table.

STONE  HOUSE, TIMBER HOUSE AND BEACH HOUSE: serve casual fare 24 hours 
a   day.   A   full   menu   can   be   found   on   our   website  at 
http://members.aol.com/scharpfy/travel/homepage.html. Casual dress.

24-HOUR  ROOM  SERVICE:  Being a coffee addict, I ordered room service 
two  to  three  times  a  day  …  "coffee please!" Each time I ordered 
service  arrived  within 15 minutes, with only one exception. The room 
service  menu  is  the  same  as that offered at the various 'houses', 
plus  continental  breakfast.  Breakfast menu includes: cereal, toast, 
bakery  basket,  assorted  yogurt,  fresh fruit plate, cottage cheese, 
Blue  Mountain  coffee,  decaffeinated  coffee,  tea,  mango nectar, a 
large  variety of juices, and milk. Guests need only to hang the order 
card  on the door before 2:00 a.m. to order from a limited continental 
breakfast  menu  that  will  be  delivered  at  the  time  you request 
(between 6:00 and 10:00 AM).

LA   PASTA:   Fine  Italian  Cuisine.  This  is  my  favorite  of  the 
restaurants  because  of  its casual nature, guests may dine inside or 
out,  and the food quality is tremendous. The menu at LaPasta formerly 
changed  every  four  or five days. While we were there this visit, it 
change  only once, after the first night, and we were disappointed. We 
asked  a  manager  about  it and found that plans were in the works to 
begin  rotating the menu again. Casual Dress. 3:00 PM – 2:00 AM daily. 
A     full    menu    can    be    found    on    our    website    at 
http://members.aol.com/scharpfy/travel/homepage.html.   If  you  don't 
see  just  what  will settle your palate, ask for a deviation from the 
menu  (i.e.  a  plain  red  sauce  or "no mushrooms"). LaPasta's staff 
tries  to  accommodate  special  requests.  Three or four desserts are 
displayed on a cart near the front of the restaurant.

CAFÉ  LIDO:  Continental  Dining.  Smart  Casual Dress, no shorts. The 
service  and  food here is just as fine as the French restaurant, with 
the  exception  of  a  sorbet palate cleanser and white gloves. I like 
this  place  because  my husband doesn't have to wear a coat to dinner 
and  we still are treated like royalty. Seating 6:30 – 10:00 PM daily, 
except  Friday.  No  reservations.  A  full  menu  can be found on our 
website  at  http://members.aol.com/scharpfy/travel/homepage.html. The 
meal  is  accompanied  by  a  basket  of  bread and full wine service. 
Dessert  is listed on the menu and includes a selection of five or six 
tantalizing  items.  If  you're a Plane-Jane eater, go ahead and order 
most  any  item  without  sauces, herbs, seasonings, etc. You may dine 
inside or out.

PIACERE:  Exquisite  French Fare. Reservations required. Formal attire 
required,  no  athletic  shoes,  jackets  required.  Limited  Seating. 
Contact  the  Concierge  to  make reservations. Open daily 6:30 - 9:30 
PM.    A    full    menu    can   be   found   on   our   website   at 
http://members.aol.com/scharpfy/travel/homepage.html.    Again,   full 
wine  service  and a basket of breads accompany your meal. The service 
is  impeccable  and  white-gloved.  The menu here is as good or better 
than we've ever experienced anywhere in the United States.


WEDNESDAY  NIGHT  -  ISLAND  BUFFET,  7:30  PM Menu: Hot items include 
regional  favorites  like  curried  goat,  rice  and  peas, white fish 
cakes.  Also  included  on  the hot food line: vegetables, rice, fish, 
beef,  chicken, pork and shellfish. Salad chef. Bread bar. Fresh fruit 
galore.  Sushi.  Crudite of fresh vegetables and dips. Cheese display. 
And  more.  Desserts  are abundant … cakes, pastries, brule, tiramisu, 
biscottis,  cookies, pies, cream cakes, and more. Wine, bar and coffee 
service  is  available  at  the  table. Attire: spiffy causal to semi-
formal

FRIDAY  NIGHT  -  GRAND  GALA BUFFET, 7:45 PM Menu: Everything that is 
listed  above  …  and  way  more!  Usually more seafood and red meats. 
Lobster  lovers note: SuperClubs respects the Jamaican regulations for 
lobster  trapping  and  shows  support  for  the season by not serving 
lobster,  even  imported  or  fresh-frozen lobster, when the season is 
closed.  I  don't  recall  when  it is in- or out-of- season. However, 
SuperClubs  serves  other seafood and shellfish, like shrimp, scallops 
and  crab,  when  the  lobster  season is closed. Wine, bar and coffee 
service  is  available  at  the  table. Ask for a cappuccino if you so 
choose. Attire: spiffy causal to semi-formal

Daily   Activities.  For  a  complete  list  of  activities,  ask  the 
concierge  for  a  copy  of the daily activity sheet available through 
the  concierge or at the front desk for activities while you are there 
…  a  copy  of those activities available at the time of our visit can 
be          found          on          our          website         at 
http://members.aol.com/scharpfy/travel/homepage.html.    Here   is   a 
sampling  of  activities: Lunchtime show and activities; Interludes of 
live  music  throughout  the  resort; Evening showcase events and live 
performances  by  the  house  band; Tropical drink mixing and cooking; 
Karaoke;  Beach  volleyball; Nature walks; All types of aerobic, water 
aerobic,  toning,  weight and personal body conditioning; Cigar night; 
Various game tournaments and dance classes.

A  wide  variety  of  daytime  outings  and  tours  are  offered at an 
additional  charge.  Information  and  reservations  are  available by 
contacting the concierge.

Other  helpful Grand Lido Negril information. We arrived to GRAND LIDO 
NEGRIL  late  in  the  evening.  Because  we  had  landed  at Sangster 
International  Airport just before dusk, we were not able to charter a 
TimAir   flight   to  Negril.  We  took  Grand  Lido  supplied  ground 
transportation.  The  road  between  Negril  and  Montego Bay is still 
experiencing  the  trauma  of  road  construction, Jamaican style. The 
road  is  bumpy,  windy and vehicles must cross from the existing road 
to  the  road under construction, even driving along the bumpy unpaved 
road  in  many  instances.  Just  plan  on it a ride full of jolt. One 
note:  we  find that the Jamaican drivers of the mini- busses supplied 
by  Grand  Lido  are  consistently  good.  They  are accustomed to the 
roads; they know where the turns and the tight spots are. 

Entertainment  at  Grand  Lido  is colorful and of good quality. There 
are  some fabulous local talents. Ike, the man tickling the ivories in 
the  piano  bar night after night, is one of the best performers we've 
seen.  He  could  play  in  any  club  in  any country and keep guests 
entertained for hours. 

We  enjoy  the  services and the setting of the spa area. Of course, I 
enjoyed  the complementary pedicure and manicure. But we also paid for 
a few massages and a facial, and we found it well worth the price.

We  were  able  to  fly  back  to  Montego  Bay  on TimAir, making our 
reservations  through  the  concierge.  However, for anyone wishing to 
make TimAir reservations directly, call 876/952-2516.

Water  quality  is  fine in Jamaica and at the resort. It is clean and 
actually  tastes good, too. Wine lovers beware … wine at Grand Lido is 
fine  or  good,  but not awesome. There are several Chilean wines that 
are  good.  French  table  wines have character and are enjoyable. But 
the  Jamaican  wines  leave much to be desired. Pepsi and Coke are not 
quite  the  same  as at home, but it is much better than when we first 
stayed  in  Jamaica.  Diet  Pepsi  is  now  available  on tap, too. Of 
course,  nowhere  is there a beverage like Red Stripe, so indulge. The 
coffee  is  great,  sure to transform the rare drinker into an addict. 
Jamaican  rum  is  heavy-duty.  A  little  goes  a  long  way  and the 
bartenders  don't pour drinks lightly. If one desires a lighter drink, 
just let the bartender know. 

Changes  since  our  last  visit. Terrazza Service -- A new system for 
serving  beverages  and  clearing  tables  is  in place for all of the 
buffets.  Every  waiter  is  now  in  charge  of  beverage service for 
guests.  The  improvement  is  such  a  relief  and  service  is  100% 
effective.  No  more  case of the missing drink at lunchtime! Overall, 
throughout the resort, meal and beverage service is up to par. 

Overall  food  quality  and  selection  -- We were really pleased that 
there  have been improvements here. A new chef has brought some common 
sense  to  the  menus, with more variety and better quality. One great 
addition  is  a  sandwich station at lunchtime. Guests' sandwiches are 
made  to  order  from  a variety of cold cuts, cheeses and vegetables. 
Grand  Lido Negril did not eliminate anything on the menu to make room 
for this, so there is much more variety on the lunch buffet.

Grounds  and  Maintenance  --  On our prior visit, we became concerned 
that  perhaps the resort was beginning to become run down, the grounds 
were  just  not  as  neat  and  clean  as  they  had been. Much to our 
delight,  there  seems  to  have been a renewed focus on the upkeep of 
the  facilities  and  the  landscaping  around it, a marked difference 
this  trip.  Once  again the landscapers were out every day raking the 
grounds.  Plantings  are  cared  for.  Workers  are  keeping up if the 
constant  need  for  paint  and re-finishing in the humid environment. 
Chairs  are  being  scrubbed clean. There were no leaves in the pools. 
Garbage  of lazy vacationers was picked up promptly, we think, because 
there was none lying around. 

Clothing  Optional  (C/O)  Pool  and  Beach  --  The C/O pool deck was 
expanded  last  year and so was the bar area there. Recently, the pool 
deck  was  resurfaced  so  the facelift is complete. The addition of a 
cocktail  waitress  to  the  nude pool and beach area is applauded. In 
addition  to  serving  drinks  to lounging guests, empty cups and food 
trays  are  picked  up.  Sand  was  added  to  one  area  of the beach 
expanding  the  sandy  lounging  area.  All in all, the beach and pool 
area looks tidy and pretty.

Beach  Towels at Turndown -- Guest rooms receive two beach towels each 
night  with  turndown  service.  No  more  stockpiling of beach towels 
required at Grand Lido Negril.

New  General  Manager  -- Resort management had been in transition for 
the  past  two  years  with  repeated modifications. Hopefully that is 
over.  Many  of  the above improvements can be attributed to Mr. Brian 
Drew,  Grand Lido Negril's new General Manager. He has been there long 
enough  to  have  impact.  From the perspective of other managers, Mr. 
Drew  seems  to be empowering all employees to make positive decisions 
on  behalf  of the resort, giving them authority and responsibility to 
make things happen positively. 

New  Resident  Manager,  too  -- Mr. Sylvan Walker has been with Super 
Clubs  for  some  time. He made the move from Grand Lido Braco about a 
year  ago  and  he  seems  to  have  what  it  takes. Plus, he is very 
friendly,  smiles a lot, and seems to understand what guests want from 
their vacations.

Smiles  --  With the arrival of Mr. Drew and his management philosophy 
has  come  improved moral across the board. Employees are smiling more 
and  they  seem  to  be more interested in doing the little extra that 
makes  a  guest's  stay  luxurious. This change had the most impact on 
our stay being so enjoyable.

Sleeping  room air conditioning -- Old A/Cs have been replaced in most 
every  room. They are quiet, can be controlled with remote control and 
are  a great improvement. Temperatures are in Celsius, not Fahrenheit, 
so  you  might  want  to know conversions ... Fahrenheit to Celsius: C 
temp = 5/9(F-32); F temp = 9/5C (+32). For example, if C= 20, F temp
=9/5x20(+32) 

=36+32 F temp 
=68

Bathroom  tiles  --  The  transition of old to new tile in each of the 
guest  rooms  is  now  complete.  Bathroom floors have been retiled in 
white  and,  overall,  it makes the bathrooms look much nicer, cleaner 
and newer. 

A  facelift  for the Timber House -- During our stay, the Timber House 
was  closed  for  renovation. We were able to watch as they re-surface 
the  whirlpool  area, removed everything from the upped deck, even the 
floorboards  which  were replaced. Lots of paint and varnish was used. 
Additionally,  all  of  the iron beach chairs at all of the Houses had 
been repainted so they look brand new.

Final  note. We always evaluate our vacations carefully ... the result 
of  our  most  recent Grand Lido Negril visit is more positive than it 
has been in several trips. We will return, and not soon enough! 

MARGARITA ISLAND BY STEVE SIGUAW

If  you  seek  an island where the Spanish influence still exists then 
Margarita  Island  (Isla  de  Margarita as it is locally known) is the 
place  for  you.   Margarita  island  is  THE  tourist destination for 
Venezuelans.   If you ever meet someone from Venezuela and you want to 
make  a  new  friend,  just say the words "Margarita Island" and their 
eyes  will  glaze  over  instantly with fond memories of this southern 
Caribbean island paradise.

Margarita  Island lies off the northern coast of Venezuela, about a 30 
minute  flight  from  Caracas  yet in an entirely different world than 
the  rest  of  South  America.  This island is also protected from the 
hurricanes  that rake the rest of the Caribbean because it is south of 
the  normal  hurricane  belt.  The  temperature  is  constant all year 
long.   The normal temperature range is 87 - 92 degrees during the day 
and  nighttime  temperatures  varying  from  72 - 78 degrees.  You are 
only  11  degrees  north  of  the  equator  so there is essentially no 
temperature variation throughout the year.

You  will  find many beaches on Margarita Island, as well as duty-free 
shopping  and  very  old colonial towns with fortresses and historical 
churches.   The  trade-winds  consistently  blow across this landscape 
allowing  the  tropical  climate  to  feel  just a bit cooler than you 
would  expect  of  an  island  located  at  11  degrees  north  of the 
equator.   Good package deals are available for a vacation if you find 
the   proper   sources   who  are  knowledgeable  about  the  southern 
Caribbean.   

Getting There

It  is  said  that  the  journey  should  be  enjoyed  as  much as the 
destination.  This belief certainly holds true for getting to and from 
Margarita  Island.  The  primary  route  to Margarita Island is flying 
from  Miami  -  Caracas  -  Margarita Island.  You can fly a number of 
U.S.  airlines  to Caracas including American, United and Delta.  From 
Caracas  to  Margarita  Island  the two airlines you can choose to fly 
are the Venezuelan airlines of Aserca or AeroPostal.  

Upon  arrival  in  Caracas  you  pass through immigration and customs.  
Fill  out  the customs form supplied by the airline and put the number 
21  in  the  place named Dias for the length of your stay.  If you are 
only  staying  1  week you just want to be safe so use 21 days for the 
length  of  your  stay.  Also, write Tourist in the Tipo de Visa (Type 
of  Visa).  Passports are required. Now smile, take a deep breath, try 
to  remain calm and get ready for  a real adventure:  actually getting 
to Margarita Island!

There  are  two  major  problems  in getting to Margarita island.  The 
first  problem  is the Caracas airport (Actually the Maiquetia Airport 
and  officially  named  the  Aeropuerto  Internacional Simon Bolivar).  
This  is  where  essentially  all  flights to Margarita Island depart.  
All  international  flights  arrive  at the international terminal but 
all  flights  to  Margarita  Island  leave from the domestic terminal.  
You  will  have to get yourself from the international terminal to the 
domestic  terminal.   No  doubt about it, you will loose money at this 
airport.   The  only  thing  you  can  do is limit your money loss but 
again,  you will loose money here.  The most common way to loose money 
is  when  you  drag  your bags out of customs and enlist the help of a 
porter  for  the  trip  to  the domestic terminal.  You have just lost 
between  $10 and $20.  That is the amount it will cost you to have the 
porter  take  your  bags  to  the domestic terminal, about a 10 minute 
walk  away.    You  need  to  attempt to set the price for this porter 
before  you give him your bags. But even if the price has been set you 
will  wind up paying more than the stated price once you arrive at the 
domestic  terminal.   It seems that inflation has just occurred during 
the  length  of your 10 minute walk.  Yet you have to get your bags to 
the  domestic  terminal  so  just  count  on paying about $10 for this 
service.   Now  on  the way out of the international terminal with the 
porter  wheeling  your  bags  on  the  cart, you will be approached by 
another  person  who  will  want to help you with your check-in at the 
domestic  airline  counter.   When  this person talks to you, you have 
just  lost  another  $10  -  $20.   This  person  is  useless  and not 
required.   This  person  will  stand  in  line with you and give your 
ticket  to the airline agent in the domestic terminal and you must pay 
him  between  $10  - $20 for no service what-so-ever.  This is how you 
will  loose  money at the airport. Just consider the cost for going to 
the domestic terminal as part of your spending money. 

In  addition,  as  a  very  stern  warning,  NEVER  take a taxi to the 
domestic  terminal  from  the  international  terminal.   You will not 
arrive  there.   If  for some reason you wish to venture away from the 
airport,  say  to  go to a hotel, then you will be exposing a lot more 
money  than merely taxi fare. Above all else, never leave this airport 
unless  you are on your flight bound for Margarita Island (or you have 
friends who will meet you and transport you from the airport).   

The  second  problem  in getting to Margarita Island is the Venezuelan 
airlines.   Whatever  you  read  in  the guide books or hear from your 
travel  agent always remember that the reality of getting from Caracas 
to  Margarita Island is a bit different.  The Venezuelan airlines seem 
to  have  forgotten  about flight schedules in general.  When they say 
your  flight  is on Saturday at 4 pm they really mean that your flight 
is  on  Saturday  sometime in the afternoon,  evening or early morning 
on  Sunday.   Eventually  you  will  get  your  flight  but the flight 
schedule is essentially meaningless in Venezuela.

There  is  a  departure  tax that you will be assessed for flying from 
Caracas  to  Margarita  Island  by  the  domestic  ticket agent at the 
Caracas  airport.  Pay  this fee directly to the ticket agent when you 
are  asked for it.  This fee seems to change frequently but in January 
2000 the fee was 2,000 Bs per person (about $3.00).  

There  is  one  final  money  matter at the airport that you should be 
aware  of.  The  Venezuelan  airlines  charge  for extra bags and over 
weight  bags,  most of the time.  It just depends on the mood when you 
check  in  and  how  closely they watch the scale.  The fee is nominal 
but  it  is  a  hassle  since you must pay for the extra weight before 
your  boarding pass is issued.  Sometimes this payment must be made at 
a  separate  counter  and then you must get back in the ticket line to 
obtain your boarding pass.

Try  not  to  let  your  negative  experience  at  the Caracas airport 
influence your entire trip.  After all, the journey is ...!  

Money Matters

Change  about  $100  in the US into Bolivars (the Venezuelan currency) 
before  you board your flight to Venezuela.  That amount of money will 
carry  you through the airport hassles (see above) and get you to your 
hotel  with  a little spending money remaining.  Once in Venezuela you 
pay for everything with Bolivars (or a credit card if you can).

Margarita Island - Arrival

Arriving  at  the  airport  on  Margarita  Island (Aeropuerto Santiago 
Marino)  you  will  be pleasantly surprised at how peaceful, clean and 
modern  this  place  is  compared  with the Caracas airport.  You will 
think you have just arrived in another world, and you have.  

It  is  best  to  arrange  for  transportation  to your hotel when you 
initially  book  your trip.  Then everything will be taken care of for 
you.   Simply  pick  up  your  bags  from  the carousel and say buenos 
(dias,  tardes,  or  noches)  to your driver as he helps you load your 
luggage into the waiting vehicle.  

If  you  have  not  made transportation arrangements, you will have to 
negotiate  with  a  taxi for the fare to your hotel.  These fares vary 
depending  on  the  time  of day you arrive and of course how far away 
your  hotel  is  from the airport.  Most hotels are very far away from 
the  airport  so be prepared with those extra Bolivars.  The taxi fare 
to  Porlamar is about $15.00 but to the further out hotels it could be 
as  much  as  $20.00.   The  current  taxi  rates  are  posted  at the 
information  booth  in the national terminal at the airport as well as 
in the tourist leaflet.

Language

Spanish  is  the  language  of Venezuela and is the language spoken on 
Margarita  Island.   Whatever  the  guide  books  tell  you about many 
people  speaking  English,  simply  ignore  that  statement.  Very few 
people  speak  English.  Yet do not despair if your Spanish is limited 
or  non-existent.   Someone at the hotel, a tour guide, the rental car 
agency  or  some  people  in  the restaurants will speak some English.  
Pantomime  and  pointing  is  also  used very successfully by language 
deficient  travelers!   If  you  are really lucky your driver from the 
airport  to  your  hotel  will  speak  some  English and then they can 
explain all of the additional tours they offer on and off the island.

Where to Stay

You  should  surf  the internet and/or consult with a travel agent who 
has  actually  been  to  Margarita Island to help you find the type of 
accommodations  that  you want for your vacation.  The entire spectrum 
of  hotels  and  resorts  exist  on this island.  Names, brochures and 
written  descriptions  will  not necessarily be correct in helping you 
find the ideal place to stay however. 

If  you  are  a  first  time visitor to the island I would suggest you 
stay  at  an  all-inclusive  resort.   Most  of  the better and larger 
resorts  are  all-inclusive.   Once  you  book one of these places you 
have  freed  yourself from worrying about where you will get your next 
meal,  which  can  sometimes be a challenge here.  I will make several 
suggestions  based  on my personal experience of where to stay on this 
island.    Many   of  the  hotels  on  Margarita  Island  characterize 
themselves  in  terms  of  stars: 5 stars being the best, 4 stars very 
good,  etc.  etc.   What  I  have  found  is that 5 stars on Margarita 
Island  means  a  hotel with exquisite grounds, a fantastic pool area, 
good  beach  access  and/or  a  spectacular  reception area.  The star 
rating  on  Margarita  Island  does  not refer to the type of room you 
will  get,  the  quality  of  the  food nor the quality of the hotel's 
staff.   As  an good example of the 5 star rating, the Hilton Hotel in 
Porlamar  has  a  great beach, fancy lobby as well as nicely manicured 
grounds.   Yet  this  hotel  has small rooms that are old and not well 
maintained.   But  it  does  have  cable TV!  The point being that you 
should  not  choose  a resort based on a hotel's star rating except to 
use  the  star  rating  when comparing hotels with one another on this 
island.

For  our  first visit to to this island in February, 2000, my wife and 
I  chose  the Playa El Agua Beach Resort to stay.  Playa El Agua Beach 
Resort  is  located  adjacent to the most popular beach on the island, 
Playa  El  Agua.  This  hotel is rated a 4 star resort and the grounds 
show  this  high of a rating but not the rooms of course.  This resort 
is  an  all  inclusive resort so all your meals, drinks (alcoholic and 
non-alcoholic),  and resort activities all included in the price.  The 
resort  has  a  specific  area  on  El Agua beach, directly across the 
street.   Chairs,  awnings  and  beach front bar are all maintained on 
the  beach  and  are  part  of the resort.  The pool area is also very 
nice  with  two  large pools adjoining one another.  Chairs are placed 
around  the  pool  for  use once you tire of the beach scene.  Another 
bar  is  located  on  the far end of the pool area.  A good car rental 
agency is located right at the resort.  

Playa  El  Agua  is  one of the older and larger resorts on the island 
and  always  hosts an international guest list.  Many Europeans choose 
this  resort  so  they  probably get a package deal.  The food is good 
but  no  gourmet  dining  will be found here.  We booked a suite which 
means  that  you  have a separate sitting area and kitchen.  The suite 
had  essentially  no view what-so-ever and the entire suite was really 
old  and  in  need of remodeling.  Cleaning of the room was done every 
day  and  the  air conditioning, hot water and refrigerator all worked 
so I would give the room 2 stars.

We  booked  our  resort online through www.caribbean-trip.com and were 
extremely   pleased   with   their   service.   The  company  provided 
transportation  to  and  from  the  airport, hotel reservations and an 
English  speaking  representative  who  met  us  and also offered off-
island  tours.  Another source of online information is www.margarita-
island.com.

Best Resorts

Isla  Bonita - Beach and Golf Hotel; Located on Playa Puerto Viejo, on 
the  north/northwest  part  of  the island.  This hotel/resort has 312 
rooms  and  is  the  newest resort on the island and probably the best 
resort on the island - all inclusive resort.

Margarita  Hilton  -  Located  on  Playa  Moreno  right in the city of 
bustling  Porlamar.   This  hotel/resort  has  280  rooms  and lots of 
activity.   It  is  also  close  to  shops,  restaurants  and  is  the 
established expensive hotel on the island.

Playa  El  Agua  Beach  Hotel  -  located  adjacent  (not on) the most 
popular  and  most  active  beach  on  the island: Playa El Agua.  The 
resort  has  299  rooms  and  cabanas.   This  is  one  of  the  older 
established  resorts  on  the  island  with a lot of European guests -  
also an all inclusive resort.

There  are  several  hundred  other accommodations on Margarita Island 
ranging  from  full  resorts  down  to  posadas  (similar  to  bed and 
breakfast  accommodations).   Guides  to additional places to stay can 
be  found in the numerous travel guides and web sites available to the 
prospective traveler.

Beaches  (Playas)  Every beach on Margarita Island will have its share 
of  venders  and  merchants.   It  is nearly impossible to avoid them.  
You  may  think  you have discovered the most deserted strand of beach 
and  the  minute  you  exit your car or taxi someone will be asking if 
you  would  like  a  chair,  umbrella,  drink, ice cream, etc. etc.  A 
shake  of  the  head  and  a  smile  will  serve  you  well  in  these 
situations.   Also,  topless  sunbathing  on  Margarita's  beaches  is 
acceptable although total nudity is prohibited by law.

Playa  El  Agua  -  the most most popular beach on the island with the 
most  activity.  There are many restaurants, hotels, beach vendors and 
small  shops  on  this beach.  Activities include walking the 4km long 
beach,  riding  in  an  ultralight high above the water, or just lying 
under  the  palm  trees  which  line the beach.  Swimming too far from 
shore is not advised due to rough water conditions.

Playa  Caribe  - 1 km long white sand beach with very colorful waters.  
There  are  a  few beach bars which can be found on the western end of 
the  beach  but  sun  worshipers can find a bit of tranquility just to 
the east of the parking areas.  

Playa  Puerto  Viejo  -  this  is the  beach that contains Isla Bonita 
Beach  Resort.   It  has  fine white sand and somewhat calmer water in 
which to swim.

Wind Surfing

El  Yaque  is  the  place  to  windsurf  on  the island.  World famous 
windsurfing  events  are  held  here  and the calmer waters and strong 
winds  make  this  an  ideal  beginner  and  expert  windsurfing area.  
Accommodations  at  El  Yaque are very basic but many windsurfers rent 
apartments  or  rooms  by  the  month to improve their skills and just 
party  at  the  numerous  beach bars.  If you have time it is a lot of 
fun to visit here for the day.

Running

I  am  a  runner  so  no  matter  where  we  go on vacation I run.  On 
Margarita  Island I was able to run on the roads and of course through 
any  of  the  resorts.   The roads have the typical drivers on them so 
you  have  to  constantly  watch  out  for  the traffic and always run 
against  traffic.   The  roads  will have some debris on them as well.  
Parts  from  cars, dead rodents, rocks, etc. are also running hazards.  
Running  on  the  north and north west end of Margarita Island is very 
hilly  and  also provide for the best running on the island.  There is 
also  less  traffic in these hilly areas.  A 10 mile run (one way) can 
easily  be  done  by running north on the main road from Playa El Agua 
beach  and  finishing  at  the  small  village of Pedrogonzalez on the 
northwest  coast.   Bring  water  along  if you run in the heat of the 
day.

I  also  said that you can run through the resorts.  Being a foreigner 
with  fair  skin  I  am never stopped by the guards when I come to the 
gates  of  a resort.  I simply go around the barrier or better yet the 
guards  open the gates for me as I approach.  You can run through Isla 
Bonita,  Portofino  Mare  or any of the other resorts and just explore 
the  grounds and beach areas while running.  Many of these resorts are 
within reach from the Playa El Agua area.

Touring the Island

You  can  either rent a car, hire a taxi or take an organized bus tour 
of  the  island  depending  on your level of adventure.  Car rental is 
certainly  the  less  restricted  way  to tour the island but also the 
most  adventurous. Driving on Margarita Island is not for the faint of 
heart.   The  roads  are  narrow, windy, crowded and without any major 
highway  sign  posts  to  guide you.  You will get lost driving around 
the  island  no  matter  how  well  traveled you are.  The more remote 
beaches can only be reached by car or taxi.

Taxi's  can  be  arranged  through  your  resort  or  at Playa El Agua 
beach.   We did not take a taxi so we cannot comment on their level of 
driving skills.

An  organized  tour  of  the  island  may  be  best for the first time 
visitor.  Leaving  the  driving  to  a professional will enable you to 
enjoy  your  vacation  and  not  worry about running over something or 
someone  as you careen down the road while trying to read the tour map 
and guide.

An  interesting  area on Margarita Island to visit is the Peninsula De 
Macano.  This  area  of  land is really barely connected with the main 
part  of  Margarita  Island  by  a  narrow  strip  of  low lying road.  
However,  what  a  different  part  of  the  island this is!  You will 
instantly   be   bombarded  by  a  totally  arid  landscape  with  few 
inhabitants.   This is the wild part of Margarita Island. Many beaches 
exist  on  this peninsula but there is little in the way of facilities 
or services so come prepared with food and water for your journey.  

Off Island Excursions

Trips  from  Margarita  Island to world famous Angel Falls, Los Roques 
and  the  nearby  islands  of  Coche  and Cubagua can also be arranged 
through  your resort or online before you arrive.  These trips are not 
extremely  expensive  but  do  take  a  larger amount of time for your 
vacation schedule.

Final Thoughts

Margarita  Island  is  unlike any other island in the Caribbean.  This 
southern  part  of  the  Caribbean  Sea  offers the vacationer a brief 
glimpse  of what life was like  before mega cruise ships and the power 
of  the  almighty  dollar.  Margarita  Island also offers the intrepid 
traveler  an  excellent  acclimatization route prior to exploration of 
the unabashed madness that is South America.   

MEXICO: A JOURNEY TO AN UNSPOILED NATURE RESERVE, CROWNED BY THE MAJESTIC MAYAN RUINS OF CALAKMUL BY HABEEB SALLOUM

Most  of  us,  at 4 A.M., were half asleep, as we climbed into our bus 
for  the  journey  to  the  archaeological zone of Calakmul.  I looked 
around   at  my  fellow  amateur  explorers  asking  myself,  "In  our 
condition,  are  we  ready  for  the  360  km (224 mi) journey?"  Yet, 
everyone  in  our  group  had tumbled into the bus at this early hour, 
eager  to  leave Campeche, the first town to be settled by the Spanish 
in  Mexico.   Our  goal  was  the  723,185 ha (1.8 million ac) largest 
tropical  ecological reserve in Mexico.  Edging Guatemala, it has been 
designated  as a natural-historical reservation, in the midst of which 
were the ruins of the Mayan city of Calakmul.

As  the  sun  arose  in the horizon, I could see the flat-shrub-filled 
landscape  of  the Yucatán Peninsula stretching away as far as the eye 
could  see.  Only rarely did tiny country villages or cultivated plots 
of  land  come  into view.  It seemed strange that a countryside which 
in  Mayan  times supported large urban centres, had virtually returned 
to  its  natural  state.   Apparently the technology of the modern age 
has  not  been  able  to overtake the farming techniques of the Mayans 
who  produced  enough  wealth  from  this  now  almost  barren land to 
support their huge ceremonial cities.

The  Mayans  began  their  cultural  development  around 2000 B.C. and 
their  civilization  reached  its apogee in the period from 600 to 900 
A.D.    During   this   era   they  achieved  dazzling  architectural, 
astronomical   and  calendrical  heights.   They  invented  their  own 
writing  and  vigesimal  systems  and  their  celestial  observatories 
established   the   different   solar  phenomena  like  eclipses.   In 
addition,  in  those  centuries,  their economic and political systems 
compared  very  favourably  with  any of the advanced civilizations of 
the Mediterranean basin and Asia. 

Today,  the  descendants  of  this sophistication are still there, but 
the  glory  of  their  forefathers  has  long  faded into oblivion.  I 
reminisced  about  this  long-gone civilization as we continued on our 
way  to  visit  the ruins of one of their once important cities - some 
3000 of which dot the Yucatán Peninsula's landscape.

The  never-ending  sea of shrubbery was still with us when 300 km (186 
mi)  from  Campeche  we  turned  on  a narrow road toward the ruins of 
Calakmul.  Soon  the  shrubbery began to thicken into dense forest and 
the  highway  became  ever-more  winding as we drove through Biosphere 
Reserve,  holding Calakmul - the largest archaeological site in Mexico 
and,  after  Tikal  in Guatemala, the second largest city in the Mayan 
world. 

Ornamenting  these  relatively  unknown Mayan ruins, Biosphere Reserve 
is  a  vast  protected area of tropical forest.  In it are to be found 
enormous  trees,  among  which are the kapok, sapodilla, pich mahogany 
and  Mexican  fig.   These  look  down  on  a low sub-perennial jungle 
composed  of  chacáh,  dzalam, quaya calabash and nakax palm. In spots 
marshlands,  bulrush  areas and reed fields make Biosphere a mecca for 
wild animals. 

Amid  this  natural  landscape  are  to be found a good number of wild 
animals   and   birds.   Buzzards,  eagles,  peacocks,  parrots,  wild 
turkeys,   deer,   mountain   cats,   ocelots,   tapirs,  wild  boars, 
yaguarundis,  monkeys  and  majestic  jaguars,  live  amid orchids and 
myriad  types  of  flowers,  many  creeping up rare types of trees.  A 
number  of  travelers  have  indicated  that,  at times, some of these 
animals  parade before waiting visitors in a great range of colors and 
sounds,  creating  an  aura  of  charm - almost magical in its appeal.  
However,  from  our  bus we only saw one wild turkey crossing the road 
and a few monkeys playing in the treetops.

After  a  five and a half hour drive from Campeche, we left our bus on 
the  edge  of  the Calakmul ruins and entered a fenced-in area.  As we 
walked  along,  every  few minutes we would stop to admire a number of 
the  350 species of birds to be found in the Biosphere Reserve.  Twice 
some  half  dozen  deer  crossed  our  path,  but on seeing us quickly 
fled.  

Hearing  rustling  in the trees towering above the pathway, we stopped 
in  our  tracks.  Above us, a half dozen howling monkeys were swinging 
from  branch  to  branch  as  they fed on fruit.  Not to alarm them, a 
woman  in  our  group  whispered  to  me as we walked along, "Look how 
beautiful  they  are.   I  just love them."  No sooner had she moved a 
few  metres  away from me, then I heard her scream as she began wiping 
something  from  her  clothing  -  one  of those beautiful monkeys had 
defecated on her. 


It  took us about 20 minutes to reach the first of Calakmul's restored 
structures  -  one  of the 750 mapped in the 25 sq km  (10 sq mi) area 
of  this  once  thickly populated Mayan city.  Its origin goes back to 
400  B.C.  and  in the ensuing centuries it became wealthy and strong, 
vying  with  Tikal  for  power in the lands of the Maya.  However, for 
centuries,  it  was  lost  in the mist of history, until discovered in 
1931 by Cyrus Longworth Lundell.  

An  exceptional  historic  site,  Calakmul, meaning in Mayan `place of 
twin  hills'  - relating to its huge twin pyramids - has only a few of 
its  buildings reconstructed or restored.  The vast majority are still 
covered with foliage and trees.  

We  know  some of the history of this once powerful ceremonial centre, 
declared  by the UNESCO as `Patrimony of Mankind', from the 120 stelae 
found  spread  around  the  structures.   A  large deposit of dynastic 
texts  are  etched  in  glyphic  inscriptions on these stelae, much of 
which  are still in the process of being deciphered.  What has already 
been  uncovered  is that Calakmul was the dominant centre in the area.  
The  deciphering of these inscriptions has revealed that it was a city 
with   administrative,  civil,  political,  religious  and  commercial 
functions and was the home of the elite in the region.  

Our  first  stop  was  the  Great  Acropolis  where  some  half  dozen 
structures  have been, to some extent, restored.  In a number of these 
buildings,  the huge trees found growing through the ruined structures 
had  been  left  in  place, seemingly growing out of the restorations.  
Workers  while  restoring one of the imposing buildings found a tunnel 
linking  it  to the facing Ball Court.  Legend has it that ballplayers 
used  to  go down to this underground passageway to play ball with the 
gods of the underworld.  

In  another  nearby  structure,  a  mummy, which is believed to be the 
oldest  found  in  the Americas, has been unearthed.  In other palaces 
and  religious  edifices  throughout  the  ruins  finely polished jade 
masks  and exquisite pottery have been discovered, indicating that the 
city had reached an advanced state of civilization. 

>From  the  Acropolis, we walked on a pathway through a humid jungle to 
a  restored  pyramid  - the largest structure in Calakmul.  100 m (328 
ft)  long  and  towering  52  m  (170  ft)  high,  its  top looks down 
haughtily  on  the  surrounding forest.  Not too far away, its twin is 
still  in  the  process  of being released from the jungle and brought 
back to life. 

The  pyramid's  striking majesty, at first sight, took my breath away.  
Soon  I  was  resting  on its steps, thinking `it is yet another Mayan 
pyramid  to  conquer'.   Through  the  years  I have climbed dozens of 
these stairways to the gods and this one looked inviting.

Along  with  a few brave souls from our group, I slowly climbed to the 
top.  Weakened by the effort, I sat down on its crown.  All around me, 
it  was  a  world  of lush greenery.  The only islands in this emerald 
landscape  were  the  tops  of a few of Calakmul's structures breaking 
through the thick forest.

On  my  eerie in the sky, I felt contentment.  I was happy that at the 
age  of  75  I  could still climb the stairway to the gods, as had the 
Mayan  priests  of  old.  I thought to myself, "Perhaps, in that other 
world  they  would  appreciate  my  effort."   No doubt, they would be 
pleased  that  someone was still interested in their handiwork - their 
legacy to today's Calakmul's tourists. 
   

IF  YOU  GO  How  to  Get There: From Campeche, there are bus tours to 
Calakmul.   A trip by Destino Maya Tour to Calakmul costs $80.   Also, 
one  can  rent  an  auto and drive.  A small car rents for around $50. 
U.S. per day - less if you bargain or if not fussy about the auto. 

Two  Good  Places  to  Stay in Campeche:    Ramada Hotel Campeche: the 
top  hotel  in  the  city, it is the centre of the town's social life.  
Tel: 981-64611.  Fax: 981-11618.  Daily cost of a room $90.

Hotel  Baluartes:  one of the three four-star abodes in town noted for 
its  fine restaurant.  Tel: 981/63911.  Fax: 981/62410.  Daily cost of 
a double room $45.

To  Make  the  Calakmul  Trip  Complete,  Stay  Overnight at: Chicanná 
Ecovillage  Resort,  located less the 100 km (61 mi) from the ruins of 
Calakmul.   An  oasis in the middle of the jungle, it is a first class 
tourist  development  integrated into the environment.  Within walking 
distance  are  the  Mayan  ruins of Chicanná (House of the Serpent), a 
small  site  built  in  the  `Chenes'  style.  Its main feature is its 
plaza  edged  by four structures - very interesting to explore.  Daily 
cost for double room about US$65.  

For   Further   Information,   Contact:   In  Canada  contact  Mexican 
Government  Tourism  Office  -  2 Bloor St. West, Suite 1801, Toronto, 
Ontario  M4W  3E2.   Tel:  416/925-0704.   Fax:  416/925-6061;  in the 
U.S.A.  - 405 Park Ave., Suite 142, New York, NY 10022.  Tel: 212/755-
726; or Toll-Free Assistance, from US/Canada 1-800-44 Mexico.    

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