Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
| CTR Homepage | Island Index | Search |
Trip 7/00 TRAVEL Air: Left Omaha at 5:30am. Delayed 3 hours in St. Louis on TWA/Apple charter. Missed some sun, but other than that, it was no big deal. Ride from Montego Bay: There was only one other couple and us, so they sent a taxi. The ride was less than 2 hours. The driver was very friendly. Played us a sample of his favorite reggae music and explained the sites along the way. Yes, the roads were bad. Yes, there were animals (cows, pigs, goats) randomly crossing the road. At one point there was a large cow sleeping in the middle of the road and traffic from both directions were driving around her! Yes, I did get a wee bit carsick. BUT, I am glad that I did not fly, because this was one of the few opportunities I had to see the countryside and the towns outside of Negril. In fact, we took the bus back to the airport as well. I didn’t get carsick at all on the bus ride back. This is probably because I wasn’t as tired on the trip back. RESORT Facilities: We were very happy with the rooms. We reserved garden view, but we actually did have a bit of an ocean view from our room (Building 8, 2nd floor). None of the rooms have much of an ocean view, due to all of the palm trees on the property. There were fresh tropical flowers in a vase when we arrived. The bed had a bright yellow comforter and there was a bright tapestry on the wall. They had a radio/CD player and the maid left a pitcher of water every day. The room had a/c and a ceiling fan. Didn’t run the a/c much. There is construction to the north. We never really noticed it unless we walked right over next to it. The grounds were fabulous! It was beautifully landscaped. The pool was large, with a waterfall between the main pool, and the pool that surrounded the pool bar. The beach had the softest sand I had ever walked on! There were several trees close to the beach. This was much nicer than the long stretches of open beach that I’m used to seeing. There was more of a feeling of privacy. Also, a few times, we chose to pull our chaise lounges under the shade of a tree to get out of the sun. There was a room with treadmills and other motorized equipment, another room with weight machines and an area for aerobics. We used both a couple times. There was also a game room where Rich talked me into playing ping pong one day when it was raining, That was fun! Once the ball went behind the jukebox. There was a staff person near by who pulled the jukebox out to get it. Only to find a large crab nestled behind it. The crabs were all over the grounds, but usually kept hidden. We thought it was fun to try and spot them. I did walk into the spa area once, but never used those services. Would have liked to. It seemed like a nice facility. The piano bar was really cool. We never actually made it up there for the music, since that didn’t start until 11:00pm and we that’s usually when we lost our energy level. We did go up there one night to watch their version of the “Newlywed Game” where they pulled 4 couples from the resort. It was brightly decorated and they have big cushy lounge chairs up there that are big enough for two. I loved the overall décor of the entire place. The buildings were a washed out blue-green color. There were lots of bright red accents, such as the furniture in the open-air lobby. You enter the lobby from street level on the east side. Then to the west, you go down a flight of stairs to get to the pool and beach. The view looking out from the lobby to the west was beautiful. You can see the pool and the beach from here. It is also a good place to watch the sunset, which I will mention later. Meals: We ate in the main dining room, the Cassava Terrace, for breakfast and lunch most days. For a large dining room… I was impressed with how they could still turn it into a “nice restaurant.” It was open on 3 sides, so you could see the pool and beach. This was always a buffet for breakfast and lunch. We ate there 3 times for dinner. Each night it was set up with white tablecloths, candles, etc. It was very nice. Two of those three nights you could order off of the menu. The food was all good. Nothing to rave about, but it was all good and we ate too much of it. We had lunch a couple times at the Beach Grill. This was typical bar food. They had nachos that you could come and get at any time. We took advantage of that once or twice. In the evening, you can order of the menu and they also have the white tablecloths and candlelight. Since it is smaller than the Cassava Terrace, I thought it seemed a little more romantic. We both had pasta that night and it was very good. However, they were very slow in getting the meals out. We saw two tables get up and leave before they were served. The nice restaurant, Oteheite, was so much fun! It was small, and in the shape of an octagon, with windows on all sides, but one. It was set up with soft, green, two-person love seats around the outside and tables for 4-6 on the inside. They have 3 seatings each night. at 6:15, 7:00, and 8:15. It is a formal and romantic setting. They served us pre-appetizers, appetizers, soup, salad, entrée, dessert, and truffles. The wine was better in this restaurant than the others, and they kept our glasses filled. The 2nd night that we ate there, I ordered a coffee drink with Bailey’s with my dessert and they served it flaming! (The couple next to us took a photo of it. Ha!) The meal was very good. I had different beef dishes both nights, which were excellent. Rich had the salmon one night and thought it was the best he’d had. (We are from Nebraska. we are experts on the beef, not so much on the salmon…) All in all, it was a wonderful experience for us. The service was excellent. We had no problem with reservations, and probably could have eaten there every night if we had chosen. Service: I have already mentioned that the service in the restaurants was good. All in all, I have to add that all of the help was very friendly and helpful. What I really noticed, was that they were so sincere. You could hardly walk by anyone (even the gardeners) without him or her asking you how your day was going. It seemed to me that they really wanted you to have a good day, and they weren’t only being polite. When we arrived after our bus ride, I was a little queasy and a bit sleepy. I was excited to be there, but a little out of it. The staff came and took our bags from the taxi. Then someone (Zachary) was asking Rich and I if we would like to have a drink. In my daze, I asked for water out of habit. He wrinkled his nose and said “water?” as if to remind me I’m on vacation now. So, Rich said he would have a beer, and I said I’d have a beer, too. Then he said “How about 2 Margaritas” We said “Sure!” and that’s when I realized that I was really there and it was time to start having fun!! I loved his attitude. The maid service was very good. We went to breakfast about 7:30 most days. Our rooms were always made up by 8:30. We had evening turndown service every night, but two. I’m not sure why they didn’t come those two nights. It was really nice to have the clean, dry towels brought in twice a day. They also left a card with a little message on the bed each night. I saved them all. ON-SITE ACTIVITES Floating: This may not sound like much of an activity, but wait until you try it! They had full-length cushions on most of the chaise lounges on the beach and around the pool. You can take these into the bay, or the pool and it is absolutely wonderful to just float! We would take two out, and we would hold hands and just float side by side… until Rich decided it was more fun to try and tip me over. Sometimes we would share a float, hanging our feet over and kicking around a little. Lots of people, we included, would sometimes grab a drink from the pool bar and float or paddle around the pool with our drink in hand. People kind of liked to park their floats on top of the waterfall and just close their eyes and relax. That is one of those experiences that makes you realize how lucky you are to be in a place as wonderful as Jamaica and as relaxing as Couples-Negril. As I am writing this, I am starting to ask myself if I’ll ever get back there. I hope so! Snorkeling We went out on the Couples boat snorkeling one time. They took us to “Middle Shore Reef”, which is just past Booby Cay, and I think near the Sandals property. We brought our own masks, but I think theirs would have been just fine. It was fun, but I don’t think the brightness or the quantity of the fish was as impressive as either Hawaii or Cancun. I know they do take you to other locations as well. Maybe those were better, but we never got around to going again. Used the masks off the beach a couple times. Just past the ropes you can see some activity. We followed a stingray for a while. Also, the little fishes would swim right up to you. I have one photo where it looks like one is nibbling on Rich. Scuba Diving: We didn’t go scuba diving, but there were quite a few that took the training class. I think they went out at least twice every day, with deeper dives for the certified divers. I met a lady who went every day and was trying to get her advanced certification while there. It looked like fun. Would have tried it, but didn’t want to take the time to take the training class… If I were to go back, I would probably try this. Kayaking There were all sorts of equipment you could rent from the watersports area. We took the kayak out one morning. We paddled all around the bay for a couple hours. Actually, I paddled for about 20 minutes, then turned around, set my paddle down, and faced Rich while he did the paddling. It was really less work than I expected… he did just fine on his own. ( We went all the way past Grand Lido and to the end of the bay. Then we came back toward our resort and paddled all the way to the other side of the bay. We stayed close enough to shore that we could see the beach all along the way. There were a couple public beaches. At one point, we pulled into a small secluded stretch of beach that was only accessible by water. Sports: Rich played basketball a couple times. At 4:00, they attempt to have a 3-on-3 tournament. However, they were lucky if they ever got 6 guys to play, and that included 2 from the staff of Couples! The tennis courts looked great, but we don’t play. We could have taken a lesson, and we’re going to.. Again we never got around to it! I never saw anyone playing beach volleyball. They weren’t used much. Maybe this is because the resort was at a lower capacity due to it being low season. Couples Massage Class: They have a massage class most days at 3:00. We decided to try this one afternoon while it was raining. There were about 8 couples in there. (Fewer when it’s not raining.) Great class! This is one of the best things we did! Be sure to bring a towel (from room or beach) and some lotion. It lasted about an hour, with a half hour spent with the women working on the men and then vice versa. OFF-SITE ACTIVITIES Golf We went golfing twice at Negril Hills golf course. This was about a 20-minute drive from the resort. This was another opportunity to kind of get out and see the sites. The golf course was beautiful, but challenging. Transportation and green fees were included. Carts and mandatory caddies were extra. It was extremely hilly. Take a cart! As far as I can tell, all of the caddies were women in their 20’s or so. Nadine came with us both times. I was a bit nervous about having a caddy, but she was great! She was very encouraging and gave some great tips. The other man that we golfed with had Sharon for his caddy. She was the wife of the pro, and I think was a very good golfer herself. He asked to have her all week. Also, they were both amazing at finding lost balls. I would lose one in the “jungle” and tell her to forget about it, and pretty soon she’d come walking out with my ball and two others. Really enjoyed the golf, but this was the only time when we got really hot and sweaty. Felt the humidity much more when we were away from the water. Shopping Couples has a shopping excursion most days at 10:00am. Usually it’s by bus. One day they went by boat. We went by bus and it was almost a 3-hour event. They took us first to a duty-free shop. Hadn’t planned to buy anything, but ended up splurging for a nice tennis bracelet. They issued a guarantee that if I get it appraised back home and it is worth less than I paid, that they would refund the difference. Also, there is a good discount off of the retail prices listed. I think about 35% - 40%. We were seriously considering, but said we needed to leave and think about it, and he offered to us at a 50% “discount.” We’re no experts, but I think it was a good deal. He also threw in a large bottle of the perfume of my choice. I didn’t realize they’d bargain in the regular stores. They then took us to a craft market, where there were probably 75 little “shops” set up. This was a lot of fun to look at all of the woodcarvings, and colorful items. Every one will try to pull you into their shop, but they were all pleasant, I thought. After a while, we just had to say no, thank you and keep walking. I took a few photos, and these are some of my favorite from the trip. I was about to take a photo of one man working on a wood carving, when I decided I should ask first… then just when I was snapping the picture he points his arm and finger at me and says “Ten Dollah!” So that is what my photo is of. I did buy $10 worth of merchandise from him and I laughed when I got the picture back. Just before we left, I noticed a large tree with a huge knot in it close to one of the woodcarvers’ shops. There was a fantastic carving of a man on the side of the tree. I almost missed it! I will probably frame that picture. Cliffs We went on two separate excursions. The first was by catamaran to the Pickled Parrot area. We jumped off of the catamaran and swam to the cliffs, where there was a ladder to climb up. No way were either of us going to jump off a cliff. (I can barely stand to “look” over the cliff!) I was determined to go down the water slide, but it was closed that day. We also swam through some caves in the area, which was very cool. I really think it would be fun to stay in this part of Negril. (I spent a summer in Greece 10 years ago and visited several of the islands, my favorite of which was Hydra, which was all rocky. Just loved jumping off of the rocks into the deep water. This was very reminiscent of that.) On another trip, we took the Couples’ bus to Rick’s Café, where we spent about two hours. We watched the cliff jumpers… both amateurs and those who, if they weren’t paid, should have been. One man not only dove off the cliff, but also climbed to the top of the tallest tree on the cliff, and dove from there. Most amateurs did okay. A few had some bad landings. One lady on our bus tried it. Her feet landed just a wee bit forward and she bruised her butt pretty bad. Worse than that, she bit her tongue as she hit the water and cut into it pretty bad. The poor lady had to fly home the next day… She was still glad she did it, though. Of course, the famous sunset from Cliffs was an event as well. Lots of people gathering to watch and take photos. The restaurant looked great as well, but we did not eat there. They have a shop where you can buy shirts, etc kind of like at a Hard Rock Café. There was some printed material that said this was voted one of the top ten bars in the world. OTHER MISCELLANEOUS INFO AND ADVICE Sunsets I think we actually watched about five sunsets. Three of them descended into a layer of clouds near the water. This did seem to create a beautiful red glow in the sky about 20 minutes after sunset. The last two nights were free of clouds and we watched as the sun appeared to set right into the bay. We watched one from the lobby of Couples, and the other from the swings around the corner from the lobby. Both locations are one floor above the beach/pool level and allow a very picturesque view through the palm trees. The sunsets were awesome and I find them hard to describe. You just need to see for yourself. Braids You can have your hair braided at the spa or by locals. I would say that 20% - 25% of the women there got their hair braided. I chose to have one of the locals braid my hair. Her name was Tonya and she and her friend have their “shop” on the beach on the north end of Couples, just off the property. They did a good job and I paid just a little less than I would have at the spa. I have shoulder length hair, about medium thickness, very fine. It took her about an hour and 45 minutes. They had 2-3 male friends that had a little business of their own going on right next to them. This was sort of funny to me, because the days before they were offering us “ganja”, etc, and we were saying “no thank you” and passing by quickly. Now I’m sitting right up there next to them (getting my hair braided), while they were offering it to others. They were all very nice though, and asked me questions about the US while I was sitting there. Bugs This is my only complaint. The bugs killed me. Bug spray didn’t help. I used Benadryl to put on them to help the itch and that did help. I think they may have been worse due to the several light rains that we got. They didn’t seem to bother every one. I had at least 100 bites that week. Rain We were there for seven days. I think it rained five. It was usually a light rain lasting one to two hours in the afternoon, starting between 2:00pm-3:00pm. Only twice was it really a “take cover” kind of rain. I actually enjoyed sitting at the bar and looking out at the rain. Very peaceful. It also helped knowing in advance that the rain was common and did not last long. So I knew this was not going to spoil my day at all. Also, I did make a point my last two days to go to the beach in the morning… so that I would be sure to get my beach time in just in case the rain kept me away in the afternoon. The rain is a good time to have a drink in the bar and watch the rain, or go back to the room and take a nap. You can also take advantage of the massage class, the workout room, etc. There is plenty to do. The Jamaicans called the rain “liquid sunshine”! Water We never had any trouble with water. We did overhear one of the staff tell a guest that all of the drinking water is purified at Couples. Gifts After reading this site, I took several small “packages” of gifts. I left most for the morning maid service and the evening maid service. I had a couple items I’d intended for the men, but didn’t find the right opportunity to give. Didn’t spend much time at the bars. I would have liked to give one to Zachary or the men Rich played basketball with.. but unfortunately did not. The maids benefited instead. I did feel a little funny about all this. I had never brought gifts like these anywhere before. I could see from my drive that many did live in very poor conditions. Yet the people I saw certainly did not act as if they were in need of anything. Seemed a lot like myself in that they went to work, dressed nicely, had positive attitudes, etc, etc. Well, one day our morning maid saw me outside of my room and stopped to tell me how much she liked the package I had left. I asked her if she had children and she said yes. So they next morning I left all of the coloring books and pads, crayons, and candy that I had bought. I told Rich later that her “ thank you’ totally made my day. Weddings We saw about 4 weddings while we were there. It definitely looked like a great place to get married. Most were in the wedding gazebo that was outside our room. I think some get married on the beach, too. I saw two couples having pictures taken on the beach. My only advice would be to really think about your attire! You’d be verrry warrm in a tux or a heavy wedding dress. One couple we met attended the wedding of another… (They had met in the piano bar and they asked her to sing at the wedding and him to take pictures!) Anyway, he had a towel with him and said he kept having to wipe their faces due to how bad they were sweating. I saw one lady in a very pretty, simple, white strapless wedding dress that would have been ideal. After, they sat in one of the swings upstairs and watched the sunset. Couples should have taken a photo for an ad! It was perfect! Drugs We were offered ganja and “shrooms” several times. Never felt offended or threatened by it. They didn’t try pushing anything on us. OTHER PROPERTIES Grand Lido We had a fantastic view of the Grand Lido. We often floated in the water, looking over toward their grounds. We walked through it twice. Once in the day we walked along their beach and came back. There is a Couples guard and a Grand Lido guard between the properties that will take down your name and check you off when you cross back over. Never said anything about where we could and couldn’t walk. Another night we walked back over and all through the property and came back. We walked through both beach areas and back to one of the clubhouses. Saw the “big tree.” Spent about a half hour and came back. This place did look more upscale than Couples. However, for the money and extra perks (like shopping, catamaran, etc) we were glad we stayed at Couples. Couples beach was as good or better, and the view was the same. GL did have kind of a rocky area, too.. which might have been nice for snorkeling. Hedonism Hmmm.. I’m a little grumpy with this place. We wanted to get a postcard from the gift shop. As we were walking up, a guard came and hollered at us to go back to the guard shack. We told them where we were from and what our intention was. She said that would be fine. I asked if we needed to check with them again on the way out and she said no. Okay. Well, we walk into the lobby and start toward the gift shop when another guard comes and stops us. He was on his radio and told us we would need an escort. (I wish the 1st guard would have told us this!) So he sits us down in the lobby where we waited 20-30 minutes for a lady to come and take us to the gift shop. We tried to make conversation with her, but she walked in front of us and would hardly talk to us. Hmmm, based on this experience, we would not stay there. I definitely understand the need for the security, but not the attitude. To be fair, I am sure they are different with paying guests. Beaches One day we walked about half way (maybe?) up 7-mile beach. I needed a pharmaceutical item that our gift shop did not have. I knew this was a large place, so we decided to stop here. This was a great property, and I kind of see now why it was priced high compared to others. We saw no guards, and tried to find the gift shop on our own. Finally I asked a lady working there. She asked if this was our first day. I admitted “no”, that we were from another resort and that I just really needed an item from the gift shop. She said that was fine and took us close to the shop and left us to move about on our own. I was very impressed with this after the previous experience. Cliffs We didn’t walk through any hotels or resorts here, but did notice these two: Blue Cave Castle This looks like a really fun place! Several people took pictures of it from our catamaran. I liked how you could walk down the stairs and straight off into the water. The place had tons of character, too. Rockhouse I’m not sure; but I think I recognized this place near the Pickled Parrot. Several small thatched-roof buildings. I also think this would be a great place to stay. In fact, I think I would like to come back on a 3-4 day short trip and stay at one of these two locations. This way, we could enjoy the restaurants or bars in the area. We didn’t do all of the sightseeing that we do on most trips. However, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves the entire time. I would recommend Couples to most people I know. Because we do like to see new places, I would probably try a smaller hotel on the cliffs the next time. Reading through the message boards really helped to build the anticipation. People sometimes question why we choose to spend our money on vacations that last only a short time, I tell them that these trips have three parts: 1) The preparation and anticipation, 2) The trip itself, and 3) The memories of the trip, some of which last forever.
"You have not seen the glory of the Mayans until you visit Uxmal. It's an incredible example of the Mayan culture", the travel agent in Mérida was insistent that if I wanted to sample the greatness of the Mayans, Uxmal was the place. Taking him at his word, a few days later I joined a tour group and we were on our way to that famous Mayan city, not yet inundated with tourists. Leaving Mérida behind, we drove through a countryside covered with shrub. It was hard to see how this rocky land with only underground rivers and poor soil could have supported the hundreds of Mayan cities scattered throughout the Yucatán - joined together by scabés (roads of stones, paved with stucco). Yet, the Mayans, in spite of this poor soil and without beasts of burden, the axle or metal tools, established one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known. Even today, after the rape of their land by the Conquistadors and centuries of oppression, their defeat has never been complete. Their tongue remains a living language, their homes the same oval huts of plastered adobe and their religion is a mixture of Christian and Mayan. Farming today is carried on as it was 2,000 years ago when the temple priests established the dates for seeding and harvesting. Shortly before reaching Uxmal, 80 km (49 mi) from Mérida, the countryside became hilly and we were driving through what are called the Puuc Hills. Here, rare in any other part of the Yucatán, there were many spots of fertile fields and orchards. No doubt, the corn fields which thrive in this part of the state were the reason why Uxmal, in Mayan meaning `thrice built', reflecting the city's many phases of development, became a rich and flourishing ceremonial centre. Entering through the gates, we stopped in astonishment. Before us was a breathtaking sight. La Pirámide Adivino (The Magician's Pyramid) loomed in front of us, overpowering in its majesty. It was a grand welcome to one of the most important archaeological sites in the Yucatán Peninsula - a wondrous collection of proud pyramids, finely sculptured reliefs such as Sky Serpent masks. Considered to be the most splendid archaeological site in the Pre- Hispanic era on the American continent, Uxmal, which has been excellently renovated, is considered to be one of the great showplaces of Mayan architecture and refinement and is famous for the purity and delicacy of its architecture and decorative art - one of the world's architectural masterpieces.. According to archaeological experts, Uxmal was one of the largest cities in the Mayan world and its economic and political power, between 250 and 900 A.D., dominated a large area of the Yucatán. In this long era, it witnessed important intellectual and construction advances. What some call `the Athens of Mexico', besides its scholarly activities, Uxmal developed the finest achievement of the Puuc architectural style. Now, as I surveyed the Pyramid of the Magician, a colossal structure, which gets its name from a legend that relates how it was built by a magician in only one night, I was astounded by its majesty. Along with the imposing edifices beyond, it is a testament to the achievements of its Mayan builders. The tallest building in the complex of edifice, it is a monumental structure some 40 m (131 ft) high, built over other buildings during several periods of time. An oval-shaped structure, rare in the Mayan world, it has been only partially restored. My struggle to the top of this pyramid was worthwhile. All around one could see the deep-green countryside hugging the ruins in all their splendour. Below, El Juego de Pelota (the Ball Court), composed of two parallel constructions, enclosed a playing field of 34 m (112 ft) long and 10 m (33 ft) wide. Like all ball courts in other Mayan cities, it was employed for prophetic and ritual practices. Turning a little around, El Palacio del Gobernador, the 98 m (322 ft) exceptionally long Governor's Palace, a master piece of latticework and mosaics, stood out dramatically among its neighbouring structures. Built on three terraces, and decorated with patterns of 20,000 individually cut stones, their friezes a splendid example of stone mosaic work. The Palace is considered by some to be the most magnificent building erected by the Mayans. Among others, the nearby, La Gran Pirámide (The Great Pyramid) with nine terraces; El Templo de los Monumentos (The Temple of the Monuments); and La Casa de las Tortugas (The House of the Turtles), built with jewel-like precision and named for the turtle carvings on its cornice, all appeared to be worth exploring. Of course, if one had time, there were many other structures like El Grupo Cementerio (The Cemetery Group); La Casa del Chimez (The Chimez House); El Cuadrángula de los Palomas (The Quadrangle of the Doves); and El Templo de los Falos (The Temple of the Phallus), with its phallus sculptures hanging from the cornice. We opted to spend our remaining time in the adjoining Cuadrángula de las Monjas (The Nun's Quadrangle) - one of the architectural complexes most representative of the Puuc style which is to be found throughout the ruins. Considered to be the architectural jewel of Uxmal and one of the May world's greatest treasure, the whole complex is characterized by ornate stone mosaics - geometric designs in finely sculptured limestone. Elaborate decorations of stone latticework, masks, coiling snakes and phallic figures cover every inch of space. Inside the Quadrangle walls is held every night a `Sound and Light' extravaganza - a reminder of the Mayan cosmogony. The Mayans lived in perfect harmony with nature and in religion, like the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, prepared for a never-ending life. They believed that humans, when they die, went from level to level in the after life - nine below and 13 above. To them, the East was sacred and they believed that from there would come as gods white men with beards. This proved their undoing. When the Conquistadors came from the East, the Mayans believed the gods had come and, hence, did not resist. After these invaders had enslaved them and relieved them of their wealth, their civilization died a violent death. Thereafter, all their splendid cities were erased by the encroaching jungles. Only in the late 19th and 20th centuries were a number of these towns like Uxmal uncovered by archaeologists to again show the world the genius of the Mayans. Yet, much of this brilliance is not fully known since only 60% of their alphabet has been deciphered. IF YOU GO How to Get There: The best way to see Uxmal is to join a tour group in Mérida - cost for guide transportation, entrance fee, light and sound show and dinner $38. However, if one wants to drive, the roads are good, but beware of the hundreds of topes (man-made bumps in the roads). Facts About Uxmal and the Yucatán: 1) A small car rents for around $50. U.S. per day - less if you bargain or if not fussy about the auto. 2) There are some day tours to Uxmal from Mérida which take in a number of other Mayan sites. 3) Entrance fee to the ruins of Uxmal is $7. 4) There is an excellent `light and sound' show held every evening which recounts the history of Uxmal - entrance fee is $3., with head- phone and translation $5. 5) When travelling to Uxmal or any of the other Mayan ruins - wear a hat and comfortable shoes and take sun block lotion. 6) Beware! It is a criminal offence to take artifacts or souvenirs from the sites or out of the country. 7) Currently, US$1. = 10 and CDN$1.= 6 Mexican pesos. 8) When visiting the Mayan sites, one should wear a hat, take sunblock lotion, take a bottle of drinking water and wear comfortable rubber-soled shoes since stone steps can be slippery. If Overnighting in Uxmal, a Good Place to Stay: Hotel Mission Uxmal: the top hotel close to the ruins, it is just a few minutes away from the archeological site. Reservation and information in the U.S.A. and Canada tel: 1-800-44-UTELL. The hotel also has a good restaurant El Mesitzo featuring regional and international cuisine. Note: All prices quoted are in U.S. dollars. For Further Information, Contact: In Canada contact Mexican Tourism - 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: 212/755-7261; or Toll-Free Assistance, from US/Canada 1-800-44 Mexico.
Trip 7/00 We just returned from nine nights at Blue Bay Village, and from our first time in St. Martin. We had a great vacation, and here is a brief report of the resort and our trip in general. Ultimately, we found Blue Bay to be fine; however, at first we were somewhat disappointed with it. The property was generally very pretty, but it certainly needed some work here and there. The stairs and hills we had heard so much about were no problem at all. (In fact, they were quite necessary after all the food we consumed!) We had a room in the Antigua Building overlooking the water. Great view of Orient Beach. One of the reasons we chose Blue Bay was because they advertised a children's program. Forget it. It was practically nonexistent. Their idea of a children's program was basically a person to sit by the pool with the kids. There was a small "Kids" Club" which was never in use. (Of course, we've been to Boscobel Beach in Jamaica twice, and their kid's program is incredible!! No comparison.) Our kids, 7 and 10, were not up for that at all. When we first arrived (April 14), it didn't even seem as though there were many kids there and those that we saw we younger than our kids. By mid week, we finally started seeing more kids nearer to our kids age. They then quickly found a few new friends to pal around with. Our room was clean and spacious. Upon arrival, we noticed several unoccupied one-bedroom suites and inquired about upgrading to one of them. No one at the front desk was able to give us the rate for the upgrade and we were ultimately told that all of the suites were booked. Then, all week long we saw the same rooms sitting empty. Oh well. A little extra privacy would have been nice, but by the end of the week we realized that it probably wouldn't have been worth the extra money. By the end of our trip we decided that, strategically, we were in a great part of the island. We rented a car for the week, which is an absolute must. It was fantastic having the freedom to explore at our leisure, and when we found out how much taxi fares were, we knew we had made a good decision to get the car (and ultimately drove 300 miles on this 37 square mile island!) We arranged to rent a car from Unity Car Rental before we got to SXM. We flew in on a Friday, and the car was to be delivered to our hotel on Saturday morning. On Friday night we got a call at the hotel from Unity -- it turned out that they had overbooked their rentals, but he (Michael) arranged for us to have a car from another place. We originally rented a Jeep, but in the transaction we ended up with a brand new, automatic RAV 4 with a sunroof for less money than we were to have paid for the Jeep. I was very pleased that Unity took care of us like that. BEWARE: The island has many steep hills and curves. This is not place to learn or reacquaint yourself with driving a stick shift. Go with the automatic! Blue Bay offers two plans, the traditional "all-inclusive" plan which includes everything (meals, drinks, water sports) and the "flexi- plan" which provides everything except lunch and dinner. We had originally reserved the all-inclusive plan but found out later about the flexi-plan and switched to it. By switching plans, the price was reduced by about $900. Breakfasts were pretty typical for all-inclusives and included made- to-order eggs, pastries, cereal, pancakes, bacon, fruit, etc. Coffee and juice are available from self serve machines. Overall not bad, but there was absolutely no variety over the 10 days we were there. From what we saw of the lunches and dinners, we made the right move. People that we talked to confirmed that the food was pretty basic and not very good. Someone else on the travel boards said it best: Why would you want to go all-inclusive with all of the wonderful restaurants in SXM? No truer words were ever spoken. The food on the island was wonderful! We ate at a different French restaurant (mostly in Grand Case) almost every night. They were fabulous!!!! My kids are adventurous eaters, and they ordered from the adult menu (good thing, since very few restaurants had children's menus.) The deal for them was that they had to decide on an entree to share each night, and it worked great and was plenty of food for their appetites. They also usually split a Caesar salad as a starter. They were as impressed with the restaurants as we were. By our standards in Washington, D.C., I didn't think that the restaurants were outrageously expensive, but they certainly weren't cheap. Dinner for 4 (3 1/2?) with wine and tip was in the $100 - $130 range. Over the course of our stay, we ate at LaAlabama, LaAuberge Gourmande, L'Amandier, Le Pressoir, The Tropicana (Marigot), Captain Oliver's (Oyster Pond), Turtle Pier (Simpson Bay) and Le Testavin. We also ate a few lunches at the "lolos" in Grand Case (all fabulous as we love the local Caribbean food) as well as a couple lunches at Pedros on Orient Bay. We loved Pedros, especially the entertainment!! Of all the restaurants, Captain Oliver's was our least favorite, although it was good. I think that it was more touristy, and the service wasn't nearly as good as the restaurants in Grand Case. Also, I don't think our waiter was thrilled to have a table with two kids. Too bad for him, because they loved the veal tenderloin they had that night! After that, all of the others were good, with Turtle Pier being a couple notches below the others. Again the food was pretty good, and the singer was fun, but the French places we ate at were to die for. As far as value, the Tropicana on the Marina Royale in Marigot was the best -- and the view was great. I had just reviewed another posting about someone having eaten there, and he thought that the French-speaking clientele got better service. We didn't find that at all at the Tropicana. In fact, and at most places we ate, the wait staff went out of their way to do a good job and to be extra attentive to the kids. It was probably my third favorite after L'Alabama and L'Auberge Gormande (which were, for me, neck and neck). Le Pressior comes next, then Le Testavin (the most expensive) and then L'Amandier. Overall, the food was fabulous (and I love to cook, so I was most impressed). Unfortunately, I gained four pounds, so the steps and hills at Blue Bay were necessary! The gym at the resort wasn't very good, mostly weights, nothing aerobic. Our only bad restaurant experience was at Arahawk Cafe (spelling?) in Marigot (its across from the Bar de la Mer). There was obvious tension between our waiter and the cook who was grilling outside. Our order got "lost" and we waited nearly an hour. Finally, we gave up and started to leave. The manager came over and, instead of an apology, was only worried about getting paid for our round of drinks. That's one good thing about these travel boards - we get the ultimate payback! Because we had the car, we saw lots of St. Martin. We typically did this in the morning or late afternoon/evening so we didn't miss any beach/sun time. We also spent time at the beach in Grand Case one day, and one day at the Beach in Mullett Bay. Mullett still looks pretty bad from the hurricane. Of course, We've never been there before, so I don't have a point of reference for comparison, but it didn't take but a quick look around to see the damage. We had also heard that a lot of the damage was still left over from Luis, a few years back. The beach at Mullet was pretty nice, although, for being on the Caribbean side of the island, there was a pretty strong undertow. We also visited Baie Longue before going to Mullet. It, too, was beautiful, but there was absolutely nothing else there. Of the beaches we saw in St. Martin, we decided that Orient was the best. The part of the beach on which Blue Bay is located was pretty nasty with seaweed, but it got much cleaner after just a very short walk. I loved just being able to walk from one end to the other. Once we got down by Kon Tiki on the way to Pedros, it got pretty crowded -- kind of like the Ocean City (MD) of St. Martin! It was definitely an experience. We did spend a little time shopping in Phillipsburg, which is about a 20 minute drive from Blue Bay. Got a great deal on some diamonds, and of course the obligatory bottle of Guavaberry liquor. That gave us our fill of shopping. We definitely liked the French side much better that Dutch. We also took two day trips, the first to Anguilla and one to St. Barts. The water on the way to Anguilla that day was moderately choppy, but for the 25 minute ride, it wasn't bad at all. The way back was smooth. Anquilla was great, and Shoal Bay was the most beautiful beach I have ever seen (in 13 islands). It is a very quiet island and well worth the trip. After receiving a referral from one of the crew on the boat, we rented a car for the day. A great investment of $30, as it again allowed us to take a brief tour of the island and spend some time on the beach. The adjustment to driving on the left was easy. We had lunch at one of the places on the beach and had a blast. The boats run back and forth every hour, so you have a lot of flexibility on travel times and length of stay. The trip to St. Barts was also fine. The boat ride over was great as the water was smooth that day. St. Barts was even more French than St. Martin. Again, we rented a car ($45, including gas), but had to take a shuttle a mile or so away from the pier (a 20 minute ordeal). The driving on St. Barts was quite intimidating - It's a very small island, but any trip requires going over a mountain and the roads are curvy and narrow! Being serious Jimmy Buffett fans, we first had to visit Le Select, the bar which Jimmy frequents when on the island. After that, we checked out a couple of beaches and settled on St. Jean Baie. We had an exquisite day, but since the trip over takes a little over an hour and we had fixed departure times, we didn't get as much time on the island as we would have liked. The views were spectacular. Overall, we had a great time in SXM. It is a beautiful island (and we saw almost all of it!) It's not as lush and tropical as Jamaica or St. Lucia, but it was beautiful, nonetheless. The staff at the hotel for the most part were very friendly and helpful. There were many European and Venezuelan guests there, and it really makes one realize how culturally inept Americans can be. It was so interesting to see so much of a European twist on a Caribbean island. I was a little concerned at first because I wasn't sure if it would have the Caribbean "feel" that we love. It was really a good mix. We met a wonderful local woman who does hair braiding by the pool. (Which is usually the first thing the kids want to do.) I really enjoyed speaking with her about the island and the resort. If you like a Sandals or SuperClubs all-inclusive experience, don't expect the same at Blue Bay. its not even close in any category. However, we found Blue Bay to be conveniently located and a good value, and we would definitely consider a return trip in the future. So many islands - so little time!
Trip 7/00 Got back from our trip, seven days in paradise, and I’m still feeling so sad that I’m not there. How does one get over these feelings? Anyone questioning himself or herself about going --- GO!!! The island was beautiful: the beaches were glorious. I’ve been going for the last several years, and can truly see the signs of healing from the hurricanes. We stayed in a villa in Terres Basses, on Baie Rouge beach actually – it was spectacular. Our flights were uneventful; we actually had two connections – through Atlanta, then a puddle jumper for the final leg (which was the most enjoyable). Note: doing the small plane in and out of St. Martin makes the arrival/departure process so delightful. You’re a part of a much smaller group getting in and out of the airport. I decompressed instantaneously as soon as I took my first breath of St. Martin air on that tarmac. We rented a Jeep from Executive, a little more expensive, but the service was excellent. Rent a jeep, the only way to go!!! The Mullet area was the only area showing real disrepair, remember the buildings are in horrible shape, not the area or surroundings. It’s sad to see the property like this, but, believe it or not, we didn’t really give it a second thought as we looked at the white beaches, and the rich blue skies with puffy white clouds overhead. Even in paradise, the bad sites can look OK. Our villa was gorgeous; we’ve been doing this now for several years, going with friends to get the per/person costs down to (or even below) that of a fine hotel. If you haven’t done the villa thing you owe to yourself and some close friends. We prepared many of our own meals, the villa surroundings providing some of the best ambiance one could get – sorry Enzo. We also had several dinners in Marigot; it’s quiet at the marina and the waterfront right now, with very fine establishments open with great meals and service. We drove the island, but always seemed to hang out at Baie Rouge or Orient. Speaking of Orient, it was great. We ate and got silly at the Kon Tiki, a heavy downpour made us take shelter – the rain lasted five minutes, the drinking several hours – ouch! WE NEVER, NEVER FELT UNSAFE ANYWHERE AT ANY TIME!!!!! I NEVER HAD TO HAVE “MY GUARD UP”. I CAN”T TELL YOU HOW MANY TIMES, WHILE WALKING DOWN A CITY STREET IN THE STATES, THE HAIRS ON THE BACK OF MY NECK TINGLE WITH ANXIETY. NOT SO IN ST. MARTIN. Yes, apply common sense, but don’t worry about what the others on these boards are trying to accomplish. In Marigot and Grande Case we saw the Gendarme on occasion, and felt even more comfortable as a result. A few additional points: ALL THE BEACHES WERE CLEAN AND BEAUTIFUL! THERE WERE NO RUSTY HULKS ON THE SIDES OF THE ROADS! I AVERAGED THE TIME TO DRIVE THROUGH MARIGOT (mornings, lunch hour, late afternoon) at 10-15 MINUTES MAXIMUM – NOT 1.5 HOURS!! THERE WAS NO FILTH, yes, some disrepair! OUR JEEP WAS NOT BROKEN INTO, (nor our friends sedan)! On this trip we spent much more time on the French side vs. the Dutch, but that was purely how it just worked out. I didn’t even think to delineate the two sides for our friends on their first trip to SXM. The French were not rude; they appreciated our business, and provided excellent service. Funny, when you treat someone with respect, more times than not they return it in kind!! Yes, the cuisine is French, but that’s what we wanted. We almost had outright arguments in the morning, as everyone wanted to make the pastry run. The only thing we didn’t do this time was go to the casino; guess we were too busy ‘chillin’ down. All we did was swim, read, eat, drink, sunbathe, sleep, drive to different beach, and deposit every view into the memory banks. If you go to SXM this time of the year, do it around Bastille Day, the French know how to throw a party. To treat ourselves, we had Fabulous Feasts prepare us a dinner at the house; we finished our desert while watching the fireworks from the beach. The party in Marigot goes to the wee hours. Boy was the town quiet the next day. Well, I could go on and on, I literally cried on my way home, I’m still so depressed. Yea, it will go away as I consume myself in work – what a damned shame. Enzo, Barbara, I so wanted to see you folks while down there (my fault). I believe you both tell it like it is, I verify it each year I go down. Please continue to share your thoughts to all of us, they are invaluable. Everyone spread the word, SXM is a great place to go, the residents look forward to your visit and your business. Sunny days to everyone… I’m so sad…(
| CTR Home | << Back | ToC | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Next >> | Search |