Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 107
September 1, 2000

Last Update 31 Aug 2000

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JAMAICA: COUPLES NEGRIL BY KATE SHANAHAN

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.

MEXICO: MAYAN SPLENDOUR REACHED ITS PEAK IN UXMAL BY HABEEB SALLOUM

"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.

ST. MARTIN: BLUE BAY VILLAGE BY DONNA AND MARC MCINTOSH

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! 

ST. MARTIN BY KEN KNUEVEN

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…(

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