Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 117
September 1, 2001

Last Update 31 August 2001

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JAMAICA: COUPLES NEGRIL BY KELLY AND GARTH WEIDERMAN

TRIP REPORT 7/29/01 – 8/5/01

We  booked  our honeymoon through the Vacation Outlet located in the 
Natick   Mall  in  Natick,  Massachusetts.   They  were  offering  a 
tremendous  special  for  7  nights  all-inclusive  with airfare and 
based  on  brochures,  it  seemed nicer than other resorts that were 
comparable in rating and cost.  We were not disappointed!

We  were  scheduled  to fly out of Boston at 8am on a North American 
airline  charter  flight.   It was about an hour and fifteen minutes 
late  departing,  but  because  we  have been so happy with previous 
flights  on  North American, we were pretty okay with the delay.  We 
arrived  in Montego Bay at about noon.  Immigration and customs went 
quickly,  despite  the  long  lines.  Areas were pretty well marked, 
and  though  the  airport was busy, we had no problem getting around 
to be where we needed to be.

We  were  booked  through  GWV  and  were  thus  met  by their local 
representative  after  passing  through immigration and customs.  He 
directed  us  towards  the Couples desk and that was essentially the 
extent  of  our  involvement  with  GWV.   Once we checked in at the 
Couples  desk, we were told to wait until they had everyone and then 
we  would  be  shown to the bus.  That only took about 5 minutes and 
we  were  on our way.  There were people offering to carry our bags, 
but  they  were  friendly  and agreeable when we declined, opting to 
carry our own.  

Once  at the bus, a man came around collecting orders for Red Stripe 
and  water while our bags were being loaded.  Red Stripes were $2.50 
a  piece,  and I don’t know how much the water was.  Tipping was not 
expected  – I presume we were considerably overcharged, but oh well, 
it  was the beginning of our vacation.  Speaking of tipping, Couples 
promotes  “no  tipping  permitted.”   We  did  arrive with plenty of 
American  ones and probably went through 5 to 10 dollars by the time 
we  got  off  the bus.  The same guy that gets your beer goes around 
and  collects  tips  for the young man that loads the bags, and then 
the  bus driver also expects a tip.  Again, we were prepared and not 
bothered  at  all  considering  the heat, and it was work we did not 
have to do – respect, Mon!

The  bus  ride  to  the resort took about an hour and forty minutes.  
We  did  not  think it was all that bad, other than being long.  The 
road  was  in very bad condition, and at some points, we had to stop 
completely  while  a  bulldozer  cleared boulders from the center of 
the  road.   Some  parts  were kind of scary, such as the speed with 
which  the driver took a lot of the blind corners, but the 6 pack of 
Red  Stripe  helped.   Oh,  and  the  goats and the cows really will 
move,  even  though  it  looks  like  they are about to be run down.  
When  you are thinking about how much Red Stripe or water to buy for 
the  ride,  keep  in  mind  the length of the ride and the fact that 
there  is  not  a  bathroom  on the bus.  Also, the bumpiness of the 
road  has  the potential to render one’s bladder more sensitive than 
usual.   The driver will make a bathroom stop, but does not tell you 
that  in  order to use it, you must buy more beer as a courtesy.  My 
husband  ended  up  asking him (urgently, I might add) to pull over, 
which he did immediately without a problem.    

We  arrived  at  Couples and were met by a quartet and Wayne.  Wayne 
ushered  us  into  the  Piano  Bar for a group registration.  We had 
been  given  registration  cards at the airport to fill out while we 
were  waiting.  We had filled ours out, but this did not make check-
in  any  quicker  considering  they  still  had  to take credit card 
imprints  and  not  everyone else had filled out their cards.  Wayne 
waited  for  everyone  before  taking  them  all  to the front desk.  
While  we waiting, we were served cold champagne and Wayne filled us 
in  on  the basics of the resort.  About a half-hour after arriving, 
we  were  given a key to our room.  Each couple was directed towards 
their  room  block  and  told  to  wait there, that luggage would be 
delivered within the hour.

Our  initial  impression of the property was that it was better than 
the  photos, lush, tastefully laid out, and well kept.  We were not, 
however,  too keen on the location of our room (#2308), at least not 
at  first.   The  entrance  to our room faced the back of one of the 
kitchens,  which  was  neither  quiet nor attractive to look at.  We 
were  also  very  close  to  the  road  and  the  airport across the 
street.   The  view  from  our  balcony was considerably better, and 
looked  down  upon the ponds by the spa area.  We could not hear the 
noise  from the kitchen, and really did not notice the planes or car 
traffic,  even  though  I  am  sure  it  was  audible.   While  this 
particular  block  of  rooms  was not overly close to anything other 
than  the  spa,  the  property  is  laid  out  in  such  a  way that 
everything  is within comfortable walking distance.  The room itself 
was  exactly  like  in  the  brochure.   It was spotlessly clean and 
included  a  CD player/radio, t.v. drawers for clothes, iron/ironing 
board,  hair  dryer  (bring your own, as it did not have any oomph), 
and  candle holders (bring your own votive).  The bed is huge enough 
that  some  nights, we could not find each other and we both thought 
it  was extremely comfy.  The balcony was good sized with two chairs 
and  a table.  There is no clock, which severely annoyed my husband, 
who can never do without knowing what time it is.

Patrick  arrived  within  15  minutes with our luggage and showed us 
the  controls  for  the  t.v. A/C, and ceiling fan.  He also pointed 
out  a  book  that explains the resort, restaurants, etc.  We tipped 
him  a  couple of dollars, after which he gave us a complete tour of 
the  room  – totally unnecessary considering it is a basic room, but 
he  must  have  felt  obligated.  He did point out that thing in the 
ceiling  above  the  bed  was a light to illuminate the tapestry and 
not  a  video  camera.  He did not seem amused at my suggestion.  By 
this  time,  it  was  about 2:30pm.  I hope that I have given you an 
idea  of how long it took from landing in Montego Bay to arriving in 
our room.  

THE PEOPLE
I  put  the  people  before  all  else because it was definitely the 
highlight  of  our  trip – other guests at the resort as well as the 
Jamaicans  that  work  there.   It  seemed  as  though every time we 
turned  around,  we  were  chatting  with  another  couple  on their 
vacation.   I  have  traveled  pretty  extensively  and  have  never 
encountered  a  friendlier  group  of guests – perhaps it is Jamaica 
that  brings  the  friendliness  out  in  people!  The guests seemed 
mostly  on  the  younger side, from mid-twenties to mid-thirties (we 
are  late  twenties), but there was quite a wide range overall.   We 
also  thought  everyone  who  worked  at  the  resort  was extremely 
friendly  and  interesting  to  talk  with, including the front desk 
staff.   We  watched  many  guests  and staff members throughout the 
week,   and   it  seems  as  though  through  our  observations  and 
experiences,  it  makes  all  the difference in the world if you are 
open  and friendly.  This seems like common sense, but I don’t think 
many   guests   understood  the  distinction  between  friendly  and 
friendly  demanding.   For  example, instead of just saying, “please 
may  I  have  a  Red  Stripe” (friendly demand), try “how’s it going 
today?   Do you think the sun will come out?  When you get a chance, 
could  I  get a Red Stripe?”  Tell the guy cleaning the pool that it 
looks  great.  Jamaicans have a wonderful sense of humor and seem to 
enjoy  chatting.   They  take  pride  in  their  work  and  seem  to 
genuinely  care  what  you think of them, the work they do, and your 
impression  of  the island.  When you’re there, be sure to say hello 
to  Robert,  Damion, and Kirkpatrick down at the pool bar, Wayne the 
lifeguard  (very smart and interesting person to talk to – intrigued 
by  the  issue  of  race  relations  in  the U.S.), Richard at water 
sports  (had  the unfortunate job the week we were there of scraping 
the  seaweed),  Jeffrey  the  watersports  instructor, and Judy, the 
woman  who  works  in the News Shop.   If you get sunburned, Headley 
(one  of  the  groundskeepers over near block 9) will pick you aloe.  
Most  will  be quick to remind you that when you go home, you cannot 
say  you  visited  Jamaica,  rather  you visited Couples Negril – to 
them,  there  is  a  big distinction considering how far removed the 
resort  is  from  the  “real” Jamaica.  However, getting to know the 
people that live there brings you that much closer.  

THE BARS/DRINKS
Be  sure  to visit Robert at the pool bar (sometimes he works at the 
beach  bar) and ask him to make you something special.  Only do this 
if  you  have  no  problem with getting trashed and have no pressing 
events  scheduled  for the afternoon.  You never quite know what you 
are  getting, but the conversation is great and whatever it is, will 
be  sure  to knock you on your ass.  The service at the bars overall 
was  good.  The only place where it was at all slow was the main bar 
located  in  the  Cassava Terrace, but it seems as though the reason 
for  this  is  they  were  also responsible for supplying the dining 
room  with  drinks.   Also, if you choose to use red flag service on 
the  beach  (pick up your flag at watersports – stick it in the sand 
and  someone  will come take your order), be prepared to wait a long 
time.   We  found  it  easier  to  just  go  up  and  get the drinks 
ourselves.   There  is drink service at each of the dining areas for 
dinner,  and  the  Cassava  Terrace  for  lunch.   I  think  I  read 
somewhere  that  wine  is  only  served with dinner, but you can get 
wine  during  the day too if you ask.  Also, they will not just give 
you  cans  of  beer  (Miller  Lite)  –  something  to  do  with  the 
management  not  wanting people to walk around with 6 packs of beers 
and  leaving cans everywhere.  Be sure to try a Flaming Bob Marley – 
not  very  tasty,  but fun and you can walk away saying you did one.  
Miami  Vice  and  BahamaMamas  are  also  good  drinks.  Some people 
suggested  bringing  big  insulated cups to use instead of the small 
plastic  cups  supplied  by  the  resort  – good idea, but we forgot 
ours.   If  you  enjoy  your  drinks, consider it a priority.  Also, 
consider  investing  in  an inflatable “drink oasis.”  Basically, it 
is  a  floatie  with drink holders and a place in the middle to hold 
ice.   We  tied  a  string to ours, loaded it up with cocktails, and 
then  brought  it with us when “floating” in the ocean.  It saved us 
from  repeat  trips  to  the  bar,  though  greatly  contributed  to 
intoxication.   We  got  ours at Linens ‘n Things.  We did pass ours 
on  to  Richard, who works at Water Sports – perhaps he will let you 
borrow it!  Overall, the drinks are good, cold, and strong.

FOOD/RESTAURANTS
There   are   several  restaurants  from  which  to  choose  on  the 
property.   For  breakfast, you have a choice of room service or the 
buffet  at  the  Cassava  Terrace.   Most  mornings,  we  chose room 
service  and  would eat out on our porch.  Room service consisted of 
fresh  baked  pastries and breads, cereal, fruit, juice, and coffee.  
The  first morning, my husband thought he would still be hungry, but 
found  in  the  long  run,  it was plenty of food.  Room service was 
prompt  and  we  didn’t tip – the guys didn’t linger seeming to wait 
for  one  either.   If  you  eat  out  on your porch, don’t leave it 
unattended  because  the  birds  will be right there eating off your 
plate.   We  also hit the buffet a couple of times.  This was pretty 
standard  breakfast  fare,  though  they  did  have  made  to  order 
omelets,  pancakes,  waffles, and fresh fruit smoothies.  The coffee 
was  good and our cups rarely hit empty before someone would be over 
filling  them  up  again.   Our  only  disappointment,  we  had read 
somewhere  that  they  have self-serve mimosas and bloody marys, but 
not  that  we  could  find.   For  lunch, your choices are the Beach 
Grill  or  the buffet at the Cassava Terrace.  We usually ate at the 
grill,  just because it was convenient and we didn’t need shoes or a 
shirt/cover-up.   I  don’t  know if there was an official dress code 
at  the  Terrace,  but  we felt as though shoes and shirts/cover-ups 
were  appropriate.  The food at the Grill was pretty good – the jerk 
chicken  and  chicken  patties  were  excellent,  and  the  rest was 
traditional  grill  fare.   There  was  also a salad bar, self-serve 
nachos,  soup,  and  self-serve  ice  cream.   For dinner, the Beach 
Grill  and  the  Cassava  Terrace  became  a la carte (3 nights, the 
Cassava  Terrace  was  buffet).   You  did not need reservations and 
they  did  display  the  menus  ahead  of  time  so you could make a 
decision.   In  regards  to  dress,  we  saw pretty much everything, 
though  most cleaned up.  We thought the food at the Beach Grill (at 
night  it  becomes  the  Pasta  Bar) was better than the food at the 
Cassava  Terrace, though we enjoyed listening to the house band that 
played  during  dinner at the Terrace.  If you eat at the Pasta Bar, 
don’t  sit  near the far perimeter (near the foliage) because that’s 
the  only place we experienced mosquitoes.  Whatever you do, be sure 
to  make  a  reservation  for  at  least  one night at OTAHEITE, the 
gourmet  restaurant.   The  food,  service,  and atmosphere were all 
spectacular!   We  ate  there  twice, though the menu did not change 
throughout  the  week.   Dinner consists of several small courses of 
some  of the best food I have ever eaten.  The service is top notch, 
and  you  really feel pampered.  There is a dress code – long pants, 
collared   shirts,  and  covered  shoes  for  men,  and  dresses  or 
pantsuits   for   women.    We   did  see  people  turned  away  for 
inappropriate  dress.   Also,  be  sure you are on time because they 
will  not  seat  you if you are late.  You can make your reservation 
at the guest relations desk in the lobby.

THE BEACH/POOL
We  spent  most  of our time at the beach, setting up around 8am and 
staying  until the daily rain at about 2pm.  The beach is absolutely 
gorgeous,  white  sand,  wide,  and very clean.  There are plenty of 
trees  that  offer  shade,  though we dragged our chairs down to the 
water  to  be  in  the sun.  We spent a lot of the afternoons in the 
hammocks,  but  be careful of falling almonds.  We spent most of our 
time  floating  out in the water with our drink oasis, a wonderfully 
relaxing  activity.   We did go to the pool in the afternoon when we 
had  enough  of  the  beach.   It  was also remarkably clean and the 
water  was  on  the warm side.  We did not go to the nude beach, but 
there  didn’t  seem  to  be  anyone  there either.  We did not see a 
single  topless  woman  all  week,  something to consider if this is 
something  you  are  looking  for.   Unlike  our experience at other 
resorts,  there  were always plenty of chairs and floats at both the 
beach  and the pool.  You didn’t need to get up at the crack of dawn 
to  reserve  a  good  spot; in fact you could stroll out at 11am and 
still  have  your  pick.   We felt as though our personal items were 
safe  when  left for periods of time, though we kept our camera with 
us.   There  were  people  walking  up  and  down  the beach selling 
“ganja”  and hair braiding, but they weren’t pushy and didn’t bother 
us  at  all.  There is also a gentleman who walks the beach and will 
take  your  picture  (his name is Smoky).  He does not wear a resort 
shirt,  but  works  for  a  company  that contracts with the resort.  
There  is  no  obligation  to  buy the photo, he simply takes it and 
then  it  will  be  displayed among others at the Photo Hut the next 
day  for  you  to  purchase if you so desire.  We heard one woman be 
very  rude  to  him,  not  believing  that he worked for the resort.  
He’s  actually  very nice and polite, and will show you how to catch 
BIG sand crabs once you start talking to him.

ACTIVITIES
Overall,  the  resort  was  pretty  quiet.  There were no boisterous 
entertainment  people  dragging  you  to  the  pool  for  a  game of 
volleyball.   Most  of  the  activities  never even happened because 
people  didn’t  show  up.  If you do participate in an activity, you 
get  fake  money  to spend at the auction where you can purchase Tia 
Maria,  t-shirts,  etc.  We did play bingo a couple of times because 
it  rained  in  the  afternoon.   My  husband  took advantage of the 
tennis  lessons  and feels as though his game greatly improved under 
the  direction  of  Devon  and  the visiting pro.  He also tried the 
water  skiing,  which  was great because the water is very calm.  We 
both  took out the hobie cats, kayaks, and paddleboats.  Feeding the 
goldfish  in  the  ponds  by  the  spa was a nice calming activity – 
there  are so many of them, it’s kind of fun to watch.  We did go on 
the  catamaran  cruise,  which  we just thought was okay, but it was 
cut  short  because of a thunderstorm.  We took the snorkeling trip, 
which  was fun, but the snorkeling is not as good as other places we 
have  been.   Bring  a  bagel with you to feed the fish.  We went to 
the  Piano  Bar  one night but no one was there and the piano player 
did  not  show  up.   The  bare foot beach party on Monday nights is 
pretty  fun, with lots of corny games that you otherwise would never 
find  yourself  playing.   Most  nights,  we were in bed by 9pm.  We 
still  cannot  get  over how quiet the resort was.  Some mornings we 
would  walk  out  around  8am  for breakfast and it was like a ghost 
town.    However,   contrary  to  other  reports,  there  was  music 
throughout  the day, and the areas around the bars could get kind of 
rowdy.   We  brought our own travel games and would set up at either 
the  beach  or  pool  bar to sit out the thunderstorms.  They have a 
game  room  with a t.v. card tables, ping pong table, and pool table 
but  it was always so smoky, we avoided it.  The fitness area is top 
notch,  which  we  did  take  advantage  of.  We did not use the spa 
services  and  regret  it.   By  the time we got around to making an 
appointment  for  our  massage, we could not get an appointment.  We 
did  not  go on the shopping trip or to Rick’s Café.  My husband did 
go  on  the  golfing trip, which ended up being very expensive.  The 
resort  covers  the  transfer  and  the  green  fees, but a caddy is 
mandatory,  club  rentals  were  $18 and then you also must buy your 
own  balls  ($1 each) and tees.  There are no water fountains on the 
course  so  you  are  expected  to  buy  water  for yourself and the 
caddy.  My husband spent close to $60 by the end of the day.

DEPARTING
The   night  before  your  departure,  you  will  receive  a  flight 
confirmation  and  the time that you should meet the bus.  You leave 
your  luggage  outside  your  room  1-hour  before  the  bus leaves.  
Checkout  went  quickly and all our bags were on the bus by the time 
we  arrived  to  leave.   Once  again,  things  at  the airport went 
quickly,  though  it  is  an  interesting set-up.  You wait for your 
flight  to  be  called before you go to your gate, so everyone is in 
the  same  waiting area.  We walked all the way to our gate and then 
were escorted back by security.

Overall, we had a wonderful vacation

MEXICO: EXPLORING MEXICO'S ZAPOTEC RUINS AT MONYE ALBAN BY HABEEB SALLOUM

For  a day we had explored Oaxaca, capital of the Mexican state with 
the  same name, glorying in its Zapotec heritage which saturated all 
facets  of  life  from  dress  and  cuisine to language and ages-old 
artisan  products.  Now,  on a bus tour, we were on our way to Monte 
Albán,  the main ruin of the 8000 archaeological sites left by these 
Indians  who  once  had  a  flourishing civilization in this part of 
Mexico.

Turning  a  corner,  my  heart jumped. We had barely missed a coming 
auto.  Diego,  our guide of pure Zapotec descent, seeing the look of 
shock on the faces of some of his flock, smiled, 'No cop! No stop!"

Our  near  accident was soon forgotten as our mini-bus wound its way 
to  Monte  Albán, some 10 km (6 mi) from the heart of Oaxaca. During 
our  way  upward,  Diego talked with enthusiasm, relating with pride 
the history of his ancestors and their achievements.

One  of  the  many  pre-Columbian  Indian  kingdoms  in  Mexico, the 
Zapotec  nation  founded  a rich flourishing culture unique to their 
region  of the country. Thousands of years ago they built impressive 
cities  and  established  a  way  of  life that has come down to our 
times.

We  tumbled  out  of  our  bus at the entrance to the ruins of Monte 
Albán  -  once called the 'city of the gods'. It was, for centuries, 
the  capital  of the Zapotecs, who in their days of glory were known 
as  the  'people  of  the clouds'. The centre of their culture and a 
privileged  place  of  worship,  it  was  inhabited  by astronomers, 
nobles, priests and wise men. 

Standing  on  the  edge  of  the of the ruins, built atop a mountain 
whose  peak  had  literally been cut off to create a plateau for the 
city,  I  heard  Diego  tell  one of our group, "Look! Have you ever 
seen  such a breathtaking view? Look at the grandeur around you! The 
Zapotecs knew where to build their city."

Well  did  our  guide  have  a  point. The vista was stunning. Monte 
Albán  with  its  imposing  and  majestic  structures,  appearing to 
sprout  from  the  clouds,  dominated  the  city  of  Oaxaca and the 
immense flat valley - in reality three valleys abutting each other -
 below.

>>From  its  eyrie  setting, towering 400 m (1,312 ft) above the city, 
the  ruins  beset  by clouds hovering over the surrounding mountains 
created  a dramatic scene of seducing colours. Resting on a man-made 
platform,  Monte  Albán  is  said  to  be  the  most  impressive and 
fascinating  pre-Columbian  archaeological  treasure in the whole of 
Meso-America.

On  the ceremonial flattened mountain top, the Zapotecs raised their 
holy  city  in  order  to  be closer to their gods. Judging from its 
building  stones,  archaeologists  believe  that the first structure 
was  erected  around 700 B.C. Our knowledge of that early period, up 
to  300  B.C., is from the carved stone slabs found in the Temple of 
the Dancers, the oldest structure in the city.

The  temple  is covered with what was long believed to be dancers in 
grotesque   poses   and   idiotic   grins.   However,   today,  many 
archaeologists  think that the temple was a hospital and the figures 
are   sick   people  in  postures  of  agony.  The  bars  and  dots, 
accompanying  the  figures,  are thought to be a system of numbering 
borrowed from the neighbouring Mayans. 

Between  300  B.C. and 250 A.D., 90 temples were built, some showing 
Mayan  influences.  During  this  period, scientific knowledge among 
the  Zapotecs  reached  glittering  heights.  They believed that the 
earth  was  round  and  their  scientists  knew  the magnetic north. 
Uncovered  skulls  indicate  that surgeons operated on brain tumors, 
using  obsidian  instruments  and  an  aesthetic  derived  from coca 
leaves.

The  city  reached  its peak between 300 and 700 A.D. when it became 
the   centre   of  a  highly  organized,  priest-dominated  society. 
According  to  Diego,  the  clerics manipulated the people by magic, 
through  secret  tunnels  and  knowledge of the movement of the sun, 
moon  and  stars.  After  700  A.D., the secrets of the priests were 
discovered.  Hence,  they  were  unable  to  control the population. 
Shortly  thereafter,  the  city  went  into  decline,  with military 
leaders replacing the clerics.

Somewhere  around  1000  A.D.,  Monte  Albán  was  occupied  by  the 
Mixtecs,  another  Indian  people,  who, by the year 1200, turned it 
into  a  'city  of  the  dead*  and  it became a massive cemetery of 
lavish  crypts  where  important priests and nobles were buried with 
their  treasures.  Two  hundred  of  these  tombs  have to date been 
uncovered,   the  most  important  known  as  tomb  number  7  which 
contained  nine  skeletons  - a high priest and what are believed to 
be members of his family or servants. 

It  was  to  become  one  of  the  richest archaeological finds ever 
unearthed,  yielding  a  fabulous  collection  of  solid gold breast 
plates  and  masks,  gold  and  silver  jewellery, carved alabaster, 
crystal,  jade and obsidian, pearls as large as pigeon eggs and much 
more.  All  the  500  items found are now on exhibit in the Regional 
Museum of Oaxaca.

The  heart of the Monte Albán ruins is a great rectangular plaza 366 
m  (1,200  ft)  long  and  200 m (656 ft) wide, bounded by four huge 
ceremonial  platforms.  All  around  and in its centre are pyramids, 
palaces,   sculptures,   steles,  staircases,  terraces,  tombs,  an 
observatory,  a  sun  dial and a ball court, where a game was played 
for  pleasure  -  unlike  in  the  Mayan lands where the losers were 
sacrificed. 

The  observatory, located in the group of buildings in the centre of 
the  square,  breaks  the  symmetry  of  the rest of the structures, 
built  on  a  grid  system.  Not  in line with the axis of the other 
buildings,  it  is  set  at  45 degrees east, precisely toward where 
five  of  the 25 brightest stars in this part of the sky may be best 
observed.  From  studying  the  stars, the priests set the dates for 
feasting, planting and harvesting.

As  we  left  the  ruins, I sat back in the bus and relaxed. My mind 
went  back to the Zapotecs whose descendants, with their customs and 
traditions,  still  dominate  the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The charm 
of   Oaxaca  today  is  in  the  foods,  handicrafts  and  festivals 
inherited from their ancestor*s days of grandeur.

In  the  words  of  Diego,  "Even  though  the  Spanish missionaries 
preached  for  a  hundred  years  that  we had no soul or spirit, we 
remain  today  the  backbone  of  this  state,  proud of our Zapotec 
heritage."

MEXICO: COPACANANA RESORT, XPU-HA BY DON POKORNY

The  following  contains  our complete trip report to the Copacabana 
Resort,  Xpu-Ha,  Mx.;  April  28-  May 5, 2001. Please keep in mind 
while  reading this commentary we have traveled the Mexican Suncoast 
(we  call  it Playa Del Carmen area) at least once if not more every 
year  for  the  last five years. We also have stayed at 2 other all-
inclusive  properties, the Reef Club and the RIU Yucatan, as well as 
rented  condos  in  Akumal. We will use those as benchmarks and make 
the  occasional  comparisons.  I  will  try to review those areas of 
interest  that  are  most requested! If you would like a report with 
more  general information about the area from other trip, especially 
about  the  RIU  Yucatan,  please email me at Contract73@aol.com. We 
are  in  our  later  30's w/o kids (so far) and look for interesting 
destinations  and  relaxation  as  opposed  to  nightlife-orientated 
activities. 

Reservations/Information

We  found  the resort through http://www.locogringo.com, who we have 
used  before  (Thanks  Karla!).  This  hotel is also offered through 
Apple/Funjet     and     also     has    its    own    website    at 
http://www.hotelcopacabana.com/).   The  advertisement  they  ran on 
the  website  was  accurate,  and  honest. The rate they offered was 
excellent  and  we  secured  the  dates through them. As always they 
shared  as much info as they could, and were wonderful to work with; 
prompt, courteous, and fair. 

Car Rental

We  rent  a  car  90% of the time. Thrifty offered the best rate and 
accepted  my MasterCard as the collision insurance. Saved $15 a day! 
Note  that  this  resort  is  not located close to anything. It is a 
decent  cab  ride or if you have the time, bus from the front of the 
hotel.  You  can  rent  cars  daily at the resort. Or take the tours 
offered, but we prefer to do it ourselves.

Air 

Like  previous  trips  for  which we did not take a full package, we 
found  the  best  rate  (R/T  Chicago) using Funjet Travel on one of 
their  ATA charter flights. We often base our dates of travel around 
the  air availability/price. Flights were as expected, a little like 
a  cattle  call  airline,  but what do you expect? They were even 20 
early on the return flight!!!

And less that half the price of American.

Arrival

After  spending a quick night in Playa del Carmen, we arrived at the 
resort  about  10am.  We  had  no  problem  checking in immediately, 
except  we  only  had  the  choice  of  a  room in those numbered in 
1000's.  It  was  farthest  from the beach but closest to dinner and 
breakfast.  To get the room we said fine, why waste good beach time? 
The  lobby  building  holds  the  small  shops, dinner and breakfast 
restaurants, as well as the theater/bar #2 facility. 

The  lobby was similar to other quality properties; waterfall, open, 
tall  ceiling,  marble  floors,  very  clean  (the resort was only 5 
months  old), beautiful and inviting. Upon the rather quick check-in 
they  took  us  to  our room by golf cart! The property was laid out 
with  3-4 large buildings (with nice decorations and wall paintings) 
on  each  side  consisting of the guest rooms lining of the property 
(total  8).  It  was  narrower  and longer than many (similar to the 
Reef Club), with all activities at either end. 

 Rooms

This  was very surprising. The rooms (at least ours) were very large 
in  comparison  to other resorts. Marble floors, king bed, TV, small 
stocked  fridge  (beer,  soda, water), electronic safe (nice touch), 
good   a/c,   ceiling  fan,  balcony  (nice  size),  phone,  towels, 
everything.  The  marble  shower (no tub) had room for about six! We 
were  lucky  to  get  an  end unit on the second floor. We could see 
over  the trees/jungle-landscaping motif that ran through the entire 
center  of  the property. The only think I can report interesting is 
that  the  toilet  seat  was  broken! I called the front desk from a 
pool  phone  that afternoon and when we returned to the room several 
hours  later the seat was fixed. Room service cleaned the rooms once 
daily,  pretty  much  by  noon  by  occasionally as late as 2pm, but 
always left them immaculate. 

Grounds

This  resort  is located on Xpu-ha one of the most beautiful beaches 
on  the  Mex, Caribbean coast. If offers a nice walk about a mile or 
more  either way to the new Xpu-Ha Palace resort to the North or the 
Robinson  Club  to  the south. I cannot complete this review without 
saying  I  hope  this  is  the end to the construction of resorts in 
this  area.  I  would  hate  to  see  it disappear like other little 
hidden  paradise  beaches that are disappearing along the coast. Not 
to mention the destruction to the wildlife. 

As  I  mentioned  it has a jungle/mangrove motif running through the 
center.  The  walkways are all of landscaping stone with bridges and 
benches  along  the  way.  If you don't like the walkway (?) you can 
get  anywhere  by  using the paved utility roads that run behind the 
rooms,  the  entire  length  of the property. Various wildlife makes 
its  residence  here,  fun  for  the kiddies. One night a frog choir 
serenaded  us! Except near the lobby buildings area, it was a fairly 
quiet  resort  and  never  had  a  "crowded"  or  extensive  "party" 
atmosphere. 

Walking  the  entire  length  of  the  resort might be difficult for 
those  with challenges, but I don't want to make assumptions if they 
had  other provisions. One had to decide which end (beach/pool/lunch 
vs.  dinner/breakfast)  they  would  want to be closer to. We didn't 
care.  

 Beach/Activity Area/Services

This  is  where you find yourself spending most of the day. The pool 
is  large,  plenty  of  paplyas  for shade, well laid out and, well, 
best  if you look at the pictures on the Internet. We are beach folk 
so  we  only  spend  about 15% of the time by the pool. Surround the 
pool  is  the activities cabanas; workout room, pool bar (no swim-up 
L)   aerobics   room,   kiddies   pool,  large  buffet  lunch  hall, 
towel/water   activity,   small  store,  craft  room,  day-care/kids 
activities.  Also  are  3  rather long hot/whirlpool tubs/pools that 
have  a  nice view of the beach. All activities are rather close and 
convenient. 

The  condition  of  the beach was one of the best we have had. Large 
and  open. Plenty of shallow water for kids, and for those who don't 
like  the  deep  water.  It is groomed often and in great condition. 
The  shade  is  limited so be ready to go out early and reserve your 
spot  (this  common for all you new folks). You can try to get on of 
the  payplas  or under the yet to grow trees. Even though we arrived 
later  (11am), one of the employees offered us our own umbrella!! We 
choose  this route every day. They did seem to run out by the end of 
the  week  (hint:  Copa, buy more!). The chairs are standard plastic 
issue  lounge  chairs,  but  the  pool  chairs  had  that nice nylon 
webbing  over  them.  Note  that  there  is not drink service on the 
beach  (common).  And yes, it has the traditional topless sunbathing 
option. 

The  standard  A-I  activities  are  available, see list that can be 
found  on  the  websites.  Please note that private vendors down the 
beach  (south) have Wave runners, diving and snorkeling trips if you 
do not choose those offered by the resort. 

Also  offered  are messages and paint on tattoos. We had fun wearing 
what  they claim will last 2 weeks but in essence they barely lasted 
a  week.  The  message  was  very  good  but I did receive and great 
message  from  the  little hotel Villas Del Caribe just north, lined 
up  next  to  the property. They have a small restaurant/bar and you 
can ask there. 

For the Kiddies

Available  is  a nanny/baby sitting service that other guest claimed 
was  wonderful.  It  appeared  to  us  she  was  a  "trained"  child 
attendant  and  was  taking  the kids around pool area doing various 
whatever.  They  also offered various activities for the young ones. 
The  small  shallow  kids  pool is a nice touch. See the website for 
more info. 

Food

This  is always a dangerous subject to evaluate since I have seen so 
many  differing  views  of  what  to expect at an A-I resort. I am a 
former  musician  happy  with  truck  stop  grub  at 4am and my wife 
enjoys  luxury  cruise  food,  so you figure out where we are coming 
from. Nonetheless, we found the food B+ in quality and variety. 

For  the  buffets:  Breakfast offers a variety of choices, which are 
standard  in  A-I,  omelets,  eggs,  doughy  items,  and sweets. (of 
course  beer is always available). Lunch was the average grill fare, 
but  the  custom  pasta  bar  was a plus. Dinner had a good variety. 
Desserts  were  better  than  most  we  found  in  Mexico,  and  the 
Cappuccino  bar  for  breakfast and dinner was well received by all. 
By  and  large  it  was better that Reef Club but not the quality of 
the  RIU.  This  should  not be a surprise based on price range! One 
point  we  would  like to make is they made every effort to keep the 
buffet  areas  clean  and  well  stocked! I went to the lunch buffet 
with  sand  filled  flip-flops  and  the cleaning person followed me 
around!

The   reservations-only   restaurant   we   found  to  be  not  very 
impressive.  Don't  get me wrong; it was delightful, but not several 
notches  up from the buffets. We have found this true of most A-I's. 
If  you  have  to be served or pampered, then this is for you. Worth 
one visit. 

Bar

OK  kids,  here's  the  important  data.  The bars were overall very 
good.  The  lobby  bar  was  excellent, so was the theater bar. They 
both  offered  a  huge  drink  variety. The theater bar at times got 
overwhelmed  if  many attended the evening festivities. The pool bar 
often  was  understaffed  between  11am – 3pm. They did not have the 
drink  variety  of  the  other  bars  but keep most happy (plenty of 
shots).  One  disappointment  is  they had a frozen coffee and lemon 
drink  machine  that  worked only the first day. I enjoyed putting a 
shot  of  Kailua in the coffee option. PS, try the Mexican Sombrero. 
My  conclusion  is  if  they could keep the number of Canadians that 
were there happy, they did all right! 

Entertainment

I  really don't know what to expect, most of these A-I theater shows 
are  weak,  but  these  where  so tongue and cheek, it was great!! A 
little  more  biting  than  any  other I have seen. I think they are 
aware  they  utilize  a  little  more  of  an adult slant, which was 
great,  and  maybe  it's  why  they had them start at 9pm. Since the 
makeup  of  the  guest  population is primarily non-American, I know 
this  is  not  a  problem.  Ten  times  out  of ten usually it's the 
Americans  (which  we  are  if  you  didn't get the drift) who get a 
little  (over)  uptight  if  their  little  "Buffy  or  Chad"  hears 
something  a  little  risqué.  It  was  all in fun though. They play 
disco music after the show in lieu of the uncompleted disco room. 

People/Guests

A  wonderful mix of European, Latin American and this time, Canadian 
guests.  About  10%  US. The Canadians where some of the friendliest 
people we have met. 

Service

A  general comment on the service, I do think they were making every 
effort  to  please  the guests. The Currency exchange rate is not as 
high as those available in Playa Del Carmen or the airport. 

The  only  difficulty  we  experienced is when we decided to stay an 
extra   night,  we  asked,  and  were  told;  at  the  time  of  the 
reservation  we could have the same rate. At checkout, it required a 
25min  discussion  to  not  be charged $40 more. But eventually this 
was worked out.

Snorkeling 

A  quick  note  since  we have done most of the snorkel spots in the 
area.  There  is  fairly  good  snorkeling  just south of the resort 
about  800  ft  out.  But, it does not compare to the lagoons or the 
Akumal area.

Conclusions

Overall,  this resort was a wonderful experience, idllyic, and comes 
highly  recommend  by  us.  There  has  never  been  even  the  most 
expensive  resort  that  someone  does not have some small complaint 
about.  If  you  want  perfection,  stay in Toledo. (Sorry, very bad 
analogy)  The  resort for the price and location is going to be very 
successful,  and will probably get better after a few of the growing 
pains are calmed.  Enjoy….

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