Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Gert van Dijken, Editor

Caribbean Travel Roundup
Gert van Dijken, Editor
Edition 127
September 1, 2002

Last Update August 31 2002

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Steve &  I booked our honeymoon  in St. Lucia using  "St. Lucia Tours"
run by Robert Holmen, a Minnesota retiree that has been vacationing in
St. Lucia  and the West Indies  for over 20 years.  We traveled during
July 21-30.  The first  five night  of our trip  we stayed  at Sandals
Halcyon Bay on the North side  of the island, and the last four nights
we stayed  on the  South of  the island at  Ladera Resort.  Talk about
different worlds!

Sandals is everything  you see in the commercials  and more. We really
enjoyed  the experience and  plan to  do it  again. It  was especially
relaxing  to  not  worry  about  money for  tips,  drinks,  meals  and
activities  after the  wedding  planning. St.  Lucia  has two  Sandals
resorts on the island. Halcyon  is my recommendation: small, quite and
intimate. All the rooms are  generally the same and in close proximity
to the pools/ocean. Go for the  standard luxury room and stay longer -
there is  not a  meaningful difference in  my opinion compared  to the
higher-end rooms. Sandals St. Lucia,  the larger golf & spa resort, is
approximately ten minutes away, but at  least 5 times the size. It has
many more amenities (more restaurants,  bars, etc) - but why not avoid
the  crowds  and just  use  their  resources  should you  choose?  For
restaurants, I highly  recommend the Pier (Halcyon) and  La Piton & La
Toc (Sandals St.  Lucia) for dinners. Sandals operated many day trips,
but we only had the chance to  try one: The Soufriere Day Sail. It was
a great time, and is highly recommended if you will only be staying at
the all-inclusive. It at least gives  you a glimpse of what life looks
like outside the  resort and gives you a chance to  see St. Lucia from
the  water,   see  the   "drive-in"  Volcano  and   beautiful  botanic
gardens.   There's   also  a   chance   to   eat   at  a   non-Sandals
restaurant.  Finally, be  aware  that it  is  an hour  1/2 drive  from
Hewanorra (Intl.) airport to the  Sandals. A shuttle will greet you at
the  airport  (you'll  know  exactly  where  to  go  because  all  the
honeymooners on your  plane will be going to Sandals)  and you will go
through winding,  hairpin turns through  very poor villages to  get to
the North  of the island.   It is scenic  at parts, but mostly  just a
glimpse of what looks to be a very basic lifestyle.

Ladera, our second resort, was a  little slice of heaven. There are 24
villas built  into the side of  the mountain, right  between the Petit
and Gros  Pitons (St. Lucia's most  recognizable characteristic). Each
room  is very  unique  with  beautiful wood  floors  and walls,  local
artwork and flowers. There are also  only three walls, so you are left
open  to the most  gorgeous panoramic  view in  the Caribbean.  We had
Suite A2  which was  two floors, two  bedrooms/baths. It felt  like we
were part  of Swiss family Robinson.  I think all rooms  have a plunge
pool  too, which is  especially nice  for the  hot Caribbean  sun. The
restaurant, Dasheen, is  also one of the best on  the island. The food
was  fabulous. I  mean fabulous.  We  would stuff  ourselves at  every
meal. We  only ate one meal away  from the resort (down  at the Hilton
beach). There was even a  cooking demonstration given by the head chef
(I  think  he  holds  them   every  Saturday  morning).  It  was  very
interesting to see the different  types vegetables and fruits that are
used in  local dishes. He also  prepared the two  signature dishes for
us: the Dasheen Shrimp and the Piton Steak (steak marinated in a local
beer and peppers).  I should also say that while  the meals at Dasheen
are excellent, it  is quite pricey. We usually spent  about $80 - $100
at dinner,  but we always got  appetizers, two entrees  and dessert. A
bottle of  wine was included free  with every dinner  purchased at the
resort. As far  as activities go, if you are  expecting to do anything
outside of  laying around a pool  and/or enjoying nature  - this isn't
the place  for you. It's  very quite and  calming at Ladera -  and you
hardly see the other guests during  the day. You are also not actually
on a  beach.  There is a shuttle  running twice a day  to the Jalouise
Hilton beach and the Anse Chastanet beach which takes about 10 minutes
to  get  to. We  only  went  down to  the  Hilton  beach  - which  was
gorgeous.  There was  excellent snorkeling  right at  the base  of the
Petit  Piton -  you could  simply  walk off  the beach  to it  (Ladera
provides you  with equipment). I enjoyed  the beach here  so much more
than that at  Sandals. It was more scenic,  clearer water and imported
white sand. There were also no peddlers as opposed to Sandals where we
were greeted by at least three or four daily.

Finally, we took  Air Jamaica from Chicago O'Hare  through Montego Bay
to St.  Lucia. We chose Air  Jamaica because of price (we received 30%
off by  booking with  the travel agent)  and complete jet  service (no
puddle-jumpers).  Our tickets  for coach  were about  $600  round trip
each. If  you choose to  use Air Jamaica  they use Montego Bay  as the
Caribbean's hub. Be prepared! We  had awful experiences both ways - no
one  has a clue  what is  going on  and the  gates are  lined up  in a
corridor together so it's like a  big cattle rush. We were not able to
board until 10  minutes before our plane was to  take off because they
didn't want  us crowding up  the gates. You  will never know  what I'm
talking about until  you've actually done it. I  would fly Air Jamaica
again  but I would  seriously check  into (and  pay a  slight premium)
other airlines, flight paths to avoid Montego Bay's airport.


"Let's leave early! We must rest  after we return from La Restinga.  I
hear that tonight's Indian Beach  Party is the best evening offered to
tourists on  the island of Margarita."   An acquaintance I  had met in
our  hotel  was   urging  me  not  to  be   tardy  the  next  morning.
Preparations had already been made.  We had rented, during the day, an
auto in  Polamar, Margarita's chief commercial and  tourist centre, in
preparation for our trip.

 Early  the following  day  we were  on  our way  westward  to the  La
Restinga Lagoon which, with Playa El Agua, is one of the island's most
promoted  national  attractions.    The  excellent  Porlamar-Punta  de
Piedras expressway running along  the southeastern part of the island,
like all roadways on Margarita, was well-marked and maintained.  About
24 km  (15 mi) from  the outskirts of  Porlamar, we turned right  on a
two-lane highway which cut through a semi-arid landscape.

 I had  barely finished reading the  road signs when looking  up I saw
two impressive hills called the 'Teats of Maria Guevara' - named after
a 19th  century heroine of  Venezuelan independence.  It is  said that
these mounds  of earth,  used as beacons  by fishermen, were  named in
jest  since it  was widely  known that  Maria Guevara's  bust-line was
almost non-existent.

 A  travel agent  in Porlamar  told  me that  they are  the source  of
never-ending juicy tales which guides  love to relate to tourists.  At
close range, the 'Teats' did not look as commanding as from afar, yet,
according to the agent, stories about them seem to multiply year after

 We left our auto in a large  parking lot at the entrance to Parque La
Restinga - about 40 km (25 mi) from Porlamar.  Inside, on a dock, near
two dozen motor boats were moored, waiting for customers.  At the cost
of less  than $10.00, we  hired a boatman  with his craft for  a three
hour round trip, including a  two hour beach stop, through the immense

 The serene  maze of water channels, crisscrossing  in all directions,
were edged  by never-ending mangrove  roots, growing in  a bewildering
array of  webs.  On  and on  we wound our  way through  the waterways,
tinged dark green by the overshadowing thickets.  Some of these canals
had, nailed to trees at the entrance, romantic signs, all derived from
legends of love, such as 'Tunnel of Love', 'Channel of Kiss', etc.

 Here  and there, a  variety of  birds -  boobies, frigates,  ibis and
pelicans nest  in these mangroves -  chirped in the  trees.  Below us,
one  could see  oysters  clinging  to the  hardwood  tentacles of  the
mangrove  trees,  rising everywhere  out  of  the  lagoon.  It  was  a
tropical world contrasting vividly  with the shrub dotted land through
which we had just driven.

 The  boat ride  was  tranquil as  we  zigzagged our  way through  the
swamps.   Behind  us  the  'Teats  of Maria  Guevara'  loomed  in  the
distance, while before us a mountain  in the shape of a sleeping human
overshadowed the  trees.  The  sputtering of the  engine and  our boat
streaking through the  water seemed to be an  unnatural intrusion into
this enchanting creation of nature.

 On  the other  side  of the  lagoon, the  boatman  let us  off on  La
Restinga Beach and promised to return at the appointed time to pick us
up.  We were now free to roam at  will on the 20 km (12 mi) long sweep
of sands -  the longest on Margarita.  After  snacking on fresh caught
fish  in  one of  the  numerous eating  places  lining  the beach,  we
strolled the sands, seemingly composed of crushed sea shells.

 It was  painful on the feet and  we had to don  sandals.  Shells were
everywhere.   Like others, we  gathered the  most colourful.   When it
came time to leave, our bags were overflowing with shells of countless
colours and shapes.

 Bypassing many of  the canals through which we  had earlier leisurely
made our way, we were at the  park's gate in less than a quarter hour.
After paying  the boatman his fee,  with a hefty tip,  we retraced our
steps to  Porlamar.  In  about an  hour we were  settled in  our hotel
preparing for the Guaiquerí Indian Beach Party.

 Smiling  Indian maidens  greeted  us  when we  entered  a large  airy
structure on  Playa El Yaque, near  Margarita's International Airport.
After  we were  ushered  to  our seats  the  ladies painted  colourful
designs on our  faces.  They tried hard to  create for their customers
an atmosphere of a past which  the few natives who remain in Venezuela
have largely  forgotten.  Even those serving and  entertaining us were
not truly authentic.  By their features, one could see that only a few
had Indian blood.  The remainder  were other Venezuelans dressed up to
represent the country's original inhabitants.

 The pre-Columbian Guaiquerí Indians were almost wiped off the face of
the earth a few years  after the Spaniards arrived.  When Columbus, on
his third  voyage, landed on the  island, the gentle  natives gave him
gifts of  pearls - at that  time found in  abundance around Margarita.
This  led  to  their  enslavement  by  the  greedy  Conquistadors  who
followed.   The men were  forced, under  the lash,  to dive  for these
ocean gems.  This harsh toil soon killed off the males and their women
were made into love-slaves.   Today, the Guaiquerí are remembered only
in books and folklore, like our evening.

 Waiting for us  on the tables were more bottles of  rum than we could
possibly drink  - and  we made herculean  efforts.  As we  guzzled our
drinks a steel drum band swung into action. Skimpily dressed beautiful
girls twirled or  swayed their hips in a fashion  that would put belly
dancers  to  shame.   They  followed  by  pulling  the  straight-laced
tourists to  join them on the  floor - of course,  liquor had loosened
the inhibitions.   The merengue, samba  and other dances of  the south
put everyone in a swinging mood.

 We  later feasted  on fine  Caribbean food,  danced around  a bonfire
under the stars,  then took part in rousing games -  kept going by the
never-ending rum.  The revelry went on until well after midnight - our
investment of $40. each had been truly well-spent.
 For me and my friend, it was the highlight to our trip to Margarita -
first relishing  the calmness of La Restinga  Lagoon, then overwhelmed
by the Indian night of fun and excitement.

         IF YOU GO Facts About Margarita
 1) Leave passport  in safety box at  your hotel.  Make a  copy of the
page with your photo and carry it for converting money and as proof of
 2) The  legal currency  in Venezuela  is Bolívar.(Bs.).  The exchange
rate is about 740 Bs. for 1 US$.
 3) Even  though Margarita  is considered  safer than  other  parts of
Venezuela, be wary of walking  at night in the residential sections of
 4) Nightlife   in   Porlamar  thrives.    Most   large  hotels   have
entertainment.   Casinos, night  shows, discotheques,  bars  and night
clubs are found all over town.
 5) There are over half a  dozen ferries a day which connect Margarita
and Puerto La Cruz on the mainland.

For Further Information Contact Venezuelan Embassy in Ottawa: 32 Range
Road   Ottawa,   On    Kin   8j4.   Telephone:   613-235-5151.    Fax:
613-235-3205.  Email: (EMBASSY  OF  VENEZUELA)
Homepage: Venezuelan  Embassy in Ottawa or Venezuelan  Embassy in USA:

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van Dijken, e-mail:

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