Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Gert van Dijken, Editor
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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 year. 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 lagoon. 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 $40. each had been truly well-spent. For me and my friend, it was the highlight to our trip to Margarita - first relishing the calmness of La Restinga Lagoon, then overwhelmed by the Indian night of fun and excitement. IF YOU GO Facts About Margarita 1) Leave passport in safety box at your hotel. Make a copy of the page with your photo and carry it for converting money and as proof of identity. 2) The legal currency in Venezuela is Bolívar.(Bs.). The exchange rate is about 740 Bs. for 1 US$. 3) Even though Margarita is considered safer than other parts of Venezuela, be wary of walking at night in the residential sections of cities. 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) firstname.lastname@example.org Homepage: Venezuelan Embassy in Ottawa or Venezuelan Embassy in USA: Homepage: http://www.embavenez-us.org/
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