Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 108
October 1, 2000

Last Update 1 October 2000

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1/ JOURNEYS FOR OCTOBER 2000

CUBA : HAVANA CITY BY RAUL SARMIENTO

I  had  forgotten  about  jet  lag. We chose a rather grueling way of 
getting  here, involving a 48 hour stop off in Papeete, Tahiti, and a 
12  hour  stop off in Los Angeles. Now I am in Havana, and Mary and I 
are  congratulating  ourselves on overcoming the anxieties and doubts 
we  had  about  visiting Cuba instilled in us by a combination of the 
Lonely  Planet  guide and some attempted salesmanship by a specialist 
Cuba  travel agent in North Melbourne, whose staff told us that there 
is  no tourist infrastructure in Cuba and independent travel there is 
a  nightmare.  But not before some serious disjunctions hit us badly. 
There  we  were in Tahiti, and neither the women who enchanted Gaugin 
nor  the  picture perfect tropical island which Tahiti really is were 
able  to compete in my attentions with my voracious appetite for deep 
sleep therapy.

We  are staying with two enthusiastic supporters of the Revolution at 
Paseo  #  313 Apto.43 corner to 15 Street , Vedado.(telef.537-34174). 
Magaly  was  a  Liutenant Colonel in the Cuban army for 25 years, and 
within  10  minutes  of  our  arrival,  brought  out  a  lovingly put 
together  photo  album with wholly smudge free photographs of her and 
Fidel,  and  with  Fidel’s  brother,  Raul.  Her husband, Raul, was a 
professor  at the stunningly beautiful University of Havana, teaching 
political  economy.  My attempts to explain that as Western countries 
go,  Australia,  at  least before John Coward took to the wheelhouse, 
falls  towards  the  socialist end of the spectrum were met by rather 
vigorous  argument  from both Raul and Mary. Although Raul and Magaly 
were  hit  hard  by  what  is  called the special period, they do not 
express  any  particular bitterness about it, nor the introduction of 
a  $250 per month tax on their proto capitalist room letting venture. 


That  means  that in our straw poll on the Revolution, the score is 3 
to  1. We were wandering along in the humid heat yesterday, trying to 
follow  a  map  (a  skill  which  neither  Kathya  nor  I possess, as 
addressees  like  Kai’Uwe Bergman, and Melissa Bellanta will attest), 
when  we  decided  to ask the two guys standing on the footpath where 
the  Casa  de  la Musica was. This place had been recommended in many 
individuals  posts on Cuba bulletin boards I had hastily looked up in 
the  days  before our departure, and was then again recommended to us 
by  a  guard  in  front  of the incredibly popular Coppelia Ice Cream 
parlour   in   Coppelia  Park.  Having  successfully  negotiated  the 
purchase  from  Teatro  Karl  Marx of tickets to hear the Buena Vista 
Social  Club  whose first concert in Cuba (so the flyer says) happens 
to  coincide  with  our  brief  time in Havana and the eve of my 30th 
birthday,  Mary  decided we should see the Casa de la Musica, despite 
the  fact  that it was 4 oclock the afternoon. Our query, in the most 
halting  possible Spanish was met by a long stream of very fast Latin 
American  Spanish for the most basic appreciation of which our phrase 
book  was  about  as  useful  as  a  one  legged man at a bum kicking 
contest.  The gist of it, gleaned from body language, was that one of 
the  guys, an old negro with half black, half white hair, had his own 
Casa  de la Musica, and I figured he might be suggesting that his was 
better  than  the  more  famous  one.  From  the 5 pianos I could see 
squashed  into  two  tiny  rooms,  and  the  utter destitution of the 
rooms,  I  doubted  that  this  bust  of  Beethoven  Casa de la M was 
anything  like  the  hot night spot described by our friend the guard 
at  Coppelia.  I  quickly resolved the independent travellers dilemma 
between  cynicism  and  trust in the unknown in favour of the latter, 
however,  and  we  went  inside,  only  to emerge some hours later to 
"finish  our  conversation  with  another  guy we met, by the name of 
Davido (not his real name). 

Davido  was an extraordinary character, 21 years old, and more like a 
romantic  poet  than anything I have ever come across before. The old 
negro,  Martin,  and  the  young criollo, Davido, had started life as 
teacher  and  pupil,  however  in  the  first  of  what  were  to  be 
innumerable   melancholy  sighs,  Martin  observed  that  Davido  had 
eclipsed   his   teacher’s   prowess  in  a  few  years.  By  way  of 
demonstration,  David  whipped  through  a  few of the more difficult 
Chopin  etudes,  and  played  excerpts  from  the  Tchaikovsky  piano 
concerto  before  playing  us what he could remember of his own piano 
concerto,  all on one of the 5 pianos Martin had crammed into the two 
tiny  front rooms of the house. I say what he could remember, because 
in  one  of  the most romantic rhetorical flourishes, Davido, hitting 
his  forehead  and  rolling  his eyes, explained that he had "broken" 
(read torn) his concerto, and could no longer remember parts of it. 

A  more honky tonk piano could hardly be imagined, and its tone added 
to  the  pathos  of  the  invariably ultra-romantic stuff they played 
(Martin  said  he  was  not  fond  of  Beethoven,  because  there was 
insufficient  opportunity  for  rubato,  and  although he admired the 
arithmetic  perfection  of  Bach,  he  had a similar problem with his 
music,  just  as  with  Mozart).  I  tried to explain that individual 
interpretation  of  Bach was possible, citing Glenn Gould, but he had 
not  heard  of  Gould.  I  asked  him about his attitude to the great 
twentieth  century  composers,  and  he said he was fond of Scriabin, 
like  many  pianists. By the way, his concerto was rather Rachmaninov 
like,  another  composer  from the twentieth century he admitted to a 
fondness  for  while  all  the  while  protesting  that he was only a 
romantic  composer  whose  life  happened  to  fall  in the twentieth 
century (like Davido’s...).

Although  Davido  could  play  all of the Chopin etudes at the age of 
15,  he  had  to  give  up  his  studies  in  order to get a job as a 
labourer  to provide for his mad mother in the absence of his father, 
who  died  when Davido was a child. Davido is an enthusiastic Seventh 
Day  Adventist, but described his sister somewhat contemptuously as a 
Seven  Days  Discothecqua. He said he is very poor. His job was until 
recently  playing  in  a  hotel piano bar (a ubiquitous and wonderful 
institution  in  Havana), but that ended when a waiter became jealous 
of  the  discrepancy  between  Davido’s  tips  and  his own, and told 
guests  not  to  tip  Davido,  because  he is a student, and was just 
practising.

As  for  Martin,  his favourite word was "melancholic". In explaining 
the  melancholia  of  his  compositions,  he  told  us,  through  the 
combined  interpretation  of  Davido  and  a  Nigerian  diplomat  who 
arrived  to  pick  up  his twin sons, that he was an orphan, and that 
his  lack  of  celebrity was attributable to his blackness and to the 
fact  that  he  was still alive (he said, pointing to faded prints of 
Beethoven,  Chopin,  and  Schubert on the walls). But it seems that a 
lack  of luck in love was behind some of the more purple parts of his 
music  which  was  rather  good,  although  completely  lost  in  the 
twentieth century.

All  these  way black people have been quite an experience for me. In 
those  of the twelve hours we had in Los Angeles in which we were not 
engaging  in  deep  sleep  therapy in a totally gross hotel room near 
the  airport  run  by  people  who  seemed to speak more Spanish than 
English,  we  took  a  cab  to Venice Beach, which I recalled Kai-Uwe 
Bergman  telling  me  sometime ago was the scene of some fairly crazy 
activity.  That  was there, (including a pink cockatoo whose brothers 
and  sisters  some charitable foundation was purporting to "rescue" – 
I  wondered  whether  this  was  a  bit  like the Americans’ habit of 
"rescuing"  folk  from communism / totalitarianism – by exhibiting it 
on  Venice  Beach,  and allowing then to stand with it and have their 
snap  taken,  for  a few dollars. But what fascinated Mary and I most 
was  real  black people acting just like they do in ghetto movies. It 
was  for  some  reason slightly surreal, despite the fact that I have 
spent  several  months in the blackest of African countries. The same 
experience  has  followed us to Cuba, where there are very many black 
people,  and  all  shades  in  between, almost all of whom are either 
incredibly   stylish,  or  extravagantly  beautiful.  But  completely 
different  from  the  Malians  and  the Los Angelinos. Mary and I are 
fully  expecting  to be blown away by good salsa dancing tonight, and 
will no doubt report on that in good time. 

We  have  been  to several clothes shops, just to check them out, and 
to  my  eyes,  we  might  as  well have been in Cold War Romania. But 
great  collonades  of Cubans turn out to promenade along the Malecon, 
Havana’s  great  harbourfront boulevard, all immaculately and sassily 
turned  out.  It  takes  a  bit  of  getting  used  to  seeing people 
wandering  around in black and red striped lycra full body suits, and 
a  couple  of  times I have thought that combinations involving tight 
lycra  shorts  require  cultural  understanding, but other than that, 
these  guys  are  just  way  cool. I feel like 10 times more of a dag 
here  than  I  do  when  in  Melbourne,  which is saying something. I 
haven’t  quite  worked  out  how  they  do it, but in the case of the 
negros,  I  have  a feeling it’s got a lot to do with colours looking 
fabulous on black skin.

Havana  City  is  awesome.  It  is  much better than we expected. The 
colonial  architecture,  which  is  everwhere,  is  without exception 
beautiful,  and  at  just  the  stage of decay I like it. In terms of 
crumbling  tropical  architecture,  it’s  right  up there with Ile de 
Goree   off  the  coast  of  Senegal.  Interestingly  Goree  was  the 
destination  of 6 million slaves to the New World, many of which must 
have  ended  up  in  Cuba.  I  saw  the  doorway  there through which 
literally  millions  of  slaves,  as a common experience, walked from 
the  rank  dungeons  they were crowded into, and onto their transport 
ships.  Glass  is  not  really  necessary  in  windows,  because  the 
tropical  climate  allows  everyone  to  wear  shorts  and t-shirts / 
dresses  all  year round. This makes it impossible to avoid (not that 
I’m  trying)  looking  right  into  people’s living rooms, which seem 
generally  to  front  onto  the street, a great attribute of a travel 
destination.

As  a  city,  Havana  ranks in my mind with Paris and Stockholm, only 
cooler.  Everywhere there are bars where great bands strike up in one 
corner.  The hotels could not be more beautiful. Like everything else 
in  Havana,  their  Andalucian  style  inner courtyards are made even 
more  beautiful  than  the  Moorish  architecture by itself allows by 
lush   verdure  growing  in  pots,  and  tiled  fountains.  Beautiful 
colonial  sitting  areas  and  bars give off these "patios", and I am 
sorely  tempted,  as  of today, to shell out the US$85 they ask for a 
room  (compared  to  the  $20 to $30 to stay in the casas particulars 
(private  houses).  Everything  is  framed by Havana Harbour, and the 
tropical sunsets are sensational.

The   food  is  absolutely  terrible.  It  could  not  be  worse  for 
vegetarians,  so  Mary is struggling. As for meat eaters, you have to 
be  a  fairly serious carnivor to go at pan con leche (the ubiquitous 
sandwich  of  unbuttered  bread  heaped  with  horribly  carved roast 
pork),  and  everything  that  is not roasted seems to be deep fried. 
And  it  is  expensive,  and difficult to order, even with our trusty 
menu  decoder.  This  is  a  hassle  we haven’t yet worked out, but I 
think  we  will  get  it  right  one  day  through  a  combination of 
paladares  (private  restaurants)  and  meals  provided  by our casas 
particulares hosts.

Time,  and  my  exhaustion  of today’s supply of superlatives, mean I 
must go now, but await further reports.

JAMAICA: RAFTING THE RIO GRANDE BY DEBORAH THOMPSON

Trip 8/00

Imagine  yourself  being  poled  romantically in a bamboo raft down a 
wide,  placid  river,  surrounded  by a lush jungle of endless green. 
Wet,  Technicolor  hues  of  aqua  and  emerald surround you, and you 
trail  your  hot  fingers  and  wrists  in  the  sweetly cool depths. 
Imagine  floating  around  a  curve  to a vista of towering stands of 
bamboo  swaying,  then  a  forest  of  trees dripping with fruit, and 
next,  a kingdom of vaulting cliffs rise to cast cooling shadows over 
your  raft.  Your  guide  begins  to  pole in ernest now as the river 
narrows  and  suddenly  you  are  in  a  bubbling cauldron of rapids, 
screeching  with  glee  as  you  speed  expertly over shallow beds of 
rounded  boulders,  suddenly sideways, but never in danger of tipping 
over. You are on Jamaica's Rio Grande.

The  Rio  Grande is the island's largest river, and the rafting trips 
begin  near  Port  Antonio,  on  Jamaica's  East  Coast.  It's clear, 
mountain-fed  waters  were  once used to float bananas downstream, to 
St.  Margaret's  Bay.  Now, it is a mainstay of the tourist industry, 
and  is  used  to  float  appreciative  tourists on a 2 1/3 to 3 hour 
journey,  through twists and turns of breathtaking scenery to a place 
called Rafter's Rest. 

>From  our  hotel  in  Port  Antonio,  it took our guide, Roger, about 
twenty  minutes  to  drive  us  to the departure point called "Grants 
Level".  As  we  puttered along the pot-holed roads, he pointed out a 
multitude  of  heavily  laden  fruit  trees.  Giant avocado's dangled 
invitingly,  as  did  ripe  "Julie Mango's" and "Red Apples". A "Jack 
Fruit"  tree  groaned  under  the weight of its large watermelon-like 
gourds  -  thick,  with  shiny  green  skins,  they were covered with 
great,  wart-like  thistles  -  not  too visually appealing. Even the 
hydro-electric  lines  were  home  to a plant species which had taken 
root  at  various  intervals  and grew profusely, right on the lines, 
trapping  particles of floating debris and leeching moisture from the 
air to survive. 

Our  fantastical  drive  ended  much  too  soon  as we arrived at the 
"launching  site"  at  Grants  Level.  The  cost was $45.00 U.S., and 
Roger  also  went  one  step  further for us, and made sure to pick a 
guide  out  for  us  whom he said was "a good man". He introduced him 
simply as "Captain Jimmy".

Captain  Jimmy looked to be at least in his sixties, and was tall and 
thin,  a  short  curled cap of white hair and the deep lines of a man 
who  has  made  his living in the sun. His eyes were bright and kind, 
his  hand-shake  firm, and his rolled up jeans and bare feet made him 
look like a big, shy kid. I liked him immediately.

We  headed  for  the  raft, and promptly were followed by a beautiful 
little  boy  who  held  a  bouquet of flowers out to me appealingly , 
blinking  large,  liquid  brown  eyes. I almost softened, but Captain 
Jimmy  gave  a  quick  shake  of  his head to me and shoo'd the child 
away,  which  I  appreciated.  It  was  clear  that Captain Jimmy was 
strict about hassling of his clients.

The  raft  was  larger than I'd imagined, and looked quite ungainly - 
almost  like  a  large  toy.  Captain  Jimmy told us to step onto the 
floating  bamboo  sideways  so  as  not to slip, an acquired art, I'm 
sure.  Somehow  I  managed not to go flying and soon we were floating 
away  from  the  shore. A man called to us from the shore, wanting to 
sell us ganja, but as soon as we said no, that was it. No problem..!

It  was  clear  from  the  start  that  this  was  going to be a very 
enjoyable  2  ½  hours.  Captain  Jimmy,  though we had to strain to 
understand  his lingo, told us shyly that this was the first ride for 
his  new  boat, which he had just completed yesterday. We admired it, 
which  seemed  to  please  him.  He  told  us to let him know when we 
wanted  to  go for a swim. Never mind the raft, I thought!I wanted to 
just  swim  the  eight  miles, holding on whenever I got tired, but I 
soon realized that this would not be a good idea.

The  first  mile  or  so  was  deceptively  calm  as we passed gently 
rolling  hills  dotted  with immense ferns, wildly flowering hibiscus 
and  rhododendrons. Soon, however, came the first curve, and suddenly 
we  were  going  much  faster.  I  noticed Captain Jimmy's stance had 
changed  from  leisurely to more vigilant. water seemed more shallow. 
The  of the water got louder and we went flying down the rapids in an 
exhilarating  splash  that  had  me whooping with excitement. Captain 
Jimmy's  face  was  wreathed  in smiles at my reaction. Once again we 
were  on  spectacularly  calm,  green waters, and I had to experience 
their  depths.  Captain  Jimmy slowed the raft, and off I dove into a 
bathtub  of soft, fragrant water. I floated in bliss, dunking my head 
to  release  the  heat,  almost  euphoric  with  the  experience.  So 
euphoric  that I almost missed Captain Jimmy's command to quickly get 
back  on  the  raft. I didn't understand his hurry, after all we were 
floating  peacefully  on  a wide green river.....then I heard it. The 
distinct  sound  of  rushing,  bubbling  rapids, coming quickly. In a 
panic  I  tried  to  heave  myself  up on the raft...easier said than 
done!  My  husband  began  to look worried and reached out to try and 
help  me,  but  I  heaved  again,  very  inelegantly I might add, and 
succeeded  in beaching myself like a whale in distress. Captain Jimmy 
heaved  a  sigh  of  relief  as  I  shakily took my seat and prepared 
myself for the next descent.

The  trip  took  on  a  rapturous rhythm as we alternately poled down 
rapids  and then floated gently. As soon as the river would widen out 
into  a smooth swathe of clear sea-green, out I would dive, this time 
paying  careful  attention  to Captain Jimmy's advice. Tall stands of 
bamboo  dotted the landscape, and occasionally the river would narrow 
enough  that  Captain Jimmy would pole us close to the river-bank and 
knock  fruit out of the trees for us to feast on. A rose apple, fresh 
out  of  a tree and cracked open with Captain Jimmy's bamboo pole, is 
a wonderful thing, with a delicate juice as sweet as perfume.

A  gentle, warm wind was blowing and every now and then we would come 
across  women  and  children washing their laundry in the river. Some 
had  baskets  of clothes which were threadbare and torn from pounding 
them  on  the  rocks, and bleached from the harsh glare of the sun as 
they  lay flat on the stones to dry. Naked children pretended to help 
the  mothers,  stopping  often  to plunge into the cooling depths and 
swim  underwater, emerging as shiny and brown as cocoa beans. Some of 
the  local women also bathed naked in the river, and I felt curiously 
ashamed  of  my presence amongst them as they bathed, as though I had 
stepped into their homes uninvited.

Enterprising  locals  camped  alongside  the  shores,  surrounded  by 
coolers  of  pop  and  ice  cold  Red  Stripe  beer, holding them out 
enticingly  as  we  went  by.  Sometimes  Jimmy  would  stop  to give 
messages  to  people  along the way, but I could never understand his 
Jamaican patois.

Too  soon  it seemed, Captain Jimmy said we would be arriving shortly 
at  Rafter's  Rest, but not before we came across a herd of cows that 
were  crossing the river, and enjoying themselves very much doing so. 
They  were not about to move for us, so Captain Jimmy, with practiced 
ease,  calmly  navigated  between tails and heads without hitting one 
of  them.  As  we  neared  the  end,  Captain  Jimmy  turned  with an 
endearing  smile,  and  did something I will never forget, which made 
my  rafting  trip  complete.  We  floated  into  Rafter's Rest to the 
accompaniment  of  Captain Jimmy's husky rendition of the Banana Boat 
Song, sung just for me. 

For  more  details  about  Port  Antonio,  Jamaica  readers  are also 
invited  to  check  out  two  other  articles this author has written 
related to Port Antonio on Themestream: 

The            Peacocks           of           Port           Antonio 
www.themestream.com/articles/146940.html

Portrait          of          Paradise,         Port         Antonio. 
www.themestream.com/articles/160121.html

JAMAICA: FDR PEBBLES: BY KEN WELLS

Trip 7/2000 

We  were  booked  to  go  to  Boscobel Beach but switched at the last 
moment  when  our travel agent suggested it due to superclubs pulling 
out.  Many  of  the  families we met at Pebbles were initially booked 
for  Boscobel.  Our  travel party included my wife, daughter (7 years 
old),  my  two  in-laws and myself. We flew on Air Jamaica to Montego 
Bay.  The  transfer  from  the  airport  was  uneventful and was well 
organized.  The trip to Pebbles was 40 minutes. FDR Pebbles is on the 
north  side  of  the  island half way from Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. 
The  resort  is  new  with  80  out of 96 units completed. The 8 unit 
clusters  have  4 units on the ground floor and 4 units on the second 
story.  The  check  in was rather cumbersome and slow. The rooms were 
not  ready at 1230 when we checked in. We had lunch while waiting for 
the  rooms. After lunch the rooms were ready. We had room 230 and 231 
on the second floor of cluster 8. 



The  rooms  were clean and the use of cedar and pine for the interior 
walls  and  floors  was  beautiful. The room was large enough for the 
three  of us and had a separate area with a day bed for the children. 
We  had  a  nice  patio that had a excellent view of the sea. Several 
problems  with  the  room arose during our stay at Pebbles. First was 
the  windows  did  not  have  any  screens  on  them and did not seal 
closed.  Gaps  of  half  a inch were noticeable in every window. This 
let  in  all  kinds of biting insects. Several children at the resort 
during  our stay had bites all over their faces and legs. My wife was 
bit  numerous  times  on  the  legs  and had raised welts. The second 
floor  rooms  had  somewhat  fewer  problems with bugs than the first 
floor  residents.  Pebbles  has a on site waste water treatment plant 
that  is most likely the source on the insects. The first floor rooms 
next  to  the  treatment  plant  had  the  most  bugs.  Further,  the 
treatment   plant  is  at  the  front  of  the  resort  and  is  very 
noticeable.  Also,  the  treatment plant is next to the tennis courts 
so  playing  can  be  smelly  at  times. Pebbles has received several 
awards  for  being  environmentally  friendly and recovers water from 
sinks  and bath for use in irrigation of the gardens as well as other 
initiatives.   They  need  to  work  out  the  bug  problem  and  the 
management  is well aware of this problem due to the complaints of so 
many  guests. The second problem had to do with the air conditioning. 
The  unit  was  very good in lowering the temperature in the room but 
could  not  lower the humidity due to air leaks from the windows. Our 
clothes  were  damp  and had to be dried in the sun before wearing. A 
very  nice  aspect  to  the room was the refrigerator. It was stocked 
with  soft  drinks, water, cheese, crackers, and small bags of cereal 
that we all enjoyed. 


Our  vacation  nanny  was a mixed bag. My daughter did prefer to play 
in  the  pool  rather  to  do  the crafts and games. This was not our 
nanny's  fault. Her duties in addition to watching our daughter, were 
to  clean our room. Her hours were 9am to 445pm. She was available in 
the  evening  for  $3  a  hour.  The  Nanny  would be good for larger 
families  with  small  children  (3-5  years  old). We did not end up 
using  her  much.  The  children's center had several video games but 
most  children  did  not know how to play the specific games. Pebbles 
should  train  the children center staff on each of the games so that 
they  could  help  the  children  to  quickly learn how to play them. 
Older  children  were better at picking up the games but most did not 
go  into  the  center  because it was not considered cool. The crafts 
and  games  were  very  well staffed and the staff to child ratio was 
usually  very  good. Work should be done vary the daily routine more. 
My  daughter really enjoyed doing the tie die T-shirts. Bring several 
plain  white  T-shirts  from  home as the gift shop is expensive. The 
children  put  on  several shows for the parents during the week. The 
Ms.  Pebbles  contest was great and the whole family loved it. It was 
a talent contest where the children sung or danced. 



Pebbles  has  one dining room and a grill by the pool. The pool grill 
which  is  only  open  ~1130  to  445pm served grill items and was at 
times  very  crowded.  It should stay open much later. I was served a 
cold  hot  dog  from  it  once but for the most part was well run and 
adeptly  staffed.  The  dining  room featured a buffet line. The food 
selection  was  good  but  leaned heavily on Jamaica style dishes. My 
Mother  in-law  who  will  not  try  new foods had some difficulty in 
finding  things  she  would  eat. My daughter usually had fruit which 
was  very  fresh and a hot dog for dinner. They did have a children's 
table  with  some  cereal and fruit that is supposed to appeal to the 
children  but most children did not find anything worth eating at it. 
Most  nights  featured  a  carving board with Lamb, Ham, or Beef. The 
service  in the dining room was excellent, in fact, in the years that 
I  have  been  traveling,  I  have  not  had  any better service. The 
breakfast  buffet  featured  eggs made to order, pancakes and waffles 
along with the other standard fare. 


Pebbles  has  a  large  pool  which has a small kiddie area. The main 
area  is four feet deep with a swim up bar located at the far end. We 
found  the  pool  to  be  in need of more chlorinating as well better 
filtration.  I  was  very disappointed at the level of cleanliness in 
pool.  The  beach  at  Pebbles is very small and the water is only ~2 
feet  deep. They have placed a boulder breakwater about 25 yards from 
the  shore.  Seaweed  washes  up  on the shore daily and is partially 
removed  by  hand.  After the breakwater the depth increases somewhat 
but  due  to frequent rocks is not really useable for swimming. I was 
told  that once the beach was hundreds of feet wide but the hurricane 
washed  it  away  in  1988.  The  water  sports  available  were non-
motorized  and  the  staff at the beach water sports were not helpful 
and  were  in  stark  contrast  to  the excellent service we received 
elsewhere  in the resort.. My father in-law and I signed up for "deep 
sea  fishing"  which  consisted  for  a  short boat ride to about 500 
yards  off  shore  where  we  anchored and were handed a plastic soda 
bottle  with  fishing  line attached. Not the kind of fishing trip my 
father  in-law  and I had in mind. Pebbles offered two trips that are 
included  in the package and after taking both trips we wished we had 
not.  A  trip  to  Montego  bay instead would have been very nice for 
shopping  and could be included in the package. The tour desk did not 
have  many  options  for  tours and we did not book any tours through 
them.  Several  families  took the tour to Dunns river and had a good 
time. 


I  went  Scuba  diving once and the dive instructors and dive leaders 
were  outstanding.  Glenda  was  the  instructor and was great. Peter 
lead  the  dive  and  was  truly excellent. He has over 3000 dives on 
record  and made me feel totally safe. They were the highlight of the 
trip for me! 


The  activity  center  was  above  the reception lobby and featured a 
pool  table,  two  air hockey table, a large screen TV and some chess 
boards.  The  pool  table was usually in use and we were only able to 
use  it  once  during our stay. The air hockey tables were a favorite 
of  my  daughter and father in-law but both tables could do with some 
minor  maintenance.  The  activity center was not air conditioned and 
was  very  hot  and  stuffy  at  night. Addition of a couple AC units 
would  help  greatly.  Another  air hockey table was located over the 
pool  bar  and  was cool at night with the breeze but was hard to get 
on to at times. 

To  summarize this trip report on FDR Pebbles we believe it is a work 
in  progress.  The  staff  tried  very hard and the resort itself has 
potential  but  needs  some  work.  The bug problem must be fixed. We 
understand  that  the  bugs  are  a  part of nature but a little less 
nature  in  that respect would make the stay more enjoyable. We would 
recommend  the  resort  to  families  with several small children who 
want to relax and enjoy the sunshine. 

Our  return  on  Air  Jamaica  was a experience that we will not soon 
forget.  When  we  arrived at the airport the red cap offered to help 
avoid  some  of  the  line  by placing us in a shorter line. I should 
have  known  better but the offer was to good to pass up. What really 
happen   was  he  deposited  me  in  a  line  that  was  for  special 
assistance.  It  turned  out  to  be just as long a wait. The airport 
check  in  was  very disorganized and Air Jamaica was very slow. When 
we  finally got to the counter (1 hour), the ticket agent informed us 
that  the  flight  was overbooked and we were being bumped. As we had 
travel  plans  on  the  other  end  of the trip we did not want to be 
bumped.  They  offered  to  try  to  get  us to JFK on standby. After 
waiting  1.5  hours at the JFK gate we were informed that we were not 
getting  on.  We  were  told  to  go  to the customer service desk to 
reschedule.  After  waiting  on line at the customer service desk for 
1.25  hours  and  enduring  rude  people who tried to cut in line, we 
were  told we were in the wrong place! We lossed it at that point and 
told  the  service representative to find someone to take us to where 
we  were  supposed  to  go.  We  had  to  pass  through  customs  and 
immigration  and  to  find  our  bags. Finally someone took us to the 
correct  line  and  we  again  waited  for  1  hour to be helped. The 
service  person who finally helped us get our bags was Kellie and was 
very  helpful.  Air  Jamaica  offered hotel and transfers plus a $150 
dollar  voucher  good  only  on Air Jamaica for one year. The voucher 
can  not  be transferred and is worthless to us. We will never fly on 
Air  Jamaica  again  for  any  price. Life is too short to be treated 
like that during a family holiday. 

MEXICO: CANADIANS HAD A HAND IN BUILDING PROGRESO - A RESORT IN THE SUN BY HABEEB SALLOUM

"Is  this  garlic-fried  freshly caught fish not divine?"  I asked my 
Canadian  colleague,  John,  as  we  conversed and, at the same time, 
gorged  ourselves  in  one  of Progreso's breezy seafood restaurants, 
lining  that resort's beach. John concurred, then went on, "No wonder 
the  Canadians  like  this  beach.  It's not only the delicious fish, 
but  feel  the  cool  air  caressing  our bodies."  We both smiled in 
contentment as we devoured yet another mouth-watering morsel. 


After  our  fantastic yet simple meal, we strolled along the Malecón, 
enjoying   our  day  in  this  virtually  unknown  Mexican  backwater 
resort.   On  one  side  were  the  restaurants and shops; and on the 
other  swaying palms. Beyond, a clean looking beach of white sand was 
lapped  by  tranquil,  emerald-green  waters.   The  soft  cool winds 
blowing  from  the sea and tempering the hot sun gave us a feeling of 
elation as we promenaded along the seaside. 


"I  would think that more than some of the some 2,000 annual visitors 
would  come  here  in  the  winter  months."   John  mused.  "They're 
coming!   I just read in a local paper that for 1999, 7,000 Canadians 
are  expected.  However,  I like it like this, not yet commercialized 
by  mass tourism."  I was thinking of places like touristy Cancún and 
Acapulco and their crowds of winter vacationers. 

Situated  36 km (22 mi) north of Mérida, the capital and largest city 
in  the  province  of   Yucatán - Mexico's archaeologically-saturated 
area,  Progreso, a town of some 40,000 which is the main port for the 
state,  is  relatively  unknown in the commercial tourist world.  The 
most  important  fishing port in the southeast of the country, it has 
been  for  years,  the  seaside resort of Méridans who travel here to 
escape the hot summer months.   


About  three  years  ago,  a  number  of  enterprising  Canadians and 
Mexicans  got  together  and  became  partners.   They  rented  homes 
already  on  the  beach,  then  did  a  large scale sales campaign in 
Canada.   The  strategy  was  successful  and,  since  that time, the 
tourists keep increasing. 


This  success has encouraged the development of the coast to the west 
and  to  the  east  of  Progreso.   The most striking example of this 
growth  is the only all inclusive resort, Mayaotel, whose clients are 
65%  Canadians.  During  the  winter  months, about 90 visitors every 
week  travel  from  Canada to this retreat, flying daily the flags of 
Mexico  and Canada.  A fine five-star resort near the fishing village 
of  Telchac  Puerto,  some  29  km (18 mi) east of Progreso, it is an 
attractive omen of what this coast will be like in the future.  


Progreso's  pier,  7  km  (4.4  mi)  long,  the second longest in the 
world,  besides supporting fleets of truck carrying cargo to and from 
freighters,  has made possible the arrival of large fishing boats and 
cruise  liners.  These  tourist  ships  are coming in ever-increasing 
numbers to this on the verge-of-flourishing beach getaway. 
 


Many  of these visitors, along with long-stay Canadians and Americans 
residing  in  the condos and hotels in town, can choose from a number 
of  options  of  what  to  see and do in the resort and the adjoining 
area.   Along the Malecón, tourists and locals come together to enjoy 
themselves  in  the  simple  open-aired  restaurants,  nightclubs and 
other  entertainment  centres  lining  the  boardwalk.   On weekends, 
holidays,  especially  during the summer months, they are joined by a 
huge  number of Méridans in strolling along the Malecón, while others 
fish or participate in the many sports of the sea. 


>From  this sleepy and unassuming beach-port, there are excursions for 
cruise  line  passengers  to  the  colonial  city  of Mérida.  If the 
visitor's  inclination is Mayan ruins, nearby Dzibilchaltún (place of 
writing  on  stones),  20  km  (12.4 mi) to the south, is the closest 
site to explore.    


In  pre-Hispanic  times,  it  was  an  important commercial hub and a 
major  centre  of  Mayan  culture.   One  of  the most ancient of the 
Central  American  Indian  cities,  with  a history dating back 3,000 
years,  it  is  believed  to  be  the  longest  occupied of the Mayan 
sites.   Covering  16  sq  km  (6  sq  mi)  area  and  once  having a 
population  of 40,000, it is renowned for its museum, tranquil cenoté 
(sinkhole),  2  km  (1.3  mi) long sacbé (a Mayan paved highway) and, 
above  all,  the  House  of  Seven  Dolls.   A  primitive  type Mayan 
observatory  with  unusual  windows,  vaulted  corridors and an inner 
chamber  aligned to track planetary and solar rotations, it served as 
a guide to the time of seeding and harvesting.   


Dzibilchaltún  will  only wet the appetite of those seeking the trail 
of  archaeology.   Within  a  day's  excursion from Progreso are many 
other  world  famous Mayan ruins like: Chichén Itzá, Ek-Balám, Uxmal, 
Kabáh, Labná, Sayil, Mayapan and Oxkintok.  


On  the  other hand, for those seeking nature and its joys, the famed 
nearby  bird  sanctuary  of  Celestún  is  the  place  to visit.  Its 
tropical  shrub  forest, mangrove-laced estuaries and lagoons are the 
home  to  thousands  of  pink flamingos and other exotic water birds.  
These  can  be    observed closely by hiring a boat with its operator 
at  the  entrance  to  the small village of Celestún, then sailing up 
the lagoon.   


The   town's  palm-lined  beach  is  edged  by  seafood  restaurants, 
specializing  in  crab claws.  After dining, customers usually stroll 
slowly  on  the  virtually  empty  beach.  In the words of one of its 
beachcombers,  "On this beach, life is in the slow lane." 


At  the  end  of  day, we again returned to our seaside restaurant to 
dine  on ceviche (seafood cocktail) and pescado frito con ajo (garlic 
fried  fish).  After  this  second  mouth-watering  meal,  like other 
vacationers  we strolled along Progreso's Malecón.  As the now cooler 
sea  breezes again massaged our bodies, John summed up the attributes 
of  Yucatán's drowsy port-resort. "For me, it's the ultimate vacation 
spot.    Tranquility,  fine  sands,  sea  sports,  Mayan  ruins,  and 
pristine nature at its best.  Can one ask for more?" 



IF YOU GO
Facts About Progreso :
1) Currently, US$1. = 10 pescos and CDN$1.= 6 pesos.   
2)  Tips  -  restaurants  15%; maids $1. per day; and porters $1. for 
one or
two suitcases.
3)  When in Progreso, for authentic Yucatán food, try sopa de lima, a 
soup  made  from  chicken,       tortilla and lime juice;  puchero, a 
vegetable  and  meat  stew;  pollo pibil, marinated chicken cooked in 
banana  leaves;  papadzules, tacos stuffed with hard-boiled eggs; and 
salsa  de  chile  habanero, a hot sauce.  A fine place to eat seafood 
in  Progreso  is  Le  Saint  Bonnet  Restaurant.  It offers excellent 
fresh  fruits  of  the sea and other foods in an appetizing fashion - 
reasonably priced. 
For a No Headache All Inclusive Vacation Near Progreso:

Mayaotel  Resort,  advertized  as  a  `Paradise in Paradise', it is a 
great  place  for  honeymooners,  couples  and  families.   It has an 
excellent  beach.  Vacationers  can  walk  into  the  sea for some 10 
minutes  before the water reaches their necks.  Fishing, kayaking and 
wind  surfing  are  all free, and there is family entertainment every 
night.   Also excursions are offered to Dzibilchaltún - $30., Chichén 
Itzá  - $49., Uxmal - $49.,  Mérida - $15., and Celestún - $35.  Cost 
for a one-week vacation from Toronto - $1050.  
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.

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