Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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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.
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 Â½ 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
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.
"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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