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Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
November 1 1995
Well, the Hurricane damage and the usual slow fall season seem to have had a profound effect on the number of contributions this month . Again, I've elected to only include material on the damage situation which comes from first hand reports on the spot with no inheren bias.
1/JOURNEYS FOR NOVEMBER 1995
ANGUILLA: HURRICANE UPDATE (ANGUILLA AND ST. MARTIN)BY BOB GREEN
The situation in Anguilla and the French side of St. Martin is just about back to normal. St. Maarten's airport is functioning, but it has not been open to full commercial traffic. Dutch St. Martin is still quite a mess and the local hoteliers don't want to open the airport to tourists until Dec 15, 1995 at the earliest. The Dutch side has been pressured into re-opening Princess Julianna airport now. This will allow tourists to get to Anguilla, French St. Martin, Saba and Statia, all of which are served by the Dutch airport, if any airlines resume flights to St. Martin (still an open question).
Cap Juluca and Johnno's are the "Best"
I just received my Sept/Oct issue of Caribbean Travel and Life magazine. Their readers picked Cap Juluca as the Best Luxury Hotel/Resort in the Caribbean and Johnno's as the Best Bar/Nightclub. Anguilla tied with St. Barts for Best Island Cuisine. I visited both Johnno's and Cap Juluca this last weekend. Johnno's was completely back to normal. Cap Juluca still has a lot of landscaping re-work to do, but the buildings look fine. The beach is the oddest thing: the level has dropped down due to the storm, leaving some villas on the West end sitting on small cliffs. However, there are piles of sand on the beach, as if they plan to reshape it back into the original shape.
Cap Juluca and Maliahuana are both planning to be open by Thanksgiving. American Airlines is increasing number of flights to Anguilla about the same time.
Cinammon Reef to Reopen November 1st
The Cinammon Reef resort on Little Harbour plans to re-open on November 1st, so give them a call at 809-497-2727 if you want a reservation.
Koal Keel Reopens
Koal Keel restaurant in The Vallye has reopened - I went for lunch last week and it was like the old Anguilla: elegant French bread, lobster pizza, jummm! Sailors on the Beach
HMS Southampton and HMS Oakleaf, which were here just after Luis to help with recovery efforts, returned to Anguilla this weekend for a 48-hour rest and recreation visit for the crews. Sandy Ground was covered in relaxing sailors and numerous "thank you" events were hosted for them. During their visit last month, the ships landed about 80 men a day to help with relief tasks. Southampton's helicopter ferried essential supplies to lighthouse keepers on Sombrero Island. In total, some 3700 man-hours of work were achieved ashore by men from the two ships.
ARUBA BY JEFFREY EISENSTEIN
Well I'm back from my first trip to Aruba and do I have some good stuff to tell you all that have been there a number of times and those that are planning future trips.
So, lets get started---We departed Atlanta for Miami on Saturday 14 Oct. We had to take Air South in order to tie into our planned itinerary out of Miami. The airfare on Air South is excellent and the service was just fine. The only problem I had was that Air South is not in partnership with Air Aruba and we could only transfer our bags to Miami. When we got into Miami, I discovered that I had to hand carry my luggage to the Air Aruba check-in desk, which was fine but also five concourses away. A long walk with luggage in the Miami terminal. Next time I will get a porter and let him carry the luggage around the airport.
We got down to the Air Aruba check-in area and had to wait for a couple of people that had no identification and were planning on traveling on an international flight in two hours. Oh well that was their problem. When I got up to the gate the Air Aruba personnel was very nice--make sure you have either a valid drivers license/voter registration card or better yet a current US passport.
Once airborne we were served free drinks and a great meal (in coach) to other airline standards. The flight attendants on this airline are in the top three of any airline I have flown. I highly recommend anyone going to Aruba to fly on Air Aruba.
We got into Aruba about 5 minutes late, that was after making up over 25 minutes because of bad weather at Miami. We quickly got our luggage and went through customs with no problems at all. We went outside and found our transportation that was included in our package with De Palm Tours. They loaded up our luggage on a large tour bus, waited about five minutes and took us to the Wyndham by ourselves. On the way they showed us a video of all the different tours they offer. I will talk about these separately later.
We arrived at the Wyndham in about 15 minutes and I was prepared for anything. Let me tell you, I could not have been happier with what I saw. The bellman immediately took our luggage and said he would take it up for us as soon as we checked-in. I went to the front desk and was greeted with a big smile by the desk personnel. We asked for a high floor with an ocean view and we were told that we could not be on the same floor with that request but would fill our request if we did not mind being on different floors. I was given room 1004 and our friends received 704.
We went up to discover a beautiful room with two double beds, lots of storage space in two dressers, a well appointed bathroom (yes with towels), all kinds of soaps and shampoos, a coffee maker with sugar/sweet and low, a a large remote television with alot of American channels. Overall the room gets an A+ in my rating system. The balcony had a great view of the pool and the ocean. We were looking at the old empty hotel but who cares, after awhile you don't even see it. This was not a problem.
We went down and surveyed the property and I decided that this was going to be a great place to stay.
Next we set out to figure out what to do for dinner. As the coordinator for the group I chose the La Bistroquet near the Playa Linda Hotel. The food was outstanding. We all had some version of a meal cooked on the stone. Two of us had steak and two of us had seafood. The service was great and the bill came to $135.00 including a bottle of wine and the 15% service charge. I highly recommend this place for dinner.
Reservations were not required while we were there. All meals we ate on the island included this service charge, so we never worried about an extra tip. Important to remember that this charge is in your bill. Went to the Hyatt to check-out the casino--very nice. I am still looking for a
BAHAMAS: ATLANTIS BY RAYMOND SAUVE
Spent several days in Atlantis, Paradise Island this past week. We live in Florida and go to Paradise Island every year. This was our first trip to the completed Atlantis. I flew a US Air Express Wed. pm and my wife and daughter (14) flew a Chalks seaplane from Ft. Lauderdale to PI on Thursday morning. We flew Chalks back on Sunday. A fun way to travel!
We all had a good time. We splurged this time and got a one bedroom suite at Coral Towers. Great view of the lagoon and the ocean. Nice sunsets. Nice room.
The pool area is large and was not crowded. There is a restaurant on the lagoon that serves light lunches and is also a bar and a couple of carts are poolside with drinks and food. Plenty of spots by the pool for the family or a couple can find a quieter area by themselves. Predator pools surround the area. They have all types of marine life like sharks, rays, turtles and all types of fishes. You can walk under the pools in a tunnel for an up close underwater view.
There is a water slide and river ride for people of all ages, a beach bar, another restaurant, pool and live music.
The beach is clean and there are a few places to snorkel along the beach along with jet ski rentals, parasailing, etc.
The winds were up a bit so we did not get to scuba dive this trip. We did go horseback riding at Coral Harbour on the other side of the island. (they pick up at all hotels) Lot's of fun but I am somewhat sore. Haven't been riding for a while.
We ate at Greycliff (in town and very elegant), Bahamian Club and Cafe Martinique at the resort complex. We overdosed on Conch Chowder, Grouper, Bahamian Lobster and Chocolate Souffle. The food at each was outstanding. I ate at Cafe Casino the night I arrived. It has good pizza and deli sandwiches as well as many other items. Very casual.
The service was good almost everywhere. A little slow (which is the norm) at the breakfast restaurant called Water's Edge.
All in all, a good trip for us. This is a fairly expensive place to visit but there are ways to have fun and not break the bank.
BVI: TORTOLA BY JOSEPH SCAFARIO
Returned from a short 5 day dive/bareboat trip out of Tortola. Used Tortola Marine Management for the second time and they were great. We were 4 guys on a Venezia 42 cat and we had tons of room.
We arrived at the dock at 2:30 and were underway by 4:30 pm for Marina Cay. We used Blue water divers again for our gear and did our own provisioning. We brought a lot of our dinner meals with us as we enjoy cooking on board.
We arrived at Marina Cay by 6 PM and there were about 40 boats there. We anchored, had a dark and stormy on board and went ashore for dinner. Should have eaten on board as the dolphin was less than fair. Cocktails were good as it was great to be sittin watchin the sun fall.
We were off for the Rhone on Wednesday for our first dive. It was calm, pretty good viz and some jelly fish. Nice amount of fish life and as always the Rhone was a good dive. We had lunch on board and hit the dogs. Did a visit to the airplane and was greeted by a healthy looking barracuda. I entered the airplane to take some pictures and cuda joined me. I got some great shots of him inside the cabin of the plane.
We left the dogs for Leverick. Topped off our provision list at Bucks market. Cocktail on shore, dinner on board and back to shore for some entertainment. We left early Thursday for Anegada. Upon arriving, I was amazed at how many other boats were there. We met two cruising couples that were working (sailing, fishing & diving) there way to Cabo, Mexico. It was going to take them about 5-7 months.
We taxied to Loblolly bay for a snorkel, some great lunch and an easy afternoon. Viz wasn't so good, but nice to be on a BIG beach.
Had dinner at Anegada reef hotel and departed for Jost Van Dyke on Friday morning. On the way we were joined by a small pod of 5-7 dolphins, staying just ahead of the boat, dancing and breaking water, providing us with our most memorable moment of the trip.
We arrived at White bay around noon and introduced ourselves to Debbie, the new owner of the Soggy Dollar/Sandcastle. Had a flying fish sandwich and several painkillers. We moved to Great Harbor, dined on board again and hit Foxy's for the evening. We were at the bar with Foxy and Ali-baba. It was a great night, good laughs, good cocktails, good music.
Saturday morning we hit Angelfish reef and the Indians. Saw a rather large nurse shark sleeping at Angelfish and a larger shark, just minding his own business at the Indians. It was strange to look over to Norman island and not see the WIllie T. Word has it a large steel ship has been purchased and will be in Norman island soon.
We left the Indians for Cooper island as we were going to spend our last night at Machoneel (sp) but as we sat around we decided we should make a run for Cane Garden Bay and end our trip with some Quito Rhymer. It was worth the effort. The place was rocking. There is now a $5 cover charge. There is also a new dock to take the thrill out of beaching your dinghy in the surf. Of course we didn't see the dock until it was too late. We were already on the beach. It was a great trip. Little signs of damage, some beach erosion, some naked palm trees.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: BOCA CHICA,THE HAMACA BEACH HOTEL BY JIM HINSCH
Hamaca - what's changed.
The Hamaca has changed significantly since the last time I was there. It has nearly doubled in size. They opened up a whole new section of the resort on the back side (not the beach side) of the main high-rise (I think 8 stories). The new section looks a lot like condos, but I did not enter them, so I don't know what they are like or if they are more or less expensive than the beach hotel. The new area is basically a large courtyard, surrounded by the new buildings. In the center of the courtyard is new swimming pool that is very curvy and about twice the size of the pool near the beach. In my opinion, the new pool is much nicer, and will probably be the lounge pool of choice for those who prefer a pool to the beach and want to get away for all the noisy beach activities that are constantly being put on by the resort staff. There is also a baby pool for kids, a kids playground off to the side, and a big Jacuzzi (cold, like the one on the beach side). At one end of the court yard is one of the many dining areas. This is where they set up the buffet breakfast/lunch/dinner where all must eat if they didn't reserve any of the other special dining. Next to the courtyard are tennis courts. I'm not really sure how much of this part of the resort is new. Perhaps I just never knew it was there on my first visit. It all appears brand new.
Hamaca - Casino.
The Hamaca also opened a Casino, which is very nice and open to the public. The Casino is rather small (smaller than a cruise ship casino), and although it was packed at night (closed during the day), I did not think it was a very exciting place to hang out. It lacked the excitement that casinos usually have, but this comment is coming from someone who hates to gamble.
Hamaca - Service.
The Hamaca still does not have their act together when compared to American facilities. You will find that the entire resort is oriented towards making life easier for the employees, not the guests. Throughout, staff refuse to take or deliver messages to each other's various "departments", and the "not my department" attitude is prevalent. Throughout my stay, I frequently encountered amenities that were in the process of opening or closing, instead of servicing customers. That goes for restaurants, bars,
stores, etc. For instance, if a bar opens at Noon, they won't actually be open to serve until 12:30, and if they close at 4:00, they stop serving at 3:30 so they can close. Wake up late for breakfast, and you will find there is no food between 10:30 and Noon, and even though lunch starts at 12:00, you can't actually get food until closer to 12:30. Everywhere, things are broken and in the SLOOOW process if being fixed. Ask for some soda, and the server will answer, "finished!" Ask for coffee, and you might be told it is gone, but they are getting more -- a half hour later -- maybe, if they haven't closed by then. Ask to make a dinner reservation, and you might be told, "the person who takes reservations does not seem to be around right now, but it is no problem. Just come back later." Never allow someone to tell you "no problem", as in Jamaica. Here, it usually means sorry (no problem, past), which further means "big problem for you because no action will be taken". It does not mean, "no problem (future), I will take care of it."
As an example of poor customer service, when I asked to speak to the hotel manager (subject having not been stated), the desk person told me he wasn't there. I said, "Then go get him". Three minutes later, the manager appeared, and then proceeded to make phone calls for 5 minutes before acknowledging me (more poor service). The manager explained that each part of the hotel (cleaning, maintenance, etc.) is run like a little mini- company being contracted out. So, the cleaning people don't report maintenance problems with the room, and the maintenance department fixes only what they came to fix, even if they see other problems. And since there is no follow-up (a common hotel problem, anywhere), if the front-desk reports the problem to another department, and those people do not respond, the item will never get taken care of. The manager did however, address and correct all reported problems with a smile.
I am just used to top hotels having top service and people who go out of there way to serve. Not so in this place. Expect a smile and not much more.
Hamaca - Rooms.
I stayed in two different rooms and so did my friend. This was because when we arrived, the type of rooms we had reserved were unavailable due to "people were supposed to check out, but decided to stay longer." In all rooms, there many small items in need of repair. We reported items multiple times. Some never did get fixed. Never did they fix the items on the first report. Maybe I just didn't wait long enough, but to wait several days for a repair misses the point of reporting it. I'm not reporting a problem so the next guest doesn't experience it. For example, leaking faucets that drip all night, fluorescent lights that don't fully illuminate, broken door handles, mini-bars refrigerators that leak water all over the floor, broken curtains, etc. The rooms smell musty due to very high continuous humidity, which I found similar to many beach resorts in the U.S.
Hamaca - Food.
Food at the Hamaca was much the same as food anywhere in the Caribbean - OK. I would not particularly go to Caribbean for the food. There is one restaurant at the resort, whose name I do not recall, that was excellent. You can find it easily because it is the only one at the Hamaca that is not included. Guests receive a $10 credit per person. The meal will come closer to $50. The portions are small but the food and service are excellent. I recommend the rack of lamb served with mint jelly, washed down with a bottle of inexpensive brut champagne from Chile.
Hamaca - Beach.
The beach area is packed with guests from the resort. Every last chair was used and they do not supply padding. Each guest is given one beach towel, which can be exchanged for a fresh one at any time. There are many shade huts to lay under, but none to spare, for this resort was VERY crowded at the beach. The beach is topless throughout, with about half the guest participating. The beach area is obnoxiously loud, with continuous blasting of the same disco music, over and over. But, because it is a beach, the sound drowns out quickly as you move away from the bar area on the beach. There is lots of beach aerobics and silly games, many of which are rather risque or sexually suggestive. The staff are very pushy towards participation, and if you are not careful, you will find yourself being dragged (literally) into one.
The entire beach area is surrounded by a giant reef that sits anywhere from 1 foot below the water to about 1 foot above the surface. It forms a giant semi-circle, about 2 miles in diameter, forming 1 gigantic salt water pool. You can walk to the reef, but the beach gets very rocky very quickly. Do not attempt this without a good pair of water socks. The water gets about 4 feet deep, with a few spots hitting 6 feet deep at the most, and then, after about 1/2 mile, it gradually drops back to just inches deep as the reef is approached. Because of this, the snorkeling is very unexciting. But, it also means the water is smooth for water skiing, even when there is wind because the wave break on the reef, not on the beach.
Hamaca - Water Sports.
The water sports are complete but they do not have enough to go around. During my stay, I sailed a sunfish, took out a sail board, and went out on a kayak, which was too unstable for me, but lots of fun. My friend wiped out where the waves were breaking over the reef and cut his legs up. Painful, but not serious. Snorkel equipment is complimentary also, and scuba lessons and dives are also included.
Water skiing is extra and not worth it at the resort. Their boat motor (60hp) is too small for me. But, for the same price ($25/half hour), there are other boats not associated with the resort, that are always waiting near the end of the pier, and will take you skiing, tubing, or for a banana boat ride. Jet skiing is also not included, but for $20/half hour, there are lots near the pier, just waiting for a customer. They are actually, wave-runner sit-down style machines, and they will want you to get on so they can take you down the beach to sign a waver and pay. When you are finished, they give you a ride back. Mine kept conking out when I first started so I demanded my money back, else to let me ride the one the seller was riding. They gave me that one, and it FLEW! I lost my sunglasses though. One thing that is nice is that they don't have all the stupid laws that we have. They don't have a Coast Guard boat just cruising around hassling tourists and giving tickets and safety checks. On the other hand, you have to be careful. One boat we hired to take us skiing was too slow to pull me out on one ski, the rope handle was so rough I had to wrap a sponge around it to keep it from digging in to my skin, and the driver was an idiot. He drove right in the path of a sail boat and my friend was forced to drop, else collide with the boat. The sail boat then ran over the rope. We told the driver to take us in and we switched (and stuck) with a much more experienced boater (look for the only 75hp motor - that's Williams and Cuyatello - they're very experienced - 18 years in the business, fast enough boat, and nice guys).
Hamaca - Bars.
The bars at the hotel (except the disco, at night) were very poor. The bartenders have a VERY limited selection of liquors and such with which to make drinks. One of the beach bars even restricts you to a menu of about 20 different drinks. None even had tequila. The bar at the disco is better, but is not included in the price of the room. There, they do not have lime juice, which I feel is a standard mix at ANY bar.
Hamaca - Guests.
The hotel runs at near 100% occupancy, mostly Europeans, but some Canadians. I found the crowd to be quite rude and they take cuts in line like you're not even there. The average ages would be between 20 and 45, with most around 30. Hamaca - Tips for first time guests.
If you stay there, ask the following when you check in, else you will spend time going back and forth to the front desk or on the phone. None of these things will be offered to you without asking:
Hamaca - Summary.
Overall, the hotel is the nicest in the area, with the nicest and securest section of beach and the finest accommodations. I do recommend it.
The prices of other hotels vary greatly, especially if you just walk up. The Don Juan, for example, charges $120/night if you call direct, $60/night if you book through a travel agent. That price is supposed to include the room, breakfast, and dinner (per person, double occupancy). Since I haven't stayed anywhere besides the Hamaca, I cannot comment on the other hotels, other than that the Hamaca seemed to be the only one with a private beach, and the public beach can get pretty trashy on weekends, when hordes of Dominicans come in from the city. Sunday is the worst day. By Monday, everything is basically cleaned up though.
Outside the resort.
The Hamaca resort is very much stand-alone along a strip of hotels and restaurants. It is completely isolated with its entrances guarded, including a wall that goes beyond the beach and out onto a pier. For me, that made it a safe haven when I wanted to get away from the people of the town. The others are all connected end-to-end, Daytona Beach style. The pool-front areas are isolated, but they share a common beach.
Boca Chica - Streets.
The streets of Boca Chica are mostly muddy and broken cobblestone that smell of sewer and trash and are populated by poor people selling trinkets and such. After dark, many of the restaurants set up outdoor seating along the sidewalks and streets for cocktails, dinner, and people watching, much like the Upper West-side of Manhattan. If you can forget about the muddy pot-holes and the wind isn't blowing the trash smell in your face (I've smelled much worse just walking through Times Square in New York), the town actually has a nice charm about it. In fact, I though it was great to just stroll up and down the street, letting the most creative locals try to talk me into buying something. Like the little kid with the toothbrush, who insisted he scrub my white Reeboks clean, even though I had already gave him a dollar. The kid didn't want a hand out. He wanted to EARN his money!
Also, there are prostitutes (every type, from pro, to semi-pro, to very amateur). They walk up to the passing tourist men and grab their arms and say "me good for you?" They can be very persistent.
Boca Chica - Late at Night.
The early evening in Boca Chica is very different from night. There is basically nothing to do in the early evening besides eat, have a cocktail or two, and shop for souvenirs. But, after 11:30pm, the bars get packed. There are really only 2 or 3 worth going to. Every night, we basically ended up following the same routine.
The first night, we walked down the street coming from the Hamaca. Within a block, we entered the first bar on the left. The bar was empty, except for about 30 Dominican women. We ordered a beer and several of them surrounded us, trying to take us by the arm. We weren't drunk, and they were not too attractive. We pulled away and moved way to the back of the bar. There, we met "Max", who offered to find us anything we wanted. I told him in broken Spanish that we didn't want anything at the moment, but we would indicate when we did. He quickly translated this to the mob surrounding us and they dispersed. We decided this guy would be great to keep around, so we bought him a beer, and told him he would be our security man. Max stayed with us everywhere we went outside the resort, every night. He fended off the peddlers for us, knew all the hot spots, and translated when the Spanish was too much for me. He only spoke a little English and we tipped him mostly beers. We did give him a couple twenties at the end of each night and a good bonus at the end of the trip (he also talked my buddy out of his ASICS gym shoes on the last day). That guy was excellent for security. He protected us from getting into fights on a couple of occasions. He took us to the airport the last day, escorting us right up to the ticket counter. We have his fax, and will be arranging his assistance on our visit next month. After five nights of partying together, we got to know him quite well. He was not at all a pest, was a great friend to party with, and I highly recommend him.
Start at "Route 66".
This bar is decorated with American memorabilia and commemorates the famous route 66 that runs across America. What makes this bar special is that it is "just for tourists". They have an old man standing in front with a sawed off shotgun. Locals cannot enter unless escorted by a tourist. They have a small patio along the street, and the front is adorned with a big torch of fire. The attraction for us, is that we could get into the mood. We could have a drink or two ($2.50/beer) and talk for a short while before we get ready to "interact" with the locals. They have an excellent selection of premium liquors and the place is really cool looking. It is clean, comfortable, and some nights, we might end up with 8 or nine locals following us by the time we made it to this bar. They would just wait outside the entrance, which is basically a missing front wall, and wave and make gestures while we just smiled and sipped our drinks. After a beer or so, they would get bored and move on. Soon, we would be ready to party.
Boca Chica - Cave Bar.
Another bar that was somewhat fun (I don't know the name) is this cave bar. It is built into what might be a real cave (I couldn't tell if it was real or not). And either the bar was heavily air-conditioned, or it really was a cave and was naturally cool.
This bar was the most like a night-club, with the best light system and dance floor. On Saturday night, the men out numbered the women, 3-1, and many of the Dominican men seemed to be out to pick a fight. Very few tourists in this bar, my shoulder got slammed "accidentally" on several occasions, and the locals were screened with a metal detector. We didn't stay long, and didn't like this bar much on the other nights either. Too many young punks. Don't go on Saturday.
Boca Chica - La Terraza.
Most of the other bars seemed rather empty compared to last year. The hot spot this time was a bar call "La Terraza", or "The Terrace." This place is right on the beach, with most of the dancing taking place on the upper level, which is completely open air. We ended up at this bar every night, and stayed until at least 3am. It had a great mix of tourists and locals. I don't think they let the prostitutes in because they seemed to be all waiting outside the bar on the street (mostly very young). The women out numbered the men 5-1. The women were essentially locals and the men were essentially tourists (mostly Italian and German). The bathrooms were disgusting. Frequently, while I used the only toilet in the bathroom, a Dominican guy would squeeze in (past a line of waiting tourists) and urinate in the sink right next to me.
GUADELOUPE: CLUB MED BY GARY GAGNON
No hurricane damage at the Club Med!!!
We just returned from 10 sunny days in Guadeloupe. The beautiful white sand beach covered by shady coconut trees along the calm, warm waters of Caravelle was oh so nice! As to the rest of the club, there was no noticeable damage from the hurricanes the week before we got there. The GO's told us that during Marilyn, the guests had to stay in their rooms and had food brought to them due to the wind and rain. The dining room had been flooded. All was normal for us.
Now some comments about the Club after my 11th CM trip: Food was great, wine was 10 times better than Mexico clubs. The GO team was about to change for the season, and they appeared a little tired after an eventful month. The shows at night were frankly not worth going to, but I attribute the dull shows to a small stage and theater which limits some of the larger productions I've seen at other clubs. Too bad as it's been fun seeing shows in the past. This was the first time I've been to a club that didn't do crazy signs. Isn't that odd?
We went on the mini-safari excursion in jeeps and had a great time. It took us around the Grand-Terre side of the island through muddy, rutted paths and out to the east tip of the island. Excursions to Bas-Terre are canceled as that half of the island WAS damaged and closed.
So, I'm pleased to report that Caravelle was not damaged and is a beautiful place to visit. Hope you can go see for yourselves!
ROATAN by DAVID WILLIAMS
We flew TACA International from Houston non-stop to Roatan. We were very pleasantly surprised. A clean, modern jet and excellent service. Two meal choices, free drinks, after dinner liqueurs and a free movie. Flights were smooth and on time.
We had a great time diving in Roatan although the no-see-them's ate us alive toward the end of the trip. And their itch lasts for a week! The diving is much better than Hawaii. Lot's of live coral and marine life. We saw lobsters, crabs, sting-ray, turtles. Two foot long Groupers would follow us on dives and eat out of our hands. The dive masters were very friendly and helpful but did not "mother" the divers. Diving by computer was OK and done by about 1/2 our group. There were 2 dive boats. Ours had 10 guests, the other 12. Dive sights were only 10 to 20 minutes from the dock. There was a 2 tank morning dive leaving at 8:30am and a 1 tank dive leaving about 2:30 PM. The first dive was usually a 60' to 80', the second about a 50' with about 1 hour between dives.
One of the highlights of the trip was an open water dive with 2 dolphins. The Institute for Marine Sciences is located at Anthony Key Resort. The cost is $100 pp plus $45 if you want to buy a video of your dive. A dive master and 6 paying divers go to about 50' on a sandy bottom. The location is about 1/4 mile off shore. We all got seated in a circle about 50' in diameter. The dolphin trainer then brings the dolphins from the Institute to your location and she then joins the other divers who are already underwater. It's up to you to keep the dolphins interested and entertained. The would swim by, almost touching and bite at year arm. Not a hurting bite, just a get-to-know-you nibble. The dive lasted about 40 minutes and no one wanted to come up until the last breath was left in their tank! Expensive but a once in a lifetime experience.
The Bay Island Beach Resort (formerly the Roatan resort) was OK. Our room was clean and air-conditioned. We were glad for the a/c. Meals were not great but OK. A lot of fish was served. One night the menu had crab legs but they only had one pair of crackers to open the shell. One pair for 24 guests. It seemed that they had good intentions, but sometimes the execution of the plan did not go smoothly. There is no doubt that Roatan is an excellent value. We paid $395 pp for lodging, meals and diving for 1 week. Even the normal price of $695 pp is hard to beat!
Leaving the resort and going into town makes you realize that Honduras is a real third world country. On Roatan the main town is Coxen Hole. Extremely poor and depressing. I have spent many weeks in Indonesia and this was as poor as anything I saw there. It's something that I wish every resort guest would see to understand the different world that exists just 2.5 hours from Houston.
SABA BY ROY MAYFIELD
I have never written a single diary entry in my life. Why now? Yesterday we spent the day in Saba and I'm already worried that I may forget the details of such a splendid visit.
We reached Saba from St. Martin in a STOL (short take-off and landing) plane. The pilot said that the trip was going to take 12 minutes, so halfway through the flight I started looking out the side and cockpit windows (the cockpit was open so we could see forward) but still couldn't see any sign of land. I started wondering what was going on, since Saba could be seen even from St. Martin on a clear day. All of the sudden, the pilot turned the plane about 45 degrees and there it was. An immense, towering mountain pierced the ocean and rose all the way to the clouds.
I've seen a lot of geographical documentaries but nothing compared to sight before us. It seemed like we were in the beginning of a Steven Spielberg movie. It looked like the place King Kong would have been born. There were no beaches or gradual slopes, just a huge mountain coming out of the sea.
After a long breath-taking moment, a simple but reasonable question came to mind: Where do we land? In the northeast corner of the island, there is a very short strip of land which hosts a very sorry excuse for a landing strip. The runway resembled an aircraft carrier, only shorter. The surface was tilted forward and to the side, and even though we landed safely, the plane never got to be horizontal. By now my mind was filled with awe about this incredible place we were about to visit. At the airport we took a cab which took us through the only road in the island. I'm not going to describe scenery of the island - there are travel guides for that. Majestic.
As we zigzagged up the island, impossible cliffs allowed the road to climb to the little town of Windwardside. Here, a path of 1,064 steps climb to the top of the island. I would not advise to climb this trail if you are a smoker and are carrying a knapsack. Halfway to the top, I started feeling light-headed and about to faint because of the lack of oxygen. At that point I thought very hard about that great habit that I have.
A million thoughts started dancing in my head. I thought about all those documentaries in which the hikers couldn't get to the top. I thought about going back and having to tell my friends that I couldn't climb Saba because I smoke too much. I thought about all those stories of heart strokes due to altitude. I thought about fainting and leaving my wife in a moderate-to- serious situation. I thought about being so close and yet so far.
After resting for a while, the dizziness and numbness stabilized to a point where it didn't get worse. As I stood up and looked at the steep path ahead of us, my mind went blank and we started climbing with only one thought in mind - get to the top. A little further up, we encountered a local snake species which lightened spirits a little. Just when we thought we were at the top of the mountain, another segment of tall steps came into view. The sight was very discouraging but the decision was already made: we were heading to the top.
Minutes later we finally came across the communications tower at the top of the mountain, but we couldn't see any view because of the heavy foliage; we were very disappointed. After looking around for a while, we found a trail that followed behind the tower, so we took it. The trail turned into a huge boulder which was inserted sideways into the mountain. We climbed to the edge of the boulder and finally saw...nothing! A complete void of clouds surrounded the mountain so any view of the island was impossible. After waiting for several minutes, we were a little disappointed and decided to go back...but wait! The clouds started to dissipate and vague shapes of the valley below were staring to take form. Then, in a matter of seconds, the shroud of clouds lifted completely and the most magnificent view I've ever seen filled our eyes.
We were indeed at the top of this volcanic island and down below, the little village of Windwardside could be seen as if we were looking at it from a plane. All the houses in the island were white with red roofs. The sea could be seen thrashing onto the cliffs and never in my life I have felt such sense of immensity and unspoiled nature. By now, worries about my physical limitations were replaced by more universal thoughts like "What kind of eruption could have made such a magnificent place?"
On the way down, my wife saw another snake and her love for me was diminishing by the minute. When we finally reached the town of Windwardside we were sorry excuses for human beings. So, what should we do next? Rest? Go back to the airport? Why not go diving in one of the most beautiful underwater reserves in the world? Hmmm...
Down we went through the now familiar precipitous road until we arrived to Well's Bay in which Torrens Point is located. Here, a beach comes and goes with the seasons and hurricanes. We were lucky to find that the beach was indeed there. The sand was volcanic gray and the beach was surrounded by tremendous cliffs which are slowly collapsing onto the beach below. The rocks encrusted in the cliff seemed to be held by prayers. So off we went to witness an underwater paradise with all kind of creatures and corals.
There were underwater mountains really close to the shore. After the dive, I was immersed in such peace and sense of well being that I no longer cared about the material things which have been the center of my thoughts back in civilization.
As we rode back to the airport, I had a couple of shots of Saba Spice, a delicious but very powerful liquor (150 proof) which lifted spirits considerably. Back in the airport, a group of tourists already waited for the only plane departing that day. Meanwhile, I was still daydreaming about the magic surrounding this island, so what else could I do but go into the trails surrounding the airport and start chasing goats?
As the plane missed the choppy waters of the northeast coast, I couldn't help to look back at the sight we were leaving behind. There was the same mountain under a different afternoon light. Before the trip, I read many descriptions and reviews about the island, all different. Now I understand that every Saba visitor takes home a different experience. The one thing we all can agree on in that Saba is truly the unspoiled Caribbean Queen.
ST. JOHN BY JACKIE HUFSCHMID
This was our 1st trip to St. John (surprise b-day present for my husband) and I can see why everyone loves it so much.
Morningside Villa - what can I say except that it is a place to die for, views are breathtaking, star gazing from the whirlpool is fantastic, relaxing in the pool is great and the view from the bedroom when you wake up is - well what can say but OUT OF THIS WORLD. We will be back next yr.).
The only report I can give on rests. is the Mongoose Cafe where we ate 1 lunch there, best chicken breast w/mozz cheese sandwich I ever had. Other than that we ate every meal at Morningside and enjoyed the view and feeding the bananaquits. Cinnamon, Mayo and Leinstar bays were closed due to minor damage from Hurricane Luis. But the rest of the bays were open and the water was great. Loved Hawksnest, not a lot of people.
As far as grocery shopping - found that Marina Market was the best place to shop. Starfish was a little more expensive.
Ditleff Beach, just down the road from Morningside, is VERY secluded, a lot of shells and coral washed ashore - if you are looking for shells (small ones).
My husband LOVED driving the jeep and on the left side of the road. I think we drove on every road on the island, even though there aren't a lot. And the people are so friendly and helpful. We really hated to leave but we had an unfortunate visitor Marilyn - so we left for STT on Fri. Immediately went to the Frenchmans Reef to wait out the hurricane and planning on taking our schedule flight home on Sat. well that didn't work. Finally arrived home on Wed. As all of you are aware Marilyn wasn't very nice to STT and the whole time we were stuck there my husband and I were both worrying and wondering about Morningside and St. John and we were so glad to get a call from Linda that everything was OK.
Even though we never want to go through a hurricane again Marilyn DID NOT scare us away from St. John and it is now going to be included in our yearly (wish it could be more) travel plans.
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