Concluding The Caribbean Experience

By on July 2, 2015

A Maple Leaf Among The Palms – by Dennis Tkach.

Born and raised in Winnipeg it should not be too difficult to understand why this hunky dory from the birthplace of wheat field soul drove, set sail or flew to places where the word ‘chill’ only applies to margaritas. So what have I learned in thirty-five years of strolling through the banana lands with shores licked by the sensuous wet tongue of the Caribbean?

Many who have visited my ports of call may very well have opinions different than mine. I have a good friend whose favorite Latin American retreat is my least favorite. Ergo, when all is done and said, the only opinion that matters… is yours. Still, rest assured… you can trust in my opining. After all, have I ever lied to you?

I include Central American countries where I have lived, worked, or merely meandered, whose beaches and jungley climes border on the Caribbean. Most indigent citizens of the western hemisphere’s equatorial belt simply call it ‘the Antlantico’.) However, to us northerners ‘Caribbean’ sounds much more romantic and alluring.

The time spent as my sandals splashed and plodded the surf and turf of these sun drenched landscapes, whether measured in days, weeks, or months is not important. First impressions are sometimes all that is required for ones’ senses to register and evaluate comfort and pleasure. Some of the islands I visited were nothing more than five or six hour cruise ship stops, yet even in so small a window of experience it is easy to evaluate the offerings of these ‘micro atolls’ of coral and sand.

For cruising the Turks and Caicos are definitely highlight reels. 7 on a 10 scale. Virgin Islands (U.S. and British) also rate high. A must see stop is Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Google it and you will see why. For island retreats like St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat bring a wheel barrow full of loonies and twoonies because you are going to need it. Dinner for four at a decent restaurant? $350 – 400.00. Hamburger and a beer? $50.00.
Aruba? Don’t take your daughters or attractive wives, in fact, give this Dutch island a serious pass.

Jamaica. Go outside the fortressed resorts at your own risk. You will be set upon by peddlers pushing more junk than can be found on Ma and Pa Kettle’s farm. Ridiculous prices, so-so ‘native’ food and the warning: If tourists go into Kingston at night you do so in jeopardy of being severely violated. AND if the blissfully ignorant go to Belafonte-land in off season, closed beaches due to storms are a bitter reality. We once had our resort beach closed for four days!

dennis travel 2I love reggae and Bob Marley’s ghost can haunt my ears anytime, but unfortunately, for house bands at the resorts, how many times do I want to hear ‘Yellow Bird’ or ‘Come Mr. Tallyman, Tally me bananas..”? Sorry Jamaica, henceforth and forever, I spurn you and turn my back on you.

Let’s jump over to Mexico.

Cancun. Beautiful coastal areas but totally tourist designed resorts. Nice to visit with great side trips to nearby ruins, but this glossy encapsulated part of Mexico never really got my heart tripping. You will not find the ‘real’ Mexico in these coastal getaways.

Only in ciudads like Monterrey, Vera Cruz… Oaxaca…. Vast tracts of this very large country consist of dry barren and semi barren mountain highlands resembling a huge raggedy sarape flung over a beggar’s banquet table. Truth be told, most of the landscape away from the coastal areas is harsh and boring. I know because I have driven Mexico, north to south and east to west. The jewels where I discovered great delight were the small towns that popped up like oases breaking the tedium of long journeys.

Take Victoria for example. Hard to find it on a map. I and my family stayed at a fantastic ‘resort motel’ called ‘Mi Ranchita’. Surrounded by high security walls and spread over rolling acres of beautiful lawns and gardens each separate guest house accommodation was bright, wonderfully furnished, and spacious. Beautiful swimming and reflection pools artfully bordered the walkways to and from the living quarters. In the center of the landscape was an elegant ‘round’ stand-alone restaurant with excellent ambience and wonderful menu offerings. At the time I stayed there occupancy was only 10% and the rates were ridiculously inexpensive. No tourism here, only truckers and workers passing through.

If there is one city, one destination I would love to revisit, it would be the small ciudad of Tuxtla Guterriez less than an hours drive from the Guatemala border. It offered awesome accommodations down the terraced slope of a high verdant mountain overlooking the town. Separate bungalows on walkways festooned with flowerbeds and swimming pools made this ‘hotel’ unique and amazing. The open-air restaurant and four-star kitchen at the apex of this resort hotel offered a breathtaking view of the city below. THIS is a Mexico that few tourists will ever see or enjoy.

Guatemala. Fascinating country but like Mexico the best parts of the country to visit are not on the Caribbean. Rather, they lie along the Pan American Highway. We met dozens of friendly indigenous natives living simple rural lives in a country largely passed over by the world of today. Looking for accommodations on our first day in this mountainous forested country we were directed to a farm whose ‘b & b’ family placed us and our four kids in a clean neatly dressed bunkhouse (with us as the only guests.) We were awakened to the sound of rooster crowing, fresh mountain air and feel at home love from all we encountered.

Honduras. Bad memories. Beware of negative encounters with police constantly looking for devious ways to fine tourists… any tourists for any reason at all, just so they could supplement their lousy salaries. I never visited the eastern coast but my experiences in Tegucigalpa and travels down the Pan American Highway put me right off any possibility of a return visit. Stay clear of this place.

Nicaragua. Love it! Now, as the expression goes, you are cookin’ with gas! According to the latest tourist surveys and information, this amazingly beautiful and diverse country rates is one of the least expensive (cheap like borscht) and most attractive places in the world to don your Speedos. We travelled through Nicaragua, visiting its cities and meeting some of the friendliest and warmest people we’ve ever encountered. Although most of the tourist element (and population) resides on the western Pacific side of this garden nation, there are some fine towns and beaches on the Caribe. On a down note, when the big quake hits (and it WILL hit sooner or later) half of the country will be joining the Beatle’s yellow submarine in the underwater world of Atlantis and Mu. Restaurant meals (including fresh lobster) are the best prices to be found ANYWHERE. Pensionados (even on our beloved government’s meager payback for life long laboring) can live a very good life in Nicaragua.

dennis travel 3Costa Rica. I and my family lived in this land of eternal spring during the mid eighties when tourism was young and the cost of living was wow in a good way. We leased a comfortable three bedroom home in a pleasant neighborhood of San Jose for $300.00 CDN a month. Those days I am told, are ancient history… gone for good when the country opened up to international banking and tourism development. Local called ‘ticos’ in and out of the cities still earn pennies to our dollars so I have to believe that knowing where to shop and where to eat is still going to be very affordable for the savvy visitor. There is a huge local marketplace called ‘Coca Cola’ near downtown San Jose where all the locals shop and bartering is a pleasurable exercise. Stay away from the ‘automercados’ and malls that target the wealthy elite and the touristas.
Ignore what the travel agencies push as ‘THE beaches’ to absolutely visit, instead visit places like Playa Del Coco on the Pacifico Seco (directly south of Playa Hermosa and rarely shown on tourist maps). Coco is our family’s favorite beach.

In San Jose, the capital city, our family favorite eating restaurant was part of a chain called Antijitos. Classy atmosphere, and very affordable. Instead of hotels for accommodations, try looking to ‘aparthotels’ which offer weekly, bi-weekly and monthly rates. While looking for a house to lease we stayed in San Jose in a nice ‘secure’ furnished one bedroom dig named ‘Apartemento Pacheco Dominguez.’ Nothing fancy but clean and secure. Note of warning: In Costa Rica, you really require vigilance and security. Pick pockets and break-ins are as common as summer mosquitoes in Manitoba.

Year round on the plateau where San Jose and much of the history since the time of Columbus can be found, the temperature night and day always sits in the 20s C) Perfecto! Costa Rica! La Pura Vida! Even when it rains, the small daily events only last for an hour or two and are warm and refreshing, never chilling.

Costa Rica was for me and my family, numero uno… but, alas, the past is a door through which we can only re-enter through memory, and change and progress is not always good.

Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic. My choice for the ideal rustic holiday. Read my previous ‘travelogue’ on the place where Chris Columbus first set foot in the new world.

Saving the best for the last, here are but five of the reasons why I rate Puerto Rico as my favorite holiday escape. 1. Walk the pirate haunted streets and shops of old San Juan where bright painted garden residences and medieval architecture line the the cobbled avenidas. 2. Visit one of the best preserved and fascinating fortresses (El Morro and San Cristobal) anywhere in the world. 3. Visit Aricibo, the most famous and important (radio) telescope in the world (earthside of Hubble). 4. Visit the art museum at Ponce housing some of the world’s most famous paintings.
5. Visit my choice for the most beautiful and amazing beach in the world, (voted by the international tourism association as one of the ‘ten best’). Flamenco Beach on the island of Culebra, less than a two hour ferry ride from San Juan. The island also features an aquatic nature preserve, a snorkelers delight rife with a stunning array of tropical fishes. 5. Check out the famous sunsets at Rincon.

And there you have it! The wonders of the Caribbean in a journalist’s (coco)nut shell. Comments or queries? Email me at

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