Tending the Gardens of Little Bay

How many gardeners does it take to make a hotel gorgeous?  4 +2 + 1 + 1 is the winning formula at Divi Little Bay in St. Maarten. Eight Divi employees – four gardeners, two landscapers, one supervisor and one engineer – are always hard at work making Divi Little Bay such a verdant oasis.

The lush and lovely grounds are a key attraction of the property. Words like “impeccable,” “lovely,” and “gorgeous” pop up frequently in reviews.  Nor are we surprised when we read, “most beautiful spot on St. Maarten.”

But, as anyone who’s ever planted a garden knows, the property blossomed over time.  A considerable revamp of the landscaping was necessitated by the arrival of Luis and Marilyn, a couple of hurricanes that came ashore in 1995.  The storms dealt a heavy blow to the resort, leading to its shuttering for a do-over.  In 2000, a much expanded and upgraded resort was opened, with the new buildings, layout and landscaping taking full advantage of Divi Little Bay’s unique topography.  The resort rose again, literally, you could say, with new villas climbing up the hillside toward historic Fort Amsterdam.  And, you could also say Divi Little Bay Resort came though with flying colors – with myriad tropical flowers now putting on a show all year long.

St. Maarten, with its subtropical climate, is an exceptional place for flora.   The grounds of Divi Little Bay Resort feature flowers, shrubs, ferns, palms and cacti.  There are brilliant hot pink bougainvillea, yellow blooming plubago, red hibiscus, white lily and coral ixora, adding color at every turn.  Bismarck palms drip with feathering red berry branches and the royal palms add a sculptural note with their giant fans of grey-green foliage.

There are also flamboyant trees.  Yes, that is the name and a fitting description, too.  They blossom from June to September in brilliant red, orange and yellow.  The flamboyant tree is also the national tree of St. Maarten. I guess you could say, that’s fitting too.

There really is no peak time to enjoy the landscaping at Divi Little Bay, given the diversity of plants and bloom times.  According to Barry Richardson, Chief Engineer at Divi Little Bay, the grounds look good all the time.  We agree.

And, Richardson knows his plants. He and his head landscaper, Eduard O’Donel, have been tending the grounds at Divi Little Bay for over 20 years.  Twenty years creating paradise.  Nice work, guys.

Caribbean’s Best Chefs

If you’re a fan of the cooking competition shows on TV, the Hyatt Regency in Miami will be your heaven the weekend of June 28 and 29th.  The hotel is hosting “Taste of the Caribbean,” an annual showcase that pits ten national teams from the islands to decide who’s best at making lunch, dinner, pastry or a cocktail. Not only do you get to watch the chefs and bartenders compete, you get to taste.  The battles culminate in Taste of the Islands, a contest on Saturday night that highlights the street food of the Caribbean.  Stroll, feel the island vibe and devour the goodies from 6-9 PM. Tickets are $30.

This year, Bonaire will be competing under the direction of team captain Robertico Bernabela, a very promising young chef at the Divi Flamingo Beach. Even after countless practice sessions, the team nonetheless will be as surprised as their fellow Caribbean competitors when they confront the mystery ingredients from which they must concoct a three course lunch.

Chances are there was a little Cadushy on hand at each practice in Bonaire.  That’s the national liqueur of Bonaire.  And, chances are the team explored how a little splash of Cadushy could spike up just about anything.  Teams are allowed to bring an ingredient to the competition as long as other teams have access to use it as an ingredient as well.   But’s here where the edge is:  nobody knows Cadushy like a Bonairean.

Cadushy is distinctive in many ways.  It’s the world’s only liquor made from cactus, the kadushi cactus that grows on Bonaire.  Next time you are there, take a free tour of the distillery. It’s open Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Of course, there is a store where you will also find the only vodka made from cactus, too.  Stock up and explore the wonders of Cadushy in your own kitchen or bar.

Cadushy is best-enjoyed ice cold.  Also, it’s best if you’re sitting on a beach at the Divi Flamingo in Bonaire or enjoyed with a meal at the Chibi Chibi.  Take note that Robertico Bernabela will immediately return to his kitchen at Divi Flamingo Beach where he honed the skills that earned him the a place on the Bonaire national culinary team.  Meaning when you stay at Divi Flamingo Beach, you get to enjoy a culinary winner every day.

Aruba Ariba!

Whether you see it printed on the menu or not, saunter up to any bar in Aruba, ask the bartender for an Aruba Ariba, and guaranteed, you’ll be obliged.  What makes the Aruba Ariba so ubiquitous?  It’s unique to Aruba.  And why?  Because every Aruba Ariba is made with coecoei, a liquor made from the sap of a local agave plant.  The deep red sap is then mixed with rum and cane sugar.  It not only adds a distinctive taste and color when used as an ingredient, coecoei also packs a punch with its 100-proof alcoholic content.

It surely must be a seductive cocktail because plenty of message boards evidence a search for coecoei by travelers once they return home from a trip to Aruba.   Sorry.  The only place to buy coecoei is Aruba.  So there you go:  another reason to go to Aruba.  (As if you needed another one besides sugary white beaches, blue skies, friendly people, endless activities or a beautiful place to do absolutely nothing while sitting under a palapa.)

Though the recipe varies a bit, the end result is universally described as delicious, refreshing and fruity – very apropos to the tropics.  A clear glass mug is recommended as an appropriate vessel in order to show off the rainbow of colors.  Make that a tall, clear glass mug to accommodate the liquors, liqueurs and juices.  Yes, you need all three to make a proper Aruba Ariba.

Here is the most often published recipe for the Aruba Ariba:

  • ½ ounce of vodka
  • ½ ounce of 151 proof rum
  • 1/8 ounce of coecoei
  • 1/8-ounce crème de bananes
  • ½ cup of orange juice
  • ½ cup of cranberry juice
  • ½ cup of pineapple juice

Directions: Pour into a glass.  Stir slightly. Splash with grenadine.  Top with Grand Marnier.  Garnish with a slice of orange.

I’ll have mine while enjoying the sunset from one of those cushy white couches at Pure Lounge over at Divi Phoenix Beach.

You can find other famous Aruba cocktails here at Visit Aruba.