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St Maarten/St Martin
14 September 2008 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Sunset

Weather: Today's (14 September) sunset will be at 6:12PM. We lost about a half hour in the last six weeks. We'll lose another 8 minutes as we approach the equinox next week and another half hour or so as we approach the solstice in late December. The weather has been about normal for this time of the year, temperatures in the high 80's during the day and high 70's during the night, with 10 to 15 mph breezes. Nonetheless, the humidity is up and the heat index says it will feel like mid 90's even with the breeze. The rains are generally passing showers, not deluges, and rarely last all day. At this point, however, we are in high hurricane season and if one comes close, the rain can last for days. Full moon dates for 2008 are: 15 Sep (tomorrow!), 13 Oct, 13 Nov, and 12 Dec. Here's the local current local conditions Click for Juliana Airport, St. Maartin Forecast and here's the forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. On the right is a shot of a rainbow pointing to a pot of gold at Stew Leonard's villa. I don't doubt that there is one there. This is the good news about the rainy season: there are plenty of rainbows! When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you rain, make rainbows!   Rainbow over Stew Leonard's house

Bay Rouge   SXM-Beaches: Here's a shot of Bay Rouge, obviously on a slow day. It's a lovely beach with a pinkish cast to the sand, hence the name. It faces north, so the sunset is behind the Falaises des Ouiseaux (Bird Cliffs) in the French Lowlands, but there are nice views over to Anguilla. There are a couple beach bars that can keep you hydrated and fairly well fed. They also rent these chairs and umbrellas. We've seen nude people here, especially to the far left away from the main throngs at the entrance on the far right. We've also heard that someone called the gendarmes when some nudists got too close. Usually there is off-road parking, but some days the cars are lined up along the highway. As always, don't leave any valuables in the trunk. If you don't know where the island's beaches are, visit SXM-Beaches for maps and photos.

Beach Reading: Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future was published in 2006 and is now out in paperback for about $10. It was researched and written by our neighbor and friend, Jeff Goodell. In this election year, we get to choose between the Republican and Democratic approaches to solving our energy problems, of course, but we also have T. Boone Pickens offering his advice.

Many people have extolled the wonders of America's coal reserves, but the bottom line is that the ratio of hydrogen atoms to carbon atoms in coal is about 1 to 1. Liquid fuels (diesel, gasoline, etc) run about two to one and gaseous fuels start at about 2.5 to one (butane) and reach four to one in methane (natural gas). Obviously all produce carbon dioxide when burned, but the liquids and gases produce less per unit of energy obtained from combustion. What does this have to do with St Maarten? Current predictions (and admittedly there is not total agreement on this subject) look for a rise in sea levels of about six feet. I live in the towers at Sapphire, so I can look forward to diving off the roofs of the villas and swimming around the first floors. Other places will not be so lucky. Pickens has touted wind energy and anyone who has driven across west Texas can appreciate that approach. It is windy and there is no view to spoil with a wind turbine. Martha and I are spending about $27,000 to put groSolar photovoltaic cells on the roof of one of our barns. It will generate about 75% of the power that we use. Given current government incentives it is marginally cost-effective (about a 5% per year payback - at current electric prices.) Wind and solar produce electricity without producing greenhouse gases, as do hydroelectric and tidal power. Eventually we will have to get to that and renewable carbon, ie fast growing sources of carbon: trees and switchgrass that can recapture the carbon as fast as we release it into the atmosphere.   Big Coal

Activities: Sebby at the Grand Case Beach Club Activities Desk reports seeing a manta ray. He says it is the first time he has ever seen one on the island. We've certainly seen smaller rays when we circled Creole Rock with Sebby. For those who like good snorkeling without a long boat ride, merely drive out to Grand Case Beach Club and take a guided tour of the marine park around Creole Rock. It's only $35 per person, better yet, enter the contest on SXM-Info and win a two for one coupon. If all else fails, use the coupon on Sebby's site to get a free underwater camera.

  Manta Ray

Random Wind being hauled out   Random Wind: For those who like a couple snorkel stops combined with a boat ride around a good bit of the island with a lunch and open bar, consider Random Wind. Diane reports that Random Wind was hauled out (all 44,000 lbs of her) in late August for some work that included refinishing the teak. That's Diane behind the mask on the right. She was back in the water as September started and Diane and family went on a sailing vacation. She'll be back in operation on 17 September. Anyone interested in a great day on the water should enter the SXM-Info contests for a two for one Paradise Day Sail on Random Wind. Five lucky couples win this every year. It might as well be you.   Diane sanding the teak

Construction: Last month I mentioned Ace Hardware and PDG in Cole Bay as places that would be helpful for those who had just moved into new construction on the island. The impetus for this discussion came from an email I received from a reader asking where to find housewares and kitchenware. She also picked up on the Cakehouse shortcut from Pburg to Cole Bay. It's named after the Cakehouse Bakery, which at one point stood at the entrance to the road that climbed the hill in Pburg and came down in Cole Bay where Welfare Road takes a left turn and becomes Union Road heading for Marigot. A map would be useful and there is one on the SXM-Info site. One minor detail: the shortcut runs from Pburg to Cole Bay. It is one way. Do not take it from Cole Bay back toward Pburg unless you are prepared to endure something like this:

"You told me about the Cakehouse Shortcut from Oyster Pond to Cole Bay and it worked out GREAT (as I get extremely anxious with the traffic at the bottom of Cay Hill)...well, I didn't "get" that the shortcut was a one way road, so yes, I tried to come back home that way only to have everyone coming towards me SHOUTING and BEEPING and CURSING after I had been maybe a quarter mile or so!! Fortunately, there was a point to turn around and the police did NOT find me (as one gentleman assured me they would!)

My mother-in-law is still recuperating from the experience!!
A good glass, um bottle, of wine helped me. :)

For future reference, there are one way roads on the island. As you approach them from side streets, the blue arrow signs will indicate the only permissible way to turn. There are several in Marigot and Pburg. If you approach the wrong end of a one way street, the red sign indicates that you cannot turn onto that street.   One way signs

Rhone   Alcohol: This segues neatly into alcohol, more specifically wine. Recently, we tasted three Cotes du Rhone. We just got a bargain ($9) on the 2004 Guigal version from The Wine and Cheese Cask in Somerville, MA - just a block over the border from Cambridge. I'm sure they were selling it off because the perceived wisdom is that Cotes du Rhone should be drunk young. The other wines were a 2005 from "La Garrigue" ($6.40 in 2007) and a 2006 from Chapoutier ($8.50 recently). Guigal is the big "name" in Rhone wines, and Chapoutier is not unknown, but La Garrigue is. You can get Guigal's wine on the island in many restaurants and a few shops. Chapoutier is a bit more difficult to find, but Bruno at Le Cottage Restaurant featured his wines and actually had M. Chapoutier over for a tasting menu a few years ago. La Garrigue is a mystery and it is one of the reasons I buy wine at The Wine and Cheese Cask. They do all the hard work of tasting many duds to find a fabulous wine at 30% less than the going rate for name brands. Martha and I tasted all three wines blind and while they were close, we liked Guigal's best, Garrigue second, and Chapoutier least. You will also note that our results are directly proportional to the age of the wine and that is probably the major difference for us. We like older wine.

Groceries: We had quite a bit of rain in late July and early August, prompting us to check our woods for wild mushrooms. As you can see, we had a good haul in a mere two hours. Back, left to right, is a parasol mushroom, old men of the woods (the dark shaggy things), Frost's bolete (the lurid red), and a major pile of mixed boletes or ceps as the French say. In front are black chanterelles and a few regular chanterelles. We have purchased ceps and black chanterelles (the French say trompets du mort, sounds unappetizing to say the least) at the US Import Supermarket. We especially like the black chanterelles with one of our poached chickens. The French think that their poulet de Bresse is the best chicken in the world, so if you want to replicate this meal, pick up one of these AOC chickens (delivered fresh from France) also. If you feel the urge to find your own mushrooms, we recommend Mushrooms of North America by Roger Phillips as a field guide - lovely color photos and a beginner's key to help you make positive identifications. You would also be wise to take a class or have a friend to give you hands-on experience.   Mushrooms

Garnet jewelry and garnet bearing rock   We did a feature on mushrooms four years ago during a similar rainy summer and actually assembled most of the same crack mushroom hunting team for another morning of hunting followed by pizzas featuring mushrooms. Previously, we made mushroom soup and posted the recipe.

Shopping: We always pick up several rings, earrings, necklaces, and/or bracelets from Jol Husson at Octaedre Gems in the Marigot Market behind the coconut man. They are made in Jol's studio from locally mined garnet and are surprisingly inexpensive. Their beauty, the local angle, and the price make them great souvenirs.

ginger   Sapphire Beach Club: We have returned to our home in NY. Our condo will be available for rent at $1000 per week from 15 April to December 15, $2000 per week during holiday season (20 Dec until 4 Jan), and $1500 per week at other times. The rental includes about $500 in coupons from several of our website clients. Check the calendar on our website for available dates. Last minute Special: Any available days within one month are $100. For those of you who wish to sell or rent their week or unit, we have opened up the Sapphire Beach Club website for that purpose. We charge $25 per year. If you wish to rent or sell your unit, send us some text (and $25 to esk@sxm-info.com via Paypal). If you wish to rent or buy a unit without high middleman fees, check out the website. Given the large assessment that Sapphire just levied, there may be a lot of sales. At present, there are 20 sales and/or rentals available directly from owners. Given a 25 to 35% standard rental commission, there should be some bargains in eliminating the middleman and dealing direct.

Travel: We've booked our tickets for next season and can't seem to get a flight from Albany to Newark in time to catch the Continental flight to SXM. It's not a question of the flights being booked already, there are no connections that will work. I've heard from others that this was getting to be a problem on several routes as the airlines cut back on flights. Get your tickets early. All travel to the USA now requires a passport. Life is pretty easy if you allow enough time to renew by mail. All the details can be found at this State Department page.

Crime: In early August, the Daily Herald reported that police in St Maarten have checked 473 vehicles, towed 110, and arrested nearly 100 suspected criminals and undocumented residents in the past four months. Possibly this should be in the small island section as on an island this small, it should be easy to find the evil-doers. In fact, this little exercise wherein almost a quarter of the vehicles stopped were deemed not roadworthy demonstrates that the evil-doers are driving around, ripe for the picking.

In mid-August, the French Gendarmes did a similar thing, stopping 480 vehicles entering Orient Beach. Two of the vehicles were stolen. Orient had been suffering from a number of break-ins, robberies, etc. Though the arrest of three individuals on July 21 and 23 (one is in prison for theft in Orient already) has helped the situation, the gendarmes felt that these random roadblocks would show that they are quite serious.

gecko   Nature: This cute little guy is attempting to attract a mate. Doesn't do much for me, but apparently the female geckos like that sort of thing. Geckos are found in all warm climates, which is why they disturb those from colder climes so much. We rather like them and encourage them to hang out in our balcony plants because they eat insects. If you've seen them, you know they can walk on walls, even ceilings. Recent studies of the spatula tipped setae (hairs) on gecko footpads demonstrate that the attractive forces that hold geckos to surfaces are van der Waals interactions between the finely divided setae and the surfaces themselves. Every square millimetre of a gecko's footpad contains about 14,000 hair-like setae. Each seta has a diameter of 5 micrometers. Human hair varies from 18 to 180 micrometer, so the thinnest human hair could hold at least 12 setae. Each seta is in turn tipped with between 100 and 1,000 spatulae. Each spatula is 0.2 micrometers long (200 billionths of a meter), or just below the wavelength of visible light. Read the entire story on Wikipedia.

Traffic: Jean-Pierre at Antoine Restaurant says that a new pier for tender boats is going in at Sea Palace. As his restaurant is one of the furthest from the cruiseship dock and quite near Sea Palace, it's easy to see that he approves of this project. It will also get a few cars and cabs off Front Street.

Small island story: Caribbean repair: If it doesn't move and it should, use WD-40. If it moves and it shouldn't, use duct tape (although super glue and even hot melt glue can be substituted).


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


Current Contest - 27 July to 26 October
Caribbean ViewCondo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Azure Guesthouse - seven nights for the price of four
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
Random Wind - Two for one coupon for the Paradise Day Sail
GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Crole Rock
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service

Read our rules, visit the websites of these sponsors, find their contest codes, and enter them on our entry form.

One of the rules is that you should enter each contest only once.

Future Contests:

26 October to 28 December
Caribbean ViewCondo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Bikini Beach - A DAY AT THE BEACH
(including 2 chairs and a parasol, 2 welcome punches and $50.00 credit towards food and drink)
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
Random Wind - Two for one coupon for the Paradise Day Sail
GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Crole Rock
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service

28 December to 1 March 2009
Caribbean ViewCondo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
Random Wind - Two for one coupon for the Paradise Day Sail
GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Crole Rock
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service

1 March to 26 April 2009
Caribbean ViewCondo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
Random Wind - Two for one coupon for the Paradise Day Sail
GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Crole Rock
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service


RESTAURANTS


On 27 July the euro was at 1.567. Today it is at 1.415. That is a very large drop, even if it is over six weeks. It's most appreciated - at least by me - as we are leaving for France on Thursday for a two week vacation. It should help the French side of the island a bit, but I expect it will have to drop a bit more to bring all the tourists back. We no longer list restaurants offering 1 to 1 on the exchange unless we get recent information.

Marrakech
When we picked up the Rhone wines at The Wine and Cheese Cask we stopped for lunch at The Kebab Factory. The story on their website is that as the Mongol hordes rampaged eastward, they sprinkled salt on meat barbecued on sticks - the perfect food for a fast moving army. They left behind destruction and kebabs. This place has great kebabs, but also a wide range of great Indian cuisine. For kebabs on the island, we go to Marrakech in Marigot. Toufiq imported many things from Morocco to make an outstndingly lovely spot. He also brought over his grandmother to train the chefs. The great food extends beyond kebabs. For Indian cuisine, we used to love the now departed Sitar. The former head chef of Sitar now adds some sizzle to the food at Dino Jagtiani's Rare Steakhouse and we generally get our Indian fix at Lal's Indian Cuisine across from the airport. Shiv Sagar in Pburg regularly wins the Best Indian category in the Daily Herald poll. A new Indian restaurant opened on the second floor of the Maho Plaza as we were leaving in April.
Kebab factory Marrakech Lal

Dino Jagtiani has been invited to cook at the James Beard House in NYC on 17 Oct. There will be a fund raising preview dinner of what he will cook in NYC on 30 Sep at Temptation Restaurant in the Atlantis Casino complex. Proceeds will benefit the University of St Maarten.

Changes: It appears that Terra has closed. The place seems to be jinxed. The first attempt was Well-being, an unfortunate name in English with health food connotations, although it was a literal translation of Bien-Etre, more like living well. At first it went through a mere name change to Charme. The space was brand new and the decor was avant-garde, so Charme was a bit of a stretch, but it least it didn't send out the wrong food vibes. I am not disparaging health food, but if your name says health food, you will attract those looking for health food. They will be disappointed because it isn't being served. Those who don't want health food will stay away. It lasted a couple seasons and CIA-grad Scott Clagett left Citrus to open Terra in this location, serving very good and expensive food. He and his wife left and the space (and name) was taken over by Bert and Jill, recently from the pool bar/restaurant at Ocean Club. It was a stretch to go from a pool bar/restaurant with a limited menu to fine dining and it appears that it didn't turn out well.

Topper's has opened an outpost at the Flamingo resort, replacing the previous palapa bar. The original Topper's is still in operation in Simpson Bay.

Sunset Beach Bar has changed ownership and little else. Other than free wireless access, there has always been little here that attracted me. Everything else was extremely high priced. Yes, you can watch planes land and there was always the thrill of bare breasts, but after a day on Cupecoy or Orient, I found I could make it through the evening without a further infusion.


BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS


  Our condo: It's that time of year. We have returned to our home in NY. Our condo will be available for rent at $1000 per week from 15 April to December 15, $2000 per week during holiday season (20 Dec until 4 Jan), and $1500 per week at other times. The rental includes about $400 in coupons from several of our website clients. Check the calendar on our website for available dates. Hurricane Special: Any days in September for $100.

Wine & Cheese Party: Select Wine Cellar and Champagne Snack Bar are hosting a monthly wine and cheese tastings, usually on the first Friday of the month. Send an email to Sylvain for more details or a reservation (highly recommended as these are very popular).

BALCON by Paul Elliott Thuleau   The Tropismes Gallery in Grand Case showcases many local artists. We especially like Paul Elliott Thuleau's work (left) and have one in our condo. Also from this gallery, we have a painting of some wine glasses by Patrick Poivre de La Freta at our home in the US. Have a dinner in Grand Case and plan on spending some extra time in the gallery. If you are not on the island, you can purchase art from their website. Similarly, Island Art and Treasures sells a few originals and lots of prints from several island artists online. They have added a few more things since I mentioned them last.  

Amazon: I'm not convinced that the Kindle e-book from Amazon is the best thing to take to a beach, but it sure is a lightweight way to get some of your favorite books to the Caribbean, especially now that the second bag costs $25 or so on most flights! Martha has been downloading audio books from our local library to her Zune (an iPod knockoff) and that has been working rather well. Obviously, these are audio books and it's not the same as "reading" the text, but it works quite well.

 

Coupons: Look on the SXM-Info website for a list of all restaurants and others that have coupons for some freebie or discount. There are several coupons there to make your vacation a bit cheaper. Here's a list of what you'll find:

Bikini Beach
Beau Beau's
Escargot
Kakao Beach
Oizeau Rare
Paradise View
Pirate Beach Bar
Tai Chi
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Diamonds International

The Mario's Bistro Cookbook is now available. They are shipped via UPS and cost $49 for one, $87 for two, and $123 for three, delivered. Delivery via UPS should take a day or two in the US.

Sandy Molloy at Molloy Travel offers personalized service to fit your needs and budget.

  Mario's Cookbook

View from Beach   Off-season may be the only time available at The Horny Toad Guesthouse (left) because they have such a loyal and long-staying clientele during the winter. We have met the same people at the same time for many years as we celebrated the Superbowl, New Year's, the Regatta, Valentines Day, St Paddy's Day, etc. It's quite handy if you just need a night or two at either end of your vacation because of the wretched flight schedules. It's on a lovely stretch of Simpson Bay Beach and offers free wireless internet access. They even have a computer for you to use.

On the French side, check out Flamboyant Beach Villas (right) on the beach in Grand Case. It's on the road to Grand Case Beach Club, just past Ti Coin Crole

  View to the east from Flamboyant Beach Villas