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St Maarten/St Martin
17 January 2010 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

Sunset Weather: We arrived on the afternoon of Wednesday 13 Jan to a glorious sunny and warm afternoon. Given that we had left a foot of snow and overnight lows near zero, it was a pleasant change. We were told that the Christmas winds had died out earlier and the seas were now calm. We did some necessary shopping at the Maho Food Express and arrived at our condo at about 5:00PM to unpack our owner's closet. We got most of the contents out of the closet, put some aways and left the rest spread around the apartment as we headed for dinner. The next day was a very clear and warm day offering views of Saba, Statia, St Kitts, and Nevis from our balcony. On the left a shot of St Kitts in the center (about 55 miles away) and the twin peaks of Statia on the right (about 35 miles out). There were some clouds on the horizon, precluding a green flash, but producing an interesting sunset. The clouds on the horizon turned to rain by Friday and it continued sporadically into Saturday. At one point Saba was lost in the mist and rain and a half hour later we could see all four islands again. The temperature was in the mid-70s. Sunday has dawned with lots of clouds and a temperature of 75F.   Sunset

The box shows the current local conditions and here's the forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast Sunset today is at 5:55 and the moon is a waxing crescent. The full moons in 2010 are 30 Jan, 28 Feb, 29 Mar, 28 Apr, 27 May, 26 Jun, 25 Jul, 24 Aug, 23 Sep, 22 Oct, 21 Nov, and 21 Dec.

Rotary   Construction: Here's a couple shots of the new roundabout at the bottom of the hill in Cole Bay. We drove through there on the way to Grand March. For the last few years we would have turned left and headed through the lagoonfront area of Cole Bay and come out on Union Road between Select Wine Cellar and the Harley Shop, avoiding the traffic scramble at the bottom of the hill. This new roundabout seems to have sorted out all that trouble. The statue depicts Osborne Kruythoff, a gentleman who directed traffic in Pburg long ago and without much official authorization.   Rotary

Bleu Mall   Here's a repeat of last month's photos from a different angle. On the left is the front of Bleu Mall, looking somewhat better than the back but even the mostly finished building on the far left is still a fairly blank monolith. Porto Cupecoy, billed as a village, looks something like a village with different styles and colors. You'll also note that being clustered around the lagoon, even the tall buildings do not rise up above the hills. Both photos show the cloudy, rainy conditions that are mentioned above.   Porto Cupecoy

Sapphire Beach Club: We are in our condo until mid-April but it is available after that for $900 to $1000 per week until 15 Dec, when high season kicks in. You'll get a 10% discount from Unity Car Rental, one of the longest running and most trusted on the island, and many more coupons as well. Check the calendar on our website for available dates.

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.

  ginger

Livarot   Groceries: On our major shopping journey we got a couple baguettes (and breakfast for Martha) at La Sucriere in Simpson Bay. We cut the baguettes in thirds, put them in large plastic bags, and freeze what we don't use immediately. When we need them, a few minutes in a toaster oven makes them better than fresh, as they are crusty and warm. Our stop at Grand March revealed things to be much the same. There were some tasty Guadeloupe tomatoes available and a fragrant Petit Livarot cheese. We also picked up some Cure 81 ham, some cornichons, and some dry sausage. Put them all together and you get one of our favorite lunches on the balcony. They were also selling 5 lbs of frozen pork chops for about $7.50 or $1.50 per pound. There was fresh pork shoulder available for about $2 per pound. Martha braised it in sherry vinegar with carrots, red onions, lima beans, and zucchini - quite tasty with a sturdy Crozes-Hermitage and there was enough left over for spicy Chinese dinner with a zinfandel (see below).

Alcohol: Our stop at Select Wine Cellar didn't score us any of our favorite burgundy as Sylvain's shipment from Jean-Jacques Girard is lost at sea. We really liked his red and white Savigny-Les-Beaune. Moreover, Gerard Trembley's Chablis are missing, except for the very expensive version. Sylvain also informed us that Franois is no longer working at Philipsburg Liquors, so our access to the wonderful Pommard we have been enjoying is no longer. We did get some Sainte Croix Ros for our ham and Guadeloupe melon lunches and some Le Belle Crozes-Hermitage for more substantial fare. Consequently, we stopped at Netco behind the Ace Mega Store in Cole Bay for some 2005 Montevina Red Zin ($9) and some 2008 Chateau St Jean Chardonnay ($11.75). The year on the Montevina has moved from 2004 to 2005 this season, but I can't discern much difference. It's a great wine with spicy food. We also picked up a 750 of Caussade XO Armagnac for $32.50. Man does not live by rum alone.   Montevina

Traffic: On the Thursday after our arrival we headed over to the TelCell office in Simpson Bay at 10:00 AM after the 9:00 and 9:30 bridge openings. The new road around the back side of the airport parking lot worked fine, although at 10AM on a Thursday there shouldn't be too many air travelers. We arrived at the TelCell office near Mailbox and bought a new phone. Our cell had gone missing over the summer. We got our old number back and by early evening it was in operation. We then crossed the bridge and had MVG Technology call Caribserve to reactivate our internet connection. We then had to head back over the bridge and pay Caribserve at the Mailbox. We crossed the bridge again to go shopping at Grand March, traveling through the new rotary at the bottom of the hill to Pburg. By the time we finished shopping the 11:00 and 11:30 bridges had passed and we drove into the Orange Grove Shopping Center to see Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar. By 12:45 we had crossed over the bridge, heading homeward, when we saw a parking spot at Bonita's Cantina, previously Ric's Place. The point of all this is not to regale you with tons of trivia, but to point out that we managed to get quite a bit accomplished while crossing the bridge four times in a period of three hours at mid-day.

We did much the same on Friday, making a counterclockwise circumnavigation of the lagoon from 2PM until 5PM with little difficulty as we stopped at TelCell (again) in Simpson Bay, Ace Mega Center and Netco in Cole Bay, Grand March (again), and came home via Marigot and Sandy Ground. It was all rather quick even given a detour for a funeral blocking the road in Marigot.

Our conclusion is that the new rotary and the traffic change at the airport have helped. It may be a bit early to start the celebrations as there is always a lull in tourism between the year-end holidays and February. Then again, our maid did tell us that Sapphire was full.

Lilly Travel: We used frequent flyer miles from Continental to get here and it was a surprise when the flight to SXM was on Delta, changing (of course) in Atlanta. Despite the terrible weather and massive delays just days before our departure, our flights left on time and arrived early giving us a longer layover in Atlanta and an extra half our on our winter in SXM. The plane was a not quite full 737 and with few other simultaneous arrivals, immigration was fast. All our luggage arrived and the van from Unity Cars was waiting for us. We were in a new Getz and heading to Sapphire Beach Club in about 30 minutes.

We traveled with our new kitten, although at ten months she acts like a kitten but is almost full-sized. That's her on the left, sitting in our egg collecting basket on the kitchen counter at the farm this summer. On the right she is rolling about on the cool tile floor of our condo on the island.

Lilly

Neither SXM or the US have much of a problem with cats (or dogs) traveling between the two countries. She travels in a carrier that fits under the seat. We do have to pay for this, anywhere from $150 to $300, depending on the airline. You also need to get a travel certificate from a vet within a week of your travel. That means a certificate from your vet in the US for use on the flight here and another from a vet on the island for the flight back home. We have always gone to the vet in Concordia who tended to our previous cat, Penny, who died here in 2007.

Small Island story: GEBE now says that some of the outages are merely for normal maintenance. I believe that the definition of a third world country is one where the electricity normally fails and yes, we have had one minor outage since we arrived. There may have been more as we were gone for the better part of two of the three days since we arrived.


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


Current Contest:

27 December 2009 to 28 February 2010
Caribbean View Condo - 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 - $40 gift certificate
GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Crole Rock
Tijon Perfume - One free bottle
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more
Lighthouse at Oyster Bay - $1000 off a summer week (June-October)
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two

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. You can enter five of the drawings on one entry. Thus, you could win a rather nice vacation at a considerable savings by combining accommodations with dinners and activities.

Future Contests:
28 February to 25 April | 25 April to 25 July | 25 July to 31 October | 31 October to 26 December
same cast of characters as current contest

 


RESTAURANTS


On 27 Dec October the euro was at $1.437. Today it is at $1.438. Ho hum. A new high season here and I have been told that Vanessa and Patrick's restaurants (California and ZEN Cafe Concept) are doing 1 to 1. Charging your credit card in dollars used to save the 3% currency transaction charge that most cards are now charging for foreign currency transzactions. Recently my Citibank card said they would charge me 3% just for doing business overseas - even if it was in dollars! I now use a Capital One card. The frequent flier benefits can be used on any airline and there are no blackouts.

Skipjack's
After standing on the tile floor for several hours unpacking boxes, we headed over to to Simpson Bay for a casual dinner. Traffic over wasn't bad, but Simpson Bay was crowded. Luckily, there was a parking spot across the street from Skipjack's. Soraya greeted us at the entrance and we headed to the corner table on the upper level, leaving the waterfront view to others. Rod brought us a bottle of the Concannon Pinot Noir ($29, and well worth it). We had taken plenty to eat on the plane as we had cleaned out our refrigerator back in the US knowing that Delta would serve us little more than peanuts at no charge. Thus after a bit more snacking in the afternoon, we chose to skip appetizers. Martha ordered an ahi tuna salad ($17) and I had a tough time choosing between all the lovely fish in the case at the entryway. Eventually I decided on a blackened grouper with Creole sauce, a bit of salad, and a baked potato. ($24) Skipjack's always offers a choice of sauces and a choice of starch. Eventually we ordered two glasses of shiraz and brought our dinner to $85. A generous tip still kept dinner for two under $100.
Concannon Pinot Noir
Soraya Dinners

Bonita's Cantina Logo We stopped in at Bonita's Cantina on Thursday afternoon amidst our wanderings in Simpson Bay. We caught up with Ryan Halsey and Atlas, his mountain of a dog. They were having a tasty looking steak sandwich before Ryan took him to the vet for an operation on his gimpy leg. We sat down and ordered the $6.95 lunch special. During the week, that's a BBQ sandwich (your choice: Pulled Pork, Smoked Turkey, or Smoked Ham) with fries and a a bottle of Presidente. Martha and I both had the pulled pork and given chef Bryan Tyrell's pedigree, we were not surprised by its wonderful flavor and texture. His wife Bonny runs the front of the house (and has plenty of experience also), so the service was quite good, as expected. We were surprised at the attention to detail: the roll did not come off the back of the Holsum Bread truck loaded with dough conditioners and preservatives and the fries were crisp and hot. All this and a cold brewski for $6.95. We'll be back.
A later tour of the kitchen showed us a real smoker with a wood chamber in the bottom and several smoking racks above. When we looked inside there were a couple large pork butts cooking low and slow. The roll that we appreciated came from Carl and Son with no preservatives, so they have to be fresh. Moreover, it was toasted. To find out more about Bryan and Bonny and see their entire menu including the Tex-Mex selections, visit their website.

Mario's Logo
Mario's Bistro
On our anniversary we headed over to Mario's Bistro for some of the most interesting food on the island. We opted for a 9PM seating to get a waterfront table on fairly short notice. When we arrived, they were almost full and stayed that way for quite a while. Didier said that business had been quite good in the off-season and is doing more of the same now. We started the celebration with two flutes of Champagne as we looked over the menu and considered the specials. We eventually ordered the 2006 Chambolle Musigny Vielles Vignes from Domaine Marchand Frres at 59 to go with our wahoo sashimi with a Japanese salad featuring wakame seaweed topped a deep-fried lobster maki roll (a special). Martha's dinner was the rice flake crusted Chilean seabass, Thai lobster cake, corn risotto, and asparagus with a lobster sauce off the menu. I had a special that featured a beef steak with braised short rib meat taken off the bone and placed under truffled mashed potatoes with a side of roasted garlic and spinach for strength. All fine ingredients, skillfully prepared, in a beautiful presentation. The combinations of tastes and textures were fabulous.

We ordered coffee and while we were sipping it, Mario sent out a molten chocolate cake with a dollop of ice cream, my favorite dessert, with two more flutes of Champagne. We sat and talked about old times. They opened their restaurant at almost the same time that we arrived on the the island, having come over from Rainbow, a bit over 14 years ago. They have become one of the premier restaurants on the island and published a well-received cookbook. It's no longer available on the internet, so you'll have to come here to get it.


News and Changes: Lal's Indian Cuisine has moved from its lagoon side Simpson Bay location near the airport to the Boardwalk in Pburg. The Blue Martini that was nearby (not the original and no relation to the one in Grand Case) has closed yet again.


BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS


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
Diamonds International
Escargot
Halsey's Restaurant
Kakao Beach
Oizeau Rare
Pizza Galley
Pirate Beach Bar
Tai Chi
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Radiant Gems

  Our condo: We were here until 13 April. The condo is available for rent at $1000 per week from then until 15 June, $900 per week from 16 June until 1 October, and $1000 per week until 15 December 2009. The rental includes about $500 in coupons from several of our website clients including one for $50 off a weekly car rental from Unity Car Rental, one of the longest running and most trusted car rental agencies on the island. The Christmas and New Year's holiday weeks will be available at $2000 per week and the balance of the high season is available at $1500 per week. As always any days within the next month are available for $100 each. Check the calendar on our website for available dates.

  SXM-Info has chosen SkyMed as our preferred medical travel insurance partner. Any medical travel insurance will get you back to the US, but SkyMed takes you home. Where's home? From their website: "Our definition of home is simple: Home is where you say it is. When struck by the unexpected, our service takes you home." We hope you never need it, but when air evacuation flights cost $30,000 or more, it's good to have.  

PassportMD provides many things, including access to Monthly Harvard Health Letter and the Harvard Mental Health Letter, savings on prescriptions, medical reminders, an ability to email your doctor, and more. The most important benefit for travelers on cruiseships or those who take extended vacations in the third world is the ability to have your medical records stored in a secure server that will allow quick access in your time of need. SXM-Info has teamed up with PassportMD to provide these services with a two month absolutely free, no strings attach trial.

 

Kindle: I'm now convinced that the Kindle e-book from Amazon is the best thing to take to a beach. Newsletter subscriber Paul M wrote: "My wife and I spent a lovely week at La Samanna in late March and I loaded my Kindle with several books and read them on the beach. The Kindle was fabulous. I had a case and was careful not to get in contact with sand, but the device was excellent to use for beach or poolside reading." Wendy K reports that her friend Jerri is quite happy with hers. The only downside (for Wendy) is that she can no longer borrow books from Jerri.  
The new version and is barely a quarter inch thick and weighs about 10 ounces. It has 16 shades of gray for the page background and reads well even in direct sunlight. Even better news is that they dropped the price to $259 and have come out with a version that can download books outside the US. 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 and keeps us amused as we drive.

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