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St Maarten/St Martin
21 February 2010 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

Sunset Weather: Sunday was very warm, reaching 84F. The volcano on Montserrat has been sending ash up for the last few days, surely contributing to some of the haze that has been obscuring Saba for days. The sunset on the left was certainly enhanced by the ash and the one on the right, more so. Monday, Happy President's Day, arrived a bit clearer, such that we could see Saba, a bit of blue sky and puffy white clouds. There was a bit more breeze, such that it felt much better than yesterday, despite being 84F also. On Tuesday it was warm with a good southerly breeze getting into the mid 80s, but so hazy that Saba was missing. On Wednesday it was already 79F at 7am and Saba is visible - slightly. By Thursday the breeze had died, planes were taking off to the south, and the heat index was horrible. Saba was visible.   Sunday Sunset
Friday was warm with a bit more breeze, not enough to keep the condo cool. It was cloudy at times, and clear at other times, but we never saw any rain. We did see Saba, Statia, and St Kitts. By Saturday it had clouded over pretty severely and a rain squall blew across the lagoon at lunch. It looked as if it was raining in Marigot all day long, and we got drizzled on late in the afternoon. The temp only reached 79F. Sunday morning was miserable, dark clouds, rain, mist, 75F, and nary an island to be seen. Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast The box shows the current local conditions and here's the detailed forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset today is at 6:12 and the moon is in its first quarter. Late this week would be a great time for dining on the water as an almost full moon will provide plenty of illumination. The full moons in 2010 will be 28 Feb, 29 Mar, 28 Apr, 27 May, 26 Jun, 25 Jul, 24 Aug, 23 Sep, 22 Oct, 21 Nov, and 21 Dec.

monolith at Cupecoy   SXM-Beaches: On the left is the monolith at Cupecoy. In early 1995 it was monolithic and surrounded by sand. Hurricanes Luis (Sep 95) and Lenny (Nov 99) washed away a good bit of Cupecoy Beach, exposing the monolith to wave action. Subsequent storms and normal wave action have turned it into a multilith. On Sunday morning the marine weather forecast that mentioned the pyroclastic events at Montserrat also said that the wind was tacking around to the south and would result in large swells. As our condo faces Saba, about 12 degrees west of due south, we noticed the wind shift and watched the waves come into Cupecoy. On the left, you can see them pound the remains of the monolith and on the right is Mullett - lots of waves and beachgoers scurrying for safety. Thanks to WendyK for the photos.   Mullett

Bonecrack   Beach reading: Dick Francis, a former steeplechase jockey who had turned to mystery writing, died last week at 89. He had done quite well at writing, winning three Edgar awards and being named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, in addition to being a favorite of the Queen Mum. Bonecrack - about $10 - by Dick Francis, . This is one of his earlier works, from 1971. Neil Griffon's father, the owner of Rowley Lodge stables, is hospitalized with a broken leg. Neil attmpts to run the stables, but as Neil and his father have never gotten along, it is not a happy time. Neil carries on slowly winning everyone over except his father. An apprentice jockey is forced on Neil by the jockey's deranged father. The conflict between two sets of fathers and sons offers interesting reading, with the two sons eventually understanding more than either father ever did or could. While giving interesting and believable portraits of two families, the book also takes you into the world of horse racing from several points of view: owner, trainers, and jockeys.

Construction: Caravanserai says they will be finished in April and apply for their casino license at that time based on having 200 rooms. At that number of rooms, hotels may have casinos. There is still a question about 200 rental rooms or 200 hotel rooms, plus timeshare, plus whole ownership in the rental pool. Supposedly, the legislation is none too clear and it can all be over-ridden by the Executive Council. Welcome to the Caribbean, founded by pirates.

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

Other hotel news: We got a tour of the common areas and one of the units at the Lighthouse in Oyster Pond. It's a fabulous property. There are three properties per floor and only six floors of apartments. The top floor is common space that contains a gym, pool, barbecue area, and seating that can be used for parties. All the units have very nice views including some ocean views for all units and some lovely views of Oyster Pond and/or Dawn Beach which is a bit more interesting than a dark ocean after sunset. While the upper floors may have nicer views, the first floor units have large terraces (over 800 ft2) and still have very nice views. All units themselves are over 2000 square feet with two large bedrooms with attached baths and another smaller bedroom with a smaller attached bath that also serves as the guest bath. It's all well laid out and beautifully done. Better yet, you can get $1000 off a summer week rental by entering the contest on SXM-Info. We have another unit at Lighthouse advertised on SXM Hotels.

regatta   Activities: The Heineken Regatta starts on Tuesday 2 March with the Budget Marine Match Racing Cup. Registration for the Regatta takes place on Thursday with a welcoming party that evening at Port de Plaisance. Friday sees the round the island race from Simpson Bay to Pburg with a party on the boardwalk. Saturday is the Simpson Bay to Marigot race ending with drunken sailors in Marigot. Those that can still sail leave on the morning of the seventh for the final race from Marigot to Simpson Bay, followed by the prize ceremony and the final party on Kim Sha Beach. The photo on the left was taken from Neil Roebert's Celine during the 2008 regatta. Contact Neil or Diane on Random Wind for your chance to get close to the action. That's Random Wind below left, followed by Celine. If that doesn't work, there are many more boats, including Tango (next photo, passing by our balcony on Cupecoy) or even a helicopter, although one went down in the water last year at Mullett Beach. The pilot got it to auto-reverse and it came in rather softly about 200 yards offshore. A dinghy from a nearby boat practicing for the regatta took the pilot and the two passengers ashore. Nobody was hurt, but helicopters don't swim well.

Random Wind Random Wind Tango Copter
Bertie Higgins   Pineapple Pete and several others (UTS, U-SAVE Car Rental, Century 21, Coors Light, Marys Boon Beach Resort, The New 3 Palms Restaurant and Lounge, Antillean Liquors, Island 92) will be presenting Bertie Higgins in a free concert at the Alley (part of Pete's empire) this Thursday, February 25. Bertie is known for Just Another Day in Paradise, Key Largo, and Casablanca. I liked Key Largo so much that I bought the sheet music, but found I could not do it justice on piano or guitar. We won't mention voice. Bertie does, so if you are here, it would be worth (hell, it's free!) the visit.   Pineapple Pete logo

Radiant Gems logo   Shopping: Radiant Gems on Front Street has a coupon on the website for a free diamond. It's not the Hope diamond, in fact it's probably not as large as the photo to the right, but, it's free. Yes, they want to get you in the shop in the hopes that you'll buy something. That's not such a bad thing as they have fine merchandise and alcohol and jewelry are two things that are bargains here on the island. I've often found that electronics and cameras are not great bargains here. They are not over-priced but careful shopping on the web will probably get prices at least as good as any starting price in the local shops. Alcohol, and this is an area in which I claim expertise based on many years of study, is cheaper here and I put my money where my mouth is, taking a case or two home every year. Martha, who knows more about jewelry than I, says the she has obtained many bargains here.   Radiant Gems offer
Rasta fields   Groceries: We stopped in at the rasta farm in Bellvue, just past Port de Plaisance on the way into Marigot. They are on the right hand side across from the Archibal rugby field. There were no Guadeloupe tomatoes at the Grand March so we tried here, but they had none. They did have some nice garlic chives that have been used in my omelettes and in mashed potatoes. We also got some arugula and amaranth, although the rastaman called it spinach. Check out Local Rums & Spices on Hope Hill for great views of all of Orient and some great local products.

The Dutch government does a survey every few months and posts the prices they find in the various supermarkets (on the Dutch side). As I have mentioned, Sunny Foods at the back side of Pburg generally has cheaper veg. Fresh Market also on the back side of Pburg also had good prices. The savings are probably not worth driving a long way to get .

We stopped in at the US Market at Hope Estate outside of Grand Case and picked up some cheese: Morbier at $10.30 per pound, Chaumes at $16.50 (not cheap and factory-made, but I like it).

We also got a round of Petit Billy for $15.60 a pound. Jenkins Cheese Primer declares it "excellent." It is a goat cheese, obviously not from Billy goats, but from the town of Billy in the Loire Valley of France. Grand March is having a sale on Comt - a mere $7 per pound. Cost U Less just got in a shipment of San Francisco French Roast Coffee Beans for only $5 per pound. We grind our own, and a lot of it, so this was very good news.

Alcohol: Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar has received his allocation of Burgundies from Jean-Jacques Girard. We picked up some of the premier cru 2007 Savigny-Les-Beaune. Lilly liked the bouquet and we certainly found it to be quite good, smooth despite being so young, full-bodied, and fairly long lasting. It's $32.50, but use the coupon on the website to get 10% off. Sylvain also got Girard's 2008 Bourgogne Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and is selling them at a mere $15 a bottle. The Pinot is OK, much better than the fake Pinot that Gallo was selling as Red Bicyclette, but it's no Savigny-les-Beaune.

  Lilly and Savigny-les-Beaune
Crime: I haven't said much about this lately because it has all been pretty good news. Evil-doers (thank you, George) are being caught, generally convicted, and being sentenced to serious jail time. Even former members of government, such as Louie Laviest, are not winning all their appeals and are still facing jail time, probation, and fines. The French side also seems to be doing better. We have dined in Grand Case several times and have seen numerous gendarmes.

GEBE: I was also about to say something nice about GEBE, but just thinking about doing so must have realigned the stars. The power went out early this week causing us to flee the gym early, before a total meltdown. Caravanserai's generator malfunctioned and led to a major fire that almost set off a large diesel storage tank which would have set off a really major fire. Lee's Roadside Grill's generator also malfunctioned, caught on fire, and toasted their outhouses. Add in the fire at The Stone (see below) and it was an exciting week. But back to GEBE: They also had a major oil spill on Thursday which went unnoticed, sliming the Cay Bay beach.

Papaya tree   Nature: On the left are papayas growing at the rasta farm. The papaya will grow from a seed to a 20 foot tall fruit bearing tree in 18 months. The fruit is yellow, luscious, and silky with a sweet-tart taste. There is a seed cavity with gray peppery seeds that are often seen here in papaya drinks. The fruit also contains papain, a digestive enzyme that is used in meat tenderizers. Green logo

On the right are the French side recycling bins. Green is for glass and yellow is for metal, paper, and plastic packaging Our office is well over 100% solar-powered and our servers are about 130% wind-powered.

Recycle bins

Small Island story: The smallest island shared by two countries is not Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, as commonly asserted, but instead the middle island in Sdra Boksjn, a lake on the Norwegian-Swedish border. It is about 0.2 acres or 0.1 hectares. St Martin/Marten is 34 square miles or 88 square kilometers. The smallest sea island shared by two countries is Mrket/Mrketin, a rock islet divided between Sweden and Finland in the Baltic. It is 8 acres or 3.3 hectares and features a lighthouse. Here's a list of 21 islands divided by an international border. SXM is number 11, smack in the middle in terms of size. The largest island, though not divided, is Greenland. Obviously Australia is larger than Greenland (by a factor of three), but the people who rate these things believe that just as no man is an island, neither is Australia.


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
MMG 2000 - Two for One week at the gym with a shake
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 14 Feb the euro was at $1.361. Today it is at $1.359. Big Ho Hum for the week, but at the beginning of high season it was 1.484. That's a 9% change in less than three months! In theory, this is because Greece is fiscally irresponsible. The economy of Greece is equivalent to Chevron and the economy of the European (or at least the Euro-using) countries is about equivalent to the US, so it's hard to see how that little part of the Euro community can have such a large influence. Obviously, it could be an indicator of things to come, but Ireland just refinanced 1.5 billion in an offering that was over-subscribed by a two-to-one margin and Spain financed 5 billion by offering a mere 0.12% over prevailing market rates. Before your eyes glaze over completely, my point is that this "correction" may not be all that correct. Greece is offering 5 billion in 10 year notes next week. I expect that, like Spain, it will work out at a slightly higher rate and the markets will calm down, if not reverse. Don't shoot the messenger. Piazza Pascal is offering 1 to 1 for cash. Vanessa and Patrick's restaurants (California and ZEN Cafe Concept) are also doing 1 to 1, as is La Villa. Zuzu tells me that they use 1.20 at Paradise View Restaurant and Rancho del Sol. It's 1.25 at Palm Beach Restaurant but the beach chairs are free if you eat there. Charging your credit card in dollars used to save the 3% currency transaction charge that most cards are now charging for foreign currency transactions. 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 and get an excellent exchange rate. The frequent flier benefits can be used on any airline and there are no blackouts. For more info on credit card fees, read this recent article in the NY Times. They even mention Capital One.

 
Auberge Gourmande
On Monday night we headed to Auberge Gourmande for dinner. We arrived at about 8PM to find the free parking lot completely full and headed to the pay lot.We got our usual table on the corner of the porch, even though the restaurant was almost full. Reservations are a good idea.

We started with sparkling water and ordered the 2005 Marsannay from the Chateau de Marsannay. We had this last week at Ti Sucrier and not surprisingly, it's still quite good, an excellent year from a lighter Burgundy vineyard. Our ap was a plate of frog legs cooked in a parsley butter sauce with a sweet potato pure. (sorry, no photo). They were quite good, though a bit messy. Even though the frog legs have a delicate taste, the butter, parsley, and sweet potato added enough flavor that the rather light Marsannay did not overshadow the appetizer.

Martha's main course was the parmesan crusted salmon with leek and a medley of vegetables including braised endive, a broiled half tomato, a bit of broccoli, cauliflower topped with melted cheese, and artichoke bottom filled with a more shredded veg (middle right). My dinner was a special of scallops and lotte (monkfish) in a saffron sauce with spinach and many of the same veg and a major dollop of wasabi mashed potatoes (bottom right). Both of these fish courses stood up to the Marsannay, especially with the flavorful vegetables. We finished with a espressos and complimentary rum as we enjoyed the warm evening on the balcony. We talked for quite a while with the couple next to us who were staying in Maho to escape the craziness of carnival in Trinidad. They had dined at a French restaurant on the Dutch side and proclaimed this dinner at L'Auberge to be the highlight of their week on the island.

Auberge Gourmande and Le Tastevin across the street were chosen as two of the nine best restaurants in the Caribbean by over 100,000 readers of Caribbean Travel + Life in 2007. I have to believe they have travelled more widely than the readers of the Daily Herald.

  Marsannay

Salmon

 
  Chef Chef Scallops

 

Blue Martini
  On Wednesday we picked up some friends and went to Blue Martini next to the parking lot in Grand Case. We ordered water and the 2009 Beaujolais Village, nothing great, but quite young and fruity. We started with salmon tartare (right), lots of salmon laced with pepper and onions in a nice sauce. Mark had an Asian shrimp special that was pretty tasty (sorry no photo) and Lisa had pasta with scallops (below left). Martha had a duck confit salad consisting of some rather tasty duck leg and thigh atop a good bit of salad. I had a pork tenderloin special that came with crisp French fries, Bearnaise sauce, a bit of salad and zucchini. It was all good and quite filling. We all skipped desserts and finished with complimentary flavored rums. The total cost was about $90 per couple using a 1.3 to 1 exchange rate, quite good for food of this quality in a lovely outdoor garden. If my photographer doesn't learn how to focus, I'll fire him.   Salmon  
  Pasta with scallops Confit of duck salad Pork tenderloin  

ZEN Cafe Concept
  Parasail Vanessa and Patrick Umbrellas  
  On Thursday we headed over to Orient Beach to see Vanessa and Patrick at their new venture. They still own and run California Restaurant in Grand Case. They run ZCC during the day and one of them heads over to California to supervise dinner six nights a week! This is the old Pirate Beach Bar with a new color scheme, gray and pink with the pink matching some of the tableware. Note the tiny bit of the wine bucket at the top left corner of Martha's Zen salad ($15) with lots of shrimp, cubes of fresh pineapple, and a topping of grated coconut. I had Moules Provenale (with onions, tomatoes, peppers, cream, and herbs du Provene, $19) and my very crisp fries came in a bowl that matched the table's pink center stripe. Our wine was the Gris des Plages ($19) and the photo would have been a lot better if the photographer hadn't finished the bottle before he took the shot. At least his focus is getting better. The total bill with a bottle of sparkling water came to about $60. Top left are some parasailers having a great time in front of the restaurant. In the central photo above, we have Vanessa on the left, Buddha in the center, and Patrick on the right. The top right photo shows that the color scheme extends to the umbrellas and the view extends to Green Cay.  
  Gris des Plages VZen salad Mussels  

 
La Gondola
We took the short drive to La Gondola on Saturday evening as it had been sprinkling and Atlantis Casino offers a free valet parking service. We had a reservation and a table was waiting. Despite the recession, David generally fills the 7:00PM seating every evening and frequently fills the second seating at 9:00PM. This restaurant and Mario's Bistro are the only ones I know with seatings and they are unlikely to be able to seat you before 9:00PM without a reservation.
  Gondola logo  
  We started with a complimentary and tasty tomato bruschetta as we looked over the night's offerings. Three breads arrived with an olive oil and ground basil dipping sauce. The rosemary focaccia was quite nice. The menu had a special that featured porcini stuffed raviolis with homemade sausage in a gorgonzola sauce ($16). This required a sturdy Italian wine and, after consultation with the wine steward, we chose a 2006 Super Tuscan C Marcanda from Gaja (below left, $79). It was a bit young, but some swirling in the decanter opened it up a bit. Another half hour in the decanter made it splendid, wonderfully complementing the myriad of flavors in and around the raviolis. Martha ordered the canneloni (below center, $24) and I ordered osso buco on a bed of risotto (below right, $34). The canneloni were good and the osso buco was, as advertised, fall off the bone flavorful. Again, the wine worked well with both. We finished with espressos and grappa, straight up and chilled. Our bill came to $178, but the wine and grappa came to $95, leaving a dinner for two at well under $100. Although we didn't have too many courses, the bruschetta and the bread plus the large portions were more than enough for us.  
  Ca Marcanda canneloni osso buco  


News and Changes: Correction: Donna at Piazza Pascal reports that the 1 to 1 exchange rate does not apply to the formula lunches. It hardly matters, the lunches are still remarkably inexpensive at $15, rather than $12.

The Stone, now in the Pelican complex, had a fire on Tuesday. The front page Daily Herald story said a chef dropped a full pot on the gas line and broke it. The ensuing gas leak caught fire, burned a few things, and blew out a window. Nobody was hurt and the dining room is undamaged. Another story claims that hot oil spilled on the gas line, causing a leak which ignited. The kitchen was destroyed and there were only minor injuries.

Sean de Burca will be playing at Sopranos all month.

I don't know anything about Sun Beach except that they are on Orient Beach in the old Bryce Paradise location and have this stunning sign on the parking lot side of the building. Note how clear and blue the sky was on Thursday!

  Sunbeach


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
Kakao Beach
Oizeau Rare
Pizza Galley
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. Alert reader Ken M has spotted an alternative for timeshare travelers that bundles travel insurance with a medical evacuation plan for only $99. It appears you have to use it in conjunction with a timeshare reservation, apply for the coverage at least 30 days before travel starts, and it's only good for 90 days of vacation. Then again if you have 90 days of timeshare, I'd like to meet you.  

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.