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St Maarten/St Martin
12 September 2010 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

Earl   Weather: It's been a slow hurricane season, but Earl finally paid a visit. That's the eye a bit north and west of SXM in the photo. Here's some more photos and videos on Picasa. They are from Rainbow on Cupecoy Beach, ie the west side of the island. Earl, like most hurricanes, approached from the east. We are at the height of hurricane season and it shows in the weekly forecast: highs in the upper 80s with significant humidity, driving the heat index into the mid-90s. All this with lots of clouds and or precipitation. 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. On the solstice (21 June) the sun rose at 5:43 AM and set at 6:47, for just a bit over 13 hours of sunlight. On the equinox, (23 September), there will be approximately 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of darkness everywhere, hence the name. Thus SXM gets one more hour of sunshine at the height of the summer, but only loses one hour at the nadir of the winter. Sunset today is at 6:14 and the moon is a waxing crescent. The full moons in 2010 will be 23 Sep, 22 Oct, 21 Nov, and 21 Dec.

Bay Long   SXM-Beaches: As I said in the last newsletter, this is a good time top be near a beach. the last letter touted Orient Beach where you can, as Arlo said, "Get anything you want." This letter features Bay Long where you can't get anything. The southern end is owned by La Samanna and they do not encourage outsiders to wander in and use their beach facilities. The rest of the very long beach can be reached via a footpath from a small parking lot. Once there, you will find nothing. For those of you seeking nothing, this beach provides it in abundance. There are no restaurants, beach bars, chairs, watersports, etc. Bring your own drinks, chairs, and snacks and you will largely be by yourself. I have seen naked people here but sometimes the abutting homeowners complain, so I would not advise it.   Bay Long

Beach reading: Wendy K just finished the third of three books by Michael Tucker. He played Stuart Markowitz in L.A. Law, where he co-starred with his wife Jill Eikenberry. The first was I Never Forget a Meal: An Indulgent Reminiscence. She read the second book, Living in a Foreign Language: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Love in Italy, three summers ago and it inspired her to book a rental house, "Rocciaviva" in Umbria. She's going back this fall, but to a village a few kilometers down the mountain, Poreta, so that they can eat at the same wonderful homey restaurants that Tucker describes, without the hair-raising drive up the mountain afterwards. The last is Family Meals: Coming Together to Care for an Aging Parent, a problem that many of us have faced or will soon.   Cover

ginger   Sapphire Beach Club: Our condo 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, including the use of our 2010 SXM Privilege Card that gets you discounts on many restaurants. Check the calendar on our website for available dates. A recent visitor said, "Erich, We had a wonderful time at your condo for the third year in a row. We appreciated the coupons. Hope to be able to do it again next year."

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. 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.

Celine's back deck Activities: Diane on Random Wind says: "We are great! New sails are flying and new cushions are keeping up comfy! Our new website will be up soon!"

The pub crawl continues. If you want to sample a few restaurants as you sail around the lagoon, you cant beat captain Neil's Lagoon Pub Crawl on Celine. It leaves from Skipjack's and visits a couple other places. Every stop includes snacks and a drink and drinks on-board are included.

  a stopover

Diamond bracelet   Shopping: Royal Caribbean Jewelers has introduced this tri-color semi-bezel ladies Diamond Bracelet. The diamonds are very secure as they are semi-bezeled in this elegant piece. They are Round Brilliant Diamonds (Color White Brilliant - H-I, Clarity - SI) with a total weight of 5.00 Carats. It is being offered at US$ 2995.00 including shipping and insurance. Call (917) 470-9582 for more information or to place your order.

Groceries: The recent salmonella outbreak in the US underscores the need to replace large-scale industrial farming in cramped quarters with a cleaner and more sustainable model. Nicolas Kristof in a recent article in the NYTimes noted that the:

  Diamond bracelet

Cows   "Pew commission found that industrial production produces hogs that at first sight are cheaper by six cents per pound. Add in pollution and health costs and that industrial pork becomes more expensive by 12 cents per pound." Essentially by externalizing pollution costs (by fouling rivers and lakes lakes with animal wastes) and health care costs (by sickening the public and reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics via perpetually dosing the animals that become our food), they can produce "food" cheaper than I can. I did just take two hogs to the slaughterhouse this week. It's not fun and it doesn't save me any money, but it does produce the best pork I have ever tasted and we live in an area of small sustainable farmers. I do websites for Lewis Waite Farm and Three Corner Field Farm. They are family farms, small in comparison to my forebears 800 acre Iowa hog farm, to say nothing of Con Agra and Archer Daniels Midland. Small Is Beautiful and you can get my neighbor's products at the NY Green Market or via a CSA. On the island, a small farmer produces eggs at the entrance to Concordia that are available at most of the larger supermarkets. One of Roland Richardson's relatives grazes beef cattle further into Concordia and you often see some wandering around the outskirts of Marigot. Fresh local meat is available at the Marigot Market.

Alcohol: It's been pretty warm in the northeast this summer and just like lunches in SXM, we have been enjoying a chilled ros. We are still drinking Chateau La Moutete that Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar introduced us to a couple years ago. Since then, he has added Chateau La Lieue, an organic ros that is also quite good.

Travel: On Saturday 7 August, immigration at the airport went on strike at 1 PM, leaving hundreds of people and flight crew standing there wondering what to do. Passengers just removed the ropes at each immigration booth and entered. It was described as pandemonium as hundreds of people from about seven planes came through with their passports and immigration cards in hand as they exited the terminal. I read on TTOL that by 3PM things were back to "normal", for St Maarten.

  Moutete
We've been traveling a bit this summer and have made use of the American Airlines dining reward program. They have a searchable database of participating restaurants and if you are an on-line member (they send you emails), you can get three airline miles for every dollar spent in the restaurant including tip and tax. Moreover, they frequently have special programs, such as doubling the award if you dine at a restaurant you have not visited and 500 extra miles for filling out a survey after your visit. We've dined out seven times on various trips to Massachusetts and received 3600 miles from this program. At 2 to 3 cents per mile, that's a $70 to $100 gift for having spent about $400. The program is simple and transparent. Just register your credit card with the program and your dining will be tracked automatically. I registered my Chase Continental One Pass credit card with this program, so I got another 400 miles on Continental. As the restaurants have ratings from diners and frequently have menus on-line, it's pretty easy to find a place you will probably like. We stopped at Lobster Tail in Windham, NH on our way back from a Red Sox game. We were attracted to the place because they had a retail fish outlet, much like Skipjack's on the island. Other similarities are that one can choose bit of seafood (in several preparations) and then add a starch and a veg. A final similarity was a decent wine list that had some reasonably priced bottles. Lobster Tail had KJ Chardonnay for $25 while we dined all winter at Skipjack's with Concannon Pinot Noir for a mere $29.

On our way to another game, we stopped at Lattitude, just off the pike in West Springfield. It's across the street from the entrance to The Big E. The menu looked wonderful and so far this is the best find of the summer. We liked it so much that we dined here again on our journey home. The innovative menu (how about quartered, fried Brussels sprouts with spicy aioli?) brought back memories of Mario's Bistro. Another bonus was Hangtime Pinot Noir for a mere $30 per bottle.

Continental Airlines used to participate in this program, but quit a couple years ago, so those of you who don't need American Airline miles, should check out iDine. It's basically the same program, AA piggybacks off the same database and provides their three levels of participation with their own rewards. At iDine, you work up from 5% cash back to 10% as an on-line member, to 15% as an on-line member spending over $750 per year. At AA you start at 1 mile per dollar spent, and get 3 miles per dollar spent if you become an on-line member. On-line members with 12 dining experiences in a year get 5 miles per dollar spent.

Green logo Nature: Here are a pair of wrens bathing in ash trays on the balcony of our condo, looking like a Cialis commercial. Our office is well over 100% solar-powered and our servers are about 130% wind-powered.

Small Island story: The Dutch side Taxi Association has a new website. It's better than the old one, if only because it is working (at the moment). Even though it is a small island the minimum fare is $10 and a tip is expected. Longer trips can cost up to $30 with numerous add-ons for more than two passengers, luggage, packages, etc. Thus, if you were to take a cab to a beach or lunch and another to dinner, you would be spending at least $44 per day. Even in high season a car would be cheaper and much more convenient. Cabs get to be hard to find after 10PM and cost 25% more. Obviously, one could stay at a resort on a beach and quite possibly have a number of nearby dinner choices and even a casino. Certainly, our location at Sapphire in Cupecoy, anyplace in Maho, Simpson Bay, or Pburg, and Pelican will afford a beach, several dining options, and a nearby casino.

  wrens


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


Current Contest:

25 July to 31 Oct 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
SXM-Privilege Discount Card - One free monthly card

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:
31 October to 25 December | 25 December to 27 February 2011 | 27 February to 24 April 2011
24 April to 24 July 2011 | 24 July to 30 October 2011 | 30 October to 25 December 2011
same cast of characters as current contest

 


RESTAURANTS


On 25 July the euro was at $1.291, having risen about 10% in the preceding six weeks. Lately it has been wandering but is a bit lower at $1.272, a drop of less than 2%.

I'm dropping the restaurant exchange rate numbers because I am no longer on the island to check them. Charging your credit card in dollars used to save the 3% currency transaction charge that most cards are now charging for foreign currency transactions. About a year ago 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. Note that you won't get frequent flier tickets quite as fast. It may be best to use the Cap 1 card out of the country and take the rewards in merchandise. We just picked up an 18 bottle wine refrigerator with half of our points from the previous year, but we couldn't even fly one of us to SXM.

  Entry  
Peg Leg Pub and Steakhouse
Mark and Mindy Sears won a half price week at our condo and a $50 coupon to Peg Leg Pub. They each had a salad and the ribeye with a baked potato with sour cream (although there was a choice of mashed, French fries, or rice and beans), a medley of tasty veg, and a sauce.

 
shrimp and salmon shrimp and salmon  

Antoine Restaurant
  On 10 April we went over Pburg for one of our final dinners at Antoine Restaurant. We ordered some sparkling water and bottle of Marsannay (below left). It's a cut above regular Borgogne, but it's one of the lighter pinot noirs from the very northern end of Burgundy, a good choice when we started with snails (below center) and Martha has grilled shrimp while I have have a lamb chop special (below right). The restaurant is owned by Jean-Pierre (maitre'd) and Pierre-Louis (chef). Thus, both the front of the house and the back of the house have an owner making sure that you are a satisfied diner. We frequently have lunch here because the activity on the bay and the boardwalk is both scenic and interesting. At night, one can't see as much but the wide sweep of the bay with its lighted ships and the lights of the buildings along the headlands on the side of the bay are quite nice. Our total bill was about $150 with the 15% added for service. We are offering a $40 coupon for renters of our condo..  
  Marsannay Pinot Noir Salade Nioise Grouper with capers and butter  

 
Hibiscus Restaurant
We went to Black Watch Restaurant in Glens Falls, NY for a five-course tasting menu with paired wines. Surprisingly, the first wine was a Mionetti Prosecco, the very bit of bubbly that we have in our wine cellar. This and the tasting menu brought back memories of wonderful dinners at Hibiscus Restaurant in Grand Case. We have been known to stop in at the restaurant on our way home from Orient Beach for a drink or two. Franco then seduces us with cocktail concoctions, generally based upon Prosecco and/or Campari. Several concoctions later, we find ourselves asking him to prepare a dinner. Our last visit was in late March and he prepared a three course tasting menu that was described in a previous newsletter. We are offering a $40 coupon for renters of our condo..

  Campari

 

 
Durreche
From Wendy K, in late April: "Traffic has lessened drastically, and we found a parking spot easily at noontime on the Marigot waterfront. US Market was also pretty empty for a Friday afternoon when we stopped for water. The lagoon at Simpson Bay has seen most of the big boats leave, but Mariot Harbor was still very crowded. (ed note: 15 April is the last day of high season rates at most hotels and car rentals. The week before is usually pretty quiet because people know that rates go down in one week, so they wait. That makes the next week fairly busy, but after that, the island is pretty quiet.) Today was our final lunch at Durreche for the season.
  Durreche
Whitefish   From an earlier lunch this season, is a special of "Swai Thai" (left, 13), a whitefish in a teriyaki sauce with sesame seeds, wasabi, and a wakame seaweed salad. We drank our usual bottle of Estancia Mendoza cab/malbec blend from Argentina (11) and a bottle of fizzy water (3) with this flavorful offering - no wussy white wine required. There is a full bar with Stella Artois and a couple of other good European beers are on tap. Don't come looking for Bud Light though. A more recent lunch featured Boeuf Bourgignon (right, 15) with polenta and fresh Mahi-mahi au thyme frais (no photo, 13).   Beef Stew
Mahi   Today's lunch was a special: vivaneau (red snapper, no photo) for 16, which Gilberto filleted at the table. I ordered the brochette de poulet off the menu (right, 11 or 12). We have leftovers to add to our pasta sauce with leftovers from a previous tartare de boeuf at Durreche. As you can see from the pictures, I have my usual frites and a small bit of salad with my order. Also available, are scalloped potatoes - a heart stopping amount of thinly sliced potatoes in a creamy sauce, rice, and a fresh vegetable of the day. The cauliflower au gratin is very good.   Chicken Kebab
  Durreche is what I would call the French equivalent of American "diner food": decent home cooking at reasonable prices. The restaurant caters to French locals and les gendarmes, and we see the same faces every week. Stephan, the owner, and Gilberto, the head waiter, are very charismatic and welcoming. Gilberto greets patrons in French, his native Italian, English, and Spanish. The decor is simple, with wooden floors and painted plywood walls, wooden and wrought iron doors that open to the street across from the Marigot market, with glimpses of the harbor. There is no A/C, but there are ceiling fans, and usually a nice breeze. Smoking is permitted."

(I'll agree with the diner food, but I also like comfort food as a description. Bellvue, on the back side of Marigot, is similar although a bit more refined. Both are worth visiting. - ed note)

 
Duck
We went to Scallions Restaurant in Saratoga Springs, NY for a quick lunch while shopping and were pleasantly surprised. There were many interesting salads and sandwiches. Martha had the duck salad off the menu and it included a considerable amount of duck and some tasty greens. I had a Tuscan chicken panini (a special) featuring chicken, mozzarella, red pepper, and more tasty greens. But where do you go for duck on the island? For a duck main course, try the roasted honey garlic glazed duck at Mario's Bistro. It's the only dish still on the menu from the day they opened in 1995. Another option is L'Escargot Restaurant where the duck in pineapple and bananna sauce is a Gourmet Magazine award winner. For a lunchtime salad, try the Composition Landaise from La Marine featuring the specialties of the south-west of France: Duck Sausage, dry Ham, and warm Duck Breast Salad or the smoked duck breast and St Marcellin cheese in phyllo dough at Kakao Beach.
  Salade Landaise

Composition Landaise
 


News and Changes: The article on restaurants at Orient Beach with recipes for a four course meal that we touted all last season has been published on the web in SXM-Info's features section. You'll find a recipe for Shrimp Dumpling Soup from Tai Chi Restaurant, a recipe for Goat Cheese Salad from Palm Beach Restaurant, a recipe for Beef Wellington from Kakao Beach, and a recipe for Coconut Flan from Rancho del Sol.   Tai Chi logo

On 10 August, health inspectors closed Blue Sapphire and Kush restaurants for what had been described as critical food safety violations. The next night, Sugar Cane Bar and Bella Napoli, also located in Cupecoy were closed because of pest infestation and unsanitary conditions.


2010 Restaurant Annual Vacations Dates
Bistrot Caraibes No vacation
California Restaurant 27 September to 18 October - closed for lunch and dinner
14-26 September - closed for lunch
L'Escapade Restaurant No closing, open every night
L'Escargot Restaurant 7 August - 1 October
Mario's Bistro 15 August until mid-October
Marrakech Restaurant No closing
Montmartre Restaurant No closing, open every night
Pizza Galley 12 September - 15 Oct
Skipjack's No closing
Sol Luna 14 September - 10 October
Ti Sucrier 12 August to 12 September
La Villa No closing
ZEN Caf Concept 10 September to 19 October


BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS


SXM Privilege Card   Coupons: The SXM Privilege Card seems to be a pretty good deal. It will get you various discounts and/or perks at 33 restaurants (by my count in the print version). They also cover hotels (mostly spa treatments at hotels), activities, and more. Most of the restaurant perks are a 10% discount. Use it twice in a month and it pays for itself. Here's a link to the SXM-Info website for a our coupons for some freebie or discount. Here's a list of the coupons you'll find:  
Bikini Beach
Beau Beau's
Diamonds International
Escargot
Kakao Beach
Marci's Mega Gym
Oizeau Rare
Pizza Galley
Tai Chi
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Radiant Gems
Snorkel Trips
Tropical Wave

  Our condo: The condo is available for rent at $900 per week 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 10% off a weekly car rental from Unity Car Rental, one of the longest running and most trusted car rental agencies on the island. Other notable coupons are $50 from Skipjack's restaurant, a tasting and a bottle of wine from Select Wine Cellar, a two for one ride on Celine's famous Lagoon Pub Crawl, $50 off a daysail on Random Wind, 50 from Piazza Pascal. 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. Even more now that the price has dropped to $189. They have also cut the price on the high-end unit, the Kindle DX, tfrom $489 to $379. Newsletter subscriber Contessa says: "I loaded it up with more books than I needed and it was a very convenient way to read without lugging books to the beach." 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. If you've already got one, you can get books here. They are cheaper than any other version of the book (except used!)  
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.