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St Maarten/St Martin
6 March 2011 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

Cupecoy cruise Weather: Last Sunday featured a lot of wind, clouds, and haze. On the left is a cruise ship heading past a barely visible Saba. Monday started much the same and didn't get much better. On the right is a shot of Passat returning from a hazy sunset cruise. Tuesday was cool, but at least the wind stopped. Literally. Normally, planes take off to the east toward the central highlands. Scary, but heading into the tradewinds gives them an extra 20 to 40 mph relative takeoff speed. Cupecoy sunset

On Tuesday they were taking off to the west. This is not a good start for Heineken Regatta weekend and in fact, the forecast is for mediocre winds at best. The photo of the witch's whatsit (below left) with the absolutely clear blue sky was taken on Tuesday as we rounded the airport runway extension. The wind was light on Wednesday and the sky was cloudy with a few sprinkles. Thursday began with almost complete cloud cover with some morning rain. By noon it was clearing up and turned out to be quite nice, though cool. Friday morning was still cool (lower 70s) but a mere 5 mph wind at 7AM, a brisk walk. Not good for the start of the round the island leg of the regatta. At noon the wind speed moved up to 9 mph - marathon runners are faster. And indeed, the accounts of the race mentioned a lack of wind and the nasty squall that blew into the Anguilla channel as many boats came through there a bit before noon. Saturday didn't have much wind either and Sunday has arrived with 5 mph winds and a prediction of 8 to 11 mph.

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 6:20 and the moon is just past new. In 2011 the full moons will be 19 Mar, 18 Apr, 17 May, 15 Jun, 15 Jul, 13 Aug, 12 Sep, 12 Oct, 11 Nov, and 10 Dec. Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast

Witch's whatsit Sailboat race Random Wind

Crole Rock SXM-Beaches: The two photos on the right above are the largest that Sapphire's beach has been in a while. On Monday we went to Grand Case Beach Club. The hotel and grounds look great. You can see the whitecaps inside the reef in front of Crole Rock. On the right is Petit Plage, the eastern beach at Grand Case. It's pretty thin, but they have built a wall that encloses some sand for the really bad days. Below is a panorama of the western part of Grand Case Beach, stitched together from five photos by autostitch. The people on the left in front of the first set of red roofs are on the GCBC beach, and while there is dry sand there, most people have chairs behind the seawall. The next red roof and red seawall is at Flamboyant Beach Villas, one of the least expensive places to stay in this lovely town.   Orient

Grand Case Beach

Beach reading: One Shot by Lee Child - $9.99 - From The New Yorker: Child's new novel begins when a sniper methodically kills five office workers with six quick shots and then disappears. But in a Child thriller the expectations aroused by one page are sure to be dashed on the next; unraveling and re-tangling violent narratives is the writer's specialty. This is the ninth of his books to feature the drifter-investigator Jack Reachera hybrid of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee and Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammerand it certainly ranks in the first tier of the series. There is considerable mayhem, lovingly described ("A long time ago the bones in his spine had been methodically cracked with an engineer's ball-peen hammer"), and there's a good cast, including suspicious law-enforcement personnel and an elderly Russian who is missing most of his fingers. Before it's all, vividly, over, one feels confident that Reachersmart, rootless, and bravewill not only get his man but make him suffer. Copyright 2005 The New Yorker   Cover

ginger   Sapphire Beach Club: We are in our condo at this time. It will be available for rent again starting in mid-April at rates ranging from $700 to $1000 per week until 15 Dec, when high season kicks in again. 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."

On the right is our view of Crole Rock from the balcony off our bedroom. The foreground is the lagoon, separated from the Anguilla Channel by a tiny strip of land in Nettle Bay/Sandy Ground. Just to the left of center is Crole Rock.

  Crole Rock

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.

Welcome to Pelican SXM-Hotels: On Facebook Daniel Menniti from Krazy Kats, the beach bar at Pelican, posted "ALL PARKING LOTS SHOULD BE AVAILABLE AT PELICAN FOR YOU TO ENJOY THE RESTAURANTS AND BEACH BARS AND BUSINESSES ON SITE. IF YOU ARE TURNED AWAY PLEASE LET US KNOW AND WE WILL ADDRESS THE PARKING FURTHER. THANK YOU!!!!!" I guess he likes to shout. He also posted a sideways poster listing all the business at Pelican and stating that they were open. As for the parking lots being open on Wednesday morning, on the left is the first Pelican entrance with the gate down and no guard on duty. On the right is the second Pelican entrance with a chain across it. The upper entrance had several cars in the lot and a guard in the control box. It certainly was open for some people, but the hotel is still closed. Welcome to Pelican

Activities: The Heineken Regatta is finishing up today. Almost 200 boats competed. The festivities started with match racing on Wednesday and Thursday followed by a party at Port de Plaisance featuring Orange Grove. The lead singer is the brother of Susy from Tri Sport. On Friday most boats competed in a round the island race starting and ending in Pburg, followed by a party on the Boardwalk. On Saturday the race went from Pburg to Marigot with a party there. On Sunday (today) the race heads back to Pburg followed by a major party on Kim Sha Beach featuring Wyclef Jean. On the right is a shot of the spinnaker run along Cupecoy Beach on Friday. Below is a panorama of eight photos taken from our balcony and stitched together. The left is the area just off Maho beach and the right is the northern end of Cupecoy. Saba is about dead center, but lost in the haze.

Here is a complete Dutch side carnival schedule, but the short version is that the Unity Jump-Up from the French side to the Dutch side is on 19 March, the carnival village opens on 25 April, the big parade is on 30 April, and King Momo goes up in flames on 3 May.

  Spinnaker run

Panoramic spinnaker run

We stopped in at Peg Leg Pub to catch up with Cover to Cover (Bob and Dave) after dinner on Wednesday evening. That's Bob on lead vocals covering a lot of Mick Jagger. Dave with the guitar does a pretty good Elvis. They certainly get the crowd jumping.

Bob Jagger Bob Jagger Bob Jagger
Bob Jagger Bob Jagger

Groceries: We stocked up on groceries at Grand March on Wednesday. We wanted enough to eat as we holed up in the condo to avoid all the drunken sailors wandering the streets. No, it's not that bad, but they do put a load on the grocery stores, liquor stores, strip clubs, and other providers of sea-faring essentials. Rooting around in the frozen foods got us French duck breast at a bit less than $8 a pound versus twice that for the fresh version. Thaw it out, score the fat, and load it up with salt and pepper. Let it sit in the fridge overnight. Sear the fat side for a couple minutes, cook the meat side for a few minutes, and flip it over to render out some more fat. Set the breast aside and pour off the fat. Toss some chopped onions, shallots, and garlic into the pan, a touch of cream, maybe a pat or two of butter. Slice the duck breast on the diagonal and pour on the sauce. Duck breast

Crozes-Hermitage Alcohol: With the duck breast, may I recommend a 2008 Chassagne-Montrachet from Domaine Amiot Guy, Premier Cru Clos Saint Jean. Select Wine Cellar has it for $47, but the coupon on the website will save you 10%. We stop in frequently to taste (and buy) wines, often having lunch next door at Champagne Snack Bar. If you care to join us, send an email.

We picked up some Angostura Rum at Sunny Foods on the outskirts of Pburg. We think it's quite good and only costs $19 for 750 ml. We're also quite happy with Mount Gay Eclipse. Assuming the sailors leave some behind, there will be sales to look for on Tuesday. We've seen $7 for 1.14 liters, an Imperial quart. Not surprising as it comes from Barbados, one of the bastions of Royalist sympathy while the locals back in London were beheading King Charles I.

Angostura Rum

Traffic: Traffic wasn't so bad in the lead-up to the Regatta. On Tuesday I drove over to Flamingo at the far end of Pelican Key and back to Cupecoy between 10:00AM and 12:30 PM, dodging bridge openmings. If you know where the parties are, it's pretty easy to avoid the traffic jams that they will create, so the rest of the week also went well.

Gas: Today gas prices are going up on the Dutch side from 2.17 to 2.25 guilders/liter. That's almost $5 per gallon.

Nature: This is from last week's scenic shore drive from Orient Beach to Oyster Pond. Checking the tails and remembering goats, up; sheep, down, we find that this is a herd of goats. Our office is well over 100% solar-powered and our servers are about 130% wind-powered. Green logo

Small Island story: Today newspaper had an article about the turnover tax. It's just been increased from 3% to 5%, so more and more companies are adding it to their bill. They are supposed to keep the tax a secret so people won't realize that this is not a duty/tax-free island. The tax inspectorate has said that consumers who are confronted with the illegal addition of the turnover tax to their bills should write a letter to the tax inspectorate and enclose a copy of the receipt that shows the charge. No address given, of course.

  Goats


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


SXM-Info welcomes a new prize to the list: a one week rental for half off the posted rates on the LAW Car Rental website. Taxes and insurance are NOT included. As you can request five prizes on one entry form, you could win a bargain on lodging, car rental, entertainment, dinner, and a gym to work it off! That would be five prizes to one person.

Current Contest:

27 February to 24 April 2011
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
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
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
LAW Car Rental - Half price Car for a week

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:
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 27 February the euro was at 1.376 and today it is at 1.398. That's almost 2% in a week. The European Central Bank President said that the bank was using "strong vigalence" concerning inflation and a rate hike was "possible, not certain" next month. Meanwhile in the US we have each party attempting to blame the other for a shutdown of government. It's pretty easy to guess which way the exchange rate is headed.

ZEN Caf and California Restaurant are still offering 1 to 1. L'Oizeau Rare Restaurant offered us about 1.33 which is about 3% better than the real rate and if your credit card charges another 3% for overseas charges, it amounts to some savings.

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.

Entrance Here's some quick notes from Contessa: We had a marvelous Valentine's Dinner at Piazza Pascal. They treat everyone so special and the food is wonderful. Also, we dined three times at Le Piment. A pleasant surprise! Crystal charmed us to try the restaurant, as did some friends. No disappointments at all! Food was great.....service wonderful! We loved it! And also had our 'annual' late lunch/early dinner at Palm Beach Restaurant. There were 22 of us this year. That place is fantastic! The food is some of the finest I've had on the island. We were there @ 4:30 and we were served within a short time. And our dinner by 6PM. Geesh, they hustle. With 22 aps and dinners that isn't easy. The grill closes at 5PM so they wanted us there early to order but they didn't rush us at all! Such a wonderful, classy place! Palm Beach

 
Shieka's Bistro
On Tuesday we headed into Pburg for some shopping and had lunch at the new Shieka's. Betty has put a roof over the courtyard and installed a bar. She is now open five nights per week in addition to breakfast and lunch. I had a cold beer and my health-conscious wife had a carrot and orange drink, sweetened with pure cane sugar. We watched the bartender push fresh carrots into a juicer and hand squeeze the oranges. Good and good for you. We both had jerk chicken and all dishes come with rice and peas and a side. I had potato salad, but Martha had the sweet potatoes and spinach as shown. Shieka's is a bit difficult to find, but head down Front street to Pastoriesteeg (which runs between Majesty Jewelers and Liz Claiborn) past the Catholic Rectory to the Philipsburg Community and Cultural Center. Have a great, authentic, and very inexpensive lunch. Our lunch cost $23.

 

 
  Shieka's front Carrot and orange Jerk Chicken  

Le Tastevin
  On Wednesday we headed over to Grand Case for a dinner on the water at Le Tastevin. This is one of the oldest restaurants in Grand Case, but hurricanes have caused the facilities to be more recent. I find it to be one of the more pleasant dining rooms on the island. The tables are well spaced and the stepped facade along the sea makes several small "rooms" separated by nice plantings. And that is before you consider that the dining room looks over Grand Case Bay to the twinkling lights of Anguilla. We had reservations, so the primo waterfront table was waiting. We started with sparkling water and a bit of Campari. We ordered the 2007 Beaune du Chateau premier cru from Bouchard, our wedding wine (still 59, same as last year's 2006). A basket of nice rolls arrived with the AOC butter. It's quite good. The amuse bouche was marinated salmon in an apple cider jelly with a hint of paprika.

  Marinated salmon amuse bouche  
  foie gras with a fig compote   On the left is the foie gras with a fig compote (18), just as we had last year and still among the finest that we have had. For this course, I had ordered a glass of Juranon Gros Manseng, a sweet wine from SW France. Sweet wines work well with foie gras and that is why the fig compote was a welcome addition. The artful balsamic drizzle and the lightly dressed salad greens added a bit of tartness and the toast points brought in a welcome crunch. This is not cutting edge, it's all been done before, but it will be done for a long time to come because it is such a great combination of tastes and textures.  

  Cod veal rum and tulips  
  Above left is Martha's main course from the menu, a bit of cod on a bed of purple potatoes topped with a Japanese black garlic (24). It made quite a fashion statement on the plate, but was also an interesting combination of tastes and textures. My main course (center) was a special, veal slices in a creamy sauce with chives accompanied by mashed potatoes with truffles (28). We finished with espressos and Jos brought out some complimentary 1997 J. Bally Rum from Martinique. Dinner cost about $200, although, as usual, almost half can be blamed on my Burgundy addiction.

For several years now, we have both felt that this was one of the most pleasant dining experiences of this season. Bad timing on my part caused us to be here two days before the new moon. If you get a chance, choose a fullish moon to light up the bay. The owners, Christine et Jos, have been here over twenty years and the chef, Patrick Guillerm, has been here for nine years. Even the kitchen help and wait staff are fairly stable. It all comes together as very good food delivered with very efficient, yet friendly, service in a lovely setting (both the interior and the view) backed with a superb wine cellar. They are open every day for lunch and dinner.

 

L'Excellence,
French Restaurant School

We went with Wendy K and Tony for another inexpensive lunch at the school. The lunch started with a rum, guava, and amaretto drink. The first course was a puff pastry filled with onions, mushrooms, and bacon. We use the term puff pastry to describe the pastry for cream puffs (profiteroles), gougre, and elairs. The French call this pte a choux, litterally cabbage pastry. No it's not made from cabbage, but the use of eggs in the dough results in random shaped hollow domes of pastry, looking somewhat like cabbage. The French also make pte feuillete or mille-feuille (below center). Feuille is a leaf but also a leaf in a book or sheet of paper, so mille-feuille is a thousand leaves of pastry, generally a bit of exageration. This is the one used more frequently for aps or main courses, but it is also used for desserts. We expected this and were a bit surprised when our ap arrived in the pte a choux (below left). This is one case where the French have the words to distinguish between the two types of pastry and the English merely says puff pastry for both. Here is where I generally recommend The New Food Lover's Companion: Comprehensive Definitions of over 4,000 Food, Wine, and Culinary Terms by Sharon Tyler Herbst, but you can save some money as Epicurious has put it on line. I noticed that under feuilletage, it directs you to pt feuillete. Sharp eyes will have caught the typo as pt, a two syllable word ending with an accented means pie while pte, a one syllable word means pastry or dough. Regardless, our appetizer was tasty and a 2006 Chateauneuf du Pape from Mon Redon for a mere 18 made it even better. The main course was a veal stew (below right) and dessert was a fruit salad containing watermelon, banana, pineapple, and grapes. With two bottles of Perrier, the total bill was under $50 per couple for a three course lunch with a half bottle of great wine.

puff pastry with onions, mushrooms, and bacon mille-feuille Banana, ice cream, and sorbet

Il Nettuno
On Friday, after the fleet had passed our condo in Cupecoy, we headed over to Grand Case to watch them sail around Crole Rock. At lunch, the central lot directly across for the restaurant, is unattended, and therefore, free. I had made a reservation for lunch, but it rarely gets busy. The view was spectacular, but it had just poured over here and was still quite cloudy. Nonetheless, watching the fleet sail past was an added bonus to the view of the boats in the harbor and Anguilla in the distance. Our lunches were a chicken saltimbocca (14, left) and a beef braciola (right). Saltimbocca (meaning jump mouth in Italian) features a slice of prosciutto and sage on, in this case, a thin slice of chicken which is sauted in butter and then braised in white wine. Braciola is Italian for roulade, or a thin slice of meat rolled around a filling and browned. Both lunches had good pasta. We had a bottle of Picard's Borgogne, a light red wine, a bottle of Perrier, and two espressos. By the end of the meal the sun was back out and the fleet was heading past Orient Beach. Our lunch came in a bit under $100, using a favorable rate of 1.35 while the papers are up to 1.4.

chicken saltimbocca beef braciola beef braciola
 

Regatta at Crole Rock


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.   Rancho logo

Grand Case is doing Harmony Nights again on Tuesday. They will have bands, parades, street performers, arts and craft vendors, and local food vendors. All the restaurants will be open and many will be doing sdomething special. The previous link is to photos that we took and the lolos have made this site. It's a typical French site and has a jpg of the advertising poster, 9 meg and 3000x5000 pixels. It took about a minute to download on my DSL connection.

JP at Pizza Galley says "You eat our Pizza and we eat the tax". The 5% TOT that is. This mean a 5% saving for everyone.


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 Int'l
Escargot
Kakao Beach
Marci's Mega Gym
Oizeau Rare
Pizza Galley
Tai Chi
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Radiant Gems
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 and MedjetAssist to arrange medical transportion services. We hope you never need it, but when air evacuation flights cost $30,000 or more, it's good to have. Check out both and see which one offers the best prices your timeframe and traveling group.   Click here to Enroll Now

Kindle: We now have one, so I'm really convinced that the Kindle e-book from Amazon is the best thing to take to a beach. It only weighs a half pound and is one-third of an inch thin. Even better, the price has dropped to $139. 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 and now Wendy reports she bought her own. If you've already got one, you can get books here. They are cheaper than any other version of the book (except used!)  
Martha still downloads audio books from our local library to her Zune or Sansa player (iPod knockoffs) 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. I just got a newsletter from a reader who reports that "Regarding downloading - several of my friends have the Nook and they can download books on it from their library in the states...but they do expire after 2 weeks."