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St Maarten/St Martin
13 March 2011 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Last Sunday featured a cool, rainy morning with little wind for the last day of the regatta. We watched the fleet head east in front of our condo as they "raced" (more like limped) from Marigot to Simpson Bay. It cleared up for the afternoon and on Monday we got these photos of a schooner heading east, passing by Saba (right) and then Statia (left). From the sixth floor you can see most of the land connected the Quill (Statia's major peak) with the rest of the island to the right. On Tuesday it was so clear that houses and the road on Saba were visible and St Kitts (lower left) emerged from the haze. By late afternoon the breeze had stopped, planes were taking off to the east, and Nevis (below center) was visible. If you click the photo and look about an inch to the right of the sailboat, the tip of Nevis at 3232 feet, about 70 miles away, appears above the water.

Tuesday (Mardi Gras) evening was spectacular. The air stayed clear as the sun set into a fairly cloudless sky. The right hand photo below was taken from the beach and makes it appear that Statia is two islands. Wednesday arrived much the same, with four islands visible. It appears that it's a bit cooler lately, getting down to the low 70's at night and only reaching the low 80's during the day. Thursday was mostly sunny but Friday started mostly cloudy and cool. It did clear up and reach 82F. Saturday started much better with a clear view of all four islands off our balcony and a pretty clear sky. Sunday is partly cloudy with more haze. Only a part of St Kitts is visible. The forecast says for 30% chance of rain today, 40% tomorrow, but the rest of the week is at 20% with highs of 81F straight through to Friday.

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 the first quarter. 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

St Kitts Sailboat race Statia

Cupecoy Beach Club gate SXM-Beaches: Cupecoy's baby beach had LOTS of sand early in the week and calm, clear water. There was some sand at the middle beach, but none in front of Shore Pointe. This "public" part of Cupecoy is only about half of the beach. There is just as much running from Cupecoy Beach Club past The Cliff, Rainbow Beach Club, a private villa, Sapphire, and ending at Ocean Club. Ever since the opening at Cupecoy Beach Club was filled in with rocks a couple years ago (note the vertical batch of whiter rocks just to the left of the round white globe), there has been no public access to this area. It hasn't mattered much as there has been very little sand here. At present, there is. On the right is the SE end of the beach under Cupecoy Beach Club. The darker patch of sandstone in the center is where Cupecoy Beach Club disposes of something. Cupecoy Beach

Beach reading: Sacred (Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro Novels) - about $8 - From Amazon: "Dennis Lehane won a Shamus Award for A Drink Before the War, his first book about working-class Boston detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. His second in the series, Darkness, Take My Hand, got the kind of high octane reviews that careers are made of. Now Lehane not only survives the dreaded third-book curse, he beats it to death with a stick. Sacred is a dark and dangerous updating of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, as dying billionaire Trevor Stone hires Kenzie and Gennaro to find his daughter, Desiree. Patrick's mentor, a wonderfully devious detective named Jay Becker, has already disappeared in St. Petersburg, Florida, while working the case, so the two head there to pick up a trail. Desiree, of course, is nothing like the sweet and simple beauty described by her father, and even Chandler would have been amazed by the plot twists that Lehane manages to keep coming. Lehane also wrote Gone, Baby, Gone which became a Ben Afflek movie. While we are at it, he wrote Mystic River which became a Clint Eastwood movie.   Sacred cover

Rainbow

Ocean Club

Construction: For those who feel I say too many bad things about the Blue Mall, here's a good thing: It makes Rainbow Beach Club (top left) look good. I think Rainbow has cleaned some of the mold off the outside of this building also. While Rainbow is similarly rectilinear, it at least has fenestration. When I moved into Sapphire, Sapphire was the tallest thing in Cupecoy, quite possibly the tallest thing on the island. Sixteen years later, I find two larger buildings built on higher ground on each side of Sapphire, and The Cliff, the current tallest building on the island on the far side of Rainbow. On the other side of the Blue Mall we have Shore Pointe on the Caribbean and Porto Cupecoy on the lagoon. These last two actually look nice. I don't want to sound like the guy who builds a house and then declares no more building should take place, but that is a lot of new construction in a one mile section of road.

Lower left and on the right is a little known construction project. The Ocean Club villas were built on top of Cupecoy's sandstone cliffs. Sandstone is more like sand than stone and various hurricanes have demonstrated this over the years. The hurricanes took away most of the sand on this beach and a lot of the sandstone. As the sand was gone, only passing boats noticed that Ocean Club was shoring up their villas by essentially pouring concrete on the beach.

Rainbow  

The shot on the right shows that had they not done this, the villa would have tumbled into the water by now. These villas sold for about a half million when they were built about 20 years ago, so you can see why someone would want to save their investment, even if it means building on the beach. The question is why did they build so close in the first place. The answer to many questions down here is: money. The villas on the cliffs sold for big bucks and provided the developer enough money to build timeshares behind them. Those timeshares allowed him to build what was the ugliest building on the island ... wait for it, until Blue Mall went up across the street from it.

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 a sunset from our Caribbean balcony in early March. The balcony faces south, so by March we lose the actual sunset, but still see the glowing skies. By late April we see sunsets off the lagoon-side balcony.

  sunset

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.

SXM-Hotels: Monday's Daily Herald had a story titled Three party proposal on table for [Pelican] resort reopening. I thought it was great that the timeshare owners were being involved. Unfortunately, the last paragraph revealed who the three parties were: "Attending Saturday's meeting were special mediator Rafael Boasman and a legal adviser on behalf of government; WIFOL President Theophilus Thompson, Van Sambeek and Maarten le Poole of HBN Law, and two shop stewards; and the resort's attorney Jairo Bloem of Bloem and Associates." By Wednesday The Daily Herald announced that the deal was signed and the resort would open in ten days. The request to terminate up to 50 workers is still before the Labor Department and Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams said that government will favorably consider granting the resort its request for a delay in the payment of its US $1.2 million transfer tax. And later that day, the resort announced that they would be open on 12 March. And as far as I know they did. It's still a major disruption. If you owned this coming week and already had non-refundable flights, you probably scrambled for an alternative place to stay. Having done that, you might not be able to get the deposit back for those room reservations. From what I've seen, the resort management seems to understand this problem and says they will sort it out. As usual, not everyone will be totally gruntled. Here's a photo taken from Simpson Bay Beach:

Welcome to Pelican

Spinnaker run Activities: The Heineken Regatta finished up last Sunday. Here is the fleet heading east, past our condo, coming from Marigot to finish in Simpson Bay. The photo on the right with the big blue spinnaker has Saba in the background. The bottom line on this, the thirty-first Heineken Regatta, was that it was a "largely, light-winded affair," despite this being a rather windy winter for the most part. Patrick Turner from Tropical Wave took his vintage plywood trimaran for quite a ride and won the Multihull 1R class.

Sylvain from Select Wine Cellar went to the Wyclef Jean concert on the final night in Simpson Bay. The first amazing thing was that it started almost on time. The next amazing thing is that it still went on until 3AM. Sylvain liked the concert.

Spinnaker run

Cote De Beaune
Groceries: We bought some Petit Billy, a first-rate goat cheese at the Grand March in Cole Bay. No, it is not named Billy because it is goat cheese. Billy goats have very little to do with milk, and therefore, cheese production. The name comes from a town called Billy in the province of Berry in central France. In his Cheese Primer, Steven Jenkins has a section on Loire Valley "cheeses [that] are worth seeking out." He mentions Petit Billy and calls it "excellent." We often bought it at US Market but this was the first time we found it at Grand March. It costs about $6 for about a half pound, a good price for such a good cheese. Duck breast

Alcohol: On Tuesday we stopped in at Select Wine Cellar as our Champagne supply was depleted, possibly the result of irrational exuberance. In any event, we picked up a bottle of the Deutz ($49) and the Deutz ros ($67). We also picked up a couple bottles of this year's house wine: 2007 Cote De Beaune "Le Clos Topes Bizot" from Chantal Lescure ($33). It's organic (or bio, as the French say) and very nice at the price. For special occasions we got Chambolle-Musigny from Amiot Servelle, the 2002 (a very good year) and the 2004.

Traffic: It hasn't been too bad, but on Friday we did a circumnavigation of the island and it was pretty slow going through Marigot at about 11:00 AM. After lunch in Pburg it was easy for us to get back to Cupecoy but at 3:30PM, long after the 11:30AM bridge and an hour before the 4:30PM bridge, the traffic heading through Simpson Bay to Cole Bay was backed up around the new joy ride at the end of the runway.

On the right is a serious speed bump. We were driving down the shore road in Simpson Bay and found this in our path. I think it would slow down a Humvee, although I doubt that it really is a speed bump. Just another citizen grabbing a bit of public property for his own use.

Speed bump?

Nature: We have made a few trips from Marigot to Grand Case but have not seen the iguanas that graced the ghut at the entrance to Friar's Bay. Admittedly, many of the days were dreary and cloud-covered, which tends to keep the iguanas inside, rather than out basking in the sun. Here's one on a dock on the lagoon in Cupecoy. Our office is well over 100% solar-powered and our servers are about 130% wind-powered. Green logo

Small Island story: The Dutch side takes some holidays quite seriously, forcing businesses to close, even the jewelry stores on Front Street as cruiseship visitors wonder what has happened. Carnival on the Dutch side is not related to Mardi Gras and Easter, but rather to Labor Day (1 May in most of the world) and the Queen's birthday, which is not her real birthday, but conveniently celebrated on 29 April. This year's holidays are coming fast and furious: Good Friday on April 22, Easter Sunday on April 24, Easter Monday on April 25. Carnival 2011 also opens on Easter Monday and as Labor Day falls on Sunday, 1 May, the day and applicable laws regarding holidays will be observed on Monday, 2 May.

  Iguana


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 6 March the euro was at 1.398 and today it is at 1.390. Moody's downgraded both Greece and Spain, but as their debt will probably be backed by France and Germany, if necessary, this looks like a buying opportunity. On the other side of the pond, in February the US government had its highest monthly budget deficit ever and is on track for the highest yearly deficit.

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. We got a similar rate at Il Nettuno. Belle Epoque gave us 1.3.

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.

Belle Epoque
On Sunday evening we made a short drive to Marina Royale in Marigot for a bistro meal at Belle Epoque. It's one of the longest running restaurants in the marina (since 1990, just celebrating its twenty-first anniversary - must be doing something right). We had not made a reservation, but because it was the night of the final regatta party, there were tables available all over the marina. We ordered the 2007 Crozes-Hermitage from Jaboulet (30). We ordered two specials off the chalk board - always a good thing to do here. Martha chose the moules frites, tasty mussels cooked in wine, onions, and parsley with a lot of very crisp French fries. I went with an entrecote with a morel mushroom sauce. Entrecote is a steak taken between the seventh and ninth rib. It's not the tenderest cut, but certainly not the toughest and has good flavor, especially when enhanced with a morel sauce. We chatted with Vincent, the manager (late of Thai Garden), and he said that the companion restaurant a short walk down the marina had changed its name from Bali Bar to Thai Bali and, of course, serves Thai cuisine. With sparkling water our total bill was 75, which was translated to $98 via an extremely gentle exchange rate of 1.3 $/.

entrecote Night view Moules

 
Skipjack's
  On Monday we headed over to Simpson Bay to meet a friend at Skipjack's. We had no reservations but managed to get a table. We started with the slightly spicy crabcakes ($13) with plenty of crab and a good bit of salad. Our friend had the French onion soup. Martha moved on to the mahi with pineapple salsa ($22), I had sesame-crusted tuna ($24), as did our friend. As usual, we had bottle of the Concannon Pinot Noir (two actually, $29 each). There's nothing wrong with a light red wine with the big flavors in the soy dipping sauce plus wasabi and ginger for the tuna and the pineapple salsa for mahi. In fact, the fruity pinot noir worked quite well with the pineapple salsa. Dinner cost about $180 or $60 per person and they do add a 15% service charge. We added a bit more for good service. The website now has video tour, the fish market is open, and the nighttime view can be fantastic.

 
  Crabcakes Mahi View  

 
Shiv Shakti Restaurant
On Tuesday we headed over to Shiv Shakti Restaurant in Simpson Bay for a casual Indian dinner. It was not too crowded when we arrived, just two other tables of four and seven, but two more tables arrived, one of six and one of sixteen! We started with samosas and pappadam, both were very tasty with two wonderful sauces, one based on yogurt. There were very interesting flavors here, but no heat. A samosa is a fried pastry filled with a mixture of veg and sometimes meat. Pappadam is an Indian flat bread made from lentil flour.
  Pepper Chicken
Pappadam
 
Samosas
Samosas
Lamb vindaloo
Lamb vindaloo
The concept with Indian food is that one chooses a preparation (korma, vindaloo, curry, sag, etc), chooses a protein (chicken, lamb, shrimp, conch, fish, vegetarian, etc), and combines it with great basmati rice. You get the added bonus of specifying the heat level and that may even come in a separate bowl on the side. Almost anyone should be able to enjoy Indian food. We find that the totally different culture in a considerably different climate has led to different spices and somewhat different foods combined in different ways. It certainly will wake up your taste buds, but needn't burn them. The lamb vindaloo is a bit hotter than normal dishes.
Dal
Dal
Dal is also made with lentils and usually has tomatoes, onions, and seasonings. It frequently accompanies curries and may quench the heat, although dal tadka calls for turmeric, garlic, and green chillies and is a bit hot. We added some shrimp tandoori, great shrimp roasted in the tandoori oven accompanied by onions and a squeese of lime. We always have the onion kulcha, an Indian flat bread with onions in the mix. It's also done in the tandoori oven to add to its flavor. We drank four cold dark Leffe beers and spent $68, taking home enough for a dinner at a later date. There is a bit of parking in front of the restaurant. Service is usually good but was stretched when 22 people arrived.
Palak paneer
Shrimp Tandoori
  Onion kulcha
Onion kulcha

Bonita's Cantina Logo We stopped in at Bonita's Cantina on Wednesday for lunch during a shopping trip. We both had the lunch special, any BBQ sandwich with fries and a bottle of Presidente. You get a choice of pulled pork, smoked turkey or smoked ham for the sandwich and we both choose the pork. Martha had no trouble getting potato salad rather than fries, although she ate quite a few of my fries. Extra BBQ sauce and a hot sauce arrive at the table with the lunches so you are free to make your lunch as hot and spicy as you like. More Presidentes are available if required. It's a pretty good lunch and quite filling for $9.25. The entire menu including the Tex-Mex selections is on their website. Check out the lunch and dinner specials for really inexpensive dining. Bonita's has 10 TVs and at least six receivers. Bryan said he could show four college basketball games and still have a couple hockey games going. March madness is upon us.

Antoine Restaurant
  As part of our circumnavigation of the island on Friday, we stopped in at Antoine Restaurant for lunch. It was a lovely, warm, clear day and the twelve meter boats were sailing in Great Bay. On the left is the view from our table to west, taking in the Divi Peninsula with Fort Amsterdam out on the high ground, protecting the bay. We started with a half bottle (moderation in all things is our new motto) of Chablis ($25). Martha had the Salad Nioise with anchovies and I had grouper with sliced almonds. Grouper is a very meaty fish and when it is fresh, you wouldn't know it was a fish. The crisp Chablis cuts any oiliness. We had a bottle of sparkling water and after the added 15% tip, our lunch came to a bit under $80, not bad given the free show on the boardwalk and the bay.

 
  View to the east Salad Nioise Grouper with almonds  

 
Caf de Paris
From Wendy K: "We arrived at Caf de Paris in Marigot's Marina Royale on a sunny, breezy Friday before 12:30, and the tables were gradually filling. A bottle of San Pellegrino and a Cotes de Blaye Bordeaux (22) got us started while we decided on what to eat. Tony choose the "Cochon du Lait": roasted pork with a crispy skin, served with thinly-sliced roasted baby potatoes and onions, sauteed zucchini and peppers, and a mesclun salad - a special for 11.50 (left). I had the tartare de thon (right, 16) served with a salad with a creamy vinagrette and diced tomaotes, a bit of seaweed salad, and frites, off the menu. We sat inside, where there is a/c - not necessary today - and the tables are nicely spaced. When we left the tables were full, with a mostly French clientele. The bill was 54.50 before tip."

 
  Outside Pork Tuna  


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.   Palm Beach 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.

Claude has sold the Mini-Club on the Marigot Waterfront. It is spiffed up a bit but basically carrying on with the same menu.


BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS


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.
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."

Regards,
Erich S. Kranz
www.SXM-Info.com
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