St Maarten/St Martin
10 April 2004 Newsletter

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Weather and Beaches: Saturday stayed very nice and we could see all four islands from our balcony and on Cay Hill as we drove to Pburg. After a stroll through Pburg, where the beach is looking quite good given the boardwalk and major replenishment projects, we headed to Galion for lunch at Chez Pat. Even the trade winds have died off. There was still plenty of breeze but not enough to give you a free dermabrasion, a bonus in my book. Lots of sand and calm waters at Galion but we went to Orient for the view. I admit that one can see St Barts in the distance on the far side of L'Embouchure, but it's not the view of Green Cay that I find so nice at Orient. Being a Saturday (even one with two large ships in port) found Pirate closed and Elise absent from Pedro's and no band in sight. There is a bit of beach next to Pedro's and pretty good beach in all other spots but a good bit of eel grass is washing up between Pedro's and the Perch. We plopped near the volleyball court, snorkeled around the reef that heads to the SE, fighting off the sergeant majors looking for handouts, and enjoyed another spectacular afternoon. Sunday was just another damned gorgeous day. We could see a container ship at anchor off Saba, 26 miles away, and all four islands are still out there. The little cove at Cupecoy is bigger than we have seen it in years, but Danny says the far NW end has just enough sand for a row of chairs and the pools have appeared, so access to the sea is at either end of his beach. The weather has been one unmitigated string of beautiful, warm, clear days. So much so that we are starting to need some rain. Cupecoy Beach beneath Cliffhanger is bigger than I have seen it in eight years. It's possible to walk from Sapphire to there, although you may get wet. There is nothing beneath Ocean Club. The little cove is better than ever, there is sand beneath the platform, and a bit at the far NW end. Plum Bay (Baie aux Prunes) has plenty of sand and was getting a bit of surf on Friday. Waves on the western side have been in the 3 to 6 foot range all week, despite fairly calm winds and no storms. Saturday dawned with two massive cruiseships sailing toward Pburg on waters as flat as a millpond. We could see houses on Saba, the symmetrical shape of The Quill, Statia's extinct volcano, and most of St Kitts. Nevis was lost in clouds on the horizon.
Gasoline: My powers are immense. As soon as I point out that gas is cheaper on the Dutch side, they raise the price by 10 guilder cents. This increases their prices by about 9%, giving them a range from $2.70 to 2.80 per gallon, still cheaper than the $3.00 to 3.50 per gallon on the French side. I apologize that my great powers did not convince the French to lower their prices, but hey, even our President can't convince the French to do anything. I also note that the air pump at the Texaco in Cole Bay is now broken.
Great Salt Pond: My powers are immense. As soon as I point out that the weather is warm and we have low humidity, the Dutch note that Great Salt Pond is getting low and stinking. They have started to pump sea water back into the pond to solve this problem, especially important as their carnival will soon take place next to this picturesque, but putrescent, pond. Don't misunderstand, low tide on mud flats doesn't smell very good anyplace. This, at least, is one place than can solve the problem.
Restaurant news: Toufiq has returned from Morocco with a container-load of fixtures for his new Moroccan restaurant going into the space formerly occupied by Endroit, Table de Lorette, La Case Créole, etc. No word on the Grand Opening.
Photo feature: There are some photos of the week's activities at a secret location not posted here. Subscribe to the newsletter to get the location. There are some shots of Grand Case.
Wines:  The Thursday wine tasting at Vinissimo featured 98 Montus Blanc ($16), Ch Bellevue la Foret ($7), and Bouchard's 99 Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Premier Cru ($31). It should be easy to pick our favorite, given our affection for Burgundy and the prices, but the others were worthy of consideration. The reds were a Madiran Mienjarre ($10) from the south of France, probably the only wine made from the Tannat grape, and a Larmes Celestes ($11). Both interesting and reasonably priced. Dessert was the 98 Rivesaltes ($20), a slightly sweet red wine from the extreme western end of the French Mediterranean.
Groceries: There was no Serrano ham at US Import, so we got some Bayonne ($20 per kilo) and a new variety, Vendee, ($18 per kilo). We think the Vendee is as good as the Bayonne, possibly as good as the even more expensive Serrano.
Unity Car Rental is sponsoring the current contest, which will run until 15 April. Just go to their website, find the link to sign up for the SXM-Info newsletter, click it, sign up, and you are entered. If I get there before you, you'll find a link to Unity car rental for the next contest. Obviously everybody that is getting this email is already signed up for the newsletter, but you are not automatically signed up for the contest. You do have to go to their website and click the email link to show you visited their site. Just tell me you are already on our mailing list, and I'll leave you signed up for the newsletter and just add your name to the contest list. You could win a $100 toward a week's rental from Unity. There are less than 60 entries, so your chances are quite good.
Here is the list of future sponsors. We urge you all to sign up ONCE for each contest. Our clients want you to see what they have to offer. Go to their websites at the appropriate time, click the link, and you could be a winner. Look for future gift certificates from:
Temptation Restaurant - 16 April to 16 May - $100 off a meal for two
Vacation Suites - 17 May to 30 June - prize: 1 free week over the summer!
L'Auberge Gourmande - 1 July to 15 August - $100 off a meal for two
Sunset Café - 16 August to 30 September - $100 off a meal for two
Montmartre Restaurant - 1 October to 15 November - $100 off a meal for two
Sealine Charters - 16 November to 15 December
Chez Pat/Tropical Wave - 16 December to 6 January - $100 off a day at the beach: food, drinks, chairs, windsurf lessons, etc
Marci's Mega Gym - 7 January to 27 January 2005 - a week of gym usage for two
California Restaurant - 28 January to 17 February 2005
Escargot Restaurant - 18 February to 4 March 2005
Hot Tomatoes - 5 March to 26 March 2005
The Horny Toad Guesthouse - 27 March to 24 April 2005 - seven low season days for the price of five
Celine Pub Crawl - 25 April to 5 June 2005 - two tickets on the Lagoon Pub Crawl
Another contest: Hot Tomatoes has a contest on their website to kick off their combination lagoon cruise/dinner package. You can now take sunset lagoon cruise on White Octopus  and follow it up with a dinner at Hot Tomatoes. They are giving away a two pizza dinner with a bottle of red, but you have to go to the website, click the comments link, and send in some comments. Somebody's going to get two pizzas with a bottle of red just for saying something that tickles our fancy. I talked to Brad last night and we're looking for 25 entries. As soon as we get 25, we'll post them, and pick a winner. While you are there, look over Brad's site, check out the coupon, and take a look at the White Octopus
On 27 Mar the euro was at 1.212 and today it's at 1.205. Not much going on there, but it's still heading in the right direction. French side restaurants with many costs in dollars and many American (or Canadian) clients have been offering more favorable exchange rates. Some restaurants offer a 1 to 1 exchange. This list includes California, Escapade, Balaou, Santal, Enoch's Place, Au Beaujolais, Rainbow, Oizeau Rare, and Pirate, Restaurant du Soliel, Pedro's (priced in dollars - no conversion ever), Saint Germain, Petite Auberge des Iles, and Paradise View. Many restaurants will offer you a better rate than you can get on your credit card, so you can allow them to convert and charge in dollars. Note that California only offers 1 to 1 on cash purchases. Some restaurants have lowered their prices. As always, know what the euro is worth, what the restaurateur is offering for an exchange, and what the costs are on the menu. Finally, you are here to have fun and fine food, not complex financial calculations, so don't worry about it too much. 
As mentioned above, Saturday lunch was at Chez Pat on Galion Beach. The weather was beautiful and the views across the bay to St Barts were crystal clear. We had a bottle of the Carte Noir rosé to go with a chef salad with tuna and ham and a lovely chunk of mahi-mahi. Simple food, but well-prepared, tasty, and perfect for an afternoon with one's feet in the sand.
On Tuesday we went to Montmartre for another fine meal. There were two specials on offer that evening: a bouillabaisse and a stuffed capon leg and thigh. We knew how much food would be included with the bouillabaisse, so we ordered that (for two) as a first course and the capon (with an extra plate) as the second course. Olivier, our waiter, and the kitchen had no problem with this request. We needed a bottle of wine for both fish and meat, but the fish came in a very flavorful, saffron-infused soup, so a light Burgundy was fine: 99 Beaune Premier Cru. The bouillabaisse contained shrimp, four French sea bass filets, a grouper filet, scallops, and a small lobster tail and came with the usual toasted slices of baguette, a garlicky rouille (mayo-like with a hint of red pepper), and shredded gruyere. It's a wonderful meal for seafood lovers. The thigh of the capon was deboned and stuffed with a liver-based concoction. We thought this was extremely flavorful and a real joy with the Burgundy. It came with roasted garlic, a potato gratin loaded with garlic and cream, a dollop of ratatouille, a baby corn, and more. Karen and Olivier tried to tempt us with desserts, but it was a lost cause. We had more than enough to eat and our taste buds were overloaded. This didn't mean we couldn't have a snifter of Armagnac or two.
On Wednesday we went for a sunset sail on White Octopus, leaving from the marina behind Hot Tomatoes at about 5:00 for a two and a half hour ride around the lagoon. First, Mel cruises over to the mega yacht marinas in Cole Bay. The ones that were there are pretty impressive, but many had gone off to Antigua for a major racing weekend. Limitless, owned by the "owner" of The Limited, was gone. It's about 315 feet long and the biggest boat that docks inside the lagoon. The latest wrinkle in sailing was tied up with its mast on the dock. It has two swing keels, front and back. Its sails cost $50,000 and only get used for about 70 hours. (Boat: a hole in the water that you can throw money into. Sailboat: same thing squared.) We then sailed over to the back of the Maho complex for a close look at the $1.2 million villas that are the waterfront part of Aqua Marina. We pirouetted around Pointe Pirouette, entering Mullet Pond behind the golf course. We exited, coming past the Towers, the Medical University, and Cote d'Azure as the sun set behind Sapphire. We turned and ran along the French lowlands and into the Marigot Marina as the sky was turning pink. Finally, we headed back for the dock and a great Prickly Pear Piggy Pie pizza at  Hot Tomatoes. The sail costs $25 each and had an open bar with all the usual suspects and enough hors d'oeuvres to ward off the munchies.  Our dinner with a couple more beers only added $21 more.
After the wine tasting (and cheese, pâté, and bread) at Vinissimo we departed for Dolce Vita next to Mario's Bistro at the French bridge in Sandy Ground. We were with our neighbors from the far end of Sapphire and we split an antipasti for two four ways. It contained proscuitto, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, aranccini (a very tasty ball of fried risotto), grilled zucchini, and more, making it more than enough for four. Our dinners were a shrimp, zucchini, garlic and red pepper pasta; linguini with fresh sea food, garlic and parsley (featuring shrimp, clams, and mussels); veal steak with eggplant and tomato sauce; and a fritto misto, fried squid and shrimp with greens. All of the dinners were excellent and priced from $24 to $30 given the exchange rate. The risottos and some of the pasta dishes were a bit less. The wines were a La Sagreta from Sicily ($41) and a Versato merlot ($31). Both big and bold wines were fine with the big flavors that Chef Giuseppe was sending our way. Alas, our overindulgence at Vinissimo meant that we could not sample the desserts.
On Friday night we went back to Hot Tomatoes with our neighbors who own the unit next door. As their favorite pizza is also the Prickly Pear Piggy Pie, there will be nothing learned from recounting the dinner other than it's fun to sit on the back deck looking out over the lagoon and listening to Eric on the guitar.