St Maarten/St Martin
2 March 2008 Newsletter

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Weather: Sunday started out overcast but it cleared up to the west, producing this bit of blue sky with Saba in the distance complete with a rain cloud on surrounding the rain forest at the top of 3000 foot high Mount Scenery. Meanwhile, the shot below, taken from our roadside balcony, shows the tower from Belle Créole on the left, Marigot harbor on the right, and gray skies all over. By 4PM things were looking a little better over to the east, but that's a little late for a day at the beach. That night at dinner in Grand Case there was a serious downpour. A shower passed over Cupecoy at breakfast on Monday morning knocking some of the haze out of the air and providing a clearer view of Saba, but there are still no other islands visible. On Tuesday we drove through a morning shower to the airport to catch the AA flight to Puerto Rico and took off into gloomy skies. It was still pretty cloudy when we flew back on Thursday at sunset. Friday wasn't all that warm and very hazy out on the water. Saturday was warmer, still hazy and a shower passed over Cupecoy at noon, but it never reached Cole Bay.   Bright Sunday over Saba

Grey Sunday in Marigot   Today's (2 Mar) sunset will be at 6:14PM. Full moon dates for 2008 are: 21 Mar, 20 Apr, 20 May, 18 Jun, 18 Jul, 16 Aug, 15 Sep, 13 Oct, 13 Nov, and 12 Dec. Here's the local weather forecast from the Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel.

SXM-Beaches: Wendy K was at Cupecoy on Wednesday morning and said "the water was lovely and we saw dolphins! A first for me." If you don't know where the island's beaches are, visit SXM-Beaches for maps and photos.

Beach Reading: I'm most of the way through Richard Condon's A Trembling Upon Rome, his fictional account of the events surrounding the Great Schism when dueling Popes resided in Avignon, France, and Rome. If you don't know Condon, who was born in NY in 1915 and died in 1996, he wrote historical fiction (this book, An Infinity of Mirrors), satire (almost everything), thrillers (The Manchurian Candidate, Prizzi's Honor, Prizzi's etc, Arigato) and more. Condon's writing was known for its complex plotting and loathing for those in power - my kind of guy.

  A Trembling Upon Rome

Heineken regatta   Activities: The 28th Heineken Regatta starts things off with a party at Port de Plaisance on 6 March. The party moves to Pburg on Friday, Marigot on Saturday, and Kim Sha Beach in Simpson Bay on Sunday night. Oh yeah, there's something about sailboats, also. Actually the race on Friday goes from Simpson Bay to Philipsburg, Saturday from Philipsburg to Marigot, and Sunday from Marigot back to Simpson Bay.

Roy Deep Sea Fishing takes out parties of four or five and comes back with wahoo and mahi lately, marlin and tuna, sometimes. If you don't have a party of four, we'll use this space and Roy's website to help fill out the charter. Send an email to get aboard.


Sapphire Beach Club: 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.

Travel: We took a mini-vacation in Puerto Rico. People coming from the west coast of the US frequently have to stop in PR for the night on the way to SXM as it is a long journey against the time zones. Timeshare people might want to consider a stop here to bump their week up to include both weekends. We've been here twice and had a great time in both Isla Verde, near the airport, and Condado, a bit closer to Old San Juan. We stayed in major beachfront resorts with casinos, multiple restaurants, and multiple swimming pools, but there are smaller guesthouses and many smaller, quite interesting, local restaurants.

We spent some time waiting for our flight to take off at PJIA and I noted that there were no escalators to take us down to the lower level from whence the American Eagle flights depart. There was an elevator. Once you get down there, there is no rest room, so you have to hike back up the stairs or use the elevator. I do mean that you should use the elevator to take you up one flight to the floor with the rest room. As for washing your hands, you can do that in the elevator as well as you can in the rest room, as there is no soap in either.

We parked our car in the new lot at the airport. It only costs $1 per half hour and there is a convenient pay station in the airport - not at the lot. So after going to your car to get the ticket stub, you carry it back to the automated pay station, insert the stub, and get hit with the news that 2.5 days amounts to $118, payable only in $1, $5, and $10 bills. The machine does give change - up to a maximum of $3 in quarters only. What could be more better?

  Parking lot sign

Alert reader Jancis BC forwarded this to me: US Airways announced a change to our baggage policy. Beginning May 5, 2008, they will charge $25 for a second checked bag. The new fee applies to travel on or after May 5 for tickets purchased on or after February 26, 2008.

All travel to the USA now requires a passport. Life is pretty easy if you allow enough time to renew by mail. All the details can be found at this State Department page.

Shopping: On Monday we were heading for the Ace Mega Store when we stopped into Select Wine Cellar for the usual Bourgogne. There is more below, but we never did make it further than the Orange Grove Shopping Center. There is a hardware/housewares store in the Orange Grove Shopping Center so we picked up some bathtub caulk and a caulk gun, but we didn't like the folding clothes racks, so on Saturday we pressed on to Ace and found several clothes racks and the iron and ironing board that we decided we needed. I also picked up a GFI receptacle for the bathroom as one of the sockets is shot on the incumbent version. They had 15 and 20 amp varieties in white and ivory. That's a better selection than I can find in the hardware store where I live.

Groceries: On Saturday we stopped at the Maho Food Express. It's very convenient to those of us on the far side of the lagoon. We picked up some sparkling water, some Tomassi Valpolicella, and some Dietz and Watson Black Forest Ham. There is a forlorn selection of cold cuts already cut (possibly during the Bush presidency, certainly since the Clinton years) for those in a hurry, but you can always ask for fresh cut meat and cheese. It's worth the wait.

Alcohol: The NY Times recently had an article on Tavel. It was the first rosé to be designated AOC. It is called the Rosé of Kings and King of Rosés as it was the favorite King Louis XIV and the papacy during the schism when a line of Popes resided Avignon, a mere 10 miles away.

Traffic: On Saturday we took a mere 5 minutes to drive past the airport at 3PM. Sylvain from Select Wine Cellar and Moulin Fou said that both places were pretty slow this week. It's the calm before the storm: Regatta week is upon us soon.

Gas prices at Cadisco are now $1.04 per liter at Orient and $1.03 in Sandy Ground, almost $4 per gallon. They still do 1 to 1 for cash and I think they are still cheaper than the Dutch side. Bernard Choisy, the owner of Gess gas stations, has just sailed back to the island with a boatload of fuel. He has filled his new storage tank at Gallis Bay and his stations will now reopen.

Nature: Here's a tree frog that we found in a corner of a restaurant we visited. He was rather quiet, but when they are looking for a mate, they will let you know about it.

  Tree Frog
Best of, con't: On the flight to San Juan we read the American flight mag and found lists of the Best Orthopedic Surgeons in America, Best Plastic Surgeons in America, Best Doctors in NY and Florida, in addition the Best of the Best Italian Restaurants, and the dueling Original Great Steak Houses of North America (only 9, but one had two locations) and the Prime Time Top Ten Steakhouses (ten, but a tie for spot number nine lead to 11 entries with 29 locations). And if you believe these best of lists, I recommend the ones mentioned in the newsletter of 17 Feb. Otherwise, read a review that describes the place, the view, the service, and the food - then make up your own mind.

Small island story: This is more of a small-brained individual story, but one of our favorite waiters was serving lobster to a table and noticed the diner looking somewhat discombobulated. He asked if anything was wrong and the answer came back, "no". Nonetheless, the vibes were bad from then on and as the patron was leaving, the waiter asked again, saying he felt there was a problem. Eventually the patron admitted that he was disturbed that the restaurant had removed the claws from his lobster. I am not making this up.


The winners of the contest that ended on 2 March:
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October) - Lisa Snyder
DK Gems - $50 off a purchase of $100 or more - John & Gail Ouimet
Antoine Restaurant - $100 off a dinner for two - John & Gail Ouimet
Le Cottage Restaurant - $100 off a dinner for two - W. Moulthrop
Tropismes Gallery - island print - Bob Coakley
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Bob Coakley
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Bob Coakley

Current Contest - now to 27 April 2008
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Halsey's Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two
Hibiscus Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
L'Escargot Restaurant - $100 off dinner for two (cash payments only, excludes Friday Cabaret show) Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine

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.

Future Contests:

27 April to 27 July
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
Ti Coin Créole - $50 off a dinner for two

27 July to 26 October
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

26 October to 28 December
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


On 24 February the euro was at 1.482. Today it is at 1.519. It hit an all-time high this week. Last season, some restaurants were still offering a 1 to 1 exchange, but the numbers of such restaurants are decreasing. At a 15% or 20% premium they could do it for a while, but as the US budget and balance of payment deficits have ratcheted upward, international confidence in the dollar has ratcheted downwards. Most restaurants have dropped this because at 40 to 50% premium, there isn't much profit left. California Restaurant, L'Escapade Restaurant, Kokomarina, Rancho del Sol, Sunset Café, Ti Bouchon, Auberge Gourmande, Spiga, Le France, Fish Pot, and Spicy are still is offering 1 to 1 and many other restaurants are offering favorable exchange rates. Just taking your dollars at the current exchange rate saves the 3% foreign exchange conversion rate from most credit cards.

Ti Coin Créole   On Sunday night we went to Ti Coin Créole in Grand Case. It's down at the far eastern end of Restaurant row, on the road to Grand Case Beach Club. Carl Philips is the chef and lives behind this colorful Créole cottage which was childhood home. Carl has worked to fix up the front in typical Créole fashion. His brother Kenneth, an accomplished woodworker, is helping with that project and in the kitchen. Carl upgraded the wine list last season and it includes a 2004 Picard Bourgogne at only 22€. We started with that and a bottle of water as we argued about who could have the conch dinner. Martha won, so I had the conch appetizer, a salad laced with tender conch in a spicy vinaigrette (6.50€). Martha choose the stewed conch (13.50€) which is again some very tender conch in a tasty stew with rice and some local veg. I had the mahi with a lightly spiced Créole sauce (also 13.5€).   Carl and Kenneth

For dessert we had the sweet potato pudding, a dessert that was featured in St Maarten Events. We ended with a complimentary after-dinner drink. The total bill was under $100. That is a very inexpensive dinner for two in Grand Case. The restaurant is quite a distance from the center of town and has a limited view, but there is a small parking lot on the side and generally parking is available on the road. You can have a dinner for about half price if you enter the SXM-Info contest running from 27 April to 27 July. Just go to their website at that time, find the contest code, and put it on the entry form.

On Monday we drove over to Select Wine Cellar in order to refill the Burgundy hole in our wine "cellar". We tasted the 2005 Bourgogne Pierre Morey, but we still like the 2005 Bourgogne Les Taupes Maison Dieu from Chantal Lescure better and bought another six bottles. One thing led to another, or, more accurately, one bottle led to another and we found ourselves at Select as the lunch hour arrived.

  sweet potato pudding

Bruno at the window   That is not a problem as Champagne Restaurant is next door. We secured a table just as Bruno was writing Blanquette de Veau on the chalkboard. There were a couple other things including a lovely plate of Italian cold cuts, but we had three orders of veal stew in a light brown sauce with rice, a dish made for Burgundy. The veal was fork tender in a very tasty sauce. The sauce was so good that all of the crisp baguette slices were used to prevent the wasting of a single drop. Bruno brought over a round of espressos as Sylvain ducked into his shop to get an after dinner drink. I guessed Rivesaltes, but it was revealed to be a lovely old port (Ferreira 20 year old Duque de Brangaça). Altogether, it seemed a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. We made it home by about 4PM, just as the traffic was backing up from the Simpson Bay Bridge to the end of the airport runway.

We went off to Puerto Rico for three days, so most of our dining this week can be found here.

By now, everyone must think I own stock in Select Wine Cellar and Champagne Restaurant. We showed up on Saturday for a special cassoulet lunch from guest chef, Pascal, who used to cook only for those in the know at her house in Grand Case. Sylvain had recommended the Madiran to Bruno and so a bottle was included with our three orders of cassoulet: long-cooked beans in tomato based sauce with sausage and various bits of pork. A special bread was provided from Sarafina's and most of an afternoon was spent on the terrace, yet again. Sylvain brought out a bottle of 2001 Volnay for dessert and the rest of the Ferreira port from Monday's lunch.


Changes: Fish Top (note the Top not Pot) has opened in Atlantis Casino. It's the same owner as Fish Pot in Grand Case, Jean Marc. He had a full page ad, half page for each, in the Daily Herald this week.


Wine & Cheese Party: Select Wine Cellar and Champagne Snack Bar are hosting a monthly wine and cheese tastings, usually on the first Friday of the month. The next one is on 7 March. Send an email to Sylvain for more details or a reservation (highly recommended as these are very popular).

Harmony Nights will run every Tuesday night in Grand Case until April. Pascal from Blue Martini is in charge of entertainment. He also has entertainment at his restaurant next to the parking lot on several nights.

Orient Village has a similar, though smaller, affair on Friday nights.

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
Kakao Beach
Kakao Beach
Oizeau Rare
Pirate Beach Bar
Paradise View
Pedro's Beach Bar
Tai Chi
Lots here
and here
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear

The Mario's Bistro Cookbook is now available. They are shipped via UPS and cost $49 for one, $87 for two, and $123 for three, delivered. Delivery via UPS should take a day or two in the US.

L'Esperance Hotel has great rates and is conveniently located. It's quite handy if you just need a night or two at either end of your vacation because of the wretched flight schedules. They have a lovely pool and offer free wireless internet access.

Sandy Molloy at Molloy Travel offers personalized service to fit your needs and budget.