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St Maarten/St Martin
18 January 2009 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

Weather: We arrived in the middle of a cool and rainy week, but it's all relative as most of the northern US was having some of the coldest weather in a decade. Rainy means scattered showers as in it had rained in at some time in some locations, but not all over the island and not for long. In fact, we were told that it had rained before we arrived, but we never saw any rain on Thursday. Friday was a bit cool, maybe 80 at most, and quite breezy. There was no rain until a squall came in rattling the lampshades and disrupting the satellite TV reception at about 9PM. It lasted about half an hour. Saturday was another coolish, somewhat humid, day reaching about 80. There were no showers in Cupecoy, but the photo shows that it was raining someplace.   Sunset on Saturday
Click for Juliana Airport, St. Maartin Forecast Here's the current local conditions and here's the forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. We've passed the winter solstice, so for the next six months we'll be getting more sun every day, increasing slowly at first. Sunset today is at 5:56 and the moon is waning. Full moons for 2009 are 9 Feb, 11 Mar, 9 Apr, 9 May, 7 Jun, 7 Jul, 6 Aug, 4 Sep, 4 Oct, 3 Nov, and 2 Dec.

SXM-Beaches: Simpson Bay Beach is one of the longest beaches on the island and one with the least development. The section of Simpson Bay on the east side of the drawbridge is called Kim Sha Beach and has The Royal Palm Resort and the Atrium Resort with their facilities and few beach bars in the environs, now-departed Neil Rooney's Buccaneer Beach bar being one. The other side of the drawbridge is the loading dock and private homes, giving way to condominium projects. La Siesta Residence is in here and a bit further along is Turquoise Shell Inn, both with pools. These are very close to all the action in Simpson Bay. Further along is Azure Beach Studios and the Horny Toad Guesthouse, both lovely spots on the water. Further still is Mary's Boon and Karakter Beach Bar, the only places that I know for the public to get sustenance on this long stretch of beach.   Simpson Bay looking east

On Food and Cooking Cover   Beach Reading: On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee is a great book if you are interested in food, and it can be read in small parcels on the beach, without any loss of continuity. It's a mix of culinary lore, food history, and scientific investigation, that explores every aspect of the food we eat: where it comes from, what it's made of, and how and why it behaves as it does when we bake, broil, steam, or otherwise ready it for the table. In addition to chapters on foods such as eggs, fruit, meat, and dairy products, McGee investigates wine, beer, and distilled liquors; food additives; and digestion and sensation, among other topics. A section on nutrition reveals, among much else, that Americans have always been prey to food faddism. The book concludes with an investigation of the basic food molecules (water, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats and oils) and a discussion of cooking methods and utensil materials. It's a chemistry primer guaranteed to make clear and enjoyable what was probably less so in the classroom. It has been recently revised and I was reminded of it by the entry below under alcohol.

Little Bay   Activities: Captain Jerome from SXM Boat Trips welcomes you aboard his 27 foot Boston Whaler. He can get you to Crole Rock, Happy Bay, Tintamarre, and Pinel. He's got the speed to visit Anguilla, seeing Cap Juluca, Sandy Island, Little Bay, Crocus Bay, and Shoal Bay, or even to Anguilla's outlying uninhabited islands, Dog Island and Prickly Pear. The photo (left) is a shot of Little Bay, a marine sanctuary on the north side of Anguilla where we have mingled with schools of tropical fish.

For great snorkeling day sails check out Random Wind. Good food, good snorkeling, and good times. Enter the SXM-Info contests for $40 coupon. Five lucky couples win this every year. It might as well be you.

  Random Wind

Clef du Vin   Alcohol: Harold McGee has an interesting article in the NY Times about ageing wine: For a Tastier Wine, the Next Trick Involves .... Martha and I have been fans of McGee ever since the above-mentioned book came out, solving many food related questions and debunking a good bit of lore. In this article he takes on the wine wand (a hollow glass tube that has a large cut-glass knob at one end and contains a rattling handful of pierced faceted balls that look like costume jewelry beads). A version for ageing a glass of wine is a mere $325, while the full bottle variety will set you back $525. Another approach is the Clef du Vin (photo left) that can be found at Select Wine Cellar in Orange Grove. It's a bit of alloyed metal that catalyzes certain reactions in the wine or actually participates in the reactions. Copper, silver, and gold are all known to react directly with the sulfur compounds. Copper and iron also catalyze the reaction of oxygen with many molecules. Slow oxidation in the bottle is known to cause the tannins in aged red wines to become less astringent, and its widely believed that aerating a young red, for example by decanting it, promotes rapid oxidation and softens its tannins.
McGee reports that while the sulfur reactions can be rather swift and a little bit of sulfur goes a long way in the nose, the perceived "softening" of the tannins (and I have perceived it from both aeration and the Clef du Vin) is an extremely slow reaction whether catalyzed or merely attempted via aeration. McGee and his two cronies believe that the perceived softening is caused by the large change in taste caused by the removal of the sulfur compounds. Read the article for the full story and try this at home. One can easily test the effects of aeration by tasting the first glass from a bottle against a glass from the rest of the bottle after it has been decanted and vigorously swirled. Use a clean copper penny to see the results of the catalytic effect.

One interesting and helpful tip in the article is that the musty taste of a bad cork can be removed by pouring the wine into a glass bowl and covering it with plastic wrap. The offending chemical from the bad cork is 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, which is chemically similar to the polyethylene of the plastic wrap, so it sticks to the plastic. Remove the plastic and serve! It's worth a try.

We went to Select Wine Cellar and picked up a 2005 Savigny-Les-Beaune ($25.50) from Jean-Jacques Girard and his 2006 Premier Cru Les Peuillets ($31.30). For special occasions we choose a couple bottles of Deutz Champagne ($48). In truth, I find it hard to tell the two Burgundies apart. 2005 was a better year, rated a perfect ten versus the seven from Berry Brothers for the 2006, but the 2006 is a better vineyard. Obviously, the skill of the winemaker is a wash. Martha claims to detect more tannin in the 2005 and more fruit in the 2006. Surely the fruit makes sense as the younger wine will have maintained its fruity freshness. However, its youth is the very thing that suggests that the tannins will not have oxidized and mellowed. I'm guessing that the fantastic year (2005) produced bigger, bolder wines that will take longer to mellow. In any event, as Sylvain said, the 2006 is drinking well now. I'll have to do more research and if you like Burgundy, go have some fun with these.

Construction: Below left is a shot of the Blue Mall project from our roadside balcony. It doesn't look a lot better from up here: big, blank wall. We haven't seen much action over there since we arrived and this photo doesn't look much different from those on the construction page> of SXM-Info. On the right is a similar shot of the Cupecoy Yacht Club's progress. A comparison to last season's photos shows a considerable amount of work. Look closely and you'll see they have blocked off the lagoon's waters and are building the docks for the marina.

 

Blue Mall   Cupecoy Yacht Club

Groceries: We stopped at the Maho Food Express on the way to Sapphire and picked up some staples. It's still there and has a bit of parking out front and they will validate an hours worth of free parking in the underground garage. The wine selection was slim but we got a nice bottle of Chedeville's 2007 Macon for only $8.40, plus some crackers, milk, sugar, and yogurt to get through the afternoon of unpacking and the next morning. We had brought the cheese that was left in our refrigerator in NY. There are no customs, nor customs duty. You can bring in meat, cheese, and alcohol, essentially any legal product. As the meat here comes from the US, and the cheese and alcohol are superb, it hardly makes sense to bring it in.

US Imports had some good Guadeloupe tomatoes recently, the first of the season, so I'm told. They've also had good Spanish oranges. We did most of our shopping at the Grand March in Cole Bay. They have very good meat and vegetable departments and an impressive selection of wine. Like all supermarkets that sell wine, much of it is an unknown quantity and no one in the store can guide you. We were underwhelmed by the cheese selection, ,but did pick up some St Nectaire at about $6.50 per pound and Cantal for about $7.20. These prices seem quite good to me. They had a US "proscuitto" that tastes more like pastrami, but it's only $10 per pound.

Sapphire Beach Club: Our condo will be available again in low season (starting 15 April) for $1000 per week. The rental includes about $500 in coupons from several of our website clients. Check the calendar on our website for available dates.

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.

  ginger

Travel: We did get out of our home (with a bit of pushing as even studded snow tires failed us) and Continental got us from Albany to Newark reasonably on-time. Given that we had to overnight in Newark, on-time performance was hardly required. We did use Hotwire to get us a hotel room in Newark for $86, all taxes and fees included. It turned out to be in the Holiday Inn: close, convenient with an airport shuttle, and a couple decent restaurants. I had looked at Hotels.com and Priceline and concluded that Hotwire had the best deal. It's hard to say as you have to put in a bid to get the lowest price. If it is accepted, then your credit card is charged. Generally, if it is not accepted, you cannot bid on the same arrangements for 24 hours. Best advice is to start long before you need the room and bid very low, ignoring their warnings that it is unlikely that your bid is high enough. If it doesn't work, try again the next day, increasing your bid a little bit.

One would hope that this was not necessary, but Continental still has no decent connections for the Newark-SXM flight from Albany. The first flight of the morning from Albany arrives in Newark 10 minutes before the Newark-SXM nonstop flight departs at 7:45. The good news is that Continental's website is now more user-friendly than ever. You can request an approximate departure date and an approximate length of stay and it gives pricing for a month's worth of possibilities. We saw two week trips for as low as $450 per person. Our three month stay could be purchased for $489 round-trip per person. Obviously, these are mid-week flights, but that does avoid the weekend crush at Juliana.

We flew out of Newark as the cold wave swept the northeast. Given numerous deicings and delays, we were an hour late for takeoff and an hour late getting in to SXM at about 2PM. We were almost the last people off the plane and even though there were several immigration booths open and no obvious delays, it took us almost half an hour to get through. Our luggage was there as we walked into the baggage area. As we exited the terminal, the Unity runner was there waiting for us. We got their shuttle to the their nearby office and squeezed our two carry-ons and two (free) pieces of luggage into a Picanto for the trip to Sapphire.

  Picanto

Nature: The island seemed pretty green as we headed through the lowlands toward Marigot on Thursday. There is a new roadway (currently dirt) carved into the Belle Creole property and there has been a considerable amount of clearing alongside the roadway. There is no sign offering anything and I'm tired of reporting the latest rumors on this project. It was a lovely place back in the early 90's. Even the ruins are fairly impressive today.
Mammelles On the left is a shot of the mammelles in the French lowlands and a snippet of the Dutch lowlands. It's all green and there is hardly any sign of Hurricane Omar's recent visit. On the right in the Dutch lowlands is the wooden tower that was used by the Cove at Cupecoy to lure unsuspecting buyer's to their doom. This was one of the earliest projects to fold, having invested most of its money in a sign, a tower with several flags marking supposed units, and a sales office. They did manage to sell the sales office.
  Belle Creole

Traffic: Even on a random Thursday afternoon, the traffic at the airport was pretty bad as we arrived (about 2PM), but by the time we got the car at Unity's office in Simpson Bay (4PM), it had cleared out. On Friday we headed out to the Orange Grove Shopping Center via the lowlands and Marigot. It was about 1PM as we traveled through and the new rotary at the cemetery in Marigot up JFK street and out through Bellevue. The drive back at 4:30 was equally quick.


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


Current Contest: 28 December to 1 March 2009
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
GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Crole Rock
Tijon Perfume - One free bottle
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service

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:

1 March to 26 April 2009
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
GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Crole Rock
Tijon Perfume - One free bottle
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service


RESTAURANTS


On 11 Jan the euro was at 1.343. Today it is at 1.329. Hardly any change, but at least in a good way (for those of us with dollars). Vanessa at California Restaurant confirms that they are still doing 1 to 1. Le France in Marigot's Marina Royale is doing 1 to 1 also. We'll let you know as we hear from more of them.

Mario's Bistro
You'd think I owned stock in this restaurant from all the reviews. It is Wendy K's favorite restaurant and she has been filling in as restaurant reviewer as we stayed back in the US until now. We arrived on 15 January and already had reservations at Mario's for our anniversary dinner. It really is a fine restaurant, well-fitted out, roomy, great service, a fine wine list, and Mario's cuisine. It is also quite close to our unit at Sapphire, making it quite nice after a long day traveling. The restaurant is so popular that reservations are a must in high season and parking is difficult. We parked on the main street and walked a couple hundred yards. Given the calories that would soon arrive, the walk was good for us.

A 7PM reservation generally garners a waterfront table, which was waiting for us. We started with two flutes of champagne as the menus, wine list, and a recitation of specials were delivered. For a shared ap, we decided on the creamy risotto with porcini mushrooms and crispy Serrano ham slices. This fabulous dish blends creamy soft risotto with a bit more texture from tasty porcini mushrooms and adds the satisfying salty snap of serrano ham, a virtuoso mixture of tastes and textures. Martha had a duo of tuna ap for her main course. It featured a bit of warm sashimi and a tuna maki roll that was battered and deep fried, essentially a tempura tuna maki. The platter was filled with Japanese condiments and topped with a bit of mche. I had the duo of pork: a pork cheek long-braised and pulled and a pork loin wrapped in smoky bacon. It included the signature half head of roasted garlic. All of these dishes had a myriad of flavors and textures. Better yet, they all were quite good with a bottle of 2002 Auxey-Duresses from Champy. Unfortunately, we were told it was the last bottle in the wine cellar. We asked for a bit of Armagnac before we left and a fabulous tarte tatin was delivered with a candle. It was a great and filling meal that cost $161 given the $1.3/euro that they are currently using.

  Auxey-Duresses

Duo of pork

Duo of tuna Risotto

Champagne Snack Bar
On Friday, after we got our owner's closet unpacked and struggled with the internet, our first order of business was to provision the place. It was already 12:30, so we decided to have lunch and contemplate our wine cellar at the same time. The drive through Marigot was quite quick, aided by the new rotary at the cemetery and the changed traffic pattern through the center of Marigot. We got to the Orange Grove Shopping Center and sat down for lunch at Champagne Snack Bar. Sylvain came out of Select Wine Cellar next door with a bottle of Chantal Lescure's 2006 Beaune Premier Cru Chouacheux ($49.50). That's a great start to any lunch. Eventually we ordered two specials, chicken liver salads with melted goat cheese toasts and a few slices of cured ham, possibly Serrano ($13). We forgot the camera, so no photo, but they were lovely and quite tasty.
  Terrace

Karakter Beach Bar
Wendy K went to Karakter Beach bar on Simpson Bay and sent this in: It's a really cute place, just beyond Mary's Boone, with pretty teak tables set up under sea grape trees. The beach chairs and umbrellas are free if you eat there, and although I don't care for Simpson Bay beach all that much, it's a nice place to go once in a while. [ed note: some days it is difficult to find your bathing suit] We both had coconut shrimp: 5 large ones that had been grilled and were sprinkled with coconut and arranged with lime slices on the rim of a glass. There was a bit of salad with lime mayo dressing in the glass. A lovely presentation and just $8. Drinks come in real glasses and are served on the beach, as well.
  The bus at Karakter

News and Changes: It appears that Fathoms Airport road is now called Blue Martini, although I'm told it is no relation to the Blue Martini that has been in Grand Case for some time. Karakter, on Simpson Bay Beach near Mary's Boon, is having a beach dance at 6:30 on the first Friday of every month. Jen Porter sings and plays the piano at The Sopranos all through January. She covers Stevie Nicks, Aretha Franklin, Alanis Morisette, Pink Floyd(?), Led Zeppelin (??), and Queen (???). That's what it says.


BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS


  Our condo: Our condo has only a few days available (10-15 Jan) for just $100 per night. Just get a cheap flight on Jet Blue and email us the days that you want. The condo will be available for rent at $1000 per week from 15 April 2009 to 15 December 2009. The rental includes about $500 in coupons from several of our website clients. The holiday weeks will be available at $2000 per week and the balance of the high season that is available will be $1500 per week. It will be unavailable from 15 January 2009 until 15 April 2009. Check the calendar on our website for available dates. The rate is so good and the coupons are so popular that we get about 60% occupancy in the low season. If you want a week, it's best to book early.

  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.  

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.

 

  We have sent the article featuring four recipes from four restaurants in (or close to) the Lowlands to St Maarten Events. Look for a moules appetizer from Mario's Bistro, a vichysoisse from Ti Sucrier, lamb chops from Montmartre Restaurant, and a blanc mange dessert from Boucaniers. I had several photos for the article and Michael Dingemans, the publisher, was on the island recently taking more photos. As always, his wife, Carina, turns it into a beautiful layout. The magazine is distributed free throughout the island.

Amazon: I'm not convinced that the Kindle e-book from Amazon is the best thing to take to a beach, but it sure is a lightweight way to get some of your favorite books to the Caribbean, especially now that the second bag costs $25 or so on most flights! 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.

 

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
Escargot
Kakao Beach
Oizeau Rare
Paradise View
Pirate Beach Bar
Tai Chi
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Diamonds International

Mario's Cookbook   The Mario's Bistro Cookbook is still available online. 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.

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

L'Esperance Hotel just outside downtown downtown Philipsburg is conveniently located to all the action in Philipsburg. The rates are quite attractive, there's a lovely pool on the premises, and the Wifi is free.
  L'Esperance Hotel