St Maarten/St Martin
25 January 2009 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Sunset on Tuesday   Weather: Sunday (18 Jan) was a lovely day with highs in the low 80s, but there were scattered showers. We enjoyed about 20 minutes of liquid sunshine during lunch at Orient. The clouds in the photos at Orient (below) and Cupecoy (left) give a hint as to how much rain was wandering around the Caribbean. Both Monday and Tuesday were cloudy, but we didn't see any rain in Cupecoy and the temperatures were in the low 80's. Wednesday was not much better, but it did have a rainbow. Thursday looked OK in the morning as we drove through Simpson Bay to Philipsburg and the strange southerly wind brought a wonderful, warm, sunny, and humid day with a fabulous sunset (right).   Sunset on Thursday
Rainbow on Wednesday   Click for Juliana Airport, St. Maartin Forecast Friday was quite nice, but it is still humid and so hazy that we have hardly seen Saba since our arrival. Saturday was still hazy on the horizon but had brilliant sunshine on a lovely day that reached 81F. Sunday has started out at 75F with plenty of clouds and haze on the horizon such that Saba at 26 miles out is hardly visible. 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 6:00 and the moon is new. 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: There is plenty of sand at Orient this season. Hurricane Omar did its worst damage on Beacon Hill, essentially the opposite end of the island. On the left is the view from just outside Pirate Beach Bar looking north and on the right is the view looking to the south.

Orient looking north   There is more sand here than last season. The clouds, however, tell you that the weather is not as good as it could be. The beach bar north of Pirate was burned and bulldozed a couple years ago. It is being rebuilt by Olivier, a former waiter at Le Cottage Restaurant.

On 20 Jan Wendy K says "Cupecoy had sand at the main beach - it's been coming back for about a week; first since the beginning of Nov. There's also a crescent of sand at the little cove. I've been swimming there the last few days. There are nice, but not "dangerous" swells, which make it fun the ride the waves without fear of getting rolled, but not great for actual swimming."

  Orient looking south

Food in History   Beach Reading: Food in History by Reay Tannahill (about $13) - It's an interesting world history of food from prehistoric times to the present. A favorite of gastronomes and history buffs alike, Food in History is packed with intriguing information, lore, and startling insights--like what cinnamon had to do with the discovery of America, how a new plow in Europe sparked the crusades, why the cow is sacred in India, why stir-frying was invented, and how food has influenced population growth and urban expansion. It was first written in 1973 and revised in 1988. It really is a history book, not a cookbook, so it is an interesting read at the beach. There are chapters on various geographical areas and various timeframes, so its possible to read a single chapter without losing continuity.

Grand Case action   Activities: We took a guided snorkel trip around Créole Rock with Sebby at GCBC activities desk. While we think his five minute boat ride to the Rock is the way to go, they can rent you kayaks and paddle boats that you can take out to the Rock. There is a bit of a beach there so you can leave the boats ashore and snorkel. While the Rock provides great snorkeling and is quite close, Sebby can take you further out to larger and less-traveled reefs. Sebby also offers a two for one snorkel trip in the SXM-Info contests.

Diane from Random Wind reports dolphin sightings this week. Come aboard for 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.


Rum tasting   Alcohol: We had a rum tasting this week as we bought three different Appleton rums: Special ($10.25), Dark ($10.35), and Estate V/X ($13.75). All prices are for a liter at Grand Marché. The French islands make rum much like La Belle France makes wine. The fruit (in this case sugar cane) is squeezed and the resulting juice is fermented. Ultimately, the fermented mixture is distilled, typically in a pot still in order to achieve alcohol levels around 40% or 80 proof. This produces what the French call Rhum Agricole. Older versions aged in wood rival Cognac and Armagnac in smoothness and complexity. The other islands make rum from the molasses left over from the sugar refining process and the cheaper versions use continuous column stills rather than the batch pot stills. Appleton's website says that the special is a mixture of the rum from a column still and a bit from the aged barrels of pot still rum. It certainly had a harsher, metallic taste. Their website does not mention the Dark, although the bottle says essentially what the website says about the Special. I suspect a bit of molasses has been added to impart the darker color and add a bit of sweetness, as I found this easier to drink neat. The V/X and all the more aged Estate wines are only made from pot still batches and aged in wood. More age yields a mellower, richer, more complex flavor and the V/X is a start in that direction.
The V/X is mixed from 15 different barrels and the Reserve uses 20 different barrels. After that, Appleton Estate starts to list the age of the product, starting at 12 years and going up to 30 years. No taste results recently, but we really liked the 12 year old the last time we tried it.

François Prudhomme from Philipsburg Liquors delivered a case of the 2004 Aleth Girardin Pommard on Tuesday. By that evening, we were sure that it was pretty good. The 2004 was not the best of recent vintages, so I'd give it a bit longer to breathe, but after 20-30 minutes it opens up and puts a smile on my face. Aleth was studying to become a lawyer, but changed careers coming back to the 17 acres of family vineyards in and around Pommard. She helped her parents until 1995, when they retired and she took over the domaine to make her first vintage. She has been doing a great job since then. I don't think I have ever seen the wine in the US, but WineZap says that Zachy's, Morrell, and Crush have some in New York. The only other places listed were Denver and points even further west. So come on down and try it here.


Construction: Jeff Berger recently wondered what was going into the octagonal blue building in Simpson Bay. The answer at the moment seems to be nothing, as it is surrounded by a fence with a sign proclaiming that some company is exercising its "right of retention." My guess is somebody hasn't been paying their bills. Not much of a guess as this is going on all over the world at the moment. Sorry, no photo.

Guadeloupe melon   Groceries: We got some thin-sliced Serrano ham at the US Imports near the French bridge and continued on to the Grande Marché in Cole Bay where we picked up a Guadeloupe melon. It's similar to the Cavaillon melon in France, about six inches (150 mm) in diameter with a pale yellow-green skin and several darker green lines. The flesh is orange and when ripe, it's one of the sweetest melons we've ever had. Just add a rosé for a perfect lunch. We went a bit further into Cole Bay and picked up a Chateau La Lieue's organic Rosé at Select Wine Cellar ($12) in the Orange Grove Shopping Center. The Chateau is located about halfway between Aix-en-Provence and Cannes in the south of France. Cavaillon is about halfway between Avignon and Aix-en-Provence. We drove through there during our vacation in France in late September. However, that was a bit late for fresh melons, but they are growing them in Guadeloupe right now. There's a coupon on Select's website that gets you a 10% discount. There's also a map to help you find Orange Grove.   La Lieue Wines

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.


Cruiseship terminal   Travel: The Daily Herald reports that approximately 1,341,833 cruisers came to the island last year. I guess the approximate is plus or minus a half tourist. The headline said it was the same as in 2007, but the story said it was down 5%. The photo was taken from Fort Amsterdam across the Bay from the cruiseship terminal. There are rumors that the government will fire on any cruiseship whose passengers do not spend enough money on Front Street - that's a joke. The NY Times had an article on affordable St Martin.

Traffic: We actually drove over to the Horny Toad Guesthouse on the water in Simpson Bay at 9:15 in the morning with no problems. That is between the 9:00 and 9:30 bridge openings, so this means that traffic is a bit better than last year. We chatted with Betty for a while and headed out to Pburg and on to Orient at 9:50. Again, no problems. I suspect the economy has affected tourism. Truthfully, I'd rather have the traffic jams and all the money I've lost in the stock market, but at least this is a small benefit. On the way home at 3:00PM we had no trouble, but traffic in the other direction was backed up past the end of the airport runway.

Nature: We have driven between Marigot and Grand Case four times this week and seen this iguana sunning himself beside the ghut (drainage ditch) near the turnoff to Friar's Bay thrice. The only time we didn't see a pair of them was when a road crew was clearing grass and rubbish.

Gas: Gas is a bit cheaper than last year, but not much, especially on the French side. The Texaco at the airport has it at 1.45 NAFl per liter or about 80 US cents per liter, $3.11 per US gallon. The Texaco in Nettle Bay is now a Cadisco selling gas at 0.83 euro cents per liter. Using 1.33 dollars per euro, this amounts to about $4.26 per gallon - not so good. The Gess in La Savane is selling gas for 0.87 euro cents per liter, or $4.46 per liter - less good. The Blue Point on the waterfront road just outside of Marigot sells at 0.93 euro cents per liter, $4.78 - absolutely no good. The Cadisco at Orient is using 0.86 per liter, but doing 1 to 1 on the euro, bringing them to about $3.20 per gallon. It appears that the Dutch side now has considerably cheaper gas for the first time in several years.



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 Créole 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 Créole Rock
Tijon Perfume - One free bottle
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service


On 11 Jan the euro was at 1.329. Today it is at 1.298. Vanessa at California Restaurant confirms that they are still doing 1 to 1. We had a lunch at Kokomarina where the menu proclaims 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.

Kokomarina is run by Marina, daughter of Zuzu and Alain who previously ran California Restaurant, and Koko, her husband. We stopped in on Sunday at about 1:30 for lunch and were lucky to get a table. It is a custom on the French side for restaurateurs (and many others) to go out for a late and lingering lunch on Sunday, especially at Orient. As we walked in we were greeted by François from Philipsburg Liquor. Christophe, the Maitre'd from Tropicana, was at the next table, and Florence from Auberge Gourmande was with her extended family taking up one side of the back room. Zuzu and Alain also showed up while we were there. They are still working on their real estate interests (Acropole Orient Villa and Coconut Cottage in Orient and California and Pavillon Apartments in Grand Case). They are somewhat involved in this restaurant and in their son's restaurant (Rancho del Sol, also at Orient). Zuzu also mentioned another business venture that will start soon. We'll keep you posted.

But how was lunch? We started with La Coste's Rosé d'Une Nuit ($21) and a bottle of sparkling water. It's a perfectly good rosé at a reasonable price, perfect for a warm afternoon on a wonderful beach. It arrived in a sturdy clear plastic wine bag, rather than a bucket. It's a bit cheaper than a bucket, much easier to store, and worked perfectly. Our lunches were the tasty Sky Salad (essentially a Niçoise with smoked duck breast - hence the sky - substituted for tuna) and a trio of maki rolls (tuna, salmon, and white tuna) with crunchy wakame seaweed and a potent dollop of wasabi horseradish. Both were quite good and filling and except for 20 minutes of liquid sunshine, it was a lovely afternoon. The complimentary shots of banana rum helped during the rain. Total cost: $63.

  Koko and Marina of Kokomarina

Skipjack's logo  
After lunch (and several banana rum shots), we headed back through Pburg and over the hill to Simpson Bay, making Skipjack's just in time for the Arizona-Philadelphia Conference Championship game. It was also the start of a two-hour happy hour (more like three hours if you were an Arizona fan). One corner of the bar is devoted to a very large screen TV (about five feet by eight feet) with good reception. It was a good game, made even better by cold Presidente on draft and some hot chicken wings. We didn't stay for dinner, but as we walked past the fish market on the way out we saw some tuna that was going to make someone happy. They still have tanks of both American and Caribbean lobsters.

Pirate Beach Bar
On Monday we headed out to look around Grand Case and then on to Orient Beach for some of Sylvie's conch salad at Pirate Beach Bar. Unfortunately, the conch delivery wasn't here yet, but Sylvie said the grouper looked good. And if you look to the right you'll have to agree. With peas and rice (or fries) and salad, it costs about $30 for two plates and two caribs. Use the coupon on the website and get a bargain on chairs and an umbrella to use after your fine lunch. The entire menu is on the site, but we think Sylvie does a great job with fish.
  Grilled Grouper

Salad Niçoise  
Kakao Beach Bar
On Thursday we headed out to Orient Beach for a fabulous lunch at Kakao. I've said it before, and I'll say it again because it's why we live here: "There are few things as wonderful as good food, good wine, and good service on a warm beach with your bare feet in the sand." We had a bottle of water, a bottle of rosé, a supreme pizza (ham, mushrooms, an olive or two), and a Salad Niçoise for $72. We lingered long over complimentary banana-vanilla rum, enjoying the beautiful day. There's a coupon on their website also.
  Supreme pizza

News and Changes: Johnnie B seems to have opened an outpost in the new fish emporium on the west side of the Dutch Bridge. His other place on Welfare Road still seems to be open. Picante is "closed for renovations". In the low season, that might happen. In high season, it just means closed. It appears that the Blue Martini on Airport Road in Simpson Bay will be presenting semi-famous musicians: 10,000 Maniacs on 31 Jan, John Cafferty and Beaver Brown Band with Eddie and the Cruisers on 22 Mar, and Firefall and Al Stewart on 11 April. 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.

Wine tasting dinner: La Samanna and François from Philipsburg Liquor are putting together a magnificent dinner and wine tasting featuring two wonderful wines from Bordeaux. The Gruaud-Larose is a St Julien containing about 60% Cabernet Sauvignon with the balance being mostly Merlot. It looks across the Gironde to St Emilion where the Grand-Mayne features 76% Merlot. Contact La Samanna at 0590 87 64 00 or François at 0690 87 29 78 for reservations. Here's the menu and the paired wines:

Château Grand-Mayne  
Dinner at La Samanna featuring
Château Gruaud-Larose and Château Grand-Mayne

Poivrade violet artichokes and black truffle, Cream of artichokes and black truffle en croute,
artichokes and truffle flan, crispy toast of artichoke en "Barigoule"

Sarget de Gruaud Larose 2001
Château Plantes du Mayne 2004

Terrine and cromesquis of duck foie gras, gingerbread and citrus caramel

Château Gruaud Larose 2001
Château Grand Mayne 2001

Sautéed Crayfish with snow peas, almond and bellota iberico chorizo

Château Gruaud Larose 1995
Château Grand Mayne 1995

Pheasant supreme with porcini mushroom, kale cabbage compote, balsamic sauce with maple

Château Grand Mayne 1990

Potato pie, ventreche pork and vacherin cheese

"Conférence" pear infused with coriander, heart of praline and walnut, anis and licorice ice cream

Château Gruaud Larose 1989

  Château Gruaud-Larose


  Our condo: We are here until 15 April and have a good bit of the following two months rented already. 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.


  Our article featuring four recipes from four restaurants from Cupecoy to Sandy Ground has been published in St Maarten Events and is available on the island. 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. Wine recommendations are provided by Select Wine Cellar, Philipsburg Liquors, Le Gout du Vin, and Vinissimo. I had taken several photos for the article and Michael Dingemans, the publisher, was on the island just before high season taking more photos. As always, his wife, Carina, turned it into a beautiful layout. The magazine is distributed free throughout the island and contains a useful island map as the centerfold.

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
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.

Colombus Hotel in Oyster Pond is conveniently located between Philipsburg and Orient Beach. The rates are quite attractive (about $200 per night in high season) for a room with cooking facilities, there's a lovely pool on the premises, and you can walk to several restaurants, including Captain Oliver's which is essentially across the street.
  Colombus Hotel