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St Maarten/St Martin
15 February 2009 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

Weather: As I said last Sunday, the morning was rainy. This shot was taken in a light sprinkle at about 8:30 as we headed to Marci's Mega Gym. That is a full rainbow reaching from Cupecoy to the lagoon over the top of the Blue Mall. We proceeded to Orient for lunch and the day turned out to be all right, but that evening we received a lot of rain based on the low spots on the road being full of water on Monday morning as we headed to the gym. Tuesday was miserable: windy, cool (mid-70's), with scattered showers all day and night. Wednesday continued the misery and below is a shot of whitecaps on the lagoon. It takes a 12 to 15 knot wind to kick up whitecaps. Thursday was considerably better, not as much wind, not as much rain, but still cool. Many locals were wearing jackets or hooded fleeces (and I envied them).   Rainbow in Cupecoy
Whitecaps on the lagoon   Friday morning arrived with haze on the horizon, Saba is barely visible, and the temperature was 73F. I don't expect much sympathy, but that really is a bit cool in a 20 knot breeze. The day eventually turned out to be decent, no rain, a bit less wind (no whitecaps on the lagoon), and ended with Tango on this sunset cruise (right). Saturday (Valentine's Day) was quite nice, warm, sunny, deep blue sky with a few puffy white clouds and it all ended with a green flash. Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin 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. Sunset today is at 6:10 and the moon is waning. Full moons for 2009 are 11 Mar, 9 Apr, 9 May, 7 Jun, 7 Jul, 6 Aug, 4 Sep, 4 Oct, 3 Nov, and 2 Dec. tango on sunset cruise

SXM-Beaches: It was a poor week for the beach, cool and windy. The Friday paper said the rough surf at Orient off Coco Beach Bar took an 18 year old local boy out at about 4PM. His two brothers searched in vain and the gendarmes, various beach skidoo vendors, and sea rescue crews searched until dark. His body was found the next morning. I never thought that Orient bay could ever get that rough, short of a major storm. The authorities closed the windward side beaches once last year and that was the only time I know that happened, short of an actual hurricane. We're all down here to have fun, and that includes the locals, so please be careful in the rough surf, especially if you are not a strong swimmer.

Things were not so rough on our side of the island. There is still quite a bit of sand at Cupecoy. It's possible to walk from the dock beach at the monolith to the northernmost beach in front of ShorePointe. Mullet looks good - calm water and lots of sand, but a bit of erosion in front of the chairs down to the water.

Beach reading: Martha has started The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It's an educational and eye-opening account of a Afghanistan's political turmoil while also developing characters whose heartbreaking struggles and emotional triumphs resonate with readers. The Kite Runner follows the story of Amir, the privileged son of a wealthy businessman in Kabul, and Hassan, the son of Amir's father's servant. As children in the relatively stable Afghanistan of the early 1970s, the boys are inseparable. They spend idyllic days running kites and telling stories of mystical places and powerful warriors until an unspeakable event changes the nature of their relationship forever, and eventually cements their bond in ways neither boy could have ever predicted. Even after Amir and his father flee to America, Amir remains haunted by his cowardly actions and disloyalty. In part, it is these demons and the sometimes impossible quest for forgiveness that bring him back to his war-torn native land after it comes under Taliban rule.

  The Kite Runner cover

kayak   Activities: Juan Pablo Piscione from Tri Sport just won the Border to Border kayak race on the island. His father-in-law and partner in the business, Malcolm Maidwell, just won first place in the Daily Herald's Valentine's Day love story contest. The story told of his sail across the Atlantic 45 years ago. He came within sight of his destination (Trinidad) when he was becalmed and floated away to Grenada where he met a lovely lady who became his wife. Moral of the story: go with the flow and accept what the universe presents.

On the right is a shot of Random Wind running past our balcony on Wednesday. It was pretty rough on the windward side of the island but not so bad over here. Diane says " Enter the SXM-Info contests for $40 coupon aboard Random Wind. Five lucky couples win this every year. It might as well be you."

  Random Wind crossing our bow

Alcohol: For Valentine's Day we purchased a 2002 Gevrey-Chambertin Ostra from Trapet at Select Wine Cellar ($69). It was rated at 93 on the vintage charts, although they recommend that it be held for a few more years. We also picked up a 1995 Vougeot Premier Cru Les Cras from Franois at Philipsburg Liquors. It's rated at 90 and ready to be consumed according to the charts. The charts were right, the 2002 G-C was a fantastic wine, but the 95 Vougeot was better now.

Blue Building   Construction: On the left is a photo of the circular blue building in Cole Bay across from the Cappuccino Diner. This is the one that was blocked off by Conveco NV, exercising its "right of retention". They appear to be a local contractor who I suspect has not been paid. You can read the sign if you click on the photo to get the larger version.

A judge has lifted the injunction stopping construction of the high-rise on Billy Folly Road. The neighbors have now started the usual ads in the Daily Herald, this time decrying the fact that this project doesn't have enough parking (like all other projects on the island). The Bigger Folly is the belief that anyone who has the power to stop this actually cares what the local voters have to say about anything.

  2002 Gevrey-Chambertin Ostra from Trapet and 1995 Vougeot Premier Cru Les Cras

Rock River Steak   Groceries: We picked up some frozen filet mignon from Rock River Steaks at Cost U Less. Betty at the Horny Toad Guesthouse has been serving them at her parties for some time, and we thought they were pretty good. It turns out they cost about $4 each for a 7 ounce steak. That's less than $10 per pound for some pretty good steak. Go online and they sell them for $3 per steak! (plus shipping) I called the 800 number on their site to see about shipping and I suspect I got the janitor who transferred me to the human resources manager's voice mail. Maybe you'll have better luck or just go to Cost U Less.

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

Endless Summer   Shopping:: Endless Summer Swimwear has a large collection of bathing suits, pareao, wraps, and other resort wear in two shops, one in Philipsburg near the head of town and another in Simpson Bay just west of the bridge. They have designs from Germany, Italy, Israel, and France as well as the US and Canada, by renowned designers La Perla, Roidal, Sunflair, Viva, Gideon Oberson, Tara Guinna, and more. There's even a 10% discount coupon on their website.   Endless Summer swimsuit   Endless Summer swimsuit

Travel: Lots of news this week. First, there are still long lines at immigration. I'm not sure that there are enough tourists to justify this and, therefore, I believe the long lines are related to problems with the scanners, etc. This is somewhat verified by the fact that the government has just approved 4.1 million for marketing the island to combat dropping tourism. All this despite the recent Daily Herald editorial which essentially said that people aren't going anywhere given the current world economic problems and that the island's money might be better spent on the island rather than shipped off to advertisers in the US.

SHTA and SMMTA (St Maarten Tourist Assn and its Maritime cousin) have decided that marine traffic (that would be mega-yachts) are down 20% this season. The Daily Herald published a puff piece straight from the SMMTA flacks stating that one of the causes of this was the increase in port fees and the silly application thereof. They claim that ships that dock here and go out on three single day trips to neighboring islands still pay for seven days in the port. Doesn't seem so bad to the guy who has to put up with stopped traffic as they go back and forth, but I did notice that there a lot more large yachts off Marigot now that the breakwater really does break the chop off the Anguilla Channel. Curaao is also reporting lower tourism.

Nature: The Daily Herald recently carried a story about the lionfish invasion of the Southern Atlantic and Caribbean. It came originally from the tropical waters of the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, arriving in the US as an aquarium fish. Some escaped or were released and lacking any predators in our waters, they have proceeded to devour most everything on our reefs. Presently, they are working their way through the Bahamas, heading toward SXM. The fleshy spines contain a poisonous venom, although it is generally used as a defensive strategy. Don't pick one up. Here's a video from NOAA with a lot more detail.

  Lionfish

local politician   Traffic: Somewhat corroborating the lower tourism story is that traffic seems a bit lighter than last year. Nonetheless, when we come back from Pburg, even though we move quickly, the traffic on the other side of the road usually is backed up from the future home of the Cole Bay rotary to the airport.

Crime: Two cases have just arrived in court, so the Daily Herald has been reporting on the charges. Louie Laviest, former commissioner of labor, was charged with the usual forging of documents and bribery. Essentially the government says he accepted bribes to provide false working papers while he was the commish. The last charge was for employing an illegal alien in a barber shop he owned.

It was also revealed that the government wants $1.4 million from former prosecutor Marcel Loor and his girlfriend, saying that this was money they earned from illegal activities. While Loor admits to the charge of tax evasion because he didn't pay taxes on this chunk of money greater than his government salary, he says he was moonlighting and acquired it legally. My guess is that he was working tables on the French side and just forgot to declare his tips. And if you believe that, there are some really fine real estate deals available on the island just for you.

Small island story: Some people I met at Marci's Mega Gym last season wrote to me about their inability to get a car rental at a decent price. I sent them to Michael at Unity Car Rental, the company that is supplying our car for the season. They wrote back to me saying: "We were able to get a Nissan Sentra for 2 weeks Feb15-March 1 for $480.00 USD from Unity Car Rental, about half the price of Hertz, National, and Thrifty." The big companies have franchises here and the owners of the franchise are rarely at the business. Michael doesn't pay franchise fees and he is always there - saves you money and provides superior service.   Unity Logo


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
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more


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
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
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more



RESTAURANTS


On 8 Feb the euro was at 1.292. Today it is at 1.290. 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. L'Auberge Gourmande is doing $1.2 to 1 . We'll let you know as we hear from more of them.

L'Auberge Gourmande
We drove out to Grand Case on Saturday evening, parked in the central lot and strolled over for a fine dinner on the porch with Christophe at L'Auberge Gourmande. Florence and Christophe are the longtime public faces here, but Saturday nights are usually slow because it is timeshare changeover day, so she gets a night off. We had made a reservation, requested a seat on the porch, and it was waiting. We ordered water, looked over the rather long wine list, and choose a 2006 Auxey-Duresses from Jaffelin. (69)
  Florence and Christophe
Auxey is in the southern part of the Cote de Beaune, just south of Pommard. A lovely white wine is made here, but the reds are also quite nice, though lacking the power of a Pommard - perfect, in fact, with the lighter fare we ordered for dinner. We started with the goat cheese and Roquefort with pecans in baked phylo dough with baked apple and balsamic dressing (left), to be followed with a duo of Chilean sea bass and monkfish in a saffron sauce off the specials list (center), and the chicken breast stuffed with a blue cheese morel mushroom sauce (right). The ap is very nice, combining several flavors with the several textures: the smooth texture of the cheeses, the satisfying crunch of the baked phylo dough, and the even heartier crunch of the pecans - all this plus a bit of salad, some baked apple slices, and a hint of balsamic.

Martha's creamy saffron sauce was perfection with the firm-fleshed fishes and I have appreciated the combination of flavors with the tasty chicken breast on several occasions. Both dinners came with a starch, Martha's fish had a dollop of cheese risotto and the chicken had a very flavorful potato gratin. There were also several vegetables, so many that we skipped dessert, but in the past we have enjoyed the "No way around it" concerto of white chocolate mousse, hot baked fondant, and iced dark chocolate drizzled with hibiscus coulis sauce and the hot chocolate profiteroles filled with fresh vanilla ice cream. We finished a relaxed evening with complimentary brandies. Everything here was as we had left it last spring: efficient, friendly service bringing beautiful, tasty, and artfully arranged dishes to your table.

Goat cheese in pastry Duo of snapper and monkfish Chicken with morels and blue cheese

Kakao Beach Bar
On Sunday we headed out to Orient Beach. We had invited Patricia and Timothy from L'Esperance Hotel in Philipsburg for another long lunch at Kakao Beach Bar. We had reservations because Sunday is a big day on Orient. Our waiter even warned us that if we wanted the specials, we should order soon as the crowds descend and the specials are frequently gone in a half hour or so. The day was mediocre, cloudy and blustery, but the rains held off. We had the usual ros as we waited for a sashimi plate (left), a tilapia plate (center), a shrimp and grapefruit plate (right), and my supreme pizza (cheese, mushrooms, and ham). With a second bottle of wine, a bottle of water, and a strawberry tart, our total bill was $177. Service, as always, was great.
  Kakao logo

 
Le Montmartre
On Monday evening we took the very short drive over to Atlantis Casino for a very nice dinner at Montmartre with Cecilia and Nigel, the local reps for the VSF group. I didn't make the connection until I went to their website and saw that VSF stands for Vins Sans Frontieres, a play on the more famous Medicines Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders). It seems they supply wine to the mega-yachts. We had reservations and were rewarded with a pleasant corner table. Both owners, Gerald and Laurent, were working the dining room with Sam, on a rather slow evening so service was spectacular.

Martha and I shared the foie gras appetizer: two lovely half inch thick slices of foie gras with lovely toast points, a bit of gelatin, pepper, and a touch of pasta with garlic. Our tablemates shared some tasty frog legs. Martha had a special of Madagascar shrimp flambed with Pernod, Nigel had a lamb chop special, Cecilia had the filet mignon, and I had the tuna steak (actually two one-inch thick slices). Two bottles of Crozes-Hermitage went well with the dinners. Our total bill was about $150 per couple.

Blue Martini Bistro
On Wednesday we headed over to Grand Case for a dinner at Blue Martini. They have expanded the menu over the years and now have pizzas and an all you can eat foie gras plate. Yikes! As if I don't spend enough time in the gym, but I bet it's great! We had a tuna tartare starter with fresh dill and moved on to two specials. Martha had a veal picatta that was really a saltimbocca, rolled up veal, mozzarella, and proscuitto, while I had rognons (kidneys) in a mustard sauce (both about 17). Both came with fresh pasta. Our wine was an 2005 Aleth Girardin Burgundy (39) that was very nice. With water and espresso, our bill came to $120.

Antoine Restaurant
We headed into Philipsburg for some shopping and a visit to the DK Gems Tacori Trunk show. We left early enough to enjoy a lunch on the water at Antoine. As we were heading to a champagne party, we merely ordered a couple glasses of chardonnay to go with our chicken salad and our salad Nioise. Our bill was about $40 and the tacking duel out in the harbor between America's Cup boats was included at no extra charge. Seriously, it's a lovely dining room with a great view of all the action on the boardwalk, beach, and on into the harbor.

Chicken salad Chicken salad salad Nioise

Boucaniers Restaurant
On Friday we made a short trip to Nettle Bay for a lunch on the beach at Boucanier. Chef Nicolas Godebert worked with Cecile Briaud at Chanteclair, one of the finest chefs on the island. This was our going out for Valentine's Day treat as we avoid the crowds on the actual day, preferring a relaxing meal. We arrived to find only one other couple outside on the beach and left as a party of six was arriving, essentially having a private party on the beach.

The menu has both French and Crole cuisine with a lot of interplay. I had a wonderful chicken breast topped with a lightly spiced sauce chien with very crisp hand cut frites. Martha had a seafood salad with several large shrimp and some crab on toast. Both were around $20. We had a bottle of Pomplonne Ros (around $30). For the surprise of the season, we had a dessert: the chocolate brownie with ice cream and chopped nuts. It appeared to be a chocolate fondant (the ever-popular molten chocolate cake) baked a bit longer. We added some old rum and, despite the fact that the photographer managed to make it look as if a palm tree was growing up from the glass, it was lovely with the chocolate. In case your wondering, I am the photographer - blame it on the ros.

Comparing the sky in the photo of the 12m boats taken Thursday at Antoine with the sky in the photo below gives an idea ahow much better the weather was on Friday and on into the weekend.

Smoked chicken Seafood salad Chocolate brownie with rum

News and Changes: Dino Jagtiani has closed Rituals in Philipsburg. It had some very interesting sandwiches, smoothies, and good coffee, but it appears that this is not the time to try to sell high end food to cruisers on heavily discounted fares.

It appears that the Blue Martini on Airport Road in Simpson Bay will be presenting semi-famous musicians: John Cafferty and Beaver Brown Band with Eddie and the Cruisers on 22 Mar and Firefall and Al Stewart on 11 April.

Sopranos is featuring Diana De Prez this month. She's been compared to Janis Joplin and her repertoire includes Bonnie Raitt, Tina Turner, Annie Lennox, Dido, Bon Jovi, Madonna, and more.

Karakter, on Simpson Bay Beach near Mary's Boon, is having a beach dance at 6:30 on the first Friday of every month.


BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS


Tuesday Night in Grand Case: Grand Case is again having a Harmony Night on Tuesday. Restaurant Row will be blocked off and filled with street vendors, music, dancers, and parades. Here's some photos from previous years.

  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 (we are already at 30%). 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 vichyssoise from Ti Sucrier, lamb chops from Montmartre Restaurant, and a blanc mange dessert from Boucaniers. 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! They just came out with the newer version and it's barely a quarter inch thick and weighs about 10 ounces. It has 16 shades of gray for the page background and reads well even in direct sunlight. Maybe it is the best thing to take to the beach? 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
Radiant Gems

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.

Vista Royale provides a breathtaking panoramic view overlooking Great Bay, Philipsburg and the Caribbean. It's on the hill above Philipsburg, making it quite convenient. Check out the website for more details.
  Vista Royale