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St Maarten/St Martin
26 July 2009 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

Weather: First week after the last newsletter was dryer with only one day hitting 50% chance of precipitation. Daytime highs were in the mid 80's, but some nighttime lows were in the high 60's rather than the more usual high 70's. Recently, it has seriously warmed up and the daytime highs reach the normal summertime 86F and the nighttime lows don't drop very far into the 70's, if at all. All the heat and rain make this the season that the aptly-named flamboyant tree flowers. Keep an eye on Storm Carib to see where the tropical storms are and which may become hurricanes. Here's the current local conditions Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast and here's the forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset today is at 6:46 and the moon is a waxing crescent. We have passed the solstice (21 June) when the sun set at 6:47 and rose at 5:41, just a touch over 13 hours of sunlight. It doesn't change much here in the tropics and especially doesn't change much near the solstices. In NYC on the solstice the sun rose at 5:30 and set at 8:26, almost 15 hours of sunlight. Full moons for 2009 are 6 Aug, 4 Sep, 4 Oct, 3 Nov, and 2 Dec.   Flamboyant

Happy Bay   SXM-Beaches: Happy Bay can be reached by walking over the hill at the far end of Friar's Bay. The photo was taken as we sailed by on Random Wind. DeLinda Goodman spent the first week of June on the island and several days at Happy Bay. She writes: "Danny (not Dany at Cupecoy - ed) has been running a lolo there for the last couple years. He has had some problems with people stealing things from him and burning down his lolo. However, he had built it back up better than ever, complete with a picnic table area and bar. He rents chairs and grills food and has fantastic rum punches, beer, soft drinks, etc. He has widened the entrance to the path from Friar's Bay, so I think that is why there are more people. Also, word of mouth - people tell others about Happy Bay and how beautiful it is, and how great Danny's cooking is, so more come there. Also, there were lots of locals there every time we were there, so I think Danny probably has lots of friends there."

The last page in the Aug/Sep issue of Caribbean Travel + Life had a photo of Pinel. If you haven't been there, it's worth the ferry ride.

Beach reading: The Reluctant Tuscan by Phil Doran about $8 for a not perfect hardcover or $10 for a paperback - The last letter had a bit about Tuscan cuisine and Contessa (I believe she is a Tuscan Countess) wrote to me suggesting this book. It's quite amusing, especially for those of us who spend large amounts of time in foriegn countries. Here's the review from from Publishers Weekly:
Readers of Doran's amusing memoir about relocating from Los Angeles to the tiny Tuscan town of Cambione must first suspend their disbelief that a person in his right mind would actively resist such an opportunity. But resist Doran doesand when his sculptor wife buys a ramshackle, 300-year-old house there on a whim, she must drag him kicking and screaming out of his high-stress, low-reward life as a Hollywood writer and producer (among his hits: Who's the Boss? and The Wonder Years). What follows is rather predictable: the house turns out to be in even worse shape than anyone imagined, and the construction crew has no "discernible pattern" when it comes to showing up for work. Lines like "Things happen in Italy that don't happen anywhere else on earth. A magical friendliness is spread all over the place like pixie dust" don't do much to distinguish Doran's story from other books of its ilk, but the author's grudging optimism and dead-on ear for dialog certainly do. Doran's brutally funny accounts of tangles with everyone (including the mayor, the police, an inefficient landlord and Doran's long-suffering wife) are enough to keep readers hooked until the last page. It may not be a surprise that he lives happily ever after, but how he gets there is certainly worth the ride.   Reluctant Tuscan Cover

 

Activities: Diane from Random Wind says: "Here's a back flip off the bowsprit and a shot of our new captain, Trevor. He has been with us for 6 months now and is fantastic. He is British born and a long time sailor. He knows lots about sailing, boats and even customer care and teamwork. I am on board full time now and we are working together and having a blast with our guests. There are two shots of him. First he is flipping over the bowsprit rail; second, having a great time in the water with the guests.We have recently reinforced the stainless steel rail to accommodate our acrobatics and have just ordered a new custom sailbag for the mainsail. Enter the SXM-Info contests for a $40 coupon aboard Random Wind. Five lucky couples win this every year. It might as well be you."

The back flip is being done at the spot were Cupecoy turns into Bay Long with some of La Samanna's new villas on the cliff.

Backflip Handstand flip Captain Trevor

Sapphire Beach Club: Our condo will be available again in really low season (starting 15 June) for $900 per week. The rental includes about $500 in coupons from several of our website clients, including one for $50 off a weekly car rental from Unity Car Rental, one of the longest running and most trusted on the island. 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

Eryngii   Groceries: This is an eryngii mushroom. The Grand March was getting these along with the usual white buttons, oyster mushrooms, and shiitakes. This was something like the boletes that we find in our woods. The French call them ceps and the Italian call them porcinis. We used these beauties in my morning omelet and with shallots in a brown sauce made from the skillet that was used to cook some frozen Rock River filet mignons from Cost-U-Less in Pburg. They cost about $4 each for a 7 ounce steak. That's less than $10 per pound for some pretty good steak.   Rock River Steak
My Island Art   Shopping:: Jeff Vanderpool from My Island Art & Treasures sent along a tempered glass cutting board backed with a painting of Orient Beach. He had been on the island presenting his line to various stores and had stopped in to talk to Deepti at DK Gems. She sent along the cutting board which arrived safely.

Black Box Chardonnay   Alcohol: The last newsletter recommended boxes of Fish Eye Shiraz, but noted that we felt the chardonnay was not to our taste. Extensive research and a road trip to New Hampshire have brought Black Box Chardonnay to our attention (and refrigerator). The NH liquor store was having a sale, dropping the price from about $28 per box (three liters or four bottles) to $22. Being on their newsletter list, I got a coupon taking another $4 off, leading to $18 for four drinkable bottles of chardonnay. Not bad.

We also tried their Pinot Evil a VDP wine from France (in this case, the French island of Corsica!). Many people buy it for the label (The three monkeys are the See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil, on a box labeled Pinot Evil), but the wine tastes a bit like pinot in the same way that Coors tastes like beer. It was on sale for $19 for three liters, $4.75 for a mediocre pinot noir. I wouldn't serve it with a fine meal, but after a fine meal with a good burgundy, this would be a reasonable way to end the evening.

  Pinot Evil

Travel: The Aug/Sep issue of Caribbean Travel + Life had an article on inexpensive villas (under $200 per person per night). None were on SXM, but three were on nearby Anguilla (Alcyon Villa, Sweet Return, and Beach Court) and another three on St Barts (Villa Capi, Villa Case et Cuisine, and Villa Playa Dorada). There were also several in the Virgin Islands. For villas on SXM, check with Marilyn Pulito at Villas in Paradise, winner of the Cond Nast Villa Rental Specialist award for the last four years.   Villas in Paradise

Sugarbirds   Nature: These are sugarbirds in our living room six floors above Cupecoy Beach. Last year we had a vine growing on the balcony overlooking the Caribbean and they built a nest there. Some babies hatched out while one of our guests was there. We were thankful that this pair decided not to build a nest in the ceiling fan.

Gas: The Dutch side just raised gas to 1.85 NAF/liter, given 3.8 liters per gallon, and 1.75 NAF/dollar, that's about $4 per gallon. There are several places on the French side doing 1 to 1 and the price is about 80 euro cents, or 80 US cents at 1 to 1 per liter. That's about $3 per gallon, a considerable savings.

Traffic: They are working on the Midass roundabout at the bottom of the hill in Cole Bay and rerouting traffic in that area.

Small Island story: The Dutch side has been reeling from power blackouts. GEBE has been having some massive problems. The Daily Herald has reported on them, but, of course, the reporting is merely a reprinting of the GEBE press release. Sure makes me glad that Sapphire Beach Club has an automatic-start emergency generator to keep our condo operating despite GEBE.


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


Winners of the contest that ended on 26 July 2009
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October) - Barbara Bonelli
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Barbara Bonelli
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - Barbara Bonelli
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Lori Bosco
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate - Catherine Jones
GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Crole Rock - Linda Snider
Tijon Perfume - One free bottle - Beverly Musil
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two - Barbara Bonelli
PassportMD - Six months free service - Ed Reap
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more - Bob Maze


Current Contest: 26 July to 25 October 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:

25 October to 27 December 2009 | 27 December to 28 February 2010 | 28 February to 25 April 2010 | 25 July to 31 October 2010
same cast of characters as current contest

 


RESTAURANTS


On 7 June the euro was at $1.40. Today it is at $1.42. Not much happening there. The following restaurants were offering better rates at the beginning of low season. Things can change rapidly, but these places have been holding these rates for some time. Vanessa at California Restaurant confirms that they are still doing 1 to 1. Pirate Beach Bar's menu is in dollars, no conversion necessary. Momo at Ti Bouchon says his menu is in dollars also. 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.

2009 Restaurant Annual Vacations Dates
Bali Bar Closed for September and October
Belle Epoque Restaurant No closing, open every day
California Restaurant Closed on Monday until December
Open every other day for lunch and dinner nonstop
L'Escapade Restaurant No closing, open every night
Montmartre Restaurant No closing, open every night
L'Oizeau Rare Restaurant
Reopened on 22 June
Tropical Wave Open all Summer 9:30-5:00
Mondays closed between Sept. 1st and Nov. 1st

Indian Restaurants
We were invited to a gathering at the American Masala Farm in Hebron, NY by the Agricultural Stewardship Association. They attempt to conserve working farmland by purchasing the development rights, giving farmers some money and reducing their property taxes. The American Masala Farm is about five miles north of our farm and is owned by Suvir Saran and Charlie Burd. Saran is the noted cookbook author and the co-owner and chef at Dvi, a one star Michelin restaurant in NYC. Suvir was at the stove (with some help). The wines were fine and the food was great.
This caused me to contemplate Indian cuisine on the island and what better guide than Deepti from DK Gems. She replied, "One of the best Indian restaurants is Shiv Sagar on Frontstreet. They have the best curries, the best quality of meat, and the best selection of veg and non veg dishes. As you know, there are many styles of Indian Cuisine, but I think Shiv Sagar covers most of them. There are a few more Indian restaurants here, most more casual, and their menus aren't as big as Shiv Sagar's menu. A new one that is really popular with the Indian's is called Swamy, on the French side and specializes in South Indian dishes. Another favorite is Pride of India, located in Simpson Bay, more popular for dinner because of the location.

I'll add one that Martha and I usually visit every season: Lal's Indian Cuisine. It's on Airport Road quite close to Turtle Pier. Lal is a great guy, (that's his photo on the right), the food is good and inexpensive, the rock and roll on the stereo is extensive, and so is the list of beers (he usually has Stella Artois). There is even some parking!

  Lal

Taco Macho sign  
Taco Macho
The Taco Macho truck is on the lagoon side of Airport Road between Gourmet March Supermarket and the bridge. As it is a truck, the dining area is not quite as elegant as Lal's, but the food is even less expensive. We got in the habit of picking up the soup of the day after our workout at Marci's Mega Gym. We especially liked the conch chowder and the meatball soup. There is even some parking!
  Dining area  

Campari  
Hibiscus Restaurant
We stopped at Hibiscus on one of our last visits to Grand Case last season. We wanted to say goodbye to Franco and Alessandra before we returned to the US for the summer. Italian hospitality will not allow simple goodbyes, however. We were seated to chat with Alessandra as Franco whipped up some special "drinks". He was experimenting with Prosecco, orange juice, and Campari. We tried about three versions and had assorted appetizers before made it to the door. The restaurant is lovely, the food is great, and the hospitality is even better.
  Drinks  

Salad Nioise
Salad Nioise

at Kakao Beach
and Kokomarina

Koko and Marina of Kokomarina
The cover story on the August issue of Food & Wine is on simple recipes from the south of France. The cover photo is a Salad Nioise with a glass of ros and the story goes on to make this part of a French Riviera Party. SXM's version of the Riviera is Orient Beach and we have often enjoyed long lunches there with just this meal. One of our favorite places for Salad Nioise is Kakao Beach. They have several ross and many lovely covered tables on the sand. Another approach is can be found at Kokomarina where the Sky salad is essentially a Nioise with chicken substituted for tuna. Similarly, there are several ross available and the sand in your shoes is the same.

View from the bedroom looking over the lagoon to the French lowlands  
Reviews from Peter
a frequent guest at our condo
Peter has rented our condo for about 10 days in November for several years. He uses it to extend his timeshare vacation, generally spending five weeks on the island per year. He dines out frequently and has shared his experiences with me (and now, with you). I'll be adding a couple reviews from Peter to every newsletter over the summer.

  View from the living room over the teak dining table on the balcony to Saba

Le Petite Auberge des Isles
Peter says: "We always return to *Le Petite Auberge des Isles* on the Marina Royale next to where Le Saint Germaine once was. Host Bruno and his wife Chef Francoise offer very good food at very reasonable prices. I enjoy their ham salad which is delicious and their mussels with pomme frites. Francoise will make anything you want as long as she has the ingredients. Francoise even serves the customers when Bruno gets carried-away talking with the diners."

I just used the search feature on SXM Information and found that we have been there three times in the last five years, most recently in March of 2007. Always good food and well-prepared at remarkably good prices, especially if you order one of the nightly three course dinner specials. Service is good but Bruno can get overworked if the place really fills up, and it often does. Relax and enjoy the wine.

  La Petite Auberge des Iles

Menu board at Bistro Nu
Bistro Nu
Peter says: "We also made several visits to *Bistro Nu* opposite the stadium on the way from Marigot to Grand Case. Chef Michael was on holiday in November, but his replacement did an excellent job. Of special note were the chicken liver salad and the lamb and beans. Host Jean-Claude always makes the experience enjoyable."

This is another favorite restaurant for us also. We'll have a review with photos in September.

Le Santal
Peter says: "After probably 30 visits to SXM over a 15 year span, we finally went to * La Santal * in Sandy Ground in May, and then again in November. Both times were most enjoyable. The setting is beautiful and the service and food are of the highest quality. The duck fois gras appetizer is worth every penny (I recall 33). They do 1 to 1$ for cash. It is a place to revisit for a special occasion. We were the only persons there on a Sunday evening in November - I hope they will not fall victim to this economy."

We haven't been there in at least a decade. It was good then and most people agree it is still good, even after the passing of owner Jean DuPont.

News and Changes: Halsey's Restaurant just put a 10% discount coupon on their website. They got a new wine list at the end of high season. I especially liked the Bourgogne, Pinot Noir, Domaine Champs-Perdrix 2004 for $32.

Vanessa at California Restaurant confirms that she is still doing 1 to 1 on the euro and they still take a souvenir photo for you during dinner.

Peg Leg Pub has a Sunday Brunch. It runs from 11AM until 3PM and costs $34.95 for adults, children 5-12 years old are only $1.50 per year, and children under 5 eat for free. Bloody Marys, Mimosas, and Bellinis are included.

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

Greenhouse Restaurant is bringing in boatloads of Saban lobster and selling them for $19.95 per pound at both locations (Pburg and Simpson Bay). That is the sunset view from the new Greenhouse Restaurant in Simpson Bay.

  Halsey's

I'm hearing a bit of worry from restaurant owners lately. It appears that the high season timeshare owners came down and provided pretty good business for the restaurants, but the low season is looking lower than a snake's belly at this point. I'm guessing it's both fewer tourists and fewer dollars per tourist available for restaurants. David Foini from Gondola Restaurant has yet to open his new establishment in Simpson Bay across from Pineapple Pete's. A few others in this area are rumored to be closing soon and two new developments will be opening with more restaurant space: the new Simpson Bay Yacht Club complex and the new project across the street.


BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS


Mambo Loco in the square at Orient Friday Night in Orient Village: Once again Orient Village is bringing in a band and several vendors on Friday evening for a lively time in their square. Mambo Loco was playing in the square as we left the island.

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
Diamonds International
Escargot
Halsey's Restaurant
Kakao Beach
Oizeau Rare
Pizza Galley
Pirate Beach Bar
Tai Chi
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Radiant Gems

  Our condo: We were here until 15 April and have rented almost over 70% of the time since then and it will be over 40% rented through the end of the year. The condo is available for rent at $900 per week from 16 June until 1 October, and $1000 per week until 15 December 2009. The rental includes about $500 in coupons from several of our website clients including one for $50 off a weekly car rental from Unity Car Rental, one of the longest running and most trusted on the island. The holiday weeks will be available at $2000 per week and the balance of the high season that is available at $1500 per week. As always any days within the next month are available for $100 each. It will be unavailable from 13 January 2009 until 13 April 2009. Check the calendar on our website for available dates. There's not too many weeks left, so 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." We hope you never need it, but when air evacuation flights cost $30,000 or more, it's good to have.  

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 now convinced that the Kindle e-book from Amazon is the best thing to take to a beach. Paul M wrote: "My wife and I spent a lovely week at La Samanna in late March and I loaded my Kindle with several books and read them on the beach. The Kindle was fabulous. I had a case and was careful not to get in contact with sand, but the device was excellent to use for beach or poolside reading." The new version and is 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. Here's a NY TImes review of the Kindle. 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.

 

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.

Fawnette at Azure Beach Studios is taking 20% off bookings from now until 15 November on most rooms. That could be you on the beach. Dominique at Colombus Hotel has offered great rates on her units above Oyster Pond. The Turquoise Shell Inn is offering a special weekly rate for the low season of $700 or $115 per night, taxes included until November 15th.
  Azure's beach