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St Maarten/St Martin
6 December 2009 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

Weather: In early November, after the last newsletter, the weather on the island reached the mid 80s and with 20-30% chance of precipitation, about normal for November, one of our favorite months on the island: great weather, all the restaurants are opening, and it's not as crowded. By the end of November the weather was a steady 82 for the high and 73-75 for the low with mostly clear days and very little chance of rain even on the cloudy days. The box shows the current local conditions and here's the forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset today is at 5:40 and the moon is a waxing crescent. We've lost about an hour of daylight since the last newsletter 6 weeks ago. The photo on the right is a mandevilla. Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast Full moons for 2009 are 3 Nov, 2 Dec, and 31 Dec. The second full moon in a single month is a "blue" moon. Moreover, this one is on New Year's Eve! I guess the opposite of a month with a blue moon is a month without a full moon. Contessa tells me that February 1865 is the only month recorded in history not to have a full moon. The remaining full moons in 2010 are 30 Jan, 28 Feb, 29 Mar, 28 Apr, 27 May, 26 Jun, 25 Jul, 24 Aug, 23 Sep, 22 Oct, 21 Nov, and 21 Dec.

  Mandevilla

And here is some more trivia from Wikipedia: "The term "blue moon" traditionally referred to an extra moon in a season: if a season had four full moons (rather than the more common three), then the third of the four moons was known as a blue moon. A season in this sense begins not with the months, but with the solstices and equinoxes. A mistaken definition, that the second full moon in a calendar month is known as a blue moon, became common in parts of the U.S. during the second half of the twentieth century due to a misinterpretation of the Maine Farmer's Almanac in the March 1946 Sky & Telescope magazine; this was corrected in 1999. [I've certainly gone with the two in one month definition and infoplease seems to like that better, even though they agree it's newer. - ed] Since there are 12.37 full moons in a year, a "blue moon" must occur on the average every 2.7 years, by either definition." A year with two blue moons occurs about once every 19 years.

Low landing   SXM-Beaches: Dany and John have a new sign at the entrance to the lot next to the Ocean Club. Look for "Cupe Coy Beach Bar" and follow the dirt road. In early November, the sand at Cupecoy was mainly in front of Shore Pointe, but the waves were starting to be huge, with the current toward the middle beach. It was possible to get in at the northwestern end, and the water was quite warm. Dany, John, and Selira are well; but it was a slow summer for them. Dany has new puppy, Renee, who is adorable and Shadow is still there as well. By late November, there was sand at all three beaches, as well as quite a lot in front of the Ocean Club. The water was a bit choppy at Cupecoy, but totally calm at Mullet. The next day Mullet had crashing surf and waves were breaking over the road to Beacon Hill stranding people as machinery closed the road. It was still lovely weather, though!

On the left is Air Transat coming in rather low at Maho in late November.

Construction: Porto Cupecoy is moving along, slowly. Currently they say December, but that looks unlikely. Bleu Mall is still growing.

Porto Cupecoy Porto Cupecoy Bleu Mall
Sapphire Beach Club: Our condo is available for the next 30 days for $100 per night. A week's 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.

We still have New Year's Eve available. In addition to the full moon this year, our neighbor anchors a barge off our balcony and provides one of the best fireworks shows on the island. We always have dinner at home, but all of the great restaurants at Atlantis Casino are within walking distance. Take a week including New Year's or Christmas for $1500.

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

Black Australorps and Buff Orpingtons   Groceries: The times had an article on the Soul Food Farm, a gourmet chicken farm in Vacaville, CA. Vacaville is between San Francisco and Sacramento. We raise our own chickens (for both eggs and meat) and fully agree with the comments on taste. All our birds have access to pasture and find a major percentage of their own food. On the left are our Black Australorp laying hens by the door and Buff Orpington pullets on the chaise. On the right is Captain Jack Sparrow, our Australorp rooster. On the island many places, especially on the French side, feature free-range and/or organic chicken. I had a very tasty chicken breast with bleu cheese and morels at L'Auberge Gourmande last February. You can also buy a quality chicken in the French markets and easily cook it at home.

  Caprese Salad

Watches   I heard some complaints about Cost-U-Less and Fresh Market in Pburg. The Rastas sell their produce on Sundays from their farm in the Bellevue area and have good tomatoes.

Shopping:: I was chatting with Love Mahtani from Jewels By Love about watches. He noted that his stores on the island were one of a very few in the world honored with the distinction to represent Patek Philippe, Breguet, Vacheron Constantin, A. Lange & Sohne, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Ulysse Nardin, and Hublot. If you are looking for a fine timepiece, these fifth generation jewelers have the knowledge, integrity, and reputation unmatched by any other jeweler in the Caribbean. And he's a nice guy.

Travel: We went on a five day vacation at the Wyndham Rio Mar in Puerto Rico in early November. There's a complete writeup in the SXM-Info feature section. PR is about 200 miles west of SXM, about one hour by air. As many flights go through there, it is a convenient place to break up the journey if flight schedules don't work out. Moreover, it's worth a visit. The cuisine is Spanish mixed with Caribbean and heavy on seafood. Everyone speaks English and the dollar is the currency. In another link to the island, we had a very good and interesting meal at a place called Pasta y Puebla. They had a simple menu where you choose a sauce or preparation and add some protein or veg. The last time I had a meal set up like this was about a decade ago in Sutter's Creek, CA. We were underwhelmed, and while the last newsletter mentioned that David Foini had opened Izi in Simpson Bay on a similar basis, I did not mention my trepidations. Thus, I am happy to report that it is possible to produce some interesting food using this format, and certainly David and his chef should be able to do it.

Iguana   Traffic: Wendy K reports that the new road around the airport works well, diverting traffic behind the parking lot so that it doesn't have to pass through (or over) incoming tourists heading to the parking lot. Nonetheless, one afternoon shortly after arriving on the island in early November she experienced the absolute worst traffic ever. She'd passed the airport at 3:10, and was still sitting in traffic at 4:00, not even to Triple D. She drove on the wrong side of the road and parked in the vacant lot across the road from Triple D and walked the final quarter mile to her destination. She thinks this was all due to bridge work, but can't say for sure, as she didn't make it that far. Avoid Simpson Bay in the afternoon! She also reports that a tractor trailer tipped over at the roundabout in early November. Traffic was tied up for about six hours.

Nature: Here's an iguana that is currently roaming around Cupecoy, near the lagoon.

Small Island story: The woes at GEBE continue. There were reports there were frequent power outages in late November, taking the cable also. On the bright side, the new internet service from Scarlett seems to be working well.


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


Current Contest:

25 October to 27 December 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
Lighthouse at Oyster Bay - $1000 off a summer week (June-October)
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two

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

 


RESTAURANTS


On 25 October the euro was at $1.500. Today it is at $1.484, but over the last couple days it touched 1.5 again, and it has been fairly stable over the last six weeks. It had climbed steadily from 1.30 at the end of high season to 1.5 at the end of October. At this point, it is the highest since the all-time highs reached at the end of high season in 2008 when it flirted with 1.6 for several months before plunging to 1.25 at the start of high season in 2009. A new high season is arriving and I will no longer post restaurant exchange rates until I hear from the restaurants again. Frankly, at this point no restaurant could still be in business selling 40% to 50% below other restaurants. You'll find that the overall cost is more dependent on the location and quality of the food than on the exchange rate. Until recently, charging your credit card in dollars saved the 3% currency transaction charge that most cards are now charging. Recently my Citibank card said they would charge me 3% just for doing business overseas - even if it was in dollars! I now use a Capital One card. The frequent flier benefits can be used on any airline and there are no blackouts.

Mario's Bistro
Wendy K visited Mario's in early November and it was quite busy. The menu was pretty much the same as last season, but Didier said Mario would be making some changes. Tony had his favorite lamb combo, with the lamb shank shepherds pie. I had a special of wahoo, which was caught off the coast of Saba. The website has just been totally redone, bringing the menu up to date.

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Tropicana
A few days later she and friends did lunch at Tropicana in Marina Port Royale, as do many other people, as they make some very nice salads. Wendy had the Landaise Salad and her friends had the specials of seafood risotto and lamb. All were around 14 euros each.


Le Bellevue
On 16 November she and Tony had lunch at Le Bellevue on the outskirts of Marigot. They were disappointed that Bellevue didn't have the onglet (hanger steak), but it forced them to have a chicken special with girolles and the cuisse de candard (duck thigh). Both were great and 13-14 euros. You can't go wrong here, nor can you spend too much money.


The Villa
Florence and Christophe have put up a website for their new restaurant in the location previously occupied by Alabama. As expected, there is a pretty good wine list to go with some interesting cuisine.


Piazza Pascal
Pascal and Donna Paviani have opened Piazza Pascal in the plaza in the center of Restaurant Row in Grand Case. It's in the courtyard of the mini-mall between Le Cottage and the church. Pascal obviously has Italian heritage, but was raised in France. His restaurant combines the two and adds his American wife as the hostess, making my favorite approach to restaurants: small, with one partner in the kitchen and another in the front of the house. The menu looks interesting and the prices are pretty good, especially as they are doing 1.2 dollars to the euro.


Il Nettuno
We had a great lunch at Adagio Trattoria in Brattleboro, VT as we made our way to The Wine Cask in Somerville, MA to replenish the wine cellar. They were featuring 12 wines under $12 that might go with turkey and having their quarterly 20% off wine sale on cases. Our lunch at Adagio consisted of chicken pizziola, a massive and quite tasty plate of lasagna, and an inexpensive bottle of red from Fess Parker. Yes, that Fess Parker. For the youngsters reading this, Fess Parker played Davy Crockett in a Disney mini-series in the mid-50's, followed up with several similar movie roles, and then switched to Daniel Boone from 1964 to 1970. Currently, he makes a great Pinot Noir and this very sturdy red. The restaurant reminded me a bit of Il Nettuno in Grand Case. Similar food, music on many nights, and some interesting wine. Nettuno has the added benefit of a great view across Grand Case Bay to Anguilla, perfect for lunch! In another link to the island, we found Adagio via the American Airlines Dining Guide. Sign up with them (it's free) and when you dine at any of the restaurants in the program you get three to six airline miles for every dollar you spend. It helps us get to SXM!

Les Boucaniers
One of the last lunches we had on the island was at Les Boucaniers on Nettle Bay with Patricia and Timothy Young from L'Esperance Hotel. It's one of our favorite spots for a long, leisurely lunch on the water. The focaccia (right) was a special, and it was quite special: tender beef in tasty bread with crisp fries. The mahi was done perfectly and quite fresh. In the center is the pissaladiere, a southern French idea of pizza, topped with some salad and proscuitto. On the right is one of the salads. All good food, fresh and tasty, plus a good wine list.
  Focaccia
Mahi Focaccia Salad

News and Changes: Ric's Place at the bridge in Simpson Bay is now Bonita's Cantina. Bryan and Bonny Tyrell are the new owners. He was the Smokehouse Manager at Oklahoma Joe's in Kansas City. They will be serving Tex-Mex and BBQ. A new website is coming.


BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS


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 over 60% of the time since then and it will be over 45% 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 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.

  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.

 

Kindle: I'm now convinced that the Kindle e-book from Amazon is the best thing to take to a beach. Neswletter subscriber 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." Wendy K reports that her friend Jerri is quite happy with hers. The only downside (for Wendy) is that she can no longer borrow books from Jerri.  
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. Even better news is that they dropped the price to $259 and have come out with a version that can download books outside the US. 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 and kept us amused as we drove to Boston and back last week.

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.

Mike and Fawnette at Azure Beach Studios are still offering some discounts and have added a four-bedroom villa for rent.

  Azure's beach