St Maarten/St Martin
7 February 2010 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Sunset Weather: Sunday turned out to be a very nice day, although we got a Cupecoy downpour rather late in the afternoon. On Monday morning, it was 77F and cloudy at 8am, but it will burn off. As soon as I wrote that we were enveloped in a whiteout and it started raining. My weather prognostication skills require some improvement. Actually, it did clear up and became a rather nice day, with some clouds, as the sunset shot shows. The rest of the week has been great. The air has been so clear that all four islands were visible and a drive over the hill to Pburg presented lovely views of all of them: Saba, Statia, St Kitts, and the tip of Nevis. From the hill it becomes apparent that Statia is two high hills connected via a low plain. From sea level people sometimes think they are two separate islands because the low plain is below the horizon.   Friday Sunset

It has regularly been in the mid 80s during the day and low-mid 70s at night. With few clouds, that makes things pretty warm during the day. It's best to be on a beach and the forecast says more of same for the next five days. The really clear horizon on Friday night (above right) brought one of the best green flashes of the season. Saturday was lovely and warm and Sunday is starting out the same. Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast The box shows the current local conditions and here's the detailed forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset today is at 6:06 and the moon is in its last quarter. The full moons in 2010 will be 28 Feb, 29 Mar, 28 Apr, 27 May, 26 Jun, 25 Jul, 24 Aug, 23 Sep, 22 Oct, 21 Nov, and 21 Dec.

SXM-Beaches: The little cove at Cupecoy has some sand. Unfortunately, it's a bit crowded as the Lemon Droppers have dropped in and early in the week many people have fled the sand-blasting effect of the high winds at Orient. Mullet is very close and is a wider and deeper beach, but the no-tan-lines set isn't quite as welcome there. Around the corner is Simpson Bay, one of the largest (and least developed) beaches on the island. If you want a walk-out-of-your-room-onto-the-beach experience, check out the Horny Toad Guesthouse or just look at the sand and rooms in the photo (right). I just took that shot and a few others for Fodor's new guide for SXM, St Barts, and Anguilla. If you can't get a room here and they do fill up with guests who book for the next season before they leave this season, try the nearby Azure Beach Studios. Closer to all the action in Simpson Bay is the Turquoise Shell Inn. You'll have to cross the street to get to the beach, but for the truly indolent, they have a pool. Later in the week, the US east coast storm seems to have kicked up some waves on the west side of the island. Bad news arrived at Cupecoy as Shadow, John's beach dog, died on Friday night.   Horny Toad Guesthouse

Tailor of Panama Beach reading: The Tailor of Panama by John Le Carré - Amazon says: John le Carré, the greatest spy novelist of the Cold War era, continues his post-Cold War quest to define the genre he helped perfect. The classic spy novel was essentially a story of good (England, the United States) vs. evil (Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union), in which good more or less prevailed. The Tailor of Panama is something else entirely: a spy novel with no spies in which the bad guys reap most of the rewards. It is also a viciously funny satire. The novel is set in Panama, where a plot is in place to make void the Panama Treaty, which would return control of the Panama Canal to the Panamanians in 1999. At the center of events is Harry Pendel, the tailor of the title. Coerced into working for British Intelligence, he concocts out of whole cloth a left-wing movement with the goal of luring the American military to do the dirty work--invade Panama à la 1989 and nullify the treaty. From the characters to the setting, le Carré has succeeded in setting new parameters for an old genre. I say it is an hilarious send-up of hierarchical organizations in general and spy operations in particular. It was made into a very good movie with Pierce Brosnan and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Sapphire Beach Club: We are in our condo until mid-April but it is available after that for $900 to $1000 per week until 15 Dec, when high season kicks in. You'll get a 10% discount from Unity Car Rental, one of the longest running and most trusted on the island, and many more coupons as well. 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.


Shopping: This shopping tip is more for home or condo owners. Tourists probably won't care where one can buy a cooktop. You can hardly blame someone on vacation if they don't even care if they have a cooktop. Our largest burner has not been working well and it doesn't look reparable. There are essentially no parts on the island so we went to Ace Mega Center in Cole Bay to find a new cooktop. They had only one electric cooktop at $900. Next day we went over the hill to Pburg in very light traffic to find that Kwik Bargains had one also, same price, but as soon as we didn't take it, the price dropped to $700 cash. Kwik Bargains also suggested their other store, Kwik Ideas, in Cole Bay. They will order from the US, arrange shipping which you pay for, and add 25% or so, last time I checked!! We headed down to Cannegeiter Street (one block in from Pondfill on the back side of Pburg) and tried Shams. They had just placed an order for several cooktops which will arrive in a couple weeks and be priced at about $500. That's reasonable, as I can find them online at Sears for $425 to $450. Add in tax and shipping and Sham's price looks really good. A few years ago, we went online and got our refrigerator and microwave from Sears in the US. Sears shipped to 4 Star's Miami facilities and they shipped it to the island at a reasonable price. In this case, I eventually found the part I needed online at Part Select and they will ship to the address in Miami, which is also the street address for The Mailbox in Simpson Bay. The burner is small enough and light enough that it will come through with my mail.
Groceries: The Maho Food Express no longer comps the parking at the underground garage. After our wonderful dinner at Franco Burato's Hibiscus Restaurant, Martha got in an Italian mood and made an Italian style steak dinner on Friday thawing out some of the tenderloin that we bought at Cost U Less a week ago. She made pizzaiola sauce, related to pizza sauce, but with lots of garlic and some red wine. We should have topped everything with parmesan cheese, but used old Amsterdam instead, a less expensive substitute. We had the Chianti on the right. It's also not very expensive.

Alcohol: Given that our two favorite wine sources (Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar and Francois) are awaiting shipment of Pommard, we stopped in at Netco behind the Ace Mega Center in Cole Bay. They have a rather nice Pommard from Michel Picard from 2005, the year of the decade. As it is four years old, it has mellowed with age. It's full, flavorful, and long lasting, although admittedly, a bottle doesn't last us very long.

  Chianti and Pommard

Ring-necked Dove   Nature: On the left is a Ring-necked Dove that hatched out two furballs this week. She's in the palm tree just below our balcony and the bits of fluff at her breast are her chicks. You may remember that last years hatchlings didn't fare too well. Stay tuned.

The French side just opened a new recycling facility in Galis Bay. They are way ahead of the Dutch side in that they have been recycling glass and many containers (plastic and cardboard) for years at roadside facilities that look like port-o-potties. They conveniently put them just over the border in Cupecoy, Cole Bay, and Oyster Pond and all over the French side. Green logo The new facility will take even more items including batteries, appliances, and electronic equipment, but only be open to those with French plates on their car. As someone who likes tuna, I feel it is very important to get the mercury in batteries out of the waste stream (and out of my tuna).

Our office is well over 100% solar-powered and our servers are about 130% wind-powered.

French: The BBC offers free online language courses including French. You get to hear the words in French and you can choose to see them in English or French.

Small Island story: The former head of government and leader of the DP, Sarah Wescott-Williams, has made accusations against the student advisor (a St Maarten government employee) for the St Maarten students studying at Florida State. Specifically, she says the advisor told the students who to vote for. He says he merely gave them ethical advice, saying that they should vote for the party that paid for their flight back to the island for the elections, effectively counseling them to sell their vote honestly - once bought, stay bought, and for goodness sake, don't get caught with three tickets (one from each of the major parties). But enough about voting for government officials, how about:

Best of

Yes, it's that time of year when people who get copies of the Dutch-side, English language newspaper tell you who are the best purveyors of just about everything on the island. Let's see, the best high end restaurant is Dino Jagtian's Temptation, followed by David Foini's La Gondola and Dino's other restaurant, Rare Steakhouse. Not only are these all on the Dutch side, they are all in the Atlantis Casino. Our astute and widely traveled voters branched out a bit (geographically at least) by choosing David Foini's Izi Pasta Lounge as the best new restaurant. Second place went to Mooi, almost across the street in Simpson Bay. I have no idea who or where Sheer, the third place finisher, is. Best French restaurant went to Moulin Fou in Maho. Second place went to Bon Apetitte House, unknown to me, and certainly is distinguished by being unable to spell appetite in either English or French (appétit). Possibly, the Herald is responsible for the spelling. Third place went to Tropicana in Marina Royale on the French side. The first page of the special supplement covering this gigantic event also included the best breakfasts. On the theory that anyone who gets out of bed early enough for breakfast isn't having enough fun, I won't bother to recap this category other than to say I believe they are all on the Dutch side. That makes 11 of 12 on the Dutch side (although I am unsure about two of the entries).

Lal's new place, Curry in a Hurry, beat out Shiv Sagar for best Indian. I haven't been to Lal's new location, but I have followed his old chef to Shakti Restaurant quite happily. Best International Cuisine went to Toppers, followed by Pineapple Pete and Halsey's. Best Chinese was White Swan, repeating for the seventh straight year, as did Bamboo Bernies for sushi. The best seadood (I think they mean seafood) can be found at Lee's, followed by Skipjack's and Chesterfield's. Shieka's Bistro got a mention under best local food and best vegetarian. When Domino's Pizza takes first place while running ads saying they know their pizza has been lousy but just last month got better, you have to wonder about the voters. At least JP at Pizza Galley came in second for pizza and, as usual, first for dessert. Newcomer Bonita's Cantina was ignored for what I think is the most authentic barbecue (as opposed to grilled food) on the island. They did come in third for Mexican food and second for sports bar, losing to ESPN, part of the Pineapple Pete empire. Pineapple Pete also came in first for pool spot and second for live music. Best adult entertainment went to Platinum Room. I fondly recall when their dancers used to sun themselves at Cupecoy. Marci's Mega Gym 2000 got best gym, and that really is gym, not spa. Mary's Boon just beat out the Horny Toad Guesthouse for best guesthouse.


Current Contest:

27 December 2009 to 28 February 2010
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
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:
28 February to 25 April | 25 April to 25 July | 25 July to 31 October | 31 October to 26 December
same cast of characters as current contest



On 31 Jan the euro was at $1.386. Today it is at $1.364. That's down 5% in the five weeks of 2010 and some experts say it will go lower. I have been told that Piazza Pascal is offering 1 to 1 for cash. Vanessa and Patrick's restaurants (California and ZEN Cafe Concept) are also doing 1 to 1, as is La Villa. Zuzu tells me that they use 1.20 at Paradise View Restaurant and Rancho del Sol. It's 1.25 at Palm Beach Restaurant but the beach chairs are free if you eat there. Charging your credit card in dollars used to save the 3% currency transaction charge that most cards are now charging for foreign currency transactions. 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 and get an excellent exchange rate. The frequent flier benefits can be used on any airline and there are no blackouts.

Bistro Caraïbes' logo  
Bistro Caraïbes
For the first dinner of the season at Bistro Caraïbes I generally have my two favorite dishes: the smoked salmon appetizer (left, 14€) and the whole French seabass (center, 27€), deboned and served in as light cream sauce with vegetables and a tasty tomato purée. The salmon is smoked here at the restaurant and it has a deep smokey flavor while retaining a luscious texture. It comes with toast and crisp onions for crunch and flavor and capers and lemon for a bit more flavor. We add a crisp Chateau de Rully, a chardonnay from southern Burgundy (48€). We were with another couple and they chose the foie gras in puff pasty as an appetizer (18€). Martha had the marmite, braised red snapper with vegetables in a creamy mussel sauce with saffron (24€), and the other two main courses were the grilled ribeye, spring vegetables, wine and herb sauce (24€), and the special ap of snails in a creamy, garlic sauce (right, 11€).
salmon French seabass Snails
Our wine for the main courses was a Crozes-Hermitage, a perfectly sturdy Rhone, suitable for the ribeye, but not so strong that it overpowered the seabass or the snapper, although both the seabass and snapper were surrounded by flavorful sauces and accompaniments. With espressos after dinner our bill came to about 110€ per couple. A favorable 1.3 to 1 exchange rate brought the bill to $142.

Kakao logo  
Kakao Beach Bar
On Tuesday we headed out to Orient Beach for a long lunch at Kakao Beach Bar. The day was OK in Cupecoy, but judging from the roads, it had rained in Bay Rouge a short time before we passed through. It was sprinkling in Marigot, but cleared in Grand Case, just in time for a visit to Bleu Emeraude. It's a lovely new set of condos on the main road and on the beach, near Le Petit Hotel.

We had the a Guigal Cotes du Rhone with Martha's smoked duck breast and St Marcellin cheese in phyllo dough (left) and my supreme pizza (cheese, mushrooms, and ham, center). With a bottle of water, our total bill was $77. Service, as always, was great. On the right is Coco who strolls the beach taking photos, if you wish. You can purchase them at the nearby Alex Photos kiosk.

  Kakao logo
Smoked duck breast and St Marcellin

Hibiscus Restaurant
On Wednesday we headed to Grand Case for a dinner at Hibiscus Restaurant. The free lot was closer, but full, so we parked in the central lot and turned right, walking past the lolos, over the bridge, to the restaurant. Franco Burato is the chef and his wife Alessandra runs the front of this very small Créole house. The menu is large and contains a little bit of Créole, some French, and quite a bit from Franco's homeland: Italy. The wine list is extensive with an excellent section of Italian wines. We started as we had finished here late last season, with sparkling Proseco and Campari. We ordered a bottle of 2006 Secco-Bertani Ripasso (39€). The September newsletter from last year talked about the origins of Ripasso and the two that we had just purchased. The 2006 Secco-Bertani was one of them, so we weren't surprised when it turned out to be quite good.

We ordered the tomato and crab ap with a baked parmesan feather, a tasty little treat, especially with the olive oil and herb garnish (below left, 10€). We chose two of Franco's specialities, the squid ink spaghetti with mussels, shrimp, and tomatoes (below center, 24€) and the long-cooked lamb tagliatelle in a tomato sauce (below right, 18€). The home-made spaghetti was wonderful, done al dente and surrounded with fresh seafood and tomatoes. The lamb had fallen off the bone, been added to a wonderfully spiced tomato sauce, mixed with al dente tagliatelle and topped with grated parmesan. Both were wonderful with the Ripasso.

We finished with espressos and complimentary amarone grappa, totally over the top. Our bill for all of this was 102€, quite good for food and wine of this caliber. The euro had just dropped under 1.4, but we were offered an exchange rate of 1.3, bringing the cost to $133.

  Proseco and Campari


Tomato and crab

Black ink spaghetti

Lamb tagliatelle

Logo On Saturday night we went to Grand Case for dinner at La Villa. Florence and Christophe, formerly at Auberge Gourmande, have taken over the space previously occupied by Alabama, next door to Auberge Gourmande. We always thought Alabama was a nice looking restaurant, but it looks even better now as the color scheme has been refreshed and updated. It has a lovely open floor plan with widely spaced tables and a planting area around two sides of the dining room. They are doing 1 to 1 on the dollar at this time.
  We had reservations which are always appreciated, but not usually necessary on Saturday evening, as the timeshare travelers are in a tizzy on turnover day. I know we don't go out to fine restaurants on the day we arrive. Air travel being what it is today, sometimes we don't even arrive on the day we arrive. Nonetheless, our reservation garnered us a corner table. Florence invited me to see the wine "cellar". Pascal Potin, the owner of Alabama, was serious about wine and there is a lovely and large air-conditioned cabinet containing a fairly large collection of red wines with another refrigerated unit to keep the whites a bit cooler. I took the opportunity to order a 2005 Chateau de Beaune from Bouchard Pere (below right, $66). Bouchard owns several premier cru vineyards in Beaune and he always combines the best to be the selection from his chateau. We served 1985 magnums of this wine at our wedding. Our dinner started with an amuse bouche of tuna and crisp toast and continued with a very tasty bit of lobster bisque, made to look like a cup of espresso with foamed cream on the top.

  Amuse Bouche

Lobster bisque

Chateau de Beaune

  For our appetizer, we choose the warm goat cheese salad with pine nuts, honey, and balsamic vinegar from the menu (below left, $12). It has an interesting bit of contrast in taste with the sweetness of the honey playing off against the tang of the goat cheese and the balsamic vinegar. Similarly, the creamy goat cheese contrasts with the crunch of the crisp salad, pine nuts, and toast under the cheese. Martha ordered the duck breast (below center, $28) and I had a special of sweetbreads and shrimp in a morel sauce (below right, $27). Martha loved her duck and singled out the pumpkin purée as especially tasty amid all the other vegetables: broccoli, asparagus, a red cabbage purée, a tiny bit of carrot, and zucchini. Morel sauce (with plenty of morels) will get my attention anytime, and when you put it on soft sweetbreads with crunchy shrimp, I'll be quite happy. Chef Jean Pierre Yeponde is doing wonderful things in his new kitchen. With water and espressos, the bill came to a touch under $150, although about half of that was the water and wine. For more info and lots of photos, visit the website.  
  goat cheese salad

Duck breast

Sweetbreads and shrimp


Vintage Charts: New vintage charts are coming out with 2008 ratings. I've looked at Parker, Enobytes, and Berry Bros. & Rudd. Parker's is by far the most complete, breaking North America into 8 regions, while BBR lumps them all together. The good news is that 2008 was a pretty good year and as most restaurants here do not have a great deal of depth to their cellars, it's even more important that 2008 is being rated as early maturing and accessible, at least in Bordeaux. 2005 is still the year of the decade, and 2002 is not far behind but you'll be unlikely to find the 2002 anywhere on the island and the 2005 is rare. BBR rates the 2007 Burgundy a 7 (out of 10) while the 2006 got a 6. In truth, the 10 point scale is really a five point scale ranging from six to ten with about a half dozen rating either six or ten out of 100 ratings in France over the last decade. Which is as it should be. You'll generally be drinking something rated from seven to nine, as long as you avoid the 2007 and 2004 red Burgundy. Having said that, our 2004 Santenay is drinkable, certainly not spectacular, but inexpensive - for a Burgundy. Our 2005 Pommard from Netco is the best wine in our cellar (OK, it's a closet here on the island).

News and Changes: Dennis Cakebread from Cakebread Cellars will be at Bacchus in Grand Case on 10 Feb. They are planning a special dinner with Cakebread wine pairings at 95 €. There's an email on the website but no mention of this affair. Sign up for their newsletter if you are interested in dinners like this.

Today (Feb 7) is Super Sunday and Bonita's Cantina has a super party planned. They have added a new bar in the front and two large flat screen TV's For $25 you get a guaranteed seat, appetizers ( chicken wings and quesadillas) in the first half, and a meal at halftime featuring ribs, chicken, and pulled pork. No seat, no eat. It sounds a lot better than the free-for-all that generally ensues when places get too crowded.

Today (Feb 7) the Rasta farm in Bellvue is having an all day celebration with music. I doubt it's a Super Bowl thing.

Sean de Burca will be playing at Sopranos all month.


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
Kakao Beach
Oizeau Rare
Pizza Galley
Tai Chi
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Radiant Gems

  Our condo: We were here until 13 April. The condo is available for rent at $1000 per week from then until 15 June, $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 car rental agencies on the island. The Christmas and New Year's 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. 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. Newsletter 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 keeps us amused as we drive.

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