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St Maarten/St Martin
14 March 2010 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

Saba and Passat   Weather: Sunday afternoon was pretty miserable: cold (in the lower 70s), rainy, and totally overcast. I'll bet it was even worse for the sailors on the water for the last day of the regatta. I didn't see anything above 73F all day long and it was 73F when I got up on Monday morning. It warmed up during the day and Saba and Statia were partially visible. The next day they were gone and we were back to warm, hazy, and humid. Wednesday got up to 82F but it was overcast all day long. Thursday was considerably better, warmer and a bit more sun, but quite breezy, especially on the windward side of the island. Friday finally brought us out of all this miserable weather. It was sunny and hit 83F by 2PM. The photo on the left was taken shortly after that. This was the first seriously blue and sunny sky this week. It was still hazy and you can tell how much by looking closely in the upper left of the photo and seeing the western side of Saba plunging into the Caribbean - barely. Click on the photo for the larger version and it is easier to see. Saturday was a lovely day but still hazy on the horizon. Sunday has dawned to blue skies and warmth (82F at 9:30AM), but the haze still obscures Saba.
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. I haven't even bothered to report the blather about the coming hurricane season. As usual, this hurricane season will reportedly be worse than normal. There, now you know. You should also know that they regularly revise their predictions downward as the hurricane season doesn't conform to their thinking. You don't get a guarantee with my comments, but you don't get one with theirs, either. Sunset today is at 6:18 and the moon is new. The full moons in 2010 will be 29 Mar, 28 Apr, 27 May, 26 Jun, 25 Jul, 24 Aug, 23 Sep, 22 Oct, 21 Nov, and 21 Dec.

Paddleboat at Galion Beach   SXM-Beaches: Galion Beach is located on the windward side of the island and is the home of Tropical Wave. It is the quintessential tropical beach with a wide curve of sand that eventually becomes a reef that protects the very calm lagoon. It's the perfect spot for kite- or wind-surfing as the tradewinds constantly blow, but the lagoon stays calm. Galion Beach panorama left side right side Click both sides of the photo on the right for an enlarged view, but even the smaller photo shows very flat water. The beach is regularly voted the best on the island for children. Tropical Wave certainly has a paddle boat that's a big hit with the kids and they maintain a float in the lagoon, plus a lot more.

Night Train   Chance by Robert B. Parker - $7.99 - From Publishers Weekly: Organized crime in Parker's fictional Boston has provided protein-rich fodder for most of the Spenser novels (recently, Thin Air and Walking Shadow). Parker sticks to the tried and true here, as his burly and literate PI untangles the knotted power schemes of the four putative heirs-and a brash newcomer-to old Joe Broz's domain. A second-echelon hoodlum, Julius Ventura, hires Spenser and his partner/sidekick Hawk to find his daughter's missing husband, a middle-management criminal named Anthony Meeker, who, it turns out, had money-handling responsibilities. Speedily determining that Meeker liked to gamble, Spenser and his lover, psychiatrist Susan Silverman, and Hawk depart for Las Vegas. They find their quarry, discover the complicating identity of his female companion and are joined by assorted other players, including one of Ventura's nastier fellow crimesters and Meeker's wife. A murder follows, sending Spenser back to Boston to determine who has betrayed whom and to try to smooth the way out for one of the women involved in the mess. This is vintage Parker, replete with the expected black/white repartee between Spenser and Hawk and the archly crude dialogue he carries on with Susan. ("Had I been a lascivious Irish shrink, would you have loved me anyway?" she asks. Spenser replies affirmatively and adds, "But I think you've just coined a tripartite oxymoron.") Despite a mid-course swerve in the plot, the action rings true, especially the machinations among the crime bosses, as Spenser proves himself once more a modern-day knight in shining armor.

Bleu Mall   Construction: Bleu Mall got in the paper this week as they announced that they would spend a cool million dollars to improve the road from Sapphire Beach Club to the rotary at Porto Cupecoy. It's supposed to have palm trees, sidewalks, and lights so all the tourists can get to the Bleu Mall and spend their money.

On the left, you get an idea of the scope of the project. It's the rectilinear box blotting out the sun on the left, towering above Porto Cupecoy on the right. The photo on the right shows the side you see as you approach from the French border, nothing but a big box and over half of it has no windows. The best you can say is that they painted some curves onto it.

  Bleu Mall

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.

  ginger

Activities: The Heineken Regatta featured 240 boats and an impressive 99 in the bareboat category. It ended on a miserable day but the strong winds let the big boats show their speed. Titan, Highland Fling, and Rambler were battling all the way from Marigot to Siumpson Bay, with Highland Fling usually in the lead. Peter Isler on Titan did some impressive downwind sailing and got past Highland Fling and Rambler taking line honors and first overall in class. Hans-Joachim Tiggels and a team from Germany sailing a Beneteau Oceanis 523 Acele ET were the overall winners of the Bareboat 1 class.

Above is a repeat of the panoramic shot taken Saturday that made last week's newsletter. You'll notice the sky was pretty gray, even on Saturday.

By Sunday, everything was grey, but you can see a hint of Saba.

James Chance   We stopped in at Bikini Beach for a late lunch on Thursday and found James Chance on trumpet. We've seen him here before and at Sapphire Beach Club on Saturdays and Mondays with his keyboard man, Elrod. We were more interested in lunch, so we waved as we walked in to get a table. It was only after we sat down that I noticed something new in James's repertoire. Before we even ordered I heard Bobby Darin's Beyond the Sea. I looked up and it was, indeed, left-handed Jojo on guitar. Sharp readers will remember that we caught his set at Pineapple Pete a few weeks ago. Jojo continually brought James out of his comfort zone, but he responded well on trumpet and at one point he had to read the words as he sang for Georgia on my Mind, but he did it well. During a break, we had asked for the bill and were about to leave when James and Jojo returned. We ended up at the bar having old rum as they got the joint jumping with Jojo's version of Santana's Black Magic Woman, changed slightly to Black Spanish Woman. People were dancing in the sand and in the restaurant. James said he played Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights at Topper's.   Jojo

Lunch   Groceries: After Heineken weekend, we ventured out of our corner of the island to shop for some groceries at Grand March. There usually are some good bargains after the sailors have sailed off. The 1.14 liter bottles of Mount Gay Rum were selling for $7.50 rather than the $10 or so last week. They also had packets of decent unlabeled mixed cheese (brie/camembert, maroilles, and some Babybel), probably a pound for $5.50. They had Parma ham (proscuitto) for about $15 per pound while the Bayonne was almost $20 per pound. Needless to say, we will be having the proscuitto with our Guadeloupe melon. They also had Guadeloupe tomatoes for the first time in weeks. We then checked on pork prices. They had whole pork tenderloins for $3.25 per pound. If they took the trouble to carve the tenderloin into slices and package them in smaller quantities, they dropped the price to $2.60 per pound. These were next to belly fat selling for $3.00 per pound. Pork chops, essentially a bit of loin with bone wrapped around it, were selling for $4.25 per pound. I just report it, I can't explain it, so it does pay to check out the prices. Dividing by 4 changes NAf per kilo to $/lb, but you don't even have to do that to figure out which cut costs more.

Alcohol: That's our lunch on Thursday with the melon that was perfectly ripe by then. The ham was luscious and the two of them were great with the Chateau Sainte Croix Ros from Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar.

Eric Azimov has written about the 2007 Burgundies in a NY Times piece. Basically, they were dismissed as light, somewhat like the 2000 vintage compared to the 1999, 2002, and 2005. However, at this time he says, "Indeed, as Burgundies from the exalted vintages remain stolid and sphinx-like, the 2000s have been pliable, open and delicious far better choices on restaurant wine lists, and cheaper, too. I would put the 2007s in the same category."

GEBE: They were supposed to officially commission their new generators this week and things must have gone well because we haven't been subjected to any power outages. The Chamber of Commerce still intends to sue GEBE for lost business and electronic equipment damaged from brownouts and surges.


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


We are running two contests currently. There is another set of prizes waiting for you here. You can enter both contests.

Current Contest:

28 February to 25 April 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
MMG 2000 - Two for One week at the gym with a shake
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:
25 April to 25 July | 25 July to 31 October | 31 October to 26 December
same cast of characters as current contest

 


RESTAURANTS


On 7 March the euro was at $1.362. Today it is at $1.376. That's up 1% this week. 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. For more info on credit card fees, read this recent article in the NY Times. They even mention Capital One.

 
La Marine
On Sunday we went over to Grand Case for a wonderful lunch on what turned out to be one of the worst days of the season. The wind had turned around overnight and picked up force, so Grand Case on the north shore was getting the brunt of the 15-25 mph bluster that came from the northeast. We were committed as we had reservations and were meeting Patrica and Timothy from L'Esperance Hotel in Philipsburg. Our lovely view of Molly Smith point to the west, Anguilla across the channel to the north, and Grand Case Beach Club on the eastern headlands was lost in mist and rain. Luckily, La Marine had plastic blinds to protect us from the elements

 
  We started with some water and went straight to the 2005 Aleth Girardin Borgogone (28), no chilled ros on such a grim day. It was very pleasant on a cool afternoon. Our lunches were the duck confit (above right), Thai shrimp with basmati rice (below left), a mixed grill with duck sausage, kidneys, lamb chops and mashed potatoes (below center), and a lamb curry (below right). Prices ranged from 12 to 19 euros and with two bottles of the Burgundy and espressos, our bill came to $85 per couple using a 1.25 to 1 exchange rate. The food was uniformly good. The new potatoes with the duck confit had a very tasty topping and the piquant sauce with the mixed grill was quite nice.

 

Duck confit  
  Grilled shrimp Mixed grill Lamb curry  

 
Auberge Gourmande
On Monday night we headed to Auberge Gourmande for dinner. We arrived at about 8PM and, as usual, found the free parking lot completely full so we headed to the pay lot. Because of the miserable weather, we took the table on the closed in corner of the porch, keeping out of the wind.

We decided on the warm lobster bisque as our starter on this cold night and planned on more fish for the main courses, so I choose a light Burgundy, the 2005 Marsannay from the Chateau de Marsannay. We had this about three weeks ago here and a week before that at Ti Sucrier. It's a perfectly good, lighter Burgundy from a great year. The bisque (below center) arrived promptly and in addition to being wonderfully flavored, it added some warmth to our evening.

Martha's main course was the shrimp and scallop dish in a phyllo basket (right). I reprised my dinner of scallops and lotte (monkfish), although this time, it was the one off the menu rather than the special with a saffron sauce that was offered three weeks ago. It came with a medley of vegetables including braised endive, a broiled half tomato, a bit of broccoli, cauliflower topped with melted cheese, and artichoke bottom filled with a more shredded veg (below right) and a major dollop of wasabi mashed potatoes. Martha had many of the same veg, they are hidden in the basket. Both of these fish courses stood up to the Marsannay, especially with the flavorful vegetables. We finished with a espressos and complimentary rum as we marveled at the throngs on the street on a Monday evening. We walked down to Cottage to talk to Bruno and found La Villa and Cottage to be quite busy. When we returned to the car, we passed Bistrot Carabes and they were busy.

  Marsannay

Shrimp and scallops

 
  terrace Lobster Bisque Shrimp and Lotte  

 
Le Chalet Restaurant
On Wednesday we took a short drive to Sandy Ground for raclette (23), wonderful melting cheese scraped onto a perfect boiled potato enhanced by the addition of various bits of charcuterie. Just add a nice red wine, in this case a pinot noir from Savoie (20). They have all natural, super-premium ice cream from Haut Savoie that we could not manage to try. We had it last year and it was even better than the Etna in our refrigerator. You have to taste it to believe it. If you can't translate all the flavors, go to the website where I have done the work. We also had a bottle of water and the total bill was about 80, translated to a bit over $100 using 1.3$/. That is a great price for all this fabulous food.
  raclette
  wine mural raclette raclette  

 
Bikini Beach Restaurant
On Thursday we headed over to Bikini Beach at Orient for lunch. As we walked in, we noticed James Chance on trumpet. There's lots more about the band in the Activities section above. We headed over to a table in the corner and ordered a bottle of Coste Brulade, a silver medal winning ros for 20. The menu has the usual hamburger, fries, etc, but there are quite a few Thai dishes and a specials board.
  Bikini Beach logo  
  James Chance and Jojo   Martha chose a special friture (which we would call whitebait, 14), while I took the squid salad with Thai flavorings (15). The friture was an ap and it came with nothing else, so Martha asked about a small salad. There was none on the menu, but that was "not a problem" said our waitress, "I'll just ask the chef." The friture arrived with a homemade tartar sauce and a bit of greenery that included some of the best green beans we have seen, cooked to perfection. The squid was also cooked perfectly and there was quite a bit in the salad. As usual, I enhanced it with some local Kalina Hot Sauce.   Coste Brulade  
  Our total bill came to 57 or $77 using 1.35, on the favorable side of the real exchange rate. After lunch we stayed at the bar listening to the band and chatting with Elisa, the owner. She has opened a new Tex-Mex, possibly French-Mex, restaurant called Paris Texas in the space formerly (and briefly) occupied by Planet B (which always brought to mind the film Plan 9 from Outer Space, dubbed the worst film of all time by Michael Medved. The restaurant's menu in Franglais was particularly inscrutable, much like the plot of the movie.) Of course Paris, Texas was a 1984 Wim Wenders film that made Paris, Texas semi-famous. I use semi because there were no actual scenes filmed in Paris, Texas, about 100 miles northeast of Dallas in what passes for the forested part of Texas. The movie was about a man emerging from a desert with no memory of his past four years. Obviously, a desert landscape lilke that of western Texas was more suitable for the plot, but Paris, Texas made a better title than, say, Kermit, Texas. But I digress, so to meet up with this crazy bunch (that's Bubbles the bartender; Alex, who appears to be pregers; Elisa, the owner; and Charlotte, one of several waitresses) just head over to Bikini Beach Restaurant, but stop at the website first, to get a coupon for a free drink with lunch or dinner.  

 
  View Staff Squid salad  

Bonita's Cantina Logo We stopped in at Bonita's Cantina on Friday night for a barbecue dinner. We started with two pints of Presidente on draft. Martha ordered the The Pig Out, a full slab of ribs plus pulled pork (below left, $16) and I had the Cowboy Dinner which includes a half Slab of Baby Back Ribs, a quarter Chicken (Choice of White or Dark Meat), and Sliced Smoked Sausage (below center, $13). Crisp fries and coleslaw came with both meals. If you are counting, this is our fifth visit in the nine weeks we have been on the island. Certainly, they are close and convenient (we parked at the entryway at 8PM on a Friday), but the food is especially tasty and inexpensive. This dinner was a bit more expensive as Martha got the rather large size dinner, half of which is now in our refrgerator for lunch. The total cost was a bit over $32 and we really will get a dinner and a lunch from that. The Cowboy Dinner is a special on Friday night, $2 off the normal price. The entire menu including the Tex-Mex selections is on their website. Check out the lunch and dinner specials for really inexpensive dining.
  Pig out Cowboy dinner Terrace

  On Saturday we went to Tropical Wave on Galion Beach. The weather was fantastic, warm and sunny with a good breeze. Pat Turner at Tropical Wave rents kayaks, snorkling gear, paddleboats, and more. Tryst, his trimaran, had been fitted with a new mast and sailed in this year's regatta. A new rating system was used to handicap the multi-hulls and it didn't appear to work too well. Tryst, an ancient wooden boat had to give up several minutes per hour to newer fiberglass speedsters. That's Mimi pouring Pat some Saint Roche ros (under 20) and if you look just above the bottle, you can see St Barts in the background. This is one beautiful spot and the fresh fish specials make it even nicer. On the left of the table is Martha's shrimp salad and on the right is my shrimp and scallop kebab, both under 15. The full menu is on the website with an even better photo of the shrimp salad. Our total bill was about $70. There are a couple coupons on the website.

There are few things as interesting as sitting down with Pat at lunch and discussing what the island was like when he arrived. This beach was part of a grand hotel and Pat had the watersports concession. Hurricane Luis destroyed the hotel in 1995 and Pat rebuilt the concession and added this fine beachfront restaurant.

  Pat Turner and Mimi at Tropical Wave on Galion Beach  

 
Hibiscus Restaurant
We left the beach at about 5:30 on Saturday and headed to Grand Case to chat with Franco and Alessandra at Hibiscus Restaurant. At this early hour, we actually got a spot in the free parking lot. The chat required drinks. This is another one of Franco's creations with Campari. The first was consumed rather quickly and by the time we finished the second, it was time for dinner. As we have done in the past, we turned everything over to our hosts. The menu is large and contains a little bit of Crole, some French, and quite a bit from Franco's homeland: Italy. The wine list is extensive with an excellent section of Italian wines. When left to his own devices, Franco returns to his roots.

  Campari

 
  He prepared two wonderful plates of antipasti (below left). It's hard to choose any part of it that was the best. The grilled onions were very tasty, as was the grilled artichoke, while the sundried tomatoes were an explosion of taste. Surrounding this were a luscious bit of proscuitto, some salame Milano, and some coppa, all accompanied by a full basket of breads and crackers. They choose a bottle of the 2004 Fonterutoli Chianti Classico, saying that there were only 12 bottles on the island. The Mazzei family, owners of the Castello di Fonterutoli, have been making wine since the 14th century. They appear to have learned a few things over the centuries as this Sangiovese from the Fonterutoli and Belvedere vineyards, aged in French barriques for up to twelve months, was a very ripe and rich wine with hints of spice.

Our second course was a sweetbread and risotto concoction, a wonderful mixture of tastes and textures. The main course was duck breast and sauted potatoes topped with a bit of foie gras (below right). Three different tastes, of course, but also the creamy smooth texture of foie gras contrasting with the firm texture of the duck breast and the crisp potatoes. It was a wonderful dinner that ended with complimentary shots of Branca Menta, an aromatic blend featuring mint leaves. We will be offering four $40 coupons to this fine restaurant to renters of our condo this summer.

 
  Antipasti

Chianti Classico

Duck breast with foie gras

 


News and Changes: The article on restaurants at Orient Beach with recipes for a four course meal that we touted all last season has been published on the web in SXM-Info's features section. You'll find a recipe for Shrimp Dumpling Soup from Tai Chi Restaurant, a recipe for Goat Cheese Salad from Palm Beach Restaurant, a recipe for Beef Wellington from Kakao Beach, and a recipe for Coconut Flan from Rancho del Sol.

  Kakao logo


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
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. Alert reader Ken M has spotted an alternative for timeshare travelers that bundles travel insurance with a medical evacuation plan for only $99. It appears you have to use it in conjunction with a timeshare reservation, apply for the coverage at least 30 days before travel starts, and it's only good for 90 days of vacation. Then again if you have 90 days of timeshare, I'd like to meet you.  

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 Contessa says: "I loaded it up with more books than I needed and it was a very convenient way to read without lugging books to the 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." 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.