St Maarten/St Martin
21 March 2010 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Sunset behind Porto Cupecoy   Weather: Sunday afternoon was fabulous, warm, fairly humid, but with a bit of a breeze. On the left is Sunday's sun setting behind Porto Cupecoy. Monday was warmer and more humid. By Tuesday, the temperatures were in the mid 80s, the breeze amounted to nothing as the wind was shifting from SW to NE, and the humidity was about 80% - a good day to be at the beach or in the A/C. It was extremely hazy, I suspect Saharan dust with a lot of water vapor. There is not even a hint of Saba visible. Wednesday was more of the same and Thursday was the worst hitting 86F with little breeze and high humidity driving the comfort index into the mid 90s. On Friday the wind clocked around to the south and picked up so that even though it was 83F at lunchtime, it felt a bit better. Saturday was a bit better, a little lower temperature, a little lower humidity, still not much of a breeze, lots of haze, and a heat index of 91. Sunday morning is already 83 at 8AM with very little breeze. It looks like more of the same: hot, hazy, and humid with not even a hint of 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. This extremely hot weather may actually be a precursor to a worse than normal hurricane seson. However, this one week does barely makes up for the week I spent in long sleeves before that. A few more weeks of this and I might buy into the current hurricane predictions. 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.

BIg Beach   SXM-Beaches: There is quite a bit of sand at the little cove at Cupecoy. That's first beach as you drive down the track after entering at Ocean Club. The stairs washed out a while ago, but Dany and the boys put in some ropes and handrails. One of the caves collapsed recently. I never thought you should spend much time in them. I've also heard that sand is returning to the big beach at the far northwest, in front of Shore Pointe. This photo is from a happier time. The location is about 50 yards south and several years before Shore Pointe. It's also from rather late in the season when we used to have large sections of the beach to ourselves.

The Mission Song   Beach reading: The Mission Song by John Le Carré is his 20th novel, an engrossing tale of an idealistic and naïve British interpreter, Bruno "Salvo" Salvador. The 29-year-old Congo native's mixed parentage puts him in a tentative position in society, despite his being married to an attractive upper-class white Englishwoman, who's a celebrity journalist. Salvo's genius with languages has led to steady work from a variety of employers, including covert assignments from shadowy government entities. One such job enmeshes the interpreter in an ambitious scheme to finally bring stability to the much victimized Congo, and Salvo's personal stake in the outcome tests his professionalism and ethics. Amid the bursts of humor, Le Carré convincingly conveys his empathy for the African nation and his cynicism at its would-be saviors, both home-grown patriots and global powers seeking to impose democracy on a failed state. Especially impressive is the character of Salvo, who's a far cry from the author's typical protagonist but is just as plausible.

Construction: They have started seriously building the airport runway extension. I say seriously, because they have been dumping sand into the lagoon at the eastern end of the runway for a year or so. They finally have enough and are starting to reshape and grade it so that the road from the terminal can jog north a bit and go out into what was the lagoon before returning to reconnect to the main road closer to the Gourmet Marché. That little maneuver will allow them to extend the runway and put a larger turnaround at the end, in addition to giving them more room between the "security" fence and the runway.

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.


Regatta   Activities: Here's a final Heineken Regatta photo from Richard E. Santaga. He says this was an Italian boat flying its spinnaker. I didn't know the Italians were such great fans of Casper the flying ghost.

Diane on Random Wind says, "We anchored twice in Nettle Bay recently where we saw spotted eagle rays and good sized tunas jumping out of the water. We gave a trapeze show to lots of spectators at Mullet today. Trevor and I are working on our together back flip. Everyone loves the Tarzan swing!"

  Random Wind
Ronny   On Friday night after dinner we made it to Pineapple Pete to catch a few songs of Ronny Santana's final set. His last two songs were covers of Dire Straits' Sultans of Swing (with Mark Knopfler on lead guitar) and Chris Rea's Road to Hell (also with Knopfler on lead guitar). Knopfler is left-handed, but plays as if he were right-handed. Moreover, he does not use a pick. He is a finger-picker employing a modified claw hammer style, plucking down with the thumb and up with the fingers. If you watch the Sultans video closely, you'll see that the bass and rhythm guitar players are also not using picks. Watch Knopler and you'll see that he rarely uses his pinkie on his fretting (right) hand, like most rock guitarists. Come down and watch Ronny and you'll see he does, like most classical guitarists, which is where he started. After his set, Ronny came over for a drink and we caught up with what has been happening as we stayed away from the Regatta crowds two weeks ago and stayed inside in the A/C over this last miserable week. The Voices of Classic Rock (Loverboy’s Mike Reno, Toto’s Bobby Kimball, and John Cafferty) played at Port de Plaisance on the Thursday for regatta registration and Ronny helped out with equipment and sound for several of their gigs. That led to a discussion of old guitars. Turns out Ronny has a 62 Fender back in Holland. That's back before Leo Fender sold the company to CBS. You can bet quality did not improve when the bean-counters arrived.

This is not a very strenuous activity, but we did end up at Skipjack's on Saturday night to watch the NCAA tournament on their big screen TV. Obvious other choices would be Pineapple Pete's ESPN bar and Bonita's Cantina. Bonita's outfitted the front room with a new bar and two big screen TVs, just in time for the Superbowl. The back dining room also got some new and better TVs as soon as Bonny and Bryan took over.

Groceries: We went over to Wendy K's for a wine and cheese tasting on Sunday evening. We brought over some Petit Billy (a fabulous goat cheese from the town of Billy) and continuing clockwise from that at the bottom right, she had some Brillat Savarin, St Nectaire & Comté, and Papillon Roquefort. We started with the 2005 Pommard from Michel Picard that we got at Netco and she had a 2005 and 2006 Savigny Les Beaune from Bouchard. The Pommard was wonderful and the two Savignys showed that the 2005 was better. Nonetheless, the 2006 was perfectly good. All the cheese and the Bouchard wines came from US Market in Marigot at the French Bridge.

We bought another Guadeloupe melon and more Guadeloupe tomatoes at Grand Marché. The melons have been very good this year. Just leave them out on the counter for two to four days and add some proscuitto and a chilled rosé. There are plenty to chose from down here, but we like the finesse of Select Wine Cellar's Sainte Croix. Use the coupon on the website to get 10% off.


Crime: The courts seem to be handing down tougher sentences lately. On Thursday the Daily Herald reported that Devon R. Frank, the killer of Jacques Busquet, got 15 years for aggravated manslaughter. Mr Busquet was a French businessman who owned Kangaroo Court and the short-lived Bumper Car emporium next to the short-lived Tijuana Yacht Club. He was stabbed to death for refusing to turn over the day's receipts ($700) on 12 Dec 2009. That's a pretty quick trial and conviction. The same day, the prosecutor asked for 20 years for a 21 year old who committed seven violent crimes between November 2008 and August 2009. The French side is setting things back a bit by sentencing a vigilante (Pascal Morelle) to six months for violent sequestration of minors. He had rounded up several teenagers who burgled his house and he even managed to recover some of his belongings, but he did it in a rather rough manner, using duct tape. The Herald was so upset they ran this editorial.

GEBE: I seriously jinxed GEBE by saying good things about them last Sunday. At the wine and cheese tasting mentioned above, the power failed shortly after sunset and did not return until about 10PM. The next day (Monday) the Herald reported that it was a total Dutch-side power failure caused by a short in a major line near Pburg. Tuesday's paper reported that some people in Belvedere were without power for six more hours on Monday. The rest of the week hasn't been much better according to various sources, although we hve not experienced outages here at Sapphire.

Nature: Here's a couple burros in a field along the road leading to Boo Boo Jam and Palm Beach Restaurant.

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

Small Island story: Being from NY, we are accustomed to dysfunctional government. Our squeaky clean former AG became a governor who got caught by the feds looking into money laundering and found him withdrawing large sums of cash to pay for his favorite hooker. The current genius seems to feel that his position gives him the right to further bully abused women into not prosecuting their abusers. And of course, our esteemed legislators haven't passed a budget on time in recent memory. Which brings me to our small island story. The budget here is of some importance as they want to get country status in October. The Dutch didn't think much of the first budget and sent it back. The current ruling alliance has been boycotting meetings of the executive council to avoid answering questions on the budget. This has not furthered the budget process noticeably.



We are running two contests currently, the normal SXM-Info contest and a special contest that started during the regatta. The Regatta Contest can be found on our charter boat page, although most of the prizes are gift certificates to restaurants. You can enter both contests.

I have had several entries from people who did not follow the rules for the Regatta Contest. They say: "First, all entries for these contests will be emails that have a subject that contains only the words "Regatta contest". The first line of the body of your email should have your bid in US$ for the fine vessel offered in the photo on the entry page. The second line of the body of the email should have the location of the fine vessel. The third line should have name of the contest sponsor. The fourth line of the body of the email should have the answer to the question posed in the contest."

I am astounded that only three entries know where that fine vessel is "berthed". They were the two winners and a third entry that actually had the name of the Bay spelled wrong and had an incorrect answer anyway. That boat has been at its current location for about a decade. I drive by it at least twice per week. Then again, I drive from my home in Cupecoy to dinners or lunches on the far French side at least twice per week. That should at least suggest that it is not on the Dutch side. (That's a hint.) There are still almost $400 worth of prizes left to be won.

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



On 14 March the euro was at $1.376. Today it is at $1.353. That's almost 2% in the week. Germany said that Greece would have to look to the IMF for a bailout. That reversed the previous good news (for the euro) that Greece was able to refinance its debt (for a couple months anyway) and Sarkozy's statement that France would help. It appears that Germany has a bit more influence on the currency traders than France. I had someone ask if it would be better to exchange dollars for NAf to use on the Dutch side and similarly, changing dollars for euros to use on the French side. My comments were that nobody uses NAf, except locals paid in NAf. Most Dutch-side restaurants that tourists go to have menus priced in dollars and deal in dollars. The exchange rate is fixed by the government and nobody outside of these crazy islands will convert a NAf. If you put anything on a US charge card, it is billed in dollars and most places use 1.8 NAf per dollar. At present, most French side restaurants will give you a better rate for US dollars cash than you will get on your credit card or that you could get by exchanging dollars for euros at a bank or change place. 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.

Bamboo Bernies
On Monday night we went to Bamboo Bernies for some shrimp tempura, gyoza, and sushi. They were voted the best sushi on the island by the readers of the Daily Herald. It still is one of the smartest places on the island: low lighting with bold colors, interesting Asian touches, and widely spaced tables. We choose some sparkling water and a bottle of Simi's 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($30), a very nice wine with fish, sushi in particular. Like last year, we had the tempura shrimp (below left, $14). Five large shrimp arrived with topped by a bit of shredded veg with three dipping sauces and a very good soy sauce already on the table.
  Bamboo Bernies' logo  
  We also had very crispy, pan-fried, pork dumplings (below center, $8) with another dipping sauce. Our main courses were the sushi dinner (which included miso soup for $28) and a small sashimi plate ($24) - all quite good. The photo is the chef displaying another creation. The cost for the entire dinner was about $130 including 3% tax and a 15% tip.  
  shrimp tempura dumplings  

  Kakao logo
Kakao Beach Bar
  On Tuesday we headed out to Orient Beach for a another long lunch at Kakao Beach Bar. Martha had the Créole platter (above left, 18€) and I had the pizza suprême with mushrooms and ham (above right, 12€). We had the 2006 Guigal Côtes du Rhône (below left, 26€). With a bottle of water, our total bill was $84, using a favorable 1.33 exchange rate. Service, as always, was great. These lower photos give you an idea as to why we like this place so much. All the photos were taken while seated at the table. Look past our wine glass and water bottle and you'll get an idea how far it is to the nearest table and the amount of greenery between tables. The center photo was a very colorful catamaran passing by on Orient Bay, but again, I had to take the shot when it appeared through an opening in the palms that are scattered through the dining area. That's Green Cay in the background. The last photo is a packet of sugarbirds at their feeder next to this table. No, you probably won't find that term of venery in any list, as I just made it up. BTW, the correct term for bankers is wunch.  

Rancho Del Sol
  Free WiFi   After lunch we stopped at Rancho Del Sol to show Johan the article we published that contains his recipe for coconut flan. As we had brought the computer, we picked up our email using their free WiFi while we enjoyed drinks on the patio. It's a great office! They are located high on a hill overlooking Tintamarre, Green Cay (in the background, behind the aloe vera flowers), all of Orient Bay, and even St Barts.   Aloe Vera flowers  

Horny Toad
St Paddy's Day Party at
The Horny Toad Guesthouse
We had our usual St Paddy's day dinner at The Horny Toad Guesthouse on Simpson Bay. It's an invite only affair, essentially open to the guests and a few invited friends. If you can't get an invite, see if you can get a room. Betty is always having parties: Thanksgiving, Super Bowl, Valentine's Day, Heineken Regatta, St Paddy's Day, etc.
  Corned beef dinner   This holiday brings out the usual boiled cabbage, carrots, and potatoes with some fabulous corned beef. It ended with a great chocolate cake and some St Maarten Magic, a concoction from a ex-pat guest. The lovely sunset behind Beacon Hill was taken from the seawall on the edge of the property, looking west along about half of Simpson Bay Beach on an earlier evening with a much clearer sky.   Sunset on Simpson Bay

Le Village Restaurant
For lunch on Thursday, we headed over to the Village Restaurant in Marina Royale. The marina has parking on both sides and it's a short drive from Cupecoy or Simpson Bay. We choose a table inside out of the blazing heat. They had fresh mussels at 14€ in three different preparations. I choose the cream version and Martha had a shrimp salad. I think these mussels are my new favorites, now that Pascal, previous owner of Sunset Café, is no longer serving his secret recipe there. The mussels were fresh, cooked to perfection, and the broth was loaded with cream and the crunch of onions. The total bill was $65 with a half carafe of rosé and a bottle of Pelligrino.
  Our lunch  

  Spring rolls and shrimp tempura  
Tai Chi Restaurant
On Friday we headed out to Tai Chi Restaurant in Orient Village. We chose Friday because the village square has a band and a few other things happening - vendors, jugglers, dancers, etc.
  sushi and sashimi
  Tai Chi lost its Thai chefs in December and has dropped much of the Thai menu, offering a few dishes as specials with a few more standard French dishes also. The sushi chef remained so the sushi and sashimi offerings have increased. They are actively looking for new Thai chefs, but as both sides of the island struggle into a new political arrangement with their "parent" countries, politicians are reluctant to grant work permits with much haste. We started with a special off the blackboard, spring rolls and tempura shrimp (above left, 14€). The rolls were quite good, especially when topped with a mint leaf and rolled in lettuce. We had a boatload of sushi and sashimi (above right, 40€). This was supposed to be a single, but we found we had more than enough for our dinner. We choose an Attitude sauvignon blanc (26€). With water, our total bill was $121 given a 1.35 exchange rate. We left $130, exactly what we paid at Bamboo Bernies for a very similar dinner on Monday. Do you need any more proof that the French side is not always more expensive? Or that a 1 to 1 exchange rate is the only solution?

The fire juggler was quite amusing, but a bit much for my camera. If I used the flash, the resulting photo showed two small dots of flame. Without the flash the lens stayed open so long I got these fuzzy photos. The second one is even more amazing as his quick body movements left little more than a shadow on my image and yet, he seemingly twirled the flaming baton in place.

  Band Fire juggler Fire juggler  

Pizza Galley
We went to Pizza Galley in Simpson Bay for dinner on Saturday. They are just over the bridge and we actually found a spot in their tiny parking lot in front of their establishment. We had our usual JP Special pizza (Pepperoni, Italian sausage, green peppers, mushrooms, caramelized onions, black olives, and mozzarella cheese) and a bottle of Mon Redon Cotes du Rhone, but substituted a garden salad for the Caesar salad. It's more than enough for the two of us and comes in a touch over $50. That really is our table with the seagrape in the background and the lights of Simpson Bay twinkling in the distance.
  Wine Garden salad JP special  
  As usual, we spent a good bit of the evening talking with JP about restaurants. The last time we were here, JP said he had heard good things about Granduca in Maho. At this time, we have also heard good things about it and JP said he had visited quite late one evening recently. He had been pleasantly surprised that he was even able to get served at 10:45PM. He then raved about a large Caprese salad and a wonderful veal chop.

At that point, I had to get to work. Pizza Galley won the award for best dessert in the annual reader's survey in The Daily Herald and published a rather nice photo of the pie with the obligatory scoop of luscious and local Etna ice cream. JP has been trying to send a large copy of it to his webmaster and to me, with little success. I had volunteered to take a photo on my next visit. On the right is the award winning pie. It tastes as good as it looks.

  Award winning pie  

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.

  Rancho logo
Barbecued mouse   If you are looking for barbecued mouse, we have found the place. Just don't ask us for a wine to go with your dinner. They seem to suggest a cold Carib.

Correction: Last week I reported that Elisa Cohen from Bikini Beach had taken over the space next door previously called Planet B and opened it as a Tex/Mex (or French/Mex) place called Paris, Texas. Contessa wrote to me saying that she thought it was Plant Orient. I stopped in again and, as usual, the old sign is still there. We are both 66.7% right! It said Planet Orient B.

On Friday and Saturday (26/27 March) François Prudhomme, sommelier extraordinaire, will be hosting another dinner featuring some great cheeses at La Source at Marigot's Marina Royale. We were at one earlier this year. La Source produces interesting food and they procure special cheeses for this event. François carefully selects wines to accompany everything. The cost for an ap, main course, and a cheese course is 39€, about $50. If you are interested, get reservations by sending an email to francoisprud@hotmail.fr.


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 10% off a weekly car rental from Unity Car Rental, one of the longest running and most trusted car rental agencies on the island. Other notable coupons are $50 from Skipjack's restaurant, a tastng and a bottle of wine from Select Wine Cellar, a two for one ride on Celine's famous Lagoon Pub Crawl, $50 off a daysail on Random Wind, 50 from Piazza Pascal. 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.