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St Maarten/St Martin
4 April 2010 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

Sunset over over southwestern St Maarten   Weather: Sunday turned out to be a very nice day, warm, maybe even hot, and sunny - a great beach day. Monday was more of the same with low humidity and a bit of breeze, under 10 mph judging from the lack of whitecaps on the lagoon. Tuesday was also lovely and warm, especially as we spent it walking up and down Front Street. Wednesday was a bit cooler with a bit of breeze and the islands peeking out from the haze. It sprinkled as we drove to a friend's house for drinks before dinner. The sunset shot above was taken from their porch high above Port de Plaisance. In the large version you can see a cruise ship has just passed in front of the sun and on the right of that, the three buildings are The Cliff, Rainbow, and our home, Sapphire Beach Club.   Saba in the morning sunlight
The big flat area is the airport and you can see that the lagoon is dead flat, not a breath of air. Thursday started with a downpour that cleared the air, although at 11AM the humidity was 80% at 81F, pretty sticky, but we could see all four islands off our balcony. Good Friday was a very good day: warm, sunny, and clear. Above right is Random Wind crossing between our condo and Saba. Note the crown of clouds feeding the rain forest atop Mount Scenery. Friday and Saturday had passing showers but mostly were hot Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast and humid until a major system came in and dropped the temperature into the 70's. On Sunday morning at 8AM it was only 79F. 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 6:23 and the moon is in its last quarter. The full moons in 2010 will be 28 Apr, 27 May, 26 Jun, 25 Jul, 24 Aug, 23 Sep, 22 Oct, 21 Nov, and 21 Dec.

Big Beach   SXM-Beaches: It's been rough this week, but people were finally able to swim at Mullet on Friday morning, after three rough-water days. The water was calm enough, but lots of sea grass had been uprooted and was floating about. Someone, or organization, has cleaned all the garbage from the beach - just in time for the Easter partiers to trash it all over again!

The Lamorna Wink   Beach reading: The Lamorna Wink by Martha Grimes Amazon.com Review says: Fans of Martha Grimes will know that the Lamorna Wink must be a British pub, and one to which Superintendent Richard Jury or his aristocratic sidekick Melrose Plant can be counted on to repair in the process of solving a mystery or two. This time, with Jury off in Ireland, Plant takes the starring role. His vacation in picturesque Bletchley on the Cornwall coast is very nearly ruined by the coincidental appearance of his dreaded Aunt Agatha. Ironically, however, he is drawn to the plight of a young man, Johnny Wells, whose favorite aunt has disappeared suddenly without trace. In spite of Agatha, Plant decides to lease a house owned by an American millionaire whose two grandchildren died tragically on the beach a few years before. Within a day or so, a new dead body is found in neighboring Lamorna: that of Sada Colthorp, a young woman who had lived in the area but left to dabble in porn movies. Plant and divisional police commander Brian Macalvie (Help the Poor Struggler) believes there's a link between Colthorp and the missing Chris Wells. When the pieces start to come together (and a fast string of violence ensues), Jury makes a token appearance to tie up the remaining loose ends. But the day really belongs to Plant, who is becoming much more than an accidental detective, and to Macalvie, a character with an appeal that may eclipse even Jury's.
As always, Grimes provides comic relief at the expense of a tight plot by checking in with the myriad other characters who populate Plant's Long Piddleton and Jury's London. The impatient reader may wonder when, if ever, Plant and friends will cease their juvenile heckling of Vivian Rivington's Italian count. The final explanation of the children's deaths, however, will leave the most stoic mystery fan feeling distinctly queasy. That Grimes can so effectively amuse, shock, intrigue, and even irritate after 16 books bodes well for the continuing life of the series.

Construction: Jeff Berger's newsletter (sign up here) had a screed from a Caravanserai timeshare owner who was not very gruntled. Caravanserai has taken a very long time to get to a point where some people are not very happy. Some of these complaints may be teething problems and I'm sure many are caused by a rush to open before all furniture, linen, staff, etc arrived. One of the complaints was that there was a lot of construction left, and few construction workers. I hope it gets better, but without the cash flow that a Casino would bring, I don't see a lot of money available.

On a brighter note, this floating swimming pool was installed in Grand Case. I took the photo from the lovely dining room at Il Nettuno Restaurant as we enjoyed lunch on Thursday. That view of the boats in the bay and the activity on the pier makes for a lovely lunch. Crole Rock at the end of the bay and Anguilla in the background are just a bonus.

  Swimming pool at Grand Case  

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

Ronny   Activities: We had a very nice dinner at Halsey's Restaurant on Friday night and headed over to Pineapple Pete to catch Ronny's last set. He had them dancing in the aisles. He also covered U2's "With or Without You", Ziggy's favorite tune. Ziggy is the waiter (and rap artist) who taught Ronny everything he knows. At least that's what Ziggy says. Pete, of course, claims to have taught Ziggy everything he knows. However they sorted this out, it's a haunting tune with the sustain on the guitar riffs.

On Saturday night we had dinner at Auberge Gourmande and heard reggae music as we headed to the car. It was the Barbwire Band playing at Blue Martini. We couldn't resist. The garden was packed and as we were saying hello to various people, John from Tijon Parfumerie came over and invited us to his table. Cyndi was there with another couple but we borrowed a couple chairs and settled in.

  dancing in the aisles
The band was not the only thing of interest in the outdoor garden. Leffe on tap is almost as good as Stella Artois on tap. Remo and Dreadi of Barbwire had a lot of people up and dancing. Sharp eyes will detect Alex on bass in the background of two of these photos. He was playing last Tuesday with the House of Blues at Pineapple Pete. A good thumping bass line moves reggae and blues along - and the dancers out of their seats.   Dancer
Barbwire   Barbwire   Leffe  

We're down to the final game in the NCAA tournament. You can catch it at Pineapple Pete's ESPN bar and at Bonita's Cantina. Bonita's is doing their Pig Out special for $10 for the game on Monday night. It's a lot of barbecue for $10: a full rack of ribs and some pulled pork with fries. Bryan is still offering a contest entitled Stump the Chump during the tournament. I tried my luck as they whittled the field from 16 down to 8, but I only got four games right. Some people did beat Bryan's predictions and got a few pulled pork sandwiches. Come on in and get your share of the fun, maybe even your share of some pulled pork.

Shopping: On Tuesday we headed to DK Gems to pick up the pendant that Deepti had crafted from several rings that Martha recently inherited from her mother. The result is on the right. All the diamonds were removed from the rings and reset with a large marquis diamond atop a cluster with a large round diamond in the center surrounded by ten smaller diamonds. We think it looks quite nice and the gold from the rings defrayed about half the cost of resetting the diamonds. This was no special service for us. Deepti says she is happy to craft something for anyone who has some old jewelry that is no longer being used.

  Pendant

Groceries: The NYTimes had a recent article on Sex Secrets of the Prigord Black Truffle. I've never actually seen any for sale here on the island, but I do remember a spectacular risotto that I had at Gondola Restaurant. It was a risotto with scallops and porcini and quarter-sized slivers of black truffles.
Bayonne   On Monday the US Supermarket in Sandy Ground was having a sale on Bayonne ham, a mere 22.90/kg or $13.50 per pound. Bayonne is a port at the extreme southwest of France, on the border with Spain in Basque country. That's even cheaper than the Grand March price for prosciutto which was about $15 per pound. They were out of that and Bayonne ham when I was there on Monday. Shopping is always an adventure when you are at the far end of a long supply chain. Then again, we actually can get these products here most of the time. Not so across the waves in Anguilla. Of course, this will be used with a Guadeloupe melon and a Chateau Sainte Croix ros from Select Wine.
  Prigord Black Truffle

Crime: The gendarmes actually caught someone stealing a car. They seem to be concentrating on catching evil-doers rather than harassing tourists in traffic stops. I haven't seen a traffic control this season and I don't think I saw one last season either. I did see quite a few gendarmes on the streets of Grand Case after dinner at Auberge Gourmande on Saturday. This week the Daily Herald reported that the Dutch side police caught the killers of Haresh "Danny" Dayalani, a well-liked Indian businessman. He was killed in front of his wife in May of last year in what is believed to be a robbery gone bad.

GEBE: We lost power a couple times this week, even at Sapphire. It wasn't for very long, a hour or two at most, and we do have an emergency generator that powers some circuits. It keeps some core lights powered and the TV in our bedroom (?). A long and sturdy extension cord allows us to keep the refrigerator cool and the computers and internet connection in operation.

Nature: This is a Mousianda flower at L'Esperance Hotel, so rare that there is no Wikipedia article on it and there are only two mentions of it in all of Google. Consequently, I can't tell you much about it. I'm not even sure of the spelling!

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

Small Island story: On 1 April (also known as April Fool's day or, on the French side, Poisson d'Avril) Daily Herald announced that the new land area alongside the new ring road created by filling in the lagoon will be available for long lease to local residents. They are to go out on the sand pile and drive in stakes to "stake" their claim. I suspect this is patently false and it continues a long line of bogus front page news in the Herald (especially on April first). One year they said the Lt Gov's house was to be auctioned with an early morning preview for potential bidders. As to the Poisson d'Avril (or April Fish?), here's one theory. Here's a clip of the famous BBC bumper spaghetti harvest story.

  Mousianda


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


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.

The only prize that hasn't been awarded in the Regatta Contest is the two for one week at Marci's Mega Gym. The sleek motor yacht is "berthed" in what landlubbers call Galis Bay, based on the road signs in the area. People with good maps can see that it is called Bay of Potence or Bay of Portence. Potence in French means gallows in English, making it pretty close to Galis Bay. You can actually see the ship on Google Maps. It has deteriorated somewhat since that satellite passed over. Now that you know where the boat is, all you have to do is scour the Megagym website to find the answer to the question: Who trained at the gym, and was named the third sexiest man on the island in a Daily Herald poll?

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 28 March the euro was at $1.341. Today it is at $1.350. Greece refinanced its debt through April and the IMF and the Eurozone agreed on a plan to keep Greece from defaulting. That relieved pressure on the euro and it rose more than 1% earlier in the week before falling back a bit at the end. 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.

 
Piazza Pascal
On Sunday we headed over to Piazza Pascal for dinner. We parked in the pay parking lot in the center of town and walked past Blue Martini - closed, Bistrot Carabes - almost full, Auberge Gourmande - crowded, La Villa - tables available, Le Cottage Restaurant - closed, and L'Escapade Restaurant - closed. I didn't mention Il Nettuno Restaurant, Restaurant le Soliel, Le Tastevin, and Fish Pot because they are waterfront restaurants and the dining rooms are far removed from passersby on the street, although they were open. Donna offered specials of a beef carpaccio on a bed of arugula, topped with sliced peppers and a balsamic reduction (right, $15) and a fresh almond-encrusted tuna with arugula and portobellos (below right, $24). That was good enough for me and Martha chose the veal picatta (with artichokes and capers) from the menu ($22).

  Beef Carpaccio  
  We choose the Ropiteau Pinot Noir to accompany these flavorful dishes. The wine comes from the south of France and will never rival Burgundies using the same grape, but the wine is inexpensive ($19) and well-made and quite drinkable, if not powerful.  
  Veal picatta Ropiteau Burgundy Donna and Pascal Tuna  

 
L'Escargot Restaurant
On Tuesday we headed to Pburg to see Deepti and stopped for lunch at L'Escargot Restaurant. We ordered water and the 2008 Macon-Village from Louis Latour. That's Vernon, long-time waiter, pouring this crisp and clean chardonnay on the right.
  Vernon  
  Snapper Calamari

  Vernon   I had wanted the calamari steak appetizer at Piazza Pascal but was enticed by the beef tartare. Escargot also has a calamari steak (above center) done in a similar fashion, grilled with a lemon and caper sauce, simple, but exquisite and wonderful with a crisp white wine. Martha made a similar choice, going with a special grilled snapper (above left). Both came with a bit of veg and some tasty scalloped potatoes. I apologize for not having prices, but we never even looked at menus or the wine list. We just talked to Vernon and choose a wonderful lunch. The total did come to a bit less than $100 with the added 15% service and even the 3% turnover tax to the bill as mentioned on the menu. Friday nights are special at Escargot as a cabaret troupe takes over at about 9:30PM. That's "Cher" turning back time on the right. There are many more photos on the website.   Cher  

Careful readers will note several other stops for dining, but we have been very busy preparing to leave. Moreover, I don't use this newsletter merely to tell you to go to some restaurant because it is the "best". I tell you what we had, how it tasted, provide photos, and mention prices. Competition down here is so keen that bad restaurants fade quickly as word of mouth travels up and down beaches during the day. I mention the prices most of the time because they are important. Over the last three weeks I had three ribeye steaks. The cheapest was quite good, but was USDA Choice, while the second was Certified Angus Beef, and the third was USDA Prime. They cost more, I paid more, and they were better. At one place a chef made the mushroom sauce to order and his daughter brought it to our table. I like that sort of "family" restaurant. The best beef I had over the entire three weeks was this week where there was a chef in the kitchen and an owner on the floor. The beef was a filet mignon with a morel sauce and it cost about 20% more than the two expensive ribeyes. You frequently get what you pay for, but bear in mind that you pay for a water view, an expensive designer, multiple servers, and eye-popping decor. We will be going out to lunch or dinner almost every day over these last two weeks. I'll write more about these visits over the summer and you can decide what you where you want to spend your money.


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.   Palm Beach logo

We're getting ready to head back to our farm, looking forward to expanding the garden once again (it will be bigger than the plot that sat under my three family apartment building in Cambridge), fresh eggs, a yard full of chickens, and a barn full of sheep and pigs. It's a different life, but if you like food and like to cook, you should do a bit of farming. As Myrtle Allen from Ballymaloe in Ireland says: When you grow a vegetable yourself, youre less likely to boil it to death.

I'm told that Rainbow in Grand Case has been sold. There has been quite a bit of work at the site and I believe it is now open. We stayed so late listening to Barbwire Band at Blue Martini that Rainbow, like almost almost every other restaurant, was closed by the time we drove past. The sign says Steak'n'Fish House.

Greg Asadoorian is at Sopranos for the month of April.

Now that low season is here Piazza Pascal and Il Nettuno Restaurant are no longer open for lunch.

Bacchus is hosting a dinner with Eric Wente of Wente Vineyards at 8PM on 13 April. The cost is 69, water and wines included. Contact them at specialevent@bacchussxm.com, if you are interested. Their website is BacchusSXM.com and here's the menu:

  Rainbow

Fresh Salmon Gravelax, Fennel Salad and Fresh Herbs with wild Asparagus


Foie Gras Burger with confit shallots, Mango Vinegar Reduction


Duck filet medallion, stuffed with Soft Apricots and Pistachio, Black Olives Puff Potatoes, Truffle Juice


Pear and Red Fruits Crumble, Vanilla Home Made Ice Cream


BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS


SXM Privilege Card   Coupons: The SXM Privilege Card seems to be a pretty good deal. It will get you various discounts and/or perks at 33 restaurants (by my count in the print version). They also cover hotels (mostly spa treatments at hotels), activities, and more. Most of the restaurant perks are a 10% discount. Use it twice in a month and it pays for itself. Here's a link to the SXM-Info website for a our coupons for some freebie or discount. Here's a list of the coupons you'll find:  
Bikini Beach
Beau Beau's
Diamonds International
Escargot
Kakao Beach
Marci's Mega Gym
Oizeau Rare
Pizza Galley
Tai Chi
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Radiant Gems
Snorkel Trips
Tropical Wave

  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.

I just got this from Amazon. There is a two for one during April on Smart Money, Esquire, and Maximum PC that may appeal to some readers and there are several others that are of no interest to me, but you might be interested. Moreover Amazon's rates on other mags seem pretty good. As we all seem to like traveling, you might be interested in Caribbean Travel & Life and Cond Nast Traveler.

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