St Maarten/St Martin
25 April 2010 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

View from bedroom balcony   Weather: On Sunday 11 April I said the dark clouds would blow over and "It's 79F at 7AM and I'm betting on a pretty good day." It actually did clear out and at 10:30 AM we got a phone call from Franco and Alexandra from Hibiscus Restaurant, inviting us to Karakter for lunch on Simpson Bay Beach. Unfortunately, it started drizzling almost as soon as we got there, but it seemed to let up after a beer at the bar. We discussed options and as soon as we headed to the tables at Karakter, the skies opened and it continued like this all day. On Monday it was still quite cloudy, warm, and humid, but with much less rain. the photo on the left was taken from our bedroom balcony a bit before sunset. The foreground is Cupecoy between Sapphire Beach Club, essentially on the Caribbean, and the lagoon.
View from bedroom balcony   The French lowlands start on the far side of the lagoon to the left and flow through Bay Rouge, Nettle Bay, and Sandy Ground to Marigot. At dead center, just as Bay Rouge changes to Nettle Bay, Belle Créole's bell tower rises amid the ruins remaining from Hurricane Luis in 1995. The photo on the left is a zoom shot over the blue roof of the building on the left of the wide angle shot. Dead center in this shot is Créole Rock at the far end of Grand Case. Click the photo and the enlarged version shows it quite clearly. On the right is a branch from the tree in Cupecoy (bottom right of photo), streetlights along the road in Nettle Bay, a container ship coming out of Galis Bay at the far end of Marigot, and Créole Rock.   View from bedroom balcony
You get an idea how gray the day was from those shots. We didn't mind as we were packing up the condo and our suitcases in preparation for our Tuesday departure. Wendy K reports: After a still, gray start to the day on 20 April, we eventually developed a light breeze from the south - perfect for a last afternoon at Cupecoy. 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 6:28 and the moon is a almost full. 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.

Karakter   SXM-Beaches: At the end or this week, the water was fairly calm and very clear at Cupecoy's baby beach (or little cove) and the sand is now spread amongst the three beaches. Reports from Karakter on Simpson Bay said it was beautiful there, as well. That's Karakter's beach on the left. The photo was take around sunset, so there are not many people on the beach and it is a bit dark. there is plenty of beach and it is generally calm. Below is a photo of Cupecoy showing the location of the Baby Beach or Little Cove. The larger beaches are on the left of the monolith starting at stairs that led down to an old dock with another beach even further to the left, out of the photo that is underneath the ShorePointe development.

Cupecoy Beach east, near Ocean Club west, near the border

Southwest France   Beach reading: The Cooking of Southwest France: Recipes from France's Magnificent Rustic Cuisine and Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco both by Paula Wolfert, are probably not books for the beach, but they are interesting reads and fabulous cookbooks. On 26 March we dined at Marrakech Restaurant and wrote about it in our newsletter and this week we report on a dinner at Ti Bouchon, where the owner, Momo, injects some middle eastern touches into the cuisine. Our other review below is of La Marine Restaurant, where the owner, Dominique, features cuisine from his home in the southwest of France. these are both well-researched and well-written books based on years of study in the region. Just last night at a friend's house for dinner she was recommending the the expanded revision of her 1983 classic on the cuisine of southwest France. Since it was first published in 1973, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco has established itself as the classic work on one of the world's great cuisines. Wolfert reveals not only the riches of the Moroccan kitchen but also the variety and flavor of the country itself. This is one of the rare cookbooks that are as valuable for their good reading as for their inspired food, maybe a good beach read after all.   Couscous Cover

Construction: The road between the Atlantis Casino and the Bleu Mall is a mess, with 3 foot trenches dug on the lagoon side of the road. There's nothing to keep cars from falling into them other than the pile of dirt removed from the trench. It's uncertain when GEBE will have the utility lines ready to put in the trenches. Essentially all things with GEBE are uncertain. rumors abound, some suggesting that it could be months. An aquaintence is SUPPOSED to be able to move into her apartment in Porto Cupecoy in June. While Porto Cupecoy will probably fulfill its promises, GEBE's electricity could be late. The photo is a repeat, but things look like this over the entire distance from Bleu Mall to Atlantis Casino. The only difference, that now the heavy equipment is gone as they await cables for the trench.   jackhammer in Cupecoy

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, including the use of our 2010 SXM Privilege Card that gets you discounts on many restaurants. 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. 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.


Passat in the morning sun from our  balcony   Random Wind   Activities: On the far left is Passat in the morning sun from our balcony and Random Wind. Both do sail tours of the island with snorkeling included, frequently at Créole Rock, which I believe is the best snorkeling on the island. If sailing is not for you, GCBC Watersports takes you out to the rock on their power boat in about five minutes and gives you a guided, 40 minute tour. Obviously, you won't see most of the island from the water, nor do they serve a meal, but you'll be in Grand Case with a plethora of restaurants open for lunch.   GCBC Watersports

pendant   Shopping: We stopped at Octaedre Gems in the Marigot Market to catch up with Joel and check out this year's new merchandise. Martha bought this pendant last year and this year there are new bracelets, rings, and earrings. There are many more photos on the website and the prices at the market are quite reasonable. Given that the garnet is mined near Friar's Bay, this is one of the few St Martin souvenirs that really is a St Martin souvenir.   ring

Groceries: The Gourmet Marché in Porto Cupecoy has opened. There is another Gourmet Marché in Simpson Bay, near the east end of the airport runway. They are a stripped down version of Grand Marché. There are two of them, one in Cole Bay in front of the Port de Plaisance complex and another at the roundabout at the entrance to Pburg. Judging from the pictures that Bill and Elaine posted on Picasa and referenced on a TTOL thread, the shelves are well-stocked with lovely looking fruits and veggies. It remains to be seen how well they'll do until Porto Cupecoy is fully open.

In a totally unrelated development, the NY Times had an article on ciguatera. It's worth reading and if you don't read it, it's worth knowing that eating small reef fish can bring you some extreme distress. Moreover, eating larger fish that feed on small reef fish (barracuda, tuna, etc) can do the same. It is best to dine on deepwater fish where there are no reefs, such as these deepwater snapper from Dominique at La Marine Restaurant. And yes, that is Créole Rock in the background.

  Deepwater snapper

Bag in box wine   Alcohol: As usual, we brought a considerable amount of alcohol back to the US. This year's twist was the reuse of the bag in a box wines that we have been drinking in honor of economic hard times. When finished, I remove the bag, pull off the valve (it's slip fit), rinse out the bag, and put it back in the box. I brought two 3 liter boxes to SXM last January and refilled them with six liters of rum. After the Heineken Regatta, Mount Gay can be had for about $8 for 1.14 liters (I think that is an Imperial quart). I filled out the customs form declaring six liters of rum at about $45 and was told to move along. It's not smuggling if you tell them you have it. Using the bag in box, reduces the weight considerably, reduces the volume, and virtually assures no breakage.

Travel: The Daily Herald reported in February on a court case that "Judge René van Veen agreed that under the Friendship Treaty closed between the Dutch Kingdom and the United States on December 5, 1957, US citizens should be treated equally to European Dutch in the Netherlands Antilles." There are more details here, but basically he reopened an investigation on further matters pertaining to director's licenses. A ruling was expected last week, but has been postponed a month or so. I believe that the Dutch have the right to live on the island, just as the Antillians have the right to reside in Holland.

Nature: Here is an iguana that we met in the entrance to Karakter. He's not on the menu, but we can vouch for the tasty tapas and speak highly of six bottles of Amstel Bright in a bucket for a mere $12.

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

Small Island story: Further to the recent claim by the French regarding a new border line running through Oyster Pond, effectively putting all of Captain Oliver's Resort in France, check out the gendarmes invasion as reported by The Daily Herald. The short version is that a ferry from Anguilla reported some injured passengers and when it docked at Captain Oliver's the gendarmes arrived. This was shortly after Dutch-French side meetings on Saturday, 10 April, that were a lovefest of cooperation, discussion, notification, etc. Apparently all empty words.

  Iguana at Karakter


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?

Contest Winner for the contest that ended 25 April 2010:

Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October) - Coleen DeMille
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Debby French
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - Debby French
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Debby French
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate - Carrie Hamel
MMG 2000 - Two for One week at the gym with a shake - Randy Jenkins
Tijon Perfume - One free bottle - Jacki Ellenberger jle4psu@comcast.net
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two - Coleen DeMille
PassportMD - Six months free service - Joan Racicot
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more - Joyce Cramblet
Lighthouse at Oyster Bay - $1000 off a summer week (June-October) - Joyce Musil-Condon
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two - Coleen DeMille

Current Contest:

25 April to 25 July 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
SXM-Privilege Discount Card - One free monthly card

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 July to 31 October | 31 October to 26 December
same cast of characters as current contest



On 11 April the euro was at $1.350. Today it is at $1.338 - not much change over two tumultuous weeks. My screed on 11 April said: "It is my contention that France (certainly) and Germany (reluctantly) and the IMF (as a last resort) will not allow Greece to fail." By the time we came home from "Dining with Deepti" that evening the NYTimes was reporting that the Eurozone had agreed to bail Greece out to the tune of 40 billion and the euro was already up to 1.357, eventually reaching 1.366. But on 22 April Greece was back in the news and the euro hit 1.33. An article in Seeking Alpha said "The dollar is strengthening against the euro, and that is helping our relative inflation outlook (that is to say, helping to hold it down) compared to Europe’s. But our system isn’t exactly on a sound and stable basis; investors aren’t fleeing to our currency because it is the prettiest but because, at the moment, it is the least-ugly." and a lot more if you are interested. On 23 April Greece formally requested the activation of the financial rescue package and the euro climbed again, but barely.

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 article in the NY Times. They even mention Capital One.

La Marine
Wendy K won the La Marine voucher in the Regatta contest. She had actually looked into buying one of the apartments overlooking the sleek motor yacht. She says: "It was a rainy day, but also one of our last, so we decided to have lunch at La Marine after a stop at La Penninsule (a furniture/furnishings store between Grand case and Orient) where we looked at curtains. We were the first customers to arrive and chose a table overlooking the calm waters of Grand Case Bay. Three specials for the day were a paella, moules/frites, and Blanquette de Veau. Tony chose the Blanquette for 16.50€ and I ordered off the menu: fillet de bar (a French sea bass) at 18.5€. We drank a bottle of San Benedetto frizzante water (5€) and a bottle of Samaur-Champigny (22€), a red wine from the Loire area of France. Served "fresh", it worked well with both of our lunches. The blanquette (essentially, a veal stew with a cream sauce) came with very tasty haricots verts, carrots, and celeric - I think it was. The cream sauce was light and wonderful. Normally served with rice; Tony requested the French roasted potatoes, which were delicious. My bar was a whole fish filleted and pan sauteed, from the looks of it. It was very delicate and came with some diced veggies and a very good olive oil drizzle; haricots verts tied in a small bundle and a roasted tomato. It also came with mashed potatos, but I asked to substitiute the house-made frites, which I am compelled to try, wherever I find them. The bill for a very enjoyable lunch - and the beach chairs & umbrella would have been free, I understand - was 62€ or $77.50. They give a better rate of exchange than the banks or ATMs. Highly recommended."


  Dining room Sea bass Blanquette de veau  

Ti Bouchon Restaurant
We drove out to Cul de Sac one evening for a lovely dinner on the porch with Momo at Ti Bouchon Restaurant. In the beginning, this was supposed to emulate the bouchons in Lyon that served good, hearty, yet inexpensive, local fresh food with a river of local red wine. Obviously, as nothing is local here on the island, that part of the similarity was bypassed, but food similar to what was available in Lyon made it to the table in St Maarten. In order to be inexpensive, that meant long cooking of more inexpensive cuts of meat and other culinary feats that turn a sow's ear into, if not a purse, at least something edible and quite tasty. Over the years, however, Momo has upgraded the menu so that it now rivals the best restaurants on the island. It is still a small menu, only about a half dozen aps, meat, fish, and dessert courses with a few specials, but very interesting. I wrote most of this paragraph a year ago when we visited, but it is now more true than ever. The menu still is small but top-notch and though the prices have gone up, they are in dollars.

We ordered water and looked over the menu. There were two soups, a salad, and three aps priced from $15 to $17. The main courses included three seafood plates (snapper, shrimp, and scallops all about $35), two pastas at $25, and four meat offerings (beef, lamb, pork, and chicken ranging from $32 to $37). We choose gnocchi as our ap, supposedly the half order that is an appetizer. Momo even split that size for the two of us.

The wine list is similarly small, about 30 bottles, but well chosen. Momo forces me out of my Burgundy rut by having very little. This time I noticed a 2006 Givry from the southern end of Burgundy. Givry was the favorite wine of King Henry IV. The 2006 vintage is in the middle of the pack, but rated as currently drinkable. As this was from the Clos du Cellier aux Moines, a fairly good producer and was a premier cru, it turned out to be rather good wine from a mediocre year. With only three years in the bottle, it was mellow and full flavored, if not overly long and large ($69).



  The gnocchi arrived in a creamy red sauce featuring sun dried tomatoes and chives. While they were light as a feather, that is a lot o gnocchi as a half-portion of an appetizer priced at $13 (above right). It was wonderful with the wine. Martha chose the long-cooked lamb shank with a millefeuille of chick pea flour, hummus, and ratatouille (lower right, $37). Momo cajoled me into trying the scallops, saying that Mario (of Mario's Bistro), who lives nearby had hooked him up with a new supplier. As you can see (bottom left, $36), there were only three in a serving, but they were over two inches in diameter! They came with some shredded veg in a risotto topped with rice noodles. Consider the textures: crunchy rice noodles, creamy risotto with some shredded veg, and firm scallops with a crispy coating, all in a nice sauce. Our total bill for water, wine, and food was $159. The food portion was only $86 and we took home enough for lunch the next day. In this case, you are paying more for the food and less for the emporium. It's quite cute, clean, and freshly-painted, but you are dining on an open-air porch with a limited view.

Now that the Radisson has opened in Anse Marcel, Ti Bouchon is getting pretty busy. Reservations would be helpful, as there are few tables.

  Scallops Lamb shank  

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

Wendy K reports that their farewell dinner at Mario's on Wednesday was quite good (as always), and the restaurant was doing well with all the waterfront tables filled.

News and Changes: I forgot to mention Bonnie and Bryan's Big Doings at Bonita's Cantina. The festivities start with Derby Day at Bonita's:

Watch the Kentucky Derby at Bonita's Cantina

Saturday May 1 From 12pm till 7pm

$2.00 Mint Julips

$3.00 Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Place your bet on the Kentucky Derby and Win Prizes

Pick the Winner - Half Dozen Chicken Wings

Win and Place (First and Second) - Dozen Chicken Wings and a Bucket of Presidente

Trifecta (First, Second and Third) - Pig Out Dinner for Two and a Bottle of Wine

You must be present at the end of the race to have your prize validated.
One entry per person.

Followed by:

Cinco de Mayo At Bonita's Cantina

May 3 - May 9

Set Meal $14.95 per person

Choice of Starter
Jalapeno Poppers
Quesadilla (Cheese, Chicken or Pork)
Chips and Salsa with Guacamole and Cheese Sauce

Choice of Main Course
Tacos (Beef, Chicken, Pork or Fish)
Enchiladas (Beef, Pork or Chicken)
Burrito (Pork, Beef, Bean or Combo)
Chile Rellenos stuffed with Cheese and Smoked Chicken
All Served with Refried Beans and Arroz con Crema

Desserts - $3.00 each
Mexican Bread Pudding
Sweet Plantains

Drink Specials
Margarita's $4.00 each
Frozen $5.00 each
Pitchers of Margaritas $15.00 (Rocks Only)

I've read that there is a Sinko de Mayo affair at Orient Beach. Several people, some of them lacking clothing entirely, board the float just offshore at Club Orient. They call to other people on shore to join them in an attempt to overload the raft, causing it to sink. It sounds like something that would go well with a few Coronas.

You may notice that I didn't visit some restaurants this winter that I have visited in the past. I have saved enough reviews to publish two per newsletter over the summer, so you will probably see them. The only restaurant that was dropped intentionally was Le Cottage. Changes had begun as a new chef came for high season 2006/2007. Our first dinner there featured a 25€ (about $32.50 at the time) blanquette de veau, deconstructed into its consituent parts and placed on a plate. It was fine, but so was the one above at La Marine for only $20 with a water view. The departure of Stéphane, the wine steward who won the Gault-Millau award for SXM, a couple years ago led to more changes. The emphasis shifted from selling glasses of not-well-known wines that were inexpensive and good to selling bottles of well-known wines that were more expensive and very good. By the 2008/9 season that chef had moved on, but he returned after eight months. Of the twenty most recent reviews going back to the beginning of the year on TripAdvisor, almost 70% rate the restaurant above average.


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
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.

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