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St Maarten/St Martin
26 December 2010 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

calm lagoon   Weather: On the afternoon of 8 December I noticed that SXM was hitting a lovely 82F when we had started the morning at 8.2F here in upstate NY. The next day was even colder here. It was still running about 82F in the afternoons and the Christmas winds let up on the second weekend of December, leading to this lovely shot of Porto Cupecoy and its reflection in the very still waters of the lagoon. The solstice and a lunar eclipse occurred very early on Tuesday morning. Both will not happen again until 2094 and the previous combination was 456 years ago. Kinda makes you special, doesn't it? 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 5:41 and the moon is a waning crescent. We have just passed the winter solstice, so the days are getting longer. SXM will gain about 10 minutes per week for a while.

In 2011 the full moons will be 20 Jan, 18 Feb, 19 Mar, 18 Apr, 17 May, 16 Jun, 15 Jul, 13 Aug, 12 Sep, 12 Oct, 11 Nov, and 10 Dec.

SXM-Beaches: In the first week of December, there was quite a bit of sand at the little cove on Cupecoy, but only rocks at the NW end, in front of Shore Pointe. As always, the sand moves around. Simpson Bay was just featured in the February 2011 Caribbean Travel+Life (Yes, it's a bit early). The Horny Toad Guesthouse, the Turquoise Shell Inn, and Mary's Boon were mentioned as inexpensive accommodations. Bonita's Cantina got a mention for breakfast. Lee's Roadside Grill got a mention for lunch and Kiwi Caf got a dinner mention. On the right is a sunset view from the beach at the Horny Toad. It's much the same from the nearby Azure Beach Studios, which should also have been mentioned for inexpensive accommodations. The beach itself is long and wide and almost devoid of commercialism. At the far east, near the Dutch Bridge, is Kimsha Beach with some beach bars and the far west has Karakter: good, interesting food and cold beer, sometimes with live music.   Cupecoy Beach

Beach reading: The Incomplete Guide to the Wildlife of Saint Martin [Paperback] by Mark Yokoyama ($30 new) - From Amazon: This guide features hundreds of species of animal from both sides of our island. It includes mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and other invertebrates with over 400 color photographs. Mark Yokoyama was an avid entomologist throughout his childhood, culminating in a single term as president of the Oregon Entomological Society at the age of fifteen. His interest in zoology was largely dormant until he co-founded the worlds first extreme shallow snorkeling team, Les Fruits de Mer, in 2008. He currently resides on the island of Saint Martin, where he has explored a significant portion of the island and surrounding waters.

From Barbara Cannegieter: This book by Mark Yokoyama is a fascinating book with wonderful pictures. Mark has hiked all over the island of St. Martin/St. Maarten and has taken beautiful pictures of wildlife on the island from mammals to birds to insects. I live on St. Maarten and he has documented species I didn't know existed. He did an excellent job and this would be a book that any nature lover would appreciate.

  Cover

Bleu Mall   Construction: In case you were wondering, the Bleu Mall has not entirely blotted out the sun, although that may be mostly because it is still under construction (note the crane). Next door, Porto Cupecoy is open and already has the yachting types coming over for the 2 for 1 happy hour at Bateau Ivre. It appears that everybody is looking for a bargain in this economic climate.

There was a thread on TTOL talking about progress (or lack thereof) at Caravanserai. The good news is that several units are open. The bad news is that several are not and even the ones that are open suffer from a lack of hot water.

  jackhammer in Cupecoy

ginger   Sapphire Beach Club: We will be in our condo from 9 Jan until 10 April. After that, our condo for $700 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. A recent visitor said, "Erich, We had a wonderful time at your condo for the third year in a row. We appreciated the coupons. Hope to be able to do it again next year."

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.

SXM-Hotels: Timothy from L'Esperance Hotel called to tell me they had added onto their hotel in Philipsburg. It's an inexpensive but extremely new and clean hotel with a lovely swimming pool. I have frequently recommended it as a place to stay for a night or two at the beginning and/or end of a timeshare stay to avoid airport congestion. There was a recent thread on TTOL corroborating my compliments.

Pelican was auctioned off to the only bidder: the holder of the mortgage, Quantum Investment Trust. While the Tenants Association (TAPRC) will no longer be the owner, the tenant's usage rights are protected and are NOT at risk.

Activities: Susy and Juan at Tri Sport went out for the Anguilla Run on Sunday 12 December. the race began at the parking lot at Pinel in French Cul de Sac and finished at beautiful Plum Beach in the French lowlands. It's about 10 miles of downwind paddling in the Anguilla channel, taking you past the magnificent cliffs of Point Bluff and Lowlands. Tri Sport rents kayaks and bikes, so the more athletically-minded can continue their training program in the morning and recuperate on a beach in the afternoon before facing the rigors of a wonderful dinner.

  Wild from Seaside Charter

Deepti   Shopping: Deepti is back from world tour and says if you are thinking about diamonds, think of DK Gems.

Groceries: It's truffle season, essentially from December until March. Normally France produces about 50 tons of truffles. Last season was about half that, causing truffles to reach $500 per pound. This year seems to be better, but the price is still around $400 per pound. Something that is that expensive and readily salable for cash in hundreds of restaurants attracts thieves. This attracts protection and Yahoo had a news story about a gentleman who was shot while attempting to trifle with a farmer's truffles. We had a a risotto with scallops and porcini and quarter-sized slivers of black truffles in 2006 at David Foini's Gondola Restaurant in Cupecoy. Fabulous. The dish itself combines some great tastes and textures, but the earthiness added by just a tiny amount of truffle shavings made it sing.

  truffles

shop sign   Alcohol: Select Wine Cellar has just put up a new wine list on their site. Sylvain says he has been fairly busy. I haven't heard too many people say that in a while. He'll be offering some fabulous Champagne specials for the new year: Deutz Brut Classic ($42), Belin Brut ($29.90), and Belin Ros ($35). The Deutz is very good at that price, the Belin Brut is a less expensive alternative, and Belin's ros has plenty of flavor and very little sugar. As the saying goes, "a hot tub, a glass of champagne, and thou beside me."   Deutz

Pinot Noir   Last week we went to NH and Boston to pick up some holiday cheer. The NH Liquor stores were selling Ravenswood Zinfandel for $8, $4 off the normal price. We bought every bottle in the Keene store, so you'll have to try elsewhere. Zinfandel is great with spicy food such as Crole (as in Ti Coin Crole - if you add Carl's home-made hot sauce), Indian (as in Shakti Restaurant or Lal's, both in Simpson Bay), or barbecue/Mexican (as in Bonita's Cantina). Many restaurants don't have Zin, but you can get take-out and buy your own Zin. We can usually get some at the Maho Food Express. But I digress. We headed deeper into darkest New Hampshire and arrived at Windham, where we had lunch at the Lobster Tail Restaurant. I was on their e-mailing list and they sent me a $10 coupon. When a two pound lobster lunch goes for $22 and KJ Chardonnay sells for $25 per bottle, $10 goes a long way. It goes even further because the Lobster Tail participates in the American Airline's dining program, which is an part of the iDine program. AA gives you airline miles and iDine gives you cash loaded on a prepaid Amex card. Just sign up, giving them a credit card number and if you use that card at any participating restaurant, you automatically get your reward. No special card, no chats with the wait staff and/or management, it's seamless. I earned 6300 miles on AA this year, just having lunch as we traveled around. But I digress. We headed to the Wine Cask in Somerville (Mass) for their sale on two Pinot Noirs from Willamette Valley in Oregon: Adelsheim at $20 and 90+ Cellars at $15. Pinot Noir quality and quantity has come a long way since my first visit to California wineries in the 70's. Back then, they didn't know where to grow it, how to grow it, or how to vinify it. By now, they have realized that they should grow it in cooler climates (like Oregon) and figured out the rest. All that was then required was a marketing push such as the movie Sideways and the colossal strength of the euro. At this point we drink a lot more US Pinot than Burgundy. On the island you can get an inexpensive Pinot with lunch or dinner at Skipjack's (Concannon at $29) or at Piazza Pascal (Ropiteau at $20 - it's French, but not a Burgundy. It's a Pinot from the south of France).

Travel: Travel/evacuation insurance is a concern for many people. First, let's consider what insurance is available. One can cover the losses incurred because of a canceled trip and even this has sub-categories as in trips canceled because of illness causing you to lose non-refundable airline and/or hotel payments, trips canceled by you for any reason, hotel payments lost because of canceled flights, etc. There are many variations of what is covered and the World Travel Center can help you compare various options across several insurance companies.  
Be careful and read the fine print. Some plans say $50,000 in medical evacuation, but the fine print says that it is an optional extra, NOT included in the quoted cost. In many cases the coverage varies by state and with your age, so take any of these numbers as approximate.

The cost, of course, depends on what you need. For timeshare owners, the cost of tickets and the weekly timeshare maintenance fee are not that great and you may be able to bank your week(s), even at the last minute. For minimal trip cancellation insurance ($1000 per person to cover airfare and possibly a maintenance fee), a policy from Travel Guard costs $140. Adding serious trip cancellation to cover a deposit at a villa or hotel costs more. If you had a $300 per night room, not terribly expensive in high season, you might end up at about $3000 each for airfare and room rental. That brings the insurance cost to about $350.

You can also get medical insurance coverage, generally overseas, as most US insurance is good in some fashion anywhere in the US. Even our bargain medical insurance covers us overseas and since the US is high-cost central for medical bills, they are probably happy to have us get services in a low cost country. Check your policy before you go, especially on longer trips.

And then there are medical evacuation services. When Theo has his surgery done in Miami, shouldn't you follow his lead? Well, actually the local hospitals have French or Dutch-trained doctors and nurses. As English is the universal scientific language, you will have no trouble communicating with most of the staff. For most routine procedures, they are quite competent, although there are not as many specialists on the island and the hospitals do not have all the whiz-bang gadgets that you see on the average episode of House. For that matter, they don't have House himself - probably a good thing. Thus, if you have some serious problem on the island, it may be best to seek treatment in the US and that may require medical evacuation. This is not cheap, but not very likely either, so the cost of the insurance is a fraction of the $20,000 to $30,000 bill you will have to pay BEFORE you get on the plane.

MedjetAssist will arrange medical transfer to the hospital of your choice, but not offer trip cancellation insurance. The rates in the table were correct as of December 20, but they are subject to change. The MedjetAssist family membership is less than twice the cost of the individual membership, making it a real bargain for families, even those without children. SkyMed will take you home, but again does not offer trip cancellation insurance. The family plan is exactly twice the individual plan for SkyMed making it a bargain for families with children and but no bargain for couples.  

Company MedjetAssist Skymed
Insured time PeriodIndividual FamilyIndividual Family
7-Day Travel Protection$95.00$170.00$63.00$126.00
14-Day Travel Protection$115.00$215.00$126.00$252.00
21-Day Travel Protection$150.00$270.00$189.00$378.00
30-Day Travel Protection$180.00$335.00buy a yearbuy a year
Regular Annual Membership$235.00 $365.00 $222.00$444.00

Green logo Nature: This nature shot is not from SXM. It's the view from our dining room and it will function as our holiday card. Wishing you happy holidays and for all of us, a better new year! Our office is well over 100% solar-powered (though not at the time this shot was taken, as the solar panels are covered with snow!) and our servers are about 130% wind-powered.

Small Island story: And speaking of wind power, the politicians who pontificated about the great savings to be had by getting out from under Curaao, have proposed that the Turnover Tax (TOT) be raised from 3% to 5%, in order to look as if they are balancing the budget. The TOT is a tax on business gross income, regardless of profits. It seems the expected savings either didn't materialize or unexpected expenses presented themselves. Expect everything to cost a little more this season. It may be a small island, but they do have an inordinate number of government officials and employees.

  Cardinal


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


Winners of the previous contest:

31 October to 25 December
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October) - Susan Price
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Eva Worden
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - Susan Price
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Eva Worden
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate - Liz Ferland
MMG 2000 - Two for One week at the gym with a shake - no entries
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two - Susan Price
PassportMD - Six months free service - Alan Jacobs
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more - Flo
Lighthouse at Oyster Bay - $1000 off a summer week (June-October) - Jonathan Glab
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two - Susan Price
SXM-Privilege Discount Card - One free monthly card - Susan Price

Current Contest:

26 December 2010 to 27 February 2011
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
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:
27 February to 24 April 2011
24 April to 24 July 2011 | 24 July to 30 October 2011 | 30 October to 25 December 2011
same cast of characters as current contest

 


RESTAURANTS


On 5 December the euro was at 1.339 and today it is at 1.312. Not much change. Here's a plot of what happened last year. Things were pretty tough for the French side at the beginning of high season, but got steadily better as the euro dropped from 1.45 to 1.2 in June. Alas, it essentially retraced its fall, climbing back over 1.4 by September. It lingered there until Portugal, Iceland, Ireland, Greece, and Spain (the PIIGS) got into financial trouble. Unfortunately for them, they cannot inflate their currency because it is the euro. While they can cause fears in the foreign exchange markets, a strong response from the major players (France and Germany) stopped the slide. They imposed austerity budgets in various countries and promised various rescue plans. Meanwhile, back in the US, the Dems and Repubs have compromised. The Dems get to subsidize their constituency and the Repubs got tax breaks for their wealthy friends. Unfortunately both of these increase the deficit. This, of course, doesn't help the dollar. To all those who talked of euro-dollar parity last spring, better luck next year. However, I believe the euro will strengthen over the next year.

Euro vs Dollar

I'm dropping the restaurant exchange rate numbers because I am no longer on the island to check them. Charging your credit card in dollars used to save the 3% currency transaction charge that most cards are now charging for foreign currency transactions. About a year ago 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. Note that you won't get frequent flier tickets quite as fast. It may be best to use the Cap 1 card out of the country and take the rewards in merchandise. We just picked up an 18 bottle wine refrigerator with half of our points from the previous year, but we couldn't even fly one of us to SXM.

 
Caf de Paris
From Wendy K: "We've already had two nice meals at Caf de Paris in Marigot's Marina Royale. At a quick lunch, Tony had the bavette with a mushroom cream sauce and I had pizza Napolitana. More recently, Tony had foie de veau poele and I had tartare de thon a l'aneth (14 each). We drank a Cotes du Rhone (17) and San Pellegrino (4). They also have a formule lunch for 11.50 with a choice of 2 main courses, a glass of wine or soda, coffee, and an apple tarte. The restaurant is full of "beautiful (French) people"; most seem to be regulars who are warmly greeted by the manager, who used to be a waiter at La Belle Epoque. We like it that there's air conditioning inside, as well as plenty of outside seating overlooking both the inside and outside of the marina. The tables are well-spaced, unlike some of the busier establishments here.

  Outside  

  Ahoy
Pizza Galley
We've always liked Pizza Galley and we've always liked JP and Lorna since we met them in 1995 after Hurricane Luis. I don't know what the Navy has to do with pizza, but I like the sign. I also like the JP Special pizza (Pepperoni, Italian sausage, green peppers, mushrooms, caramelized onions, black olives, and mozzarella cheese) with a bottle of Mon Redon Cotes du Rhone. It's more than enough for the two of us and comes in a touch over $50. If you need a dessert, Lorna's apple pie was voted the best dessert on the island by the readers of the Daily Herald.
 
JP special Award winning pie  

Ti Sucrier logo
  Wendy K writes: "Late last season, Ainslie and I had wonderful lunch at Le Ti Sucrier. We had the restaurant to ourselves, and there was a fabulous breeze coming across the lagoon on a very hot day. I had the house made foie gras, which I thought every bit as good as what I had at La Tour d'Argent (a Paris icon, known for pressed duck and foie gras, rated two rosettes by Michelin - ed note) many years ago. I especially liked the basil sauce they served with the tomato slices as a garnish. Ainslie had a strip steak with frites and a salad. We shared a half bottle of rose and a bottle of flat water, and the bill came to 50. Not bad for a lunch with very good food and an exceptional atmosphere."   Foie gras terrine  


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 Beach logo

Tipping: What's Cookin has done an extended writeup on tipping around the world. It includes France and here's what they say: "Even more than in Italy, France ensures the welfare of its waitstaff by tacking on a service charge to every check. Some people tip a little extra, but its usually only a way to get rid of all the coins that come with your change." That's essentially what I was told by my French tutor (from France) many years ago and what I have said for some time. If you ask a waiter, he'll always tell you to leave more. Hell, a multi-millionaire shortstop who hits a mere 270, almost 50 points below his average, will tell you he deserves a bigger salary.

Moulin Fou has opened an outpost in Porto Cupecoy. No sushi there but lots of steak. No steak at the original Maho location, but they still have sushi.


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
Tropical Wave

I also have two half price coupons, a $70 coupon at Ti Coin Crole and an $80 coupon at Hibiscus Restaurant. They are for sale at half their face value. Send me an email if you are interested.

  Our condo: The condo is available for rent at $900 per week 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 tasting 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 and MedjetAssist to arrange medical transportion services. We hope you never need it, but when air evacuation flights cost $30,000 or more, it's good to have. Check out both and see which one offers the best prices your timeframe and traveling group.

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 attached trial.

  Medjet: Take Trips Not Chances
   

Kindle: I'm now convinced that the Kindle e-book from Amazon is the best thing to take to a beach. It only weighs a half pound and is one-third of an inch thin. Even better, the price has dropped to $139. 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 and now Wendy reports she bought her own. If you've already got one, you can get books here. They are cheaper than any other version of the book (except used!)  
Martha has been downloading audio books from our local library to her Zune or Sansa player (iPod knockoffs) 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.