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St Maarten/St Martin
13 February 2011 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

Lagoon   Weather: Early February weather was quite comfortable with the temperature ranging from 75F at night to the low 80's almost every day with a 20-30% chance of showers. The photo on the left is a shot across the lagoon from Cupecoy back toward the central highlands. Note the lovely blue sky with a few puffy white clouds on an 82F afternoon. The story is that a few of the darker clouds dropped brief showers a few times during the day, but it's been lovely, overall. It's not weather, but a 5.2 earthquake shook St. Maarten around 8:41AM on 2 Feb. The earthquake was felt by many locals but its epicentre was in the seabed 30 miles WSW of Statia, which is also about 30 miles away. Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast It was the second quake felt on the island in two weeks. On Friday (4 Feb) a 5.1 quake hit just north of Trinidad, although it could not be felt in SXM. 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 6:12 and the moon has just passed is in its first quarter. In 2011 the full moons will be 18 Feb, 19 Mar, 18 Apr, 17 May, 15 Jun, 15 Jul, 13 Aug, 12 Sep, 12 Oct, 11 Nov, and 10 Dec.

SXM-Beaches: The March issue of Caribbean Trave+Life had a cover story on the 10 ultimate beaches in the Caribbean. I'm happy to say I have been to four of them (and I'll be a lot happier when I get back to one of them!) Last and certainly least (in the amount of sand) was Cupecoy. The photo in the article is essentially the one on the right that I took in 2007. As the current beach doesn't amount to much, we must rely on the text to inform us as to why this pile of rocks makes it into the top ten beaches. It appears that couples canoodle in the intimate coves. I don't own a canoodle, but if you do, I suggest you wear your canoodle helmet as some rather large rocks have come crashing down in the coves and caves. It then goes on to mention that you may do as the locals do and sunbathe au naturel. While you may sunbathe au naturel here, you won't be joining many locals.

This photo was taken from the edge of Shore Pointe at the NW end of Cupecoy. There has rarely been sand there this year, but there generally has been sand at to the SE, especially in the little cove or baby beach.

  View from Shore Point at Cupecoy

Cover   Beach reading: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer Siddhartha Mukherjee (about $17 new hardback) - Obviously, we are interested in this book because of Martha's recent diagnosis, but this was one of the NY Times ten best books of 2010 and was included in Amazon's Best Books in November 2010. From Amazon: "In 2010, about six hundred thousand Americans, and more than 7 million humans around the world, will die of cancer." With this sobering statistic, physician and researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee begins his comprehensive and eloquent "biography" of one of the most virulent diseases of our time. An exhaustive account of cancer's origins, The Emperor of All Maladies illustrates how modern treatments--multi-pronged chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, as well as preventative care--came into existence thanks to a century's worth of research, trials, and small, essential breakthroughs around the globe. While The Emperor of All Maladies is rich with the science and history behind the fight against cancer, it is also a meditation on illness, medical ethics, and the complex, intertwining lives of doctors and patients. Mukherjee's profound compassion--for cancer patients, their families, as well as the oncologists who, all too often, can offer little hope--makes this book a very human history of an elusive and complicated disease. --Lynette Mong

Blue Mall

Construction: Porto Cupecoy is up and running. On the left is a shot taken from one of the private residences looking over a corner of the pool toward the Blue Mall. As you can see, the construction crane is still at the Blue Mall. The curves impressed into the concrete and paint scheme do a bit to alleviate the stark rectilinear lines of the complex - but not enough. Below left is the new Moulin Fou Steakhouse in Porto Cupecoy. The original Moulin Fou at Maho is still in operation with French cuisine, sushi, and live lobsters. Previously, I had refused to link to their website because of annoying pop-under ads. That seems to have changed, so the links are back. They still can't spell St Maarten correctly. Below center is the Bateau Ivre, the Drunken Boat, a good spot for a light meal or a drink. Certainly, the outside tables have a view of the port and lagoon. On the right is a view of the pool from the private residence. Note the lovely blue sky with a few puffy, white clouds. Great weather lately.

 

Moulin Fou Bateau Ivre Bateau Ivre

ginger   Sapphire Beach Club: We are on our way to our condo at this time. It will be available for rent again starting in mid-April at rates ranging from $700 to $1000 per week until 15 Dec, when high season kicks in again. 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: In the last newsletter from 30 Jan I mentioned that Pelican management and workers were not in full agreement. On Monday (31 Jan) The Daily Herald reported that they marched on the resort and were kept out by Sheriff Security. (That's a bit of a trick as these Sheriffs have absolutely no government connection; they are merely a private force.) Later that day it was reported that Sarah Wescott (the PM) said that "until a [court] ruling is given on the dismissal request, the employees are employed and entitled to pay."
Some employees have signed short term contracts and may be working, but obviously not enough if you believe the unregistered users on this TTOL thread. I'd place more stock in it if they were registered users. It could easily be workers trying to scare everyone away from Pelican. The court gave their ruling on 8 Feb and, as expected, they sided with the workers, claiming that they were still employees of the entity that bought Pelican at auction. There is more than enough funny business in the management companies on the island, but rulings like this are one of the reasons that Belle Crole (right) and Mullet are still closed after 15 years. Four days later, the Daily Herald reported that management would close the resort on 20 Feb.   Belle Crole

And while we are discussing troubled projects, it appears that Caravanserai is turning the corner on its problems. There is a very long TTOL thread that started in early January and has a post from 1 February where Marianne stated that she spent two enjoyable weeks in her studio. The resort is still not fully completed so RCI won't send people there so you can't trade or bank your weeks, but you can have an enjoyable time.

Shopping bags   Activities: Caribbean Travel+Life mentioned the zip lines at Loterie Farm, the 135 acre former plantation on Pic Paradis that now has hiking trails and a nice restaurant, plus the zip lines to transport you through the forest canopy. It's about $47 for the regular and $74 for the extreme fly zone. It's cheaper and less strenuous to have a nice lunch in the Hidden Forest Caf here. I guess I am getting old.

Groceries: There seems to be a move afoot to get rid of plastic grocery bags. Market Garden at the foot of Billy Folly Road in Cole Bay has eliminated bags, but will sell you a reusable bag for $2. I hear that US Market in Hope Estates is charging five cents for plastic bags. Surely, the island would benefit from fewer bags flying in the breeze and anyone who ponies up for airfare and a week's lodging won't notice a couple extra bucks. Moreover, it's pretty easy to put a couple reusable bags to use in your luggage and use them again in the grocery store. I have been told that the medium-sized supermarket at Maho is also bagless. It has also changed its name from Maho Food Express to Maho Market.

Alcohol: Gregory Dal Piaz lists his favorite wines for Valentine's Day. I confess that we always avoid high restaurant traffic days (Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and Easter being the worst). We do buy some great wines, generally starting with a bubbly, moving on to a Burgundy, and ending with a sweet dessert wine, all to accompany a dinner made with all the fine ingredients we can get on the island. The Deutz Champagne from Select Wine Cellar would work well with smoked salmon or oysters. Sylvain is offering his Champagne Belin rose for $35, another fine choice. Either choice of appetizer makes me the "chef" as I can make toast, dice onions, slice lemons, and put capers in a bowl for the smoked salmon and I get the task of opening oysters which then only require sliced lemons and pepper, also in my repertoire. The smoked salmon can be purchased at US Markets in Sandy Ground or Grand Case or at Grand March. Usually around holidays (Christmas, New Years, Valentine's Day) oysters are available, especially on the French side. The truly indolent may be able to talk their favorite restaurant into preparing a smoked salmon plate in advance. We have managed that with Bistrot Carabes and as I think they have the best smoked salmon on the island, it makes quite the starter.   Deutz
Oysters salmon

For Valentine's Day, what could be better than a Chambolle-Musigny from the Amoureuses vineyard? The Burgundy could accompany a duck breast, cote de boeuf, or filet mignon with some potatoes and wild mushrooms. The duck or beef and wild mushrooms can be found at the same supermarkets. Generally the French side markets have a larger wild mushroom selection. There are also some great boucheries on the French side: Chez Bernadette and Ren in Bellvue on the outskirts of Marigot, close to Simpson Bay and another in Concordia on the right side of the main street into Concordia from Rue d'Hollande on the back side of Marigot. Of course, you could go to Blue Martini for the prime rib shown below center or to La Villa for the duck breast pictured bottom right. Both are in Grand Case.

Amoureuses Prime rib Duck breast

Monbazillac   We generally like a sweet wine with dessert and Sauternes comes to mind, but it is rather expensive. Monbazillac is almost a bargain with Sylvain selling the Grande Maison for about $20. Old rums are rather nice with chocolate. Bally and Angostura are available on the island (and many more). The photo of the Bally was taken at Le Tastevin. The molten chocolate cake photo was taken at Bistrot Carabes. Both are in Grand Case. The island has numerous patisseries and the major supermarkets also sell desserts.
  rum and tulips Angostura Rum Molten chocolate cake

Long lines in Russia   Travel: The Daily Herald had an article on the backup at immigration on Saturday (of course) 29 January. According to sources within the Immigration Department, the delay was caused by officers refusing to work past their normal scheduled working hours because of a dispute over their pay. The payment of overtime has not yet been regulated and it has not been paid. For this reason, officers are stopping work at their allotted time and refusing to continue working after that, no matter how many people are waiting to be processed. Guess you know where you stand in all this. Yep, you guessed it, at the end of a very looong line, something like these Russians waiting for food.

The lone American Eagle flight from San Juan to SXM will be discontinued in April.

There were seven cruise ships in Philipsburg on one day recently. That's a record number of boats, but one mega boat equals several smaller boats, so the total number of passengers may not have been a record.

Martha and I are leaving for SXM on Sunday (13 Feb). The pills for her Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) appear to have limited side effects and are doing a good job of reducing the high white blood cell count associated with CML. That's our really good news. I had a difficult time getting Continental OnePass tickets, but eventually found some that worked. We'll be on the island for two months, returning just in time to pay the IRS. We still have to overnight in Newark because Albany does not have a Continental flight early enough to get us to Newark in time to get on the 7:50AM non-stop to SXM. It's not a big deal because we have been staying at an Albany airport hotel to avoid arising at 3:00AM in order to make a 7:00AM flight. Before I found free tickets that worked, I was looking at regular tickets and that was not much easier. I eventually succumbed to the power of advertising and checked KAYAK and was impressed with the results. It actually found us tickets to get there in a single day, although it required United taking us via Charlotte to St Thomas and then LIAT flying us to SXM. Obviously making it in one day requires LIAT (Leaving Island Any Time) to actually be on schedule.

SXM was also mentioned in the Caribbean Travel + Life article on affordable vacations. They concentrated on the French side, having done the Dutch side in the previous issue. It mentioned stewed conch at Chez Yvette for lunch and pan-fried tuna for dinner at Belle Epoque Restaurant. Martha has that tuna every time we go there. (photo on right) The article mentioned Les Balcons d'Oyster Pond and Love Hotel in Grand Case as inexpensive hotels with prices ranging from $122 to 142 in high season. They mentioned Avis for an affordable car? $55 per day? Skip the big US names and check out locals. We use Unity Car Rental and their website has cars for about $33 per day in high season, before you start to haggle.

Another article covered plantation inns on St Kitts and Nevis. We have been there and toured some of the inns. They certainly will lack the hustle and bustle of SXM, but if you really wanted to relax and add a couple days to your sunlit sojurn, consider a stay at the Nisbet Beach Plantation, the only plantation home on the beach.

  Tuna anchoiade
The Hermitage had been abandoned before the Lupinacci family lovingly restored it in 1971. Edward Huggins started a sugar plantation here in 1801 and now Pamela Huggins Barry has been running the Golden Rock Inn since 1969. There are many more, all lovely.

Traffic: The first week of February featured a lot of traffic. Simpson Bay with its bridge openings is always a problem, but even the approach to Marigot from the lowlands was problematic at lunchtime on some days.

Gas: The Cadisco gas station in Sandy Ground is selling gas at 1.08 per liter and does 1 to 1 on the exchange, so that is about $4.15 per gallon, almost a half dollar cheaper than the prevailing price on the Dutch side. Moreover, there can be no funny business on the exchange. The day after I wrote this, they raise the price to 1.10. It doesn't change things much, make it a savings of 45 per gallon. Note that the Cadisco in Nettle Bay appears to be cheaper, but doesn't offer a 1 to 1 exchange rate.

Green logo

Nature: I trust you are tiring of photos of birds in NY snowstorms. Believe me, I am more tired of NY snowstorms than anyone. This is a crow that made me remember the opening credits for Six Feet Under. He's sitting in a crab pear tree about 25 feet in front of the kitchen sink. The snow is lovely when it is a white powder dusting the bare branches, but it's loathsome when it is a hard-packed crust on the driveway. Our office is well over 100% solar-powered and our servers are about 130% wind-powered.

Small Island story: There was a thread on TTOL decrying the people who say St Martins or St Marteen. There was a question about the correct country code, now that the Netherlands Antilles has floated out to sea. It turns out that NA would get you to Nambia via Fedex. The thread ended with someone saying that international mail is not available anymore from several countries since the country status was attained. In the process St Maarten split their postal system from Curacao's and now do not have the necessary treaties with many countries to send or recieve international mail.

  crow


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


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 30 January the euro was at 1.361 and today it is at 1.355. Obviously that's not much change but it got up to 1.38 before Egypt got everyone worried during this time the Eurozone leaders were still dithering. They failed to come to any consensus at last weekend's meeting, but they are likely to expand the region's bailout fund at next month's meeting. We've all heard about the PIIGS, but here's an article that will make you worry about the FBI. Not that one, but France, Belgium, and Italy.

It appears that their is some serious discussion aobout making the dollar the official currency of St Maarten (and Curaao). The Daily Herald had a long article about a meeting that featured a presentation by Emsley Tromp, President of the Central Bank of Curaao and St. Maarten. He claimed that dollarization would eliminate devaluation of the currency and reduce default risk, lower transaction costs for banks, lead to better integration with international financial markets, and continued economic growth. There were more benefits, but he stopped short of claiming that it would cure the world of all known diseases. No one seems to have mentioned Argentina's sorry foray into dollarization, but National Alliance (NA) Parliamentarian Frans Richardson questioned whether the reduced cost for banks would lead to the need for less staff, seemingly advocating an inefficient banking system founded on make-work to achieve full-employment. Many third world (or third-rate) countries do use an inefficient telephone and postal network to make work via expensive poorly handled services, but St Maarten leads the way in inefficient banking.

I'll be reporting exchange rates at various places in the next newsletter as we will be in SXM. 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.

 
Shieka's Bistro
This article in the Daily Herald said that Shieka's Bistro was having a musical "Creole Evening" on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 6:30PM. We have often stopped into Shieka's Bistro for some authentic local food for lunch. Last year the owner Betty Richardson, had put a roof on what used to be an open-air courtyard and talked about getting this evening started. Our last lunch is pictured below. Martha chose a saltfish (right) and added a mixture of potatoes, chick peas, and greens flavored with colombo and callaloo (the greens from a taro root). I had the tasty jerk chicken with the mixture of potatoes, chick peas, and greens and some noodles with veg. Local or Crole cuisine is not neccessarily spicy hot and even the mixed veg with colombo was not very hot. However, there were two varieties of Matouk's hot sauce on the table and I added a bit to everything. The heat was then assuaged by the liberal application of a glass of freshly made ginger beer. Shieka's is a bit difficult to find, but head down Front street to Pastoriesteeg (which runs between Majesty Jewelers and Liz Claiborn) past the Catholic Rectory to the Philipsburg Community and Cultural Center. Have a great, authentic, and very inexpensive lunch ... and now, you can have an interesting evening also.

 
  Jerk Chicken Shieka's logo Salt fish  

L'Excellence,
French Restaurant School

Wendy K went for another inexpensive lunch at the school. This blogspot is working and carries the daily menus. We had a grouper in puff pastry with a beurre blanc (below center), magret de canard (duck breast), sauce au poivre, pommes de terres foresiere with chanterelles (bad photo, sorry), and a tarte Antillienne (pineapple, orange slices, and banana}. This lovely three course lunch was 12 each. We drank a Sancerre blanc for 12 and a bottle of Voss sparkling water for a total of 39, a bit over $50.

 

sign grouper Tarte


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

Layla's Beach Bar in Nettle Bay says that Mai (formerly of Mai's Thai restaurant in Marigot) is now cooking at Layla's.

Grand Case is doing Harmony Nights again on Tuesday. They will have bands, parades, street performers, arts and craft vendors, and local food vendors. All the restaurants will be open and many will be doing sdomething special. The previous link is to photos that we took and the lolos have made this site. It's a typical French site and has a jpg of the advertising poster, 9 meg and 3000x5000 pixels. It took about a minute to download on my DSL connection.


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 Int'l
Escargot
Kakao Beach
Marci's Mega Gym
Oizeau Rare
Pizza Galley
Tai Chi
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Radiant Gems
Tropical Wave

  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: We now have one, so I'm really 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 still downloads 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. I just got a newsletter from a reader who reports that "Regarding downloading - several of my friends have the Nook and they can download books on it from their library in the states...but they do expire after 2 weeks."