St Maarten/St Martin
27 March 2011 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Cabana at Palm Beach Weather: It has been a rather pleasant week. We had a nice lunch on the terrace overlooking the lagoon at Bonita's Cantina last Sunday. There has been little rain predicted and we've hardly seen any. Tuesday featured a riot of boats crossing in front of our balcony (left). The temperature is just a bit warmer, reaching 82F. On Wednesday night we caught a few sprinkles as we used the valet parking at Atlantis Casino on our way to Gondola Restaurant for dinner. On Thursday morning it had already reached 81F as we headed out for lunch at L'Escargot Restaurant in Pburg. By Friday it was so humid (70%) we could hardly see Saba through the haze, the temperature was 82F, and the breeze essentially stopped. If you search the photo on the right, you'll see a bit of Saba on the right and the other end of Saba just ahead of the smaller boat. Saba

And yes, the tub is still on patrol in the Saba channel off our balcony. We gave up and turned on the A/C as the heat index moved into the upper 80s. Saturday was just as hazy with little breeze. Sunday has dawned with no view of Saba and a light breeze. The forecast for the week is high 70's for a low with low 80's for the afternoon high until Friday when it gets even hotter. We could get rain early in the week and the accompanying humidity will drive up the heat index. On the right is Sinbad, Doug Hazleton's 90 foot long, steel-hulled trawler. In an earlier life it hauled rocks out of the Baltic Sea. Doug and his wife added a couple masts and ran a dinner cruise on the lagoon before Hurricane Luis. After Luis they sailed around the world, eventually coming back to our island. This photo was taken from our lagoon-side balcony showing Sinbad in the lagoon with the Belle Créole tower behind. After that is the Anguilla channel and in the upper left is the eastern end of Anguilla, about 7 miles away. This was taken when it was possible to see only a tiny bit of Saba through 26 miles of haze. Saba at sunset

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 6:24 and the moon is just past its last quarter. In 2011 the full moons will be 18 Apr, 17 May, 15 Jun, 15 Jul, 13 Aug, 12 Sep, 12 Oct, 11 Nov, and 10 Dec. Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast

Simpson Bay Beach SXM-Beaches: On the left is one of the few caves left at Cupecoy. This one is to the east, in the semi-private section near Rainbow and The Cliff. The waves and storms have caused several to collapse, so I stay out of them. I worry about falling rocks from the cliffs, so this photo of the chairs lined up cliffside is a bit scary (right). This is the little cove or baby beach just to the right or west of Ocean Club. Below left is the monolith, losing its monolithic status as it turns into several fragments. Below center is Dany's sign. He is still there as even as they build a new wall along the road by Shorepointe. It's high cotton on the cliffs. Below these is a panorama from our balcony showing Saba on the right, Statia a bit left of center, and a pile of clouds obscuring St Kitts and Nevis on the left. Cupecoy Baby Beach

Cupecoy monolith Dany's Beach Bar HIgh cotton

View from Bonita's Cantina

The Old Wine Shades -   Beach reading: The Old Wine Shades by Martha Grimes From Publishers Weekly: "At the start of bestseller Grimes's compelling twentieth Richard Jury mystery, the Scotland Yard detective is on suspension because he decided to save lives rather than wait for a warrant in his previous outing, The Winds of Change (2004). With time on his hands, Jury is ensnared by the intriguing tale spun by Harry Johnson, a man who, apparently, just happens upon him in a London pub, the Old Wine Shades. Despite himself, Jury is drawn in by Johnson's account of the baffling disappearance of a mother, her autistic son and their dog; and the more baffling reappearance of the pet nine months later. The detective diligently follows every lead to determine the fate of the missing people, even as Johnson's digressions into the paradoxes of quantum physics lead Jury to question the truth of the man's narrative. The scheme Jury ultimately detects is ingeniously clever and sufficiently consistent with the personalities Grimes has created to overcome disbelief. The author's gift at melding suspense, logical twists and wry humor makes this one of the stronger entries in this deservedly popular series." I pretty much agree with this. These stories do digress a bit but eventually things get tied up in an interesting way, this one included.

ginger   Sapphire Beach Club: We are in 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."

On the right is a view of Saba at sunset taken from our balcony. Note the clouds hanging around the rain forest at the top of Mt Scenery.

  Saba at sunset

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.

Fawnette and friend SXM-Hotels: Pelican is open and most people there are happy. Many people who lost the use of their weeks are finding it difficult to get anything in return. This is not surprising as it was a timeshare facility in the business of selling the use of every week. If you are feeling lonely and want your mailbox filled with everybody's timeshare complaint, join this group.

On the left is Fawnette and friend from Azure Beach Studios on the beach in Simpson Bay. On the right is a closer look at the friend, a red footed tortoise.

Red footed tortoise
Phaedo Activities: On the left is Phaedo, winner in the Multihull 1C class in the Heineken Regatta - a three race winner, in fact. The photo is courtesy of Richard E. Santaga.

A fishing boat spotted whales off St Martin this week. It is not a common occurrence, hence the lack of dedicated whale watching boats, but humpback whales do migrate between St Martin and St Barts. If you are out there, you may see them breaching like this specimen.

Below is a parasailer at Orient Beach. I've never done this but Martha's brother took both of his kids up separately. They have a double harness that takes up two people at once. In truth, I think he wanted to go and took them along to make it look like it was their idea. Whatever, they all lived and had a great time at a cost of about $100 per trip.

Humpback whale

Parasailing at Orient

Cetamura Chianti Alcohol: I get a newsletter from Gregory da Paiz every day. While I don't approve of the topic, a recent one entitled The Return of the Cheap Drunk discussed seven fun, food-friendly wines under $10. I have noticed over the years that I frequently cannot find the wines that Paiz, Parker, and others recommend. It's been said that with Parker there are only two scores: above 90, you can't find it, and below 90, you can't sell it. I was surprised when I looked at the Paiz article and recognized the Cetamura Chianti label from Coltibuono, the olive oil people. I had picked this up at the Wine Cask in Cambridge, MA for about $8 a bottle. He also mentioned Borsao, which I had bought there nine years ago at $5 a bottle. It's long gone and hasn't been seen since. Gabbiano Chianti is also inexpensive. I got some at the NH liquor stores for about $9 a bottle recently and it has the advantage that it is available on the island. We usually can find it in the Maho market. At the other end of the Chianti spectrum (actually only part way up the spectrum) is the 2007 Nippozano Riserva Rufino from Frescobaldi that we had at Gondola Restaurant this week. It was wonderful, big, and long lasting. Gabbiano Chianti

Nature: On the right is a photo of some Bougainvillea at Flamboyant Beach Villas in Grand Case. It's a beautiful and inexpensive place to stay, just a short walk from some of the best restaurants in the Caribbean. Our office is well over 100% solar-powered and our servers are about 130% wind-powered. Green logo

Small Island story: The Daily Herald had a follow-up story to the one that had the island's PM attempting to soothe the Dutch after they rejected the 2010 budget again, because it was neither balanced or realistic. This one has the Dutch minister telling SXM to go fish for 78 million NAf they thought they had coming. Neither side is in good shape fiscally and both sides have raised taxes since achieving their new status. Obviously, it is not entirely their fault, the entire world is having a bit of malaise at the moment.



SXM-Info welcomes two new prizes to the list:
LAW Car Rental website Half off the posted rates on a week's rental - Taxes and insurance are NOT included.
Escargot Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two - any night except Friday

As you can request five prizes on one entry form, you could win a bargain on lodging, car rental, entertainment, dinner, and a gym to work it off! That would be five prizes to one person.

Current Contest:

27 February to 24 April 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
Marci's Mega Gym - Two for One week with a shake
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
SXM-Privilege Discount Card - One free monthly card
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
LAW Car Rental - Half price Car for a week
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
Escargot Restaurant - $50 off a 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:
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



On 20 March the euro was at 1.416 and today it is at 1.408. I'll give that a ho-hum, surprising, given the state of the world.

ZEN Café and California Restaurant are still offering 1 to 1. La Villa in Grand Case is offering 1 to 1 for cash. Almost all other restaurants on the French side that we have visited have offered us a better rate that we would get from our credit card or a bank. There is no doubt that they want your business.

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.


On Tuesday we headed over to Skipjack's in Simpson Bay for dinner. It had been a hectic day that ended with drinks and snacks at a friend's condo overlooking the lagoon. By the time we got to dinner it was about 8:30 and things were slowing down in the restaurant, but the breeze was not! All the side curtains were down, but we still headed to a comfy corner table on the upper level. No aps required, we just ordered the crispy calamari salad ($17) and the tuna with a sesame crust ($25). We have been drinking the Concannon Pinot Noir ($29), but decided to try the 2007 Davis Bynam Pinot Noir ($58). The Russian River keeps the pinot noir grapes cool, something they like. possibly this was still a bit young as it was fruity, almost grapey. Live and learn, possibly we'll switch back to the Concannon in the future or try one of the other pinots. The wine list is fairly large (a dozen whites and a dozen reds) and well-conceived for such a casual restaurant. Martha loved her calamari, crisp tentacles and all. My tuna was done as I requested and the wasabi and ginger with the soy dipping sauce made it quite tasty. With the 5% ToT and a 15% tip the bill came to $115 and 60% of it was my wine habit!

Calamari Davis Bynum Tuna

La Gondola
We took the short drive to La Gondola on Wednesday evening as it had been sprinkling and Atlantis Casino offers a free valet parking service. We had a reservation and a table was waiting, in fact, several. This year when I made the reservation, I was not assigned a 7 or 9 PM seating and it appeared that reservations would not have been necessary. David said that business had generally been good, but it was variable, and this night was slow.

We started with the usual complimentary and tasty tomato bruschetta as we looked over the night's offerings. Two breads arrived with an olive oil and ground basil dipping sauce. We have always liked the rosemary focaccia. The menu had a special that featured mussels, shrimp, and calamari in a red sauce with gnocchi that we split ($20, below left is a half order). This could stand up to a sturdy Italian red wine and and after consultation with the wine steward, we chose a 2007 Nippozzano Chianti Rufina from Frescobaldi (right, $52). It was a bit young, but it opened up a bit as we swirled it in the glass. Martha and I were ecstatic over this appetizer. We both agree it may have been the best dish we have eaten this season. The seafood was cooked to perfection. The basil-infused gnocchi were tender as could be and the entire dish had a great sauce with just a touch of heat.

Martha ordered the veal piccata with fettuccine (below center, $26) and I ordered lamb chops on a bed of thyme mashed potatoes (below right, $28). I certainly appreciated the grilled endive with the lamb chops and both dinners worked well with the wine. We finished with espressos and grappa di chardonnay, straight up and chilled. Our bill came to $143, to which we added a good tip for great service. Last year David was being forced to hire more locals as the Dutch side marched toward country status. The servers-in-training seem to have learned their craft.

  2007 Nipozzano Riserva Rufina  
  Calamari, shrimp, and gnocchi Veal piccata Lamb chops  

L'Escargot Restaurant
On Thursday we headed to Pburg for a bit of shopping and stopped for lunch at L'Escargot Restaurant. We ordered water and a half bottle of 2007 Chateau Bel Air. Vernon, long-time waiter, rummaged around in the cellar to find a half bottle of red as Martha is not helping as much with the wine drinking duties. Martha really likes conch and almost always has the conch salad when we come here. Vernon generally convinces me to have the freshest fish and I'm sure I could mention almost any preparation and it would be done. Today the fish was snapper and I went with a slightly spicy red sauce, hence the red wine. (I do like the calamari steak also). The conch salad is also slightly spicy and I always used to add more hot sauce. Service is good, Joel and Sonya know more than most anyone about what is happening on the island, and the food is fine. My snapper was as fresh as possible, cooked well, and served with a nice sauce. Our total bill was about $80 when the ToT and a 15% tip were added.

Wine Conch Salad Snapper
  Opening night   Sonya asked me to revise the website to say they had been open for almost 40 years. She even took me over to a photo from the opening night (left). There have been a lot of changes since then. Coats and ties are a thing of the past. That's Joel smiling in the center of the photo with Sonya on his left. On his right is Robert Choisy from Monaco who did some of the artwork in the restaurant. He was spending quite a bit of time on the island and insisted that the restaurant have an "opening" to which he would invite all the important people. The gentleman in the back, looking much like De Gaulle, was the mayor of Marigot. Friday nights are special at Escargot as a cabaret troupe takes over at about 9:30PM. That's "Christine Aguilera" on the right. There are many more photos on the website.   Cher  

Momo and wine We dropped in on Momo at Ti Bouchon for pre-dinner drinks and a bit of tapanade before visiting Florence and Christophe at The Villa in Grand Case on Friday evening. On Saturday we had lunch at Kakao Beach. I'll be saving those two reviews for later newsletters.   Florence and Christophe Kakao

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.   Tai Chi logo

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 something 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.

David at La Source in Marigot's Marina Royale will be featuring a Bistronomique 4 course menu (or a la carte, if you prefer) on Thursday 21 April. It will feature cuisine from the southwest of France. Send an email if you are interested.

Here's a blast from the past: We found Anthony Cognet on Facebook. He shares a birthday with a friend of ours and when our calendar reminded us of the two birthdays, I Googled him and found that after running La Chamade in Marigot for several years he went to the UK to work on his English. He now has his own restaurant, Canopy, in Les Tilleuils - ANNECY-LE-VIEUX.

I mentioned that Claude Mini-Club had been sold. I hadn't mentioned that it had been repainted. Before you look to the right, you might want to don sunglasses.

Bellvue Restaurant on the outskirts of Marigot (in Bellvue) has been sold. It was very good and very small, consisting of little more than chef Christophe Martinez from Le Cottage (long ago) and one of the twins from Tastevin as the waiter. With them gone, I expect it to be very different in the future. The rumor is they are heading back to Grand Case.

Le Montmartre at Atlantis Casino will close at the end of this month. It has gone from being the "best" French restaurant (at least for the readers of the Daily Herald) with the best hostess on the island (so said Gault-Millau) to this sorry state in four years.

Clause Mini-Club

There's more changes to come. Google can give you the name of two long-time, big name restaurants that are for sale. Like many things, including my condo, if you make somebody a very good offer for something, it's for sale. At this point, a very good offer is cheaper than it used to be.

There was another article in the Daily Herald stating that "The turnover tax (ToT) is "an indirect tax with the character of a consumption tax that should not be listed as a separate item on invoices." The article mentioned that a regulation had been drafted making it a punishable offense to place the ToT separately on the bill, invoice, or receipt.


Here is a complete Dutch side carnival schedule, but the short version is that the Unity Jump-Up from the French side to the Dutch side was on 19 March, the carnival village opens on 25 April, the big parade is on 30 April, and King Momo goes up in flames on 3 May.
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
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 transportation 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.   Click here to Enroll Now

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."