St Maarten/St Martin
30 October 2011 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Hurricane mushrooms Weather: Hurricanes continued to moisten the island over the last six weeks and early October featured a week of hot and humid weather driving the heat index up near 100F. Adding to the fun were showers and/or thunderstorms. Note that most showers, and even thunderstorms, are short-lived. Here in the northeast, we continued to get plenty of rain and the only good news was the plentiful mushrooms. On the left is a boletus edulus or as the French say, a "Cep", one of the best mushrooms on the planet. On the right is its cousin, the boletus subluridellus, also quite good. I found this one next to my workshop on the path to the animal barn. I covered it with a five gallon pail and watered it assiduously for about a week, producing a near perfect six inch specimen. Hurricane mushrooms

Hen of the woods On the left in the back is a hen of the woods, also called maitake mushroom. I found one that weighed 17 lbs and was larger than a basketball. On the board are the makings for my morning omelette (mushroom, onions, and peppers). On the right is sunset from our kitchen as the clouds were finally parting. 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 tonight will be at 5:40 PM. In 2011 the full moons will be 11 Nov and 10 Dec. In 2012 the full moon dates are 9 Jan, Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast 7 Feb, 8 Mar, 6 Apr, 5 May, 4 Jun, 3 Jul, 1 Aug, 31 Aug (a blue moon), 29 Sep, 29 Oct, 28 Nov, and 28 Dec.

Shower SXM-Beaches: The Dutch capital, Philipsburg, looks out over Great Bay. The dredging for the cruise ship piers produced a lot of sand that replenished the beach that had been eroded by several years of hurricanes. A walkway was installed from the piers to a boardwalk built along the beach. Further dredging expanded more of the beach and at this point a boardwalk extends for about a mile. It's lined with beach bars, burger joints, and t-shirt emporiums. One block inland is the main shopping avenue (Front Street) on the Dutch side. There are a few better restaurants. The Greenhouse Restaurant is right at the entrance to the boardwalk. It has one of the larger menus on the island and features Angus beef. In the center of town is L'Escargot Restaurant on Front Street is one of the oldest restaurants on the island. Sonya and Joël still run it and still serve snails and a lot more. A bit further west is Antoine Restaurant which has an entrance on Front Street and another from the boardwalk. There is a casual beach menu and a larger menu featuring all the usual French favorites with a bit of island flavor. The photo was taken from the dining room. Beach
English Assassin Beach reading: The English Assassin by Daniel Silva - about $10 - >From Publishers Weekly: "Switzerland's shameful behavior in WWII provides the backdrop for this superbly crafted thriller that puts Silva at the forefront of his generation of foreign intrigue specialists. This is the second book to feature Gabriel Allon, the art restorer and Israeli hit man. Just a few pages into this sequel, Allon finds himself the apparent victim of a double cross. When he arrives to restore a Raphael owned by reclusive Swiss banker Augustus Rolfe, Allon not only discovers the banker dead but finds himself the number one suspect. The charge doesn't stick, however, and when he is released from custody, he vows to find out who tried to frame him. His first stop is Rolfe's daughter, Anna, one of the world's top violinists and a woman haunted by her family's heritage of wartime greed and cruelty. Allon catches the attention of Switzerland's secretive power structure, which intends to stymie any further investigation into Rolfe's murder and the theft of his suspiciously acquired art collection. The so-called Council of Rütli contracts with a shadowy hit man, known only as the Englishman, to eliminate Allon and anyone else who threatens to expose Switzerland's past. The action unfolds in tightly focused scenes played out across a spectrum of European capitals and more pastoral settings. As a historical framework, the secrets of the Bahnhofstrasse are well-trod territory, yet Silva's sophisticated treatment polished prose, an edgy mood, convincing research gives his plot a crisp, almost urgent quality."

ginger   Sapphire Beach Club: We are back in NY at this time, so our condo is available. The rates range 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 2011 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."

Times are slow. December is available at half off the posted rates.

The shot on the right is a view off the Caribbean balcony with a large double masted sailboat gliding by.

  French lowlands

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 several 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.

Beach at Azure at night SXM-Hotels: Mike and Fawnette at Azure Beach Studios have just changed their website to note the new area code for St Maarten. From outside the US, one dials "001" to get the US and several other places in the "North American Numbering Plan Area" (NANPA). This includes the United States (of course), but also Canada, Puerto Rico, and many of the Caribbean island-nations (Anguilla) and now Sint Maarten. In theory you can dial any number on Sint Maarten (that's the Dutch side) by picking up your phone in the US and dialing 1 721 and the seven digit number. It's still an international call, and the old dialing method will remain in effect for one year. On the right is a view of the lovely pool at L'Esperance Hotel just outside Pburg, Pool at L'Esperance Hotel

Welcome aboard Activities: Zuzu reminds me that she is offering 10% off on her catamaran cruises. We went out to Sandy Island and Little Bay on the far side of Anguilla with them last April. It was a wonderful day on the water with great food. There are lots of photos in the features section of our website.

Sunevasion has has a fleet of watercraft to take you around our island and others.


Paté Groceries: On the left is a pork liver paté with pistachios that Martha made as an ap to precede a mixed grill featuring our lamb. On the island we can usually get very good patés at US Import, either in Marigot near the French bridge or at the even larger store on the outskirts of Grand Case. The Grand Marchés also have some patés but we find more over on the French side. For a real treat, check out Chez Bernadette and René in Bellevue. If you don't like to do dishes, the one on the right came from Le Tastevin Restaurant. foie gras with a fig compote

Alcohol: I added a section on Italian wine to the features section of SXM-Info. I spent most of my European vacations in Burgundy and have only been to Italy a half dozen times. Moreover, I prefer pinot noir. However, I do have about 10 cases of Italian wine in the basement and think it goes quite well with Italian cuisine. One of our favorite meals at this time of year is a simple pasta dish made with the last of the tomatoes and basil from our garden. A Chianti from Tuscany seems to be the the perfect wine for such a meal. The big flavors of meatier Italian dishes benefit from the bigger, bolder wines of Piemonte or the great Tuscans and "super" Tuscans. A pizza with a bottle of red Corvo is great and an afternoon on the beach with an Orvieto can't be beat. Of the recent vintages, 2004 and 2006 were great and 2009 was close. If you have a choice, skip the 2007 and 2005 and avoid the 2002.

Gregory Dal Piaz wrote an interesting article on wine price appreciation in Snooth. The first was about appreciation in French wine and the second will be on Italian wines. Continuing this newsletter's emphasis on Italy, I also note that Dal Piaz has a video interview about how to approach an Italian wine list.

Below is a review of our final meal at Piazza Pascal in Grand Case. We had a wonderful Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva 2004 DOCG Carpineto Other Italian restaurants on the island include Il Nettuno and Spiga also in Grand Case, Gondola at Atlantis Casino, and Granduca and La Rosa in Maho. Nettuno has fine food focusing on northern Italian and seafood, a great view of Grand Case Bay, a very large wine list, and comps parking across the street. Spiga tends toward Tuscan cuisine, has minimal view, on-street parking, and a reasonable wine list featuring some exclusives that owner Ciro brings back from Tuscany. Gondola had great food and a great wine list but has changed hands over the summer and while I assume the new owner will continue this tradition, I can't say from here and only time will tell. I have never been to La Rosa or Granduca. La Rosa's website says essentially nothing beyond location, email address, and advertising copy. Granduca never did make a website as far as I know and it was sold over the summer.

As for local wine shops selling Italian wines, we have tended toward low-budget Chianti. Gabbiano is usually available at Maho for under $10 per bottle. Back in the US, Lot18 and Saratoga Wine Exchange frequently feature good prices on Italian wine. Currently, SWE has Argiano Non-Confunditur Toscano 2009 for $17.44 and Dei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2008 for $22.74.


Axum exhibition Art: Axum Art Café/Gallery is having an exhibition of works by Dr Jay B. Haviser from 4 to 18 November. They are located at 7 Front Street in Philipsburg. The are open from 8PM until 10:30 PM. There may be on street parking but as this is near the head of town, Bobbie's Marina is nearby and their parking lot is open to the public ($1 per hour).

Travel: Visitor arrivals for the first half of 2011 declined by six per cent compared to the same period in 2010. Arrivals from St Maarten's Canada and the US (the majority of visitors) dropped by 9.3 per cent. This was no surprise to hotels who saw occupancy decline 5.8 per cent, from 58.1 per cent in 2010 to 52.3 per cent in 2011.

Traffic: The Dutch side is considering reconnecting Cay Bay to the rotary atop Cole Bay Hill. Basically you would drive into Cay Bay, pass by the GEBE power plant, through some private property, and into the Indigo Bay development which connects to and the roundabout at the top of Cole Bay Hill. It's in the planning/talking stage as the various parties negotiate. The Indigo Bay development is barely moving forward and the private property is private. If these obstacles can be surmounted traffic may finally get through Simpson Bay.

Car Rentals: Brink's Car Rental has finally lost the right to use their name. The company was founded by Mr Brink some time ago and has operated as Brink's Car Rental on the island for many years. With the advent of the World Wide Web, they came to the attention of the Brink's, Inc. the security company. After a couple years of wrangling, the internet authorities decided in favor of the deep pockets and well-paid lawyers. Brink's will now be called Starlite Car Rental. Same people, same cars, same phones, new website, and new email: starcarrental@hotmail.com.

Small Island stories: Jeff Berger had a link to an article in the Tax-News that provided quite a bit of insight into the machinations of Curaçao and Sint Maarten. When the NA was dissolved, Holland provided considerable debt relief to the two islands, reducing their debt to about 1% of GDP. That's manageable, but if you run a deficit while GDP stagnates, you find that the debt becomes an increasing percentage of GDP, eventually reaching levels that are not manageable. Currently St Maarten's GDP (which is 82% tourism based) is stagnating at best, and probably decreasing. The article said that the "IMF has recommended that the two territories' business licensing and permit regimes should be substantially streamlined to speed the company formation process." Certainly they should do that, but another ten new restaurants in Simpson Bay will entice new visitors to the island and another ten hotels will only result in a lower overall hotel occupancy rate until the world comes out of its current economic funk. Jeff has recently had a spot of bother with his web registration and hosting company. If you haven't received a newsletter from him recently you should go to this page and sign up again.
Nature: Martha and I used to see a flying gurnard off Cupecoy Beach. It's a very strange fish with enlarged pectoral fins that look like wings. It doesn't actually fly but appears to do so as it scuttles along the sea floor looking for dinner. Here's a video of it in motion. The photo is from Wikipedia.

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

Flying gurnard


Winners of the contest that ended 30 October 2011

Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October) - Bob Ross
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Becky Meadors
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - Bob Ross
Marci's Mega Gym - Two for One week with a shake - no entries
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate - Janice Robertson
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two - Bob Ross
SXM-Privilege Discount Card - One free monthly card - Bob Ross
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Cynthia Cebuhar
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more - Jim Dobbin
Lighthouse at Oyster Bay - $1000 off a summer week (June-October) - Cynthia Cebuhar
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two - Bob Ross
Escargot Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two - Charles Leary

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:

30 October to 25 December 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
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:
25 Dec 2011 to 19 Feb 2012 | 19 Feb to 15 April 2012
same cast of characters as current contest



On 11 Sep the euro was at 1.365 and today it is at 1.416. That's a 3.6% change in about six weeks. Those weeks contained a very volatile stock market (both here and in Europe) as slightly good news about the European debt crisis would drive the markets (and the euro) up, but every time Angela Merkel frowned, the markets dropped. Jon Stewart skewered this beautifully on his 27 October show. Everybody knew there was a major European meeting last week and every wiggle leading up to that event should have been inconsequential. As stated here earlier, Europe will not give up on the euro. They didn't; it's back up over 1.4. We probably should get used to it.

California Restaurant is still offering 1 to 1. La Villa and Piazza Pascal, also 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 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.

Grand Case Bay

Kakao Beach Bar
That panoramic photo above was taken from the hill above La Savane on the approach to Grand Case. We passed through here on our way to a lazy Saturday lunch at Kakao Beach Bar on Orient Beach. Martha had a Salade Niçoise (below left, 14€) and I had a pizza supreme (below right, 13€). We had the 2006 Guigal Côtes du Rhône (below left, 28€). With a bottle of water, our total bill was $96, using a very favorable 1.27 exchange rate. Service, as always, was great.
  Just like out last visit, for dessert, the waiter brought over a bottle of banana-vanilla Ma Doudou rum and two glasses. The shot of the bottles and these lower photos give you an idea as to why we like this place so much.  

Piazza Pascal
One of our last meals on the island was at Piazza Pascal in Grand Case . As usual, a glance at the free lot showed that it was full, so we parked in the pay parking lot and took a short stroll to our table. Donna had been adding some new entries to the wine list and we chose a Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva 2004 DOCG Carpineto ($52, right, with Buddha). This big wine needed some big flavors so I started with calamari sautèed in garlic, shallots, and parsley (below left, $15) and Martha had a smaller version of the seafood salad that is on the menu.

My main course was the Lasagna Bolognese Paesani (below center, $19) and Martha had the Veal Milanese (below right, only $22!). Tomato-based sauces and Montepulciano are made for each other, so this was a fine combination. We finished with some super premium ice cream (Glacier des Alpes) and an espresso. Our total bill was $139 for a fine and filling meal. This is one of our favorite places to dine. They sponsor a contest on SXM Information where the prize is $50 toward dinner for two, but the easiest way to get a $50 coupon is to rent our condo. We include a $50 coupon (and lots more) with each rental.

Buddha with a fine Montepulciano
Calamari Lasagne Veal Milanese

News and Changes: We have reworked the article on restaurants in the lowlands that we wrote a couple years ago. There are recipes for a four course meal in SXM-Info's features section. You'll find a recipe for Cucumber Vichyssoise from Ti Sucrier Restaurant, a recipe for the famous Mussels from Mario's Bistro, a recipe for Rack of Lamb from Montmartre (no longer with us), and a recipe for Coconut Blancmange from Les Boucaniers. Montmartre logo
We have dropped the list of summer closings because almost everybody is open by now. Didier at Mario's Bistro sent a note saying that they were open. You may remember they planned on being open through the summer, but the hurricane changed their plans.

Linda Parker at Peg Leg Pub sent me a note saying "Here at Peg Leg Pub, we think the world of what Ursula [Oppikofer] and her shelter on the French side have done for all the homeless and abandoned animals on this island. To kick off our new year, I have decided to donate 10% of our GROSS proceeds from our opening day, November 1st, 2011, to the "I Love My Island Dog Foundation". We will also have a jar set up for those of you who can't make it, or who would like to donate extra to the shelter, until the 15th of November. We will then tally up the total donations and take to Ursula for her to use anyway that she sees fit. I hope you will join us in our campaign to help out the French Side Shelter."

On Thursday, 10 November, David at La Source in Marigot's Marina Royale is having another three course dinner with an aperitif to start. It's about $50 per person for this fabulous dinner. Wine will be available. Here's the menu:


--- o ----

Velouté of wild mushrooms,
poached egg and toast strips
Terrine of braised cheeks with cider
salad and toasted pistachios

--- o ----

Scallops and foie gras
in a chestnut mousseline
Braised rabbit with olives
preserved lemon and wheat pilaf

--- o ----

Raw milk farmstead cheese
White chocolate biscuit, caramelized pear,
ice cream and spice cookies


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 $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 $79. 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!)  
Even though Martha has a Kindle and is quite happy with it, she 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."