St Maarten/St Martin
12 February 2012 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Last Sunday morning continued with the rain, although the breeze was slight. That afternoon was warm, sunny,and a bit hazy on the horizon. On the right is a sunset photo of Passat returning from her sunset cruise. The week has had rain, clouds, haze, and according to a pilot friend, Saharan sand. Many mornings I could not see Saba from our balcony, but the rain was not constant and the temperature ranged from the low 70's at night to the low 80s in the afternoon. The full moon on Tuesday was spectacular, although not photographically. The forecast for the coming week is much the same, same temperature range, and same spotty rainfall. The box shows the current local conditions and here's the detailed forecast from Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset tonight will be at 6:12 PM. In 2012 the full moon dates are 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.

This, of course, is Créole Rock at the eastern end of Grand Case Bay with Anguilla in the background. The entire area around the rock is a marine sanctuary. The snorkeling is the best on the island. Many boats come out here, but if you want a short (and less expensive) trip, drive out to Grand Case Beach Club and get Sebby at the activities desk to give you a guided tour. It's five minutes on the small boat and almost an hour of guided snorkeling. The bigger boats spend several hours coming and going (and serve drinks and snacks), add a lunch, and charge more. They are fun also, but it is a different experience. Then you have to decide if you want a monohull sailboat for a real sailing experience or a more stable cat. Decisions, decisions, decisions. I've done them all and you can't go wrong.

SXM-Beaches: On the right is Mullet Beach. The old resort has been removed except for the large concrete blocks (and chunks of coral) that they have used to line the road and block off all but one entrance to the beach and its associated parking. This is going to be Hell on Easter Monday when all the locals come to this beach. They made driving through here difficult when there was plenty of parking. This is the western end of the beach with no vendors. Behind me there are several beach bars and the beach in front of them is full of chairs, so you get your choice. It's an easy walk from our condo.

The low-level buildings creeping out to the cliff are the Cupecoy Beach Club and the tall building behind that is The Cliff. Beyond that on both sides is the lower, but wider Rainbow Beach property. A few years ago you would see our home at Sapphire from Mullet, but The Cliff and Rainbow Beach completely block it out from this side and Blue Mall hides a lot from the other side.

Beach reading: Down in the Zero by Andrew Vachss - about $12 - From Amazon: "Andrew Vachss has reinvented detective fiction for an age in which guilty secrets are obsolete and murder isn't even worth a news headline. And in the person of his haunted, hell-ridden private eye Burke, Vachss has given us a new kind of hero: a man inured to every evil except the kind that preys on children. Now Burke is back, investigating an epidemic of apparent suicides among teenagers of a wealthy Connecticut suburb. There he discovers a sinister connection between the anguish of the young and the activities of an elite sadomasochistic underground, for whom pain and its accompanying rituals are a source of pleasure and power"

Andrew Vachss is one strange dude and this was one strange book.

ginger Sapphire Beach Club: We are back in our condo at this time, so it will not be available until 10 April. The rate is $1000 per week. 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."

The shot on the left is a ginger flower and on the right is a shot of one of the mega-yachts pulling away from Porto Cupecoy taken from our lagoon-side balcony.

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.

Activities: On the left is Passat (tradewinds in Dutch) heading out on its sunset cruise. It's sailing directly west with the wind filling its sails as the sun lights up the front. Many years ago Gandalf did charters here with red sails. The sails and most of the rest of Gandalf went down in Hurricane Luis. We've been out on Random Wind several times and always enjoyed ourselves. While Captain Neil is more well-known for the Lagoon Pub Crawl, he also does private charters, sunset cruises, and goes out to watch the Regatta (right).

After dinner on Tuesday night we headed over to Pineapple Pete for our usual dessert, a Red Stripe and Guinness half-and-half. Tuesday night features the big band, House Full of Blues n More. As you can see, Ronnie and Amin are on guitars, swapping lead and rhythm.

There was a bass player (I think it was Alex) and a drummer. A harp player (left) came and livened up a few songs. Jim Barnhoff (right, red shirt) got on stage late in the evening and sang "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zep, which created a whole lotta commotion, but that's the way Tuesday nights go. They played for about three hours straight and had the crowd dancing and yelling.

Hemisphere, the world's largest catamaran, stopped in at Marigot's Marina Fort Louis this week. She's 145 feet long and weighs 275 metric tons, about 300 US tons at the current rate of exchange. There are six, as they say, "super luxe" cabins, so if you know five other couples that want to drop a bit over $40,000 for a week's sailing, here is your chance. Sailing, like most everything on a yacht, actually is extra.

If your price range is somewhat lower, consider Reve Marine in Marigot's Marina Royale, SXM Cat Charters out of Anse Marcel, Seaside Charter out of the Palapa Center in Simpson Bay, or Sunevasion.

Groceries: We stopped in at Grand Marché for goceries and got another charantais melon. After it ripened a bit, it was great with the jambon aoste that we picked up last week. This ham is especially good, better than the Parma, Serrano, and Bayonne that we have tried and its supple smoothness and great taste goes wonderfully with the somewhat more toothsome melon. I've also used some of the jambon in my morning omelet. It was still on sale on Saturday, at $12 per pound (about 40% off the normal price), so I got another pound. You'll notice that we were having the sweet melon with a Chateau Sainte Croix rosé, just a hint of sweetness. The wine came from Select Wine Cellar at $11.50.

On the Dutch side, convert NAf per kilo to $ per pound by dividing by 4. On the French side, convert euros per kilo to $ per pound by multiplying by 0.6 or divide by 2 and add 20%

Alcohol: We stopped in at Select Wine Cellar on Friday, as usual, to replenish our wine cellar and have lunch at Champagne Snack Bar. We were with another couple and tasted a few wines in the shop including the 2009 Hautes Cotes de Beaune from Bonnardot (left, $24). We had tasted his red version and stuck with Amiot Guy's Bourgogne as our house wine this season (also $24), but this chardonnay was quite good so we took some home along with the Belin Champagne ($30 on sale), some 2009 Savigny-les-Beaune Premier Cru from Girard (32.50), and some 2009 Chassange-Montrachet Les Chaumes from Amiot Guy ($42). We came back on Saturday because I had left my camera there and tasted the 2008 Domaine D'Aupilhac Coteaux du Languedoc, an organic mixture of whites featuring chardonnay ($24) and the 2009 Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg ($53), quite possibly the best riesling I have ever had.

Traffic: Not the usual traffic story, but this shot off our Caribbean balcony has four means of transportation. There is a Coast Guard stink pot, a VSTOL (Very Short Takeoff & Landing aircraft) coming in from Saba, a sailboat, and a jet-ski.
Gas: Cadisco is selling gas at 1.25€ per liter, but doing 1 to 1 for cash. That comes to to about $4.80 per gallon. On the left is the gas station on the lagoon in Marigot near the French bridge. Ya gotta love a gas station on the water with the central mountains rising in the background. The Dutch side raised prices from 2.31 to 2.39 NAf per liter on Friday. That's about $5.25 per gallon or 10% more. You'd save about $5 on a fill-up.

Green logo Nature: The Nature Foundation says that the reefs have grown back 3% in the last year and are supporting more fish. Unfortunately some of those new fish are the invasive lionfish. They are managing to catch hundreds at a time in Curaçao and selling them to local restaurants. On SXM the fish were tested and found to contain ciguatera, so it was recommended that they not be eaten.

On the right is a rather cute cactus that we saw over on the grounds of Flamboyant Beach Villas at the western end of Grand Case.

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

Small Island story: A Bishop in Jamaica has broken with other religious leaders there and stated that the island stands to gain economically if they allow horse racing on Sunday. He asked, "When is the church going to wake up and smell the coffers".


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:

25 Dec 2011 to 19 Feb 2012
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
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.

Here's some comments from a past winner:

I was very pleased to win your contest when my wife and I were on the island. I was able to use the three restaurant certificates and the Privilege Card. They were well appreciated and we had good service at all along with good food. Skipjack's has been a regular for many years (one of our favorites and we always go twice during our visit). Peg Leg Pub is also a restaurant we have frequented in the past (good steaks), but Piazza Pascal was new to us and will now be on our list to visit next year. Donna was very good hostess.
Bob Ross

Future Contests:
19 Feb to 15 April 2012 | 15 April to 15 July 2012 | 15 July to 14 October 2012 | 14 October to 9 December 2012
same cast of characters as current contest



On 5 Feb the euro was at 1.315 and today it is at 1.317. Ho hum, although they were rioting in Greece.

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.

Chase has come out with a Sapphire Card that is similar to Cap One, although the no foreign transaction fee only comes with the $95 per year preferred version. You'd have to spend about $3000 overseas to make the fee worthwhile, but there are other benefits, including a signup bonus if you spend over $3000 in your first three months. Read these discussions on Credit card Forum and Daily Markets and decide if they work for you.

On Monday night we drove to nearby Atlantis Casino for a great dinner at L'Angelus. We could walk, but the intermittent rain, the lack of sidewalks, and the free valet parking at the casino induce driving, especially at night. Angelus has replaced Montmartre. The space is essentially the same but there are not as many indoor tables and possibly more out door tables. Christophe Martinez (from Bellvue Restaurant and Cottage before that) is the chef. Christophe was my favorite chef at Cottage and we happily followed him to Bellvue. As it was only open for lunch, we missed his more elaborate preparations. They are back and they are fabulous.

An amuse bouche arrived (tapanade and toast points) along with complimentary champagne. We started with a special ap, snails on small potatoes halved with the usual garlic, butter, and parsley, but with a light tomato sauce (below left, about $17). This is what I liked about Christophe's food. He starts from the standard snails, garlic, butter, and parsley and adds a bit more. He doesn't go all molecular chemistry on you spreading about tiny drops of foam. He just adds a couple extra flavor notes and textures. For the main course, Martha had the lamb shank, long cooked, flavorful and topped with a bit of foie gras and surrounded with gently stewed cauliflower, peas, and asparagus. I got to finish the last two bites and it was divine (below center, $25). I love sweetbreads, and Christophe assembled a fine dish. It had a lighter sauce than Martha's dish and added carrots as a contrast to the soft sweetbreads (although they were a bit crispy on the outside from pan frying). There also were mushrooms and a few deep-fried sage leaves. We ended with espresso and old rum.

As befits a restaurant named L'Angelus, they have a few bottles of L'Angelus on the menu. The bad news is that you need a few hundred dollars to see what they made back in St Emilion. The wine list has a lot more, although it is out of date. After a bit of searching, we got a 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It was a great year in Rhone when both Bordeaux and Burgundy were making sub-par red wines. In 2005 both Burgundy and Bordeaux rated 10 (of 10). The next three years were not even close, with Bordeaux rating better than Burgundy, but still only garnering an 8 in 2006 and 2008 and a 7 in 2007. Bear in mind that even though it is a 10 point scale, the lowest ranking so far this millennium is a 5. Thus, rankings of 7 and 8 are decidedly mediocre. the most recent vintages have been fantastic with Bordeaux getting 10 in both 2009 and 2010, while Burgundy and Rhone got 9 in each year. Better yet, the 2009 seems to be quite drinkable right now.

But I digress, having moved away from my original point that this was one of the meals that I have liked best over the last couple years. The food is exactly what I like (that's obviously a personal thing, if you don't eat sweetbreads, then you would not have liked my dinner) and the service was superb (We've known Axel for at least a decade, but we watched him with the other tables and they seemed as pleased as we were. BTW in case you were worrying, his English is perfect). The room is quite nice, well spaced, although it has a lot of hard surfaces, so it can get noisy when the aging baby boomers start booming. Convenience is an added factor. Obviously it's close to us, but it's also close to Simpson Bay and has free valet parking. After that, it's just a question of value for money and at a total price of about $200, it's expensive but I think it was worth it.

Belle Epoque
On Tuesday evening we headed over to Marigot's Marina Royale for a dinner at Belle Epoque. For over 20 years Belle Epoques has been in the southeast corner of the marina near Chanteclair. Over the summer Georges closed his other restaurant (Thaï Bali) and moved Belle Epoque into that space at the southwestern end of the marina. It is now much easier to reach from the free parking lot on that end of the marina. The new space isn't as crowded and the bar is smaller. The food has always been good and reasonably priced. Some of the most reasonable prices can be found on the specials board. Martha would have had the salad with duck except we had just taken a duck out of our freezer, so she had another favorite: tuna anchoïade, a nice tuna steak with an anchovy-flavored sauce (below center, 16€). I had the beef bourgignon special, which was selling so well that they had to substitute tagliatelle for penne (below right, 14€). We added in a bottle of water and a bottle of the Bordeaux that was on special at 22€ and ended with two espressos and complimentary rum. The total bill was 63€ which was translated to $82, a rate of 1.3, slightly better than the bank rate in the papers. This was good solid French food (thin crust pizzas also) in a brasserie setting. Service was great and the waiter spoke very good English.

On Thursday night, we went to Grand Case for dinner at La Villa. Florence and Christophe have now made it through two seasons and seem to be doing well at the start of their third. At least part of that reason for this has to be the 1 to 1 pricing and the $49 three course menu option wherein you can choose almost any appetizer, main course, and dessert.

Obviously, the lobster and foie gras entries require a supplement. A quick calculation revealed that you would be
getting the dessert for about half price. It's hard to stay on a diet when you can get their desserts (which include an array of premium ice creams) at such a saving. Having chosen, we started with a glass of complimentary champagne as we turned to the wine list, finding a 2007 Chateau de Beaune and a 2009 Savigny-Les-Beaune, both from Bouchard. The first was the wine at our wedding although our vintage was 1985. Unfortunately, 2007 was the second worst vintage for Burgundy in this century. We consulted with Florence and she said to go with younger Savigny-les-Beaune ($69). We did and it was great. An amuse bouche of chilled fennel soup arrived and quickly disappeared.
We split a special ap of two types of salmon in a crispy phyllo dough wrapper (below left, $16.) Martha's main course was a the mahi from the menu with aioli butter sauce and saffron mashed potatoes and lots of veg (below center, $26). I had a special sweetbread main course on a bed of tasty carrots and shallots. The tnder sweetbreads contrsted nicely with with the cooked, but still crisp, carrots (below right, $27). The veg circling the main courses included a corn pancake, ratatouille, sautéed leeks with a touch of curry, spinach, and pumpkin mousse. I did have the three course dinner and I chose the molten chocolate cake as the dessert. Service was, as usual, superb. We ended with espresso and complimentary balloons of Armagnac. Our total bill was a about $180 aided by their acceptance of dollars (cash) at one to one on the Euro.

Champagne Snack Bar
On Friday we went to Select Wine Cellar to see Sylvain, pick up some wine, and have a lunch next door at Champagne Snack Bar. We were with another couple and started with a mini wine tasting at Select and headed out onto the terrace on a lovely sunny day. We ordered three of the mixed seafood specials (right) and two steak frites specials (below left) from the blackboard. We were drinking some Burgundies from Select. With espressos all around, we still spent about $90 for the five of us. Obviously, the wine was not included, but you can buy wine at retail from Sylvain and enjoy it at the snack bar. We do this frequently. If you are interested in wine, let us know. Possibly we can organize a small tasting followed by a lunch. We did it again on Saturday having the salade niçoise (below center) and the spaghetti (below right).

News and Changes: We have reworked the article on Créole restaurants that we wrote a several years ago. There are recipes for a four course meal in SXM-Info's features section. You'll find a recipe for Conch Chowder from Antoine Restaurant, a recipe for Accras from L'Escargot Restaurant, a recipe for Crab-stuffed Grouper from Skipjack's, and a recipe for Sweet Potato Pudding from Ti Coin Créole. Antoine logo

Heineken Regatta: The Regatta kicks off on Tuesday 28 Feb with the Budget Marine Match racing Cup. Leap Year Day is registration day and a party at the Yacht Club. Thursday is the final call for registration and a party at Port de Plaisance. Friday is the round the island race and a party on the Boarddwalk in Pburg. Saturday is the race from Simpson Bay to Marigot followed by a waterfront party. Sunday has the race back to Simpson Bay and the closing ceremonies followed by the BIG concert.

Grand Case Nights: Harmony Night in Grand Case has morphed into "Les Mardis de Grand Case" - The Tuesdays of Grand Case. It still features the closing of the main street so it can be filled with local arts, crafts, and food vendors along with a few musicians. It's great fun, although it can get crowded and if you want a streetside table, you will need reservations or extremely good luck.

Drummers in Grand Case

Porto Cupecoy Nights: On Wednesday night Porto Cupecoy had a concert featuring the Cuban drummer and percussionist Fidel Morales, one of today's most celebrated latin jazz artists. We stopped in and it was an experience. Next week is Control Band, a local group. On Monday nights they have a French Film Festival with subtitles. This week the show is Micmacs, a man and his friends come up with an intricate and original plan to destroy two big weapons manufacturers. On Saturdays, from 9AM to 1PM they have a farmer's market featuring local fruits and vegetables, gourmet foods, and island crafts.

Marina Royale Nights: Thursday night has been claimed by Marigot's Marina Royale. They are doing some theme with live music. For instance, next Thursday has a carnival theme with the Show Time Band.

It appears that Le Shore has worn out it's welcome in Nettle Bay already. The Daily Herald has reported that the residences on the other side of Ma Ti Beach have started to complain about the noise from the all night parties on the beach. The gendarmes were called out and measured 140 dBA, the threshold of pain. OSHA's permissible exposure limit is 90 dBA for all workers for an 8 hour day.


SXM Privilege Card Coupons: Below are links to the SXM-Info clients who have coupons on their websites. Another approach is the SXM Privilege Card which seems to be a pretty good deal. It will get you various discounts and/or perks at about 50 restaurants. 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. Victoria Contin, the force behind the Privilege Card, has come out with Island Video Guide and Web TV. SXM Island Video Guide and Web TV

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

  Our condo: The condo is available for rent $1000 per week or less for the summer. 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."