St Maarten/St Martin
19 February 2012 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Sunday was overcast and warm, but certainly not hot. There was essentially no breeze and planes were taking off to the east. The sunset on the right gives a hint as to how cloudy it was. The shot of Saba (below left) was taken at the same time. Note the prop plane flying into the airport. On Monday morning it was so still the lagoon was like glass and we drove under a prop plane that landed heading east. The middle shot below is the Tuesday sunset over Marigot harbor. As so often happens when the wind dies, it clocks around. So on Tuesday morning we were awakened to the sounds of surf crashing on the beach 100 feet below our condo. The photo on the far right shows a roof on the easternmost building at Ocean Club and one of several surfers out in the 6-8 foot surf. The Daily Herald had a front page photo of waves crashing over Maho Beach and the the entrance road to Caravanserai and Beacon Hill. By Thursday the haze, humidity, and cloudiness were diminishing such that we could see Saba and Statia clearly and St Kitts was emerging from the gloom. On Friday we had a pretty good sunset but no green flash. Saturday was a picture postcard day, a few puffy clouds, lots of warm sun, and little haze. We had the best green flash of the season from our Caribbean balcony. On Sunday morning I could see the roofs on the buildings on Saba shimmering as the sun rose. Statia and St Kitts were visible. It's a beautiful day, come on down.

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 6:15 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.

SXM-Beaches: The panoramic photo above was stitched together from four shots taken from the entrance to Bay Rouge. The stitching program works nicely, but doesn't guarantee a flat water line. There is a beach bar at the entrance with plenty of chairs and a long stretch of open beach to the far left (west). There's parking and I think the kids there are actually watching the cars, not breaking into them. At least I haven't heard any complaints about this area in a long time. It's on the north side of the island, facing Anguilla, and lacking a sunset view, but a short drive from our condo in Cupecoy.

Beach reading: The Vanished Hands by Robert Wilson - about $5 (used) - From Amazon: "Murder is the greatest aberration of human nature, it brings out some ingenious subterfuges," remarks Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón, as he ponders a series of ambiguously motivated and ostensibly unconnected suicides. It's the summer of 2002, and Falcón cannot fathom why Rafael Vega, a construction company honcho (and recreational butcher), should have smothered his younger, unstable wife in bed, then chugged a fatal draft of drain cleaner. Is there any connection between this tragedy and the disappearance of the Vegas's Ukranian gardener, or money laundering by the local Russian mafia? Can Rafael Vega's demise be related to his distrust of the U.S. government or to a note found in his hand, with its seeming allusion to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks? As Falcón questions the Vegas's suburban neighbors, he discovers one couple linked to the slaying of an Iranian carpet-dealer in New York, and another nearby resident, renowned actor Pablo Ortega, whose grown son is in prison for kidnapping and abusing an 8-year-old boy. Yet these scandals aren't obviously helpful to Falcón in solving the Vega case. Nor do they explain why those first deaths are soon followed by Ortega's drowning in a cesspool, the suicidal leap of an aging child-crimes investigator, and Russian mafia threats against Falcón.

Wilson doesn't exploit Seville's exotic setting so well here as he did in his earlier work, Blind Man of Seville, and it can be challenging to follow this sequel's political backstory. However, the author more than makes up for these weaknesses with the depth of his psychological explorations, the ways in which he taunts his police with justice slightly beyond their reach, and a patient storytelling pace that enhances investigative revelations. Falcón remains a potent and pivotal figure, his traumas in the last book being replaced in these pages by personal dramas (three different women tug at the inspector jefe's heart, feeding his hope without depleting his loneliness). Founded in mendacity, fraught with betrayals, The Vanished Hands maintains a firm grip on the reader from its start.

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 the Saturday sunset from our Caribbean balcony. It has the top of some palms in Sapphire's garden, the back end of a cruise ship, and the sun a few seconds before the green flash.

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.

SXM-Hotels: We went to the Valentine's Day brunch at the Horny Toad Guesthouse on Simpson Bay. Betty decorates the pavilion and grounds and supplies drinks. All the guests make something to eat. We get invited because we make the website. Guests return at the same time year after year. Some guests travel great distances to visit other guests back in the US and we join in that also. There is a private beach area with palm trees and almost all rooms have this view to the south. Saba is behind and to the right of the mega-yacht, although the clouds are demonstrating why there is a rain forest at the top of Mount Scenery. First floor rooms walk out onto the beach while second floor rooms are a flight of stairs away.

Activities: There was a thread on TTOL about the Thursday Night Party at Marigot's Marina Royale. A couple people commented about the last two Thursdays, saying the restaurants were doing well, the marina, parking lots, and walkways were well lit, and there were gendarmes, not just private security. There were bands and dancers.

Groceries: We stopped in at US Market in Grand Case on the way to Ti Bouchon on Monday night. We picked up some asparagus and some lovely red peppers. The next day we skinned and cooked the asparagus and sliced the red peppers. We then wrapped them in the Jambon d'Aoeste, arranged them on this platter, and Martha put a vinaigrette over them after we took them to the Valentine's Day Brunch at the Horny Toad Guesthouse. That's the platter on the left. The shot was taken on our balcony with the Caribbean and Random Wind in the background.

A couple days earlier we had a cooked a frozen duck purchased at US Market and it was so good we were ecstatic when we found fresh rabbit for sale there just before Valentine's Day. We added some brocoflower, diced carrots, shiitakes, and basmati rice to make a wonderful dinner (right) to accompany a 2009 Beaune Premier Cru Les Chouacheux from Chantal Lescure purchased at Select Wine Cellar ($52).

Alcohol: We had a Valentine's Day brunch and came home for a lesser celebration for our Valentine's dinner. We did start with this 2006 Deutz Brut from Select Wine Cellar ($78), a celebration all by itself. It was spectacular with smoked Scottish salmon from Grand Marché with sour cream and capers.

We stopped in at Select Wine Cellar on Friday, as usual, to replenish our wine cellar and have lunch at Champagne Snack Bar. We started in the wine shop with a bottle of Domaine Belle's 2010 Crozes-Hermitage Les Terres Blanches ($28.50). It's made from 70% Marsanne and 30% Roussanne grapes and is an interesting change from chardonnay. After finishing that, we went next door for lunch. We eventually bought more of the Belin Champagne ($30, on special), more of the Guy Amiot 2009 Bourgogne as our lunch wine ($24), a Tremblay 2009 Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume ($29.50), and a 2009 Crozes-Hermitage Cuvée Louis Belle ($34).

Traffic: The panoramic shot above suggests that even if you get caught in traffic heading into Marigot from Grand Case, you'll have a lovely view and all the rains are making it greener. The oil tanks and a single smokestack from the generators in Gallis Bay are visible and beyond them is Marigot harbor and the French lowlands.

The stretch from the French bridge to the roundabout at the cemetery is a constant state of construction and confusion. I trust it will be better someday but it's a bit slow at the moment, hardly ever stopped, but slow. So as not to feel left out, the Dutch side started working on drainage problems in Cole Bay, reducing traffic to one lane with alternating flow. You can miss it by taking the low road out of the rotary and emerging at Orange Grove. They claim they will be done soon.

If all else fails, you can always take a bus for a buck or two. Sometimes they stop at these bus stops but generally they stop any place that someone waves a hand at them.

Thursday's Daily Herald said that the new budget for the harbor included $110 million for the causeway across the lagoon.

Cars: Alain Arnell (Triple A Car Rental) lost control of his previous website and has a new one at www.aaa-sxm.com. The site highlights the new world headquarters building next to the airport runway. He does meet you at the airport so it is a very short drive to the lot.

Green logo Nature: The large cactus at the entrance to Marci's Mega Gym 2000 is flowering at this time. It is spectacular and quite interesting for sugarbirds. There is one in the photo. You might find it if you look at the enlarged version. They are dining on the cactus and using it as a staging platform for their construction projects in the fans in the gym. Every morning Marci has to chase them out and clean up after their nest-building activities.

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

Small Island story: Franklyn Meyers, currently the Minister of Economic Affairs, will not issue a permit for a second fiber optic cable at the UTS landing site. When you live in a country where communications is a major source of government income, you can expect that communications will be expensive, and lousy.


Winners of the contest ending today:

25 Dec 2011 to 19 Feb 2012
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October) - Hope McIntyre
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Thomas Robertson
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - Thomas Robertson
Marci's Mega Gym - Two for One week with a shake - no entry
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate - Thomas Robertson
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two - Fay Tatko
SXM-Privilege Discount Card - One free monthly card - Bonnie Simpson
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Fay Tatko
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more - no entry
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two - Thomas Robertson
Escargot Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two - Hope McIntyre

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:

19 Feb to 15 April 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:
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 12 Feb the Euro was at 1.317 and today it is at 1.316, another ho-hum week.

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.

Le Fourmi

Wendy K reports: "Le Fourmi is on the second floor of the West Indies Mall, where the place that used to sell the caviar, etc that moved from the Marina relocated. [ed note: I left that in there as that is the way we describe places down here where there are few street signs and even fewer house numbers] The menus are on blackboards in French and English with lots of choices. There were many we wanted to try. Tony choose the souris d'agneau (18€) served with big white beans in a casserole dish. The lamb bone had been sliced into three pieces so that it resembled an osso bucco. Tony loved it. I had Truite a meuniere aux amonds. An uninspired choice, considering the menu choices, but it was delicious. De-boned and reconstructed, with the head & tail intact, it was served with a carrot puree, haricots vertes, a roasted cherry tomato, and some delicious rice (20€). We drank the least expensive red wine on the list: a Chateau Grimont '07 Cotes de Bordeaux for 19€, and an additional 2 glasses of something red for 5€ each. All were good, and served in a good-sized glass (not the dinky things you sometimes get when you order the cheap stuff). The total bill was 66.50€. There is pleasant seating outside on the terrase, or comfortably air conditioned, inside, where we sat.

Ti Bouchon Restaurant
On Monday we headed over to Ti Bouchon for a dinner with friends from Oyster Pond. Thierry Delaunay is still in the kitchen and has made his mark on the menu. We have long considered him to be one of the most interesting and innovative chefs on the island. One of his most interesting dishes is a lobster parmentier that puts braised lobster in a dish of mashed sweet potatoes. Momo described several specials including an interesting diver scallop preparation, but in the end we ordered off the very interesting menu (which is not on the website).

We started with an amuse bouche of pumpkin soup with little pieces of grouper, quite tasty. I had ordered a 2010 Quincy Haute Victoire from Henri Bourgeois, a crisp sauvignon blanc from the western end of the Loire Valley ($36). It was very nice with the amuse bouche and just as good with the crab appetizer from the menu (right). It had chunks of crab and tropical fruit on a bed of wakame seaweed. The appetizers ranged from $10 to $20.

The main courses ranged from 25 to $37 and my three tablemates were all struck by the bouillabaisse ($37, below right). In the interests of diversity, I choose the stuffed pork tenderloin with ratatouille ($26, below center). I had watched Thierry doing the prep work on this dish as we arrived and it looked great.

With the main courses, I ordered a Beaume de Venise Les Paradou from Paul Jaboulet Ainé. Martha was a bit shocked as she recalls a lot of Beaume de Venise dessert wine in our past. This one was a full bodied red made from grenache, carignan, syrah, and mourvedre. I know this was red wine with fish, but bouillabaisse is full-flavored, this one especially. We had the chocolate cake aa our sole dessert with four spoons and ended with three decaf espressos and an old rum that was switched to Delamain cognac because of inventory issues. If you go to the site, you'll see that the dining room is the wraparound porch on a brightly colored Créole cottage. Everything was great and at a total of $295 for four of us, not too expensive.

We spent so much time talking about our dinner at L'Angelus last week that another couple said they would like to go with us on Thursday night. They came over for Champagne and sunset on the Caribbean balcony and then we headed to Atlantis Casino.

An amuse bouche arrived (tapanade and toast points) along with complimentary champagne. Our friends had snails in puff pastry and Martha and I split tuna and scallop tartare with an Asian influence (wakame and soy sauce) with pine nuts added for crunch. For the main course, Martha had the lamb shank (again), long cooked, flavorful and topped with a bit of foie gras and surrounded with gently stewed cauliflower, peas, and asparagus. (below center, $25). I had the ribeye steak in a ginger and curry marinade, with roasted potatoes and mushrooms ($24, below right). Martha talked so lovingly about her lamb shank that our friends also had it. I was impressed with the quality, tenderness, and tastiness of the ribeye and this week's shank was as good as last week.

Our wine was the 2007 Cotes de Beaune Villages ($55) and it was quite nice, blending well with our flavorful main courses. We ordered a Tartlet Biscuit with melted chocolate and cherries (and four spoons). We finished with some espressos as we talked about a lovely dinner.

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. Martha had quarter chicken with fries and salad off the menu for a mere $6 (below left), Sylvain had a special beef teriyaki ($16, below center), and I had the special fish sampler ($16, below right). It was supposed to be three fish, and they were there on a bed of veg, but I think Bruno added a rather large moule from the creamy moule special. We finished the 2010 Crozes-Hermitage (white) and Sylvain choose its heftier brother, the 2009 Crozes-Hermitage Cuvée Louis ($34) Belle (red, $34, right).

Bikini Beach Restaurant
On Saturday we went counter to timeshare traffic and headed through Marigot to Orient Beach. Our only problem was the construction near the bridge in Sandy Ground and the Marigot Market, although we did follow a rather slow fuel tanker from Marigot to the Orient Beach entrance. We arrived at Bikini Beach at about noon and were greeted with the lovely view through the palms, across the beach, to Green Cay. Our table had the view below center, over some beach plantings to Pinel Island.

We started with the usual bottle of beach rosé, this one from Chateau Paradis (19€), a fitting wine for such a lovely location on a spectacular afternoon. The wine itself was fine with a hint of sweetness. Bikini Beach has the usual beach fare, but they have a ThaÏ chef, so it seems a shame not to try his offerings. Martha had the stuffed squid with vegetables lower left (about 17€) and I had chicken pad thaÏ (17€). As you can see, the plates were lovely with a carrot carved into a flower (it also tasted good). My chicken was sliced thin and fried to a bit of crispness and the tasty noodles were covered with a scrambled egg. Both lunches were tasty. The total bill came to about $75 after a 2% tax on the French side, using a conversion of 1.3 for the Euro.

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. Escargot 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 Boardwalk 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 Control Band, a local favorite. This week will feature Connis and the Motowns, a blues and jazz group from St Maarten. On Monday nights they have a French Film Festival with subtitles. This week the show is La Verite Si Je Mens I / If I'm Telling the Truth I'm Lying, the sentimental and comedic adventures of Eddie as he works in a Jewish community, though he is a non-Jew trying to pass as Jewish despite being totally ignorant of Jewish traditions. 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 gospel theme with a choir.

It appears that Don Camillo is on short break (and has been since we arrived about a month ago). The sign says to visit them at The Rendezvous Lounge at Porto Cupecoy. I did but no one acknowledged my presence for five minutes, so I can only comment that they don't appear to be serving anything like Don Camillo used to serve.


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."