St Maarten/St Martin
4 March 2012 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Sunday started nicely with haze at sea, puffy white clouds overhead, and a moderate breeze (no whitecaps). We had a great day at Loterie Farm. Monday was still a bit hazy and on Tuesday I couldn't even see Saba at sunrise. When a rain shower passed over, I could hardly see the pool at Sapphire. Shortly thereafter, the two charter boats went by our balcony. I swear that Saba is in the background, but cannot be seen through the mist. It did get better and on Wednesday morning, Saba was peeking through. Below left, you can see it behind the cruise ship heading into Pburg. Wednesday and Thursday weren't much better, but at least we didn't see the thundershowers predicted for Thursday, although it did rain briefly in the middle of the day. The center photo shows a schooner heading past our balcony in the run-up to the regatta. Friday was the first day of the regatta featuring the round the island race and the website called it perfect conditions. It was still hazy, somewhat overcast, and wind was about 13 mph, just barely kicking up a few whitecaps. Certainly no new round-the-island record was set. Saturday had a bit more sun but there was still haze on the horizon. Below right are the boats finishing in Marigot harbor on Saturday. On Sunday morning it was already 77F at sunrise and heading to 82F. Other than marine haze, it has been a great regatta weekend.

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 6:20 PM. In 2012 the full moon dates are 8 Mar (this week, think romantic dinners on the water, we will be at Le Tastevin), 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 shows the Indigo Beach development in Cay Bay. I took several shots from the lookout point on Cay Hill and stitched them together. The program does a good job but the water isn't dead level, unless you want to believe I have photographed the curvature of the earth! This project is barely moving. It was one of the last to be announced and never amounted to much more than putting in a few roads. Now they have a few more. It's a nice section, unto itself, although as it is hemmed in by high ground on three sides it will something like the Raddison in Anse Marcel, but at least it is facing south, not north.

Beach reading: The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball - (about $17 new hardback) - - From Publishers Weekly: Kimball chucked life as a Manhattan journalist to start a cooperative farm in upstate New York with a self-taught New Paltz farmer she had interviewed for a story and later married. The Harvard-educated author, in her 30s, and Mark, also college educated and resolved to "live outside of the river of consumption," eventually found an arable 500-acre farm on Lake Champlain, first to lease then to buy. In this poignant, candid chronicle by season, Kimball writes how she and Mark infused new life into Essex Farm, and lost their hearts to it. By dint of hard work and smart planning--using draft horses rather than tractors to plow the five acres of vegetables, and raising dairy cows, and cattle, pigs, and hens for slaughter--they eventually produced a cooperative on the CSA model, in which members were able to buy a fully rounded diet. To create a self-sustaining farm was enormously ambitious, and neighbors, while well-meaning, expected them to fail. However, the couple, relying on Mark's belief in a "magic circle" of good luck, exhausted their savings and set to work. Once June hit, there was the 100-day growing season and an overabundance of vegetables to eat, and no end to the dirty, hard, fiercely satisfying tasks, winningly depicted by Kimball.

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 an entrant in the Rube Goldberg class of the regatta taken from our Caribbean 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.

Shopping: On the left is another photo from Leland Harms. This is the Marigot Market. Supposedly the Saturday and Wednesday markets are larger, but it's good-sized every day except Sunday. There are some quality things here, some interesting spices, some nice artwork, and some nice jewelry. We have always liked the beautiful garnet pieces at Octaedre. There are also a lot of tee-shirts, pareos, hats, souvenirs from China, etc. On a recent visit, we noticed that a fish market was open during the week. Previously, it was only open on Saturday. They also have meat, eggs, and a lot of fruits and vegetables.

Alcohol: Because of the regatta, we headed over to Select Wine Cellar on Tuesday before traffic got intolerable. We had planned to meet for lunch, but Sylvain had deliveries and pickups over the lunch hour, so we met at 2PM just as he was returning and sitting down to his lunch. We bought some 2009 Chambolle-Musigny Les Mombies from Chantal Lescure that was rather nice with some Cornish game hens a couple nights later at home. We also picked up some 2009 Chassagne-Montrachet Les Chaumes from Amiot Guy and several bottles of our house red wine, his 2009 Borgogne. Wendy K favors Les Gout de Vin because they have a larger selection of lower priced-wines. They have a larger selection of higher-priced wines also, but they lack parking in downtown Marigot. I find it difficult to carry a case of wine back to the car. She has solved this problem by having Martial deliver wines to her in a parking lot in Nettle Bay. She combined that trip with a lunch at Ma Ti Beach as she watched the regatta go by on Friday!

Activities: We met the GM of the new Voyager recently. He showed us some stunning photos of the new boat. It's twin-hulled with a hydrofoil and can make it from Oyster Pond to St Barts in about half an hour. That's big news, but even bigger news is over on the right. It really is big and it really is right, a Right Whale. They are called "right whales" because whalers thought the whales were the "right" ones to hunt. They were right for several reasons: they float when killed, they are found close to shore, and they are friendly, swimming up to boats. All that, of course, is wrong from an evolutionary standpoint and they were almost hunted to extinction. They are making a comeback and are often seen on the passage to St Barts at this time of year.

Heineken Regatta (click for more photos)

Traffic: There was an article in the Daily Herald saying that Minister of Justice Roland Duncan was going to crack down on illegal towing and start fining persons and companies for illegally placing "no parking" signs. He said that only the police have the right to have anyone towed and they are supposed to use only certain companies. If your car is towed and the towing company provide a statement from the police authorizing the action, a report of auto theft should be filed with the police.

Travel: Sol and Chevron have implemented a 50% fuel restriction says the Daily Herald. It appears that this applies to jet fuel for the weekend of the regatta, but what it means is beyond me. If Continental calculates they need 1000 gallons of jet fuel to get to Newark, does Chevron give them 500 gallons and a paddle? In other news, Theo has issued a building permit for a new storage tank. On the left is another photo from Leland Harms.

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 (right) 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: On the right is an iguana about 20 feet up a tree at Loterie Farm. On the way back from lunch at the farm I saw another one at the ghut between the turnoffs to Columbier and Frair's Bay.

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

Small Island story: In Aruba the Chief of the Special Forces (essentially the police) got drunk and crashed his service car last Saturday. You don't have to worry to much about that here in SXM because the police cars rarely work.


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 26 Feb the Euro was at 1.345 and today it is at 13.320. That's about 2% in a week, a pretty significant drop.

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.

Loterie Farm
We went to lunch at the Hidden Forest Café at Loterie Farm on Sunday with another couple. Reservations are highly recommended, especially on Sunday. When we arrived we bought our entry to the last four lounge chairs available in L'eaulounge. As you can see, they have channeled some of the water coming off Pic Paradis over a waterfall and into a lovely pool surrounded by a few cabanas and chairs (and 50 some acres of forest). The adventurous can ride zip lines through the forest and every once in a while, a zipliner flashes by on the hillside. They are difficult to photograph because they are fairly quiet and move quickly. By virtue of diligent effort, I managed to photograph a lovely specimen (below right).

Eventually we headed for our table in the newly remodeled café. They have installed a new roof and opened up the dining room offering better views of the forest. The menu is fairly large and a blackboard offered several specials. We had the special artichoke salad (right), a smoked salmon salad (below left), a salade niçoise (below center), and a seafood gumbo (below right). Julie Purkis is the chef here and we have known her since shortly after Hurricane Luis when she was cooking in a house on the road to French Cul de Sac. They put a sign on the house and called it Konga Café. We have always liked her variations on local food. Her seafood gumbo was spectacular, the artichoke salad had some of the best looking tomatoes I have seen this season, and Martha's niçoise had fresh (not canned) tuna, just barely seared, on a great plate of greens. The most mundane plate was the smoked salmon plate, and when smoked salmon is mundane, you've got a pretty special lunch. We had bottle of rosé to accompany this varied menu and had a great time. Everything cost about $24 and with three coffees the bill came to $130. It was France but I left a good tip for the attentive service, wonderful lunch, and great views.

Shakti Restaurant
On Monday we headed over to Shakti Restaurant in Simpson Bay for a dinner. Martha ordered palek chutney masala (cubes of cottage cheese in a mint, and coriander souce, $8.00), chicken chutney masala (chicken in a mint, coriander, and cashew sauce, $8.50), lamb vindaloo (lamb cooked with potatoes, onion, vinegar, and tomato sauce, $9.00), onion kulcha (nan with onion and spices, $4.50), and jeera rice (basmati rice with fried cumin seeds and green coriander, $3.50).
Palek chutney masala
Palek chutney masala

Lamb vindaloo

Onion kulcha
Onion kulcha

We drank two cold Kingfishers and ordered some dal tadka (yellow lentils with spices, $7.00) to take home with the leftovers. Our bill was $40, and we had enough for dinner on the next evening. There is a bit of parking in front of the restaurant. Service is good and the beers are cold.

On Tuesday we wanted to get to Skipjack's for lunch but traffic was getting pretty bad earlier when we went to Marci's Mega Gym for our morning workout, so we took our yacht which is normally docked at Porto Cupecoy. It's the run-up to the Heineken Regatta that has produced all this traffic, but we forgot that the run-up started with match racing in the lagoon this morning, so we had a difficult time dodging all those pesky sailboats. We hit a couple as we headed to Skipjacks, but we tossed a couple rings overboard with a tin of caviar and a split of champagne attached. Who says trickle down economics doesn't work?

Actually, that yacht was the view from Skipjack's looking across the lagoon to the marina. When we arrived at about 12:30 it wasn't very busy. Althea was chatting with a group of seven from Island Water World, probably enjoying their last calm lunch before all the regatta boats started their shopping. We ordered and as we waited for our lunch a party of ten and a party of seven arrived simultaneously. The ten-top were Russians, the crew from Veni, Vedi, Vici, and the differences in language and culture always tax the waitstaff. Consider the problem of potatoes, as in French fries (American), or is it chips (English), or frites (French). Now a local waitress probably knows all three of those, but does she know Russian? There were only two waitresses on duty and they were heading for deep doodoo, as more and more people were arriving. They had the good sense to call for reinforcements bringing another waitress and Daniel, who came straight from the gym. Thankfully, we got our food before the kitchen got slammed. It's Heineken Regatta week and ya gotta put up with the Regatta.

Anyway, back to our lunch: Martha has always liked the calamari salad ($17) - it's still good. The fish and chips ($14) was great, the fish was breaded and fried to provide a satisfying crunch with fresh, fresh fish inside. Malt vinegar was also provided. We had two glasses of wine and paid about $50 after the 15% tip was added. We said good-by to Althea, wished her luck, and said we'd visit Simpson Bay sometime next week to see if we could aid the survivors.

Fish and Chips

On Monday we headed over to L'Estimanet in Grand Case for dinner. They are near the end restaurant row, across from California Restaurant. There used to be a pay parking lot down here, but no longer. It is a bit of a walk from the central pay lot, but there is rarely any on street parking after 6PM. It's worth the walk. The restaurant is small, no more than 20 seats in the front room, less than that in the back, so reservations are required if you want a table at prime time. There were three deuces left when we arrived for ours at about 7:30.

There was a small blackboard with specials, and a fairly large menu with about a dozen aps, hot and cold ranging from 9 to 17€, seven fish and seven meat main courses ranging from 27 to 30€ except for the tilapia and flank steak, plus pasta and risotto. The wine list has a couple champagnes, a couple rosés, a dozen whites, and about 20 reds. The three Burgundies were all 2008, a mediocre year so I choose the 2007 Gigondas Les Grandes Serres (39€, right), a banner year for a Rhone wine. Alas, it arrived as a 2009, not quite as good, but big, bold, and young enough to have a bit of fruit. We started with the chef's special foie gras appetizer (17€, below left). The foie gras is poached with red wine, cinnamon and spices, and served with home made toast and a red wine sorbet. Do not adjust your set, the sorbet glass has a slanted bottom causing it to list. It's being served on a bit of slate with some smoked sea salt, quite nice and the Gigondas worked well with the red wine sorbet. Martha ordered the breast of pork caramelized with honey and truffle, in a reduction sauce, with ground pepper from Madagascar, and ginko puree with truffle oil (27€, below center).

The pork was tender and tasty, especially with all the additions. I ordered the sweetbreads braised with maple syrup and teriaki sauce, and roasted with reblochon in small casserole dish (26€, below right). I admit, I love sweetbreads, I love reblochon, and when you add a touch of maple syrup, I'm in heaven. The vegetables were very interesting: parsnips, leeks with curry, Jerusalem artichokes, shreds of jicama (called Mexican potato, a crisp vegetable with a nutty taste) with a Venezuelen spice, a bit of broccoli, some potato cubes, and a cauliflower foam in a glass. Everything had some interesting spice and I did not catch all of them. We skipped dessert, merely sipping espresso and ended with a balloon of armagnac for Martha and an old rum for me. Our bill before the expensive after-dinner drinks was 120€, but as they use 1.2€/$, that was only $144 for a very interesting dinner.

You don't often see Jerusalem artichokes in the US, so if you've never heard of them, here's the scoop. They are not really an artichoke, it is a tuber that you eat, although it does taste somewhat like an artichoke. No they did not come from Jerusalem, they are the tuber of a sunflower. In French and Italian the name for sunflower is "turn" toward "sun", becoming tournesol in French and girasole in Italian. Girasol got corrupted to Jerusalem.

French Restaurant School

We met Wendy K and Tony at the French cooking school, L'Excellence, for lunch on Thursday. We had the same wine list problem. I ordered the 2007 Crozes Hermitage because 2007 was the best year of this century for Rhone, and a 2009 arrived. Good, but not as good. Again, I had rejected the Burgundies because they were 2008s. Then it dawned on me that the year on the Burgundy was probably wrong also. I asked the waiter to look for a 2009 Burgundy and it arrived! The menus are fixed and we started with a mahi tartare (below left) and moved on to a grilled whole snapper (below right). It was filleted at tableside and we each got a filet with hollandaise sauce. It's normally a three course meal, but we were offered a cheese plate (roquefort, goat, comté, and camembert) and a bananna-pineapple dessert. Make that a four course lunch for four with two bottles of wine and a bottle of water for $100!

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. Ti Coin logo

Heineken Regatta: The Regatta is almost finished. Today (Sunday) has the race from Marigot to Simpson Bay and the closing ceremonies followed by the BIG concert on Kim Sha Beach.

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 Monday nights they have a French Film Festival with subtitles. This week the show is Les bronzés font du ski, a hilarious French comedy classic. On Wednesday night there will be a free concert featuring Control Band, a local favorite. On Friday, while parents enjoy a cocktail or bite to eat, children take their turn at games such as musical chairs, lime in spoon races, treasure hunts, and bean bag toss. 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. This coming Thursday has a Go Local theme with Saint Martin Night, a larila band.

Dutch side carnival schedule:

Thur, April 19 Opening Carnival Village/Opening Jump Up Fri, April 27Senior Calypso Finals
Fri, April 20Senior Calypso Eliminations & Road March Competition Sat, April 28Jouvert Morning 4am
Sat, April 21International Concert (Soca) Sat, April 28International Concert (Latin) (8pm)
Sun, April 22Junior Carnival Parade Sun, April 29International Concert (R&B / Reggae)
Mon, April 23Ms. Mature Queen Pageant & Cultural Manifestation Monday, April 30Grand Carnival Parade
Tues, April 24International Concert (Hip Hop / Dance Hall) Tues, May 1Second Day Parade
Wed, April 25Senior & Teen Carnival Queen Pageants Wed, May 2Closing Jump Up & Burning King Momo


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."