St Maarten/St Martin
25 December 2011 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Merry Christmas Today is Christmas, so we'll start with best wishes for a Merry Christmas. I wish I had made the card on the left, but our card (which is on Facebook) has snow, not sand. We will be flying out of Albany on 10 January, spending a delightful evening in Newark, and arriving in sunny St Maarten on 11 January. The sandy Christmas card was created by Donna and Pascal from Piazza Pascal in Grand Case. If you don't know them and their restaurant, you should.

In a politically correct, all-inclusive sort of way, allow me to wish a belated solstice (21 December) to all our Druid and Wiccan readers, a Happy Hanukkah to all our Jewish readers (also 21 December), and a Happy Kwanzaa to all celebrating on 26 December.

Weather: The first week after the last newsletter was not stellar: partly cloudy, generally with a chance of thunderstorms. It was warm, generally in the lower 80s during the day and comfortable at night as it dropped into the lower 70s, but not much sun as there were clouds and some showers. The Christmas winds appear to have arrived on time. 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 5:44 PM just a couple minutes more than 11 hours of daylight versus 8 hours and 12 minutes in NYC. The days were shortening because sunrise came later and later. The photo on the right is a 7AM photo showing the first rays of sun hitting the eastern edge of the slopes to our west after the early December snowstorm. The panoramic photo below is a sunset from that evening. Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast In 2012 the full moon dates are 9 Jan, 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. Sunrise

Our view

SXM-Beaches: On the right is Maho after the recent spate of rough weather washed much of the sand up on the roadway. Below left is the western end of Simpson Bay Beach near Karakter Beach Bar with Caravanserai in the distance. Moving north and about 20 years back in time, the center photo shows Cupecoy Beach behind Ocean Club and Sapphire Beach Club. There is some beach there now but I have never see the beach as large as this old photo. On the right is the beach at Nettle Bay, looking west from Ma Ti Beach, past the new construction that will feature two beach bars, so we hear.

There was a lot of flap on TTOL about dorsal fins appearing off Pelican and Simpson bay beaches, but no photos that showed me much of anything. A day later there was a post from a visitor at the Horny Toad Guesthouse who originally thought there were two sharks cruising the beach. When they got closer, it turned out to be a three foot ray with both wing tips poking out out the water at times. There are sharks around the island, generally in deeper water off shore, and not the voracious varieties.


Simpson Bay Beach Beach at Sapphire Nettle Beach

V is for Vengeance Beach reading: V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton - about $15 for the hardcover - Amazon says: "A spiderweb of dangerous relationships lies at the heart of V is for Vengeance, Sue Grafton's daring new Kinsey Millhone novel. A woman with a murky past who kills herself-or was it murder? A spoiled kid awash in gambling debt who thinks he can beat the system. A lovely woman whose life is about to splinter into a thousand fragments. A professional shoplifting ring working for the Mob, racking up millions from stolen goods. A wandering husband, rich and ruthless. A dirty cop so entrenched on the force he is immune to exposure. A sinister gangster, conscienceless and brutal. A lonely widower mourning the death of his lover, desperate for answers, which may be worse than the pain of his loss. A private detective, Kinsey Millhone, whose thirty-eighth-birthday gift is a punch in the face that leaves her with two black eyes and a busted nose. And an elegant and powerful businessman whose dealings are definitely outside the law: the magus at the center of the web. "

We listened to this on Martha's Sansa Fuse, an iPod knock-off. We got the book from our local library (via their website, of course) and listened to it as we worked in the kitchen. Obviously, this would be a great way to bring many books to the island for your vacation.

ginger   Sapphire Beach Club: We are still in NY at this time, so our condo is available until 11 January. The rates is $75 per night. 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 right is a Sapphire sunset showing the sky when there are clouds and scattered showers. You'll note that it is raining but considerably offshore.

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.

Turquoise Shell Inn SXM-Hotels: This is also the time of year when people start to think about their upcoming timeshare weeks on the island. They generally find that moving their arrival or departure dates can save them some money on airfare, not to mention the time spent in long lines. Their next problem is finding a convenient and reasonably-priced hotel room. Convenience usually means near their existing accommodations or the airport. Simpson Bay fits both and has the Turquoise Shell Inn. That's their pool on the left and they are across the street from the beach while being quite convenient to all the action in Simpson Bay. Both Azure Beach Studios and the Horny Toad Guesthouse (photo right) are on the beach, a bit further from all the action. The Horny Toad

Activities: The photo on the right was taken from just outside Local Rums & Spices and Paradise View Restaurant on Hope Hill above Orient Beach. The foreground is Galion Beach with Pat Turner's Tropical Wave on the left hidden in the palm fronds protruding into the picture frame. The tradewinds whip up waves that break on the reef protecting the bay leaving lovely breezes and calm waters, perfect for timid (or young) swimmers, windsurfers, and kite sailors. We've always liked the laid back toes in the sand beach bar, especially the fresh fish lunches. Galion Beach and St Barts

foie gras with a fig compote Groceries: It's the time of year when every food purveyor is bringing out the best they have on offer. Oysters, smoked salmon, and foie gras are filling the baggage compartments of Air France and KLM as they head for the island. Grand Marché and US Market generally have the largest selections. The wine shops feature champagne and great, old red wines, burgundies and bordeaux. It's possible to assemble a very good meal with fabulous wines without too much prep time for the chef. Of course, almost all restaurants have a special menu and reservations are a must. Oysters

Alcohol: Just after I mentioned a pinot noir from Tuscany, a thread on TTOL touted the 2008 Montes Alpha Pinot Noir. It's from the Leyda Valley in Chile and the poster had tried it at Bamboo Bernies. I used Wine Seeker and found it at Empire Wines (in Albany, NY) for a mere $14 per bottle. Wine Spectator had rated it at 89 and said "Mouthfilling, with plum, blackberry, and black cherry fruit kept lively by enticing spice, anise and black tea notes. The long, grippy finish has solid drive. Drink now through 2011." The price was essentially the cheapest that Wine Searcher found for me. The rest of the prices started at $16 per bottle, with a cluster at $16 to $21. It pays to comparison shop. Did you notice that the original listing from Wine Spectator said drink until 2011? I suspect the fruit is just now starting to wane and this would be a great time to start drinking it. I'm still excited about the 2009 Burgundies at Select Wine Cellar, but I may pick up some of this from Netco behind Ace Hardware in Cole Bay.

The New York Times recently named Pierre Moncuit the best value Champagne. Saratoga Wine Exchange has a limited supply of the Blanc de Blancs, Rosé, and Single Vineyard Blanc de Blancs. With this press, they won't last long and they will be great for New Years Eve! The last is rated highest and costs a bit under $38 for the bottle. Greg Dal Piaz has some recommendations at lower price levels.

2008 Montes Alpha Pinot Noir

Car Rentals: Just a reminder that Brink's Car Rental will now be called Starlite Car Rental. Same people, same cars, same phones, new website, and new email: starcarrental@hotmail.com.

Travel: It appears that medical tourism is the future of St Maarten, at least to the two groups that are proposing medical centers according to the Daily Herald. It makes a certain amount of sense. We are all getting older and US medical care is getting ever more expensive.

Crime: I don't normally write about crime, but this piece shows that sometimes the criminals get caught. Moreover, justice is pretty swift compared to the US. The gypsy taxi bandits, Curtley A. Richards and Sherwan Roberts, were recently sentenced to life in prison, the maximum allowed under St Maarten law. They were not just bandits, as they killed three men that they robbed in a two week span at the end of February 2011. The murders started with French chef Ludovic Guillevin who was working on a yacht visiting the island. In addition to two more murders, they added several other serious crimes.

Green logo Nature: Echoing the earlier story about a ray being mistaken for a shark, on the right is a manta ray. The only one I saw on the island had a wingspan of less than two feet.

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

  Cupecoy monolith
Small Island stories: Wendy K, our senior island corespondent, was complaining about GEBE in the last newsletter. This time, she is being abused by Scarlet, her supposed internet provider. It turns out that they had provided no internet for a couple weeks and took their sweet time before providing a tech to solve the problem.  


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.

25 December Contest Winners:

Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October) - Melissa Guillama
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Lourdes Popp
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - Lourdes Popp
Marci's Mega Gym - Two for One week with a shake - no entries
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate - Mike Masuicca
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two - Melissa Guillama
SXM-Privilege Discount Card - One free monthly card - Lourdes Popp
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Moises Riveron
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more - Helene Elo
Lighthouse at Oyster Bay - $1000 off a summer week (June-October) - Millard Nickerson
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two - Millard Nickerson
Escargot Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two - Lourdes Popp

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
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.

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
same cast of characters as current contest



On 4 Dec the euro was at 1.305 and today it is at 1.304. Holding pretty steady as both the US and the Eurozone made some progress in the last two weeks. As the chart shows, the euro is considerably higher than it was in its earlier years, but considerably lower than most of the recent five years. Enjoy.

Euro vs Dollar

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.

Ma Ti Beach

Wendy K went back for a second visit to Ma Ti Beach in early December: "We drank a bottle of Les Belles Murailles for 18€. This was the house wine at Le Bellevue (sigh). We both had blackboard specials: Tony had the Souris d'agneau (lamb shank, 18.50€) and I had the Dorade Royale (sea bream) with sauce créole (21€). The lamb came with a dollop of mashed potatoes, some tasty grated cooked carrots, and a lovely sauce. The fish was served with some seaweed salad, the same carrots, zucchini, and rice. The créole sauce, which I can generally take or leave, was especially good. And the bread, covered with poppy seeds, was really nice too. They give $1=1.30€. Our bill was 58.65€ or $77. Tony wants to go back on Friday, so that's a definite recommendation!

Wine Shank Mahi

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 (no longer with us), 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. Ti Sucrier logo

The bus at Karakter 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.

The Daily Herald reported that Karakter Beach Bar on Simpson Bay has been raided by the beach construction police who had instructions to remove "the wooden structure over the bus", "the sea retaining wall" and "the shed on the beach". The photo shows the retaining wall but does not show the more recent structure over the bus or the shed on the beach. Visitors after the raid report that Karakter is open and doing fine. It's a beach bar and the beach is still there as is the bar.

Ti Sucriere on the lagoon in Nettle Bay has closed. It was a lovely spot with nice views, good food, good prices, and parking.

The bus at Karakter


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."