St Maarten/St Martin
15 January 2012 Newsletter

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Contests | Restaurants | Bargains and Happenings


Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Since Christmas, the weather has been about normal for temperature, getting into the 80's during the day and dropping into the 70's at night. The wind has generally gotten up to 15 mph which produces whitecaps. It has been rather cloudy and those clouds have spawned a few squalls. We arrived on Wednesday afternoon to great weather, mid 80s and sunny. Thursday was more of the same but Friday morning had squalls tearing across the lagoon. The photo below was taken in the afternoon which turned out to be warm and a bit cloudy, but still a perfectly good beach afternoon. The photo also shows how green the island is and how the vegetation has taken over the vacant lot across from Sapphire. It's a panorama stretching from Porto Cupecoy on the left across Les Mammelles in the French lowlands to Belle Créole. The photo on the right is Saturday's sunset. It was cloudy and rained frequently all day long. The sun set into a bank of clouds without a green flash, but it did light up the sky wonderfully. It looks as if the cloudiness will continue and scattered showers may show up next week. 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 5:48 PM. In 2012 the full moon dates are 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. Sunset

SXM-Beaches: David's Hole, the water-filled cave at the eastern edge of Bay Rouge, is gone. Heavy rains in early December caused the cliff to collapse, blocking up the cave. There was a story with photos in the Daily Herald. The article has both before and after photos. On the right is one of our before photos from SXM-Beaches.

There is a beach at Sapphire, although a bit steep. See the photo below.

Work is continuing on the two new beach bars next to Ma Ti Beach. They have cleared several hundred yards of jungle between the road and the waterline.

I got an email concerning the ray that was cruising off Pelican and Simpson Bay beaches. The writer claimed to get a very close look and it was twice as large as I reported, giving it a six to eight foot wingspan. That's positively scary.

David's Hole

The Affair Beach reading: The Affair: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child - about $18 for the hardcover, $10 for paperback - Published 27 Sep 2011 - Amazon says: "Everything starts somewhere. . . .For elite military cop Jack Reacher, that somewhere was Carter Crossing, Mississippi, way back in 1997. A lonely railroad track. A crime scene. A coverup. A young woman is dead, and solid evidence points to a soldier at a nearby military base. But that soldier has powerful friends in Washington. Reacher is ordered undercover to find out everything he can, to control the local police, and then to vanish. Reacher is a good soldier. But when he gets to Carter Crossing, he finds layers no one saw coming, and the investigation spins out of control. Local sheriff Elizabeth Deveraux has a thirst for justice and an appetite for secrets. Uncertain they can trust one another, Reacher and Deveraux reluctantly join forces. Reacher works to uncover the truth, while others try to bury it forever. The conspiracy threatens to shatter his faith in his mission, and turn him into a man to be feared. A novel of unrelenting suspense that could only come from the pen of #1 New York Times bestselling author Lee Child, The Affair is the start of the Reacher saga, a thriller that takes Reacher and his readers right to the edge . . . and beyond. With Reacher, #1 New York Times bestselling author Lee Child has created "a series that stands in the front rank of modern thrillers" (The Washington Post)."

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 Sapphire's beach. There is enough sand for beach chairs, but there is a pretty steep drop-off for those wanting to get in the Caribbean. Still, that's the most sand I've seen in many years.


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.

View of Saba Activities: On the left is a view off our Caribbean balcony on Saturday. It's actually quite sunny but there are clouds, especially on the southern horizon. Someplace in the pea soup is Saba and the boat out on the high seas is Random Wind. If you weren't sure, the telephoto shot on the right should clear things up.

We chatted with Neil Roebert from the Lagoon Pub Crawl on Wednesday night after he returned to his home berth at Skipjack's. He's doing fine and the pub crawl (and various other cruises) are doing well. Both the Pub Crawl and Random Wind sponsor a contest on SXM-Info, although the easy way to get one is to rent our condo which comes with both those coupons and many more.

Random Wind

Jeff, Deepti, Kamal, and Raj Shopping: There was a thread on jewelry repair on TTOL. It started with a question on where to go for repair work and devolved into several nice words about DK Gems. I weighed in with our experience which has been quite good. Small repairs are made here on the island quickly. Major repairs generally go to NY. That's Jeff, Deepti, Kamal, and Raj on the left.

I've just seen some of the new swimsuits at Endless Summer Swimwear. I may not be an expert on ladies swimsuits, but I have looked at many of them over the years. There's a nice one on the right, a few more on their logo ad on SXM-Shopping, and many more on their website. If you need one, go to the logo ad and get the coupon for 10% off, then go to either location (27 Front Street in Pburg or 3 Airport Road in Simpson Bay) for a wonderful shopping experience.


Fruit and veg Groceries: We went to the Grande Marché in Cole Bay for some major shopping on Thursday. They had no Guadeloupe melons but they did have Guadeloupe tomatoes. It's bonus time when you can buy a tomato grown and ripened in soil and they are shipped from a few hundred miles away. The bananas and avocados are nice also.   Chaumes  
We also picked up some cheeses: Pont L'Eveque ($14/lb), Bleu de Bresse ($16.50/lb), Morbier ($$8/lb, very cheap), and Chaumes (above right, $14/lb). A quick check at US Market showed the Morbier was essentially the same price. If you want some in the US (or Canada), check out Olive Nation. The Gourmet Food Store can deliver fine French cheeses (but not Chaumes) to your door. You can't bring many cheeses back on the airplane as the US frowns on young raw milk cheeses.  

Alcohol: We went to Select Wine Cellar on Thursday to start filling our "wine cellar", in truth, a small closet with shelves that can hold a couple cases of red wine. The refrigerator can hold about a case of white and rosé. We picked up some 2010 Chablis from Gerard Tremblay ($18). Sylvain carries the Petit Chablis at $16.70 but we think the real stuff is worth the extra money. We had thoroughly enjoyed a 2009 Savigny les Beaune Premier Cru Les Peuillets from Girard at lunch, so we bought three more bottles ($32.50). It's a great year for Burgundy and quite young by our standards. As expected, it has plenty of fruit, but the surprise is that it wasn't very tannic. The tannins come from the stems and skins, so if the skins and stems are removed from the must early, the wine will not be as tannic and will be more drinkable with minimal age. There is a question as to how long it will hold up, but the vintage of 2002 was similar and we are just now enjoying some of the better bottles in our cellar, so I'm not too worried.

But I digress. We also got some 2009 Pommard Vieilles Vignes at $42.50 for special occasions. For a really special occasion (today is our anniversary, for instance) we choose the 2005 Deutz Champagne ($68), but we did pick up a couple bottles of the Belin Champagne on sale for $30 each. That's a great bargain. For ordinary drinking we picked up some plain Bourgogne from both Amiot (2009, $24) and Girard (2010, $17.50). We tasted the two together at Piazza Pascal as they were looking for some Burgundy. The first difference was that the Amiot was very dark in the glass, nearly opaque, while the Girard looked faded despite its youth. The Amiot also had more fruit and more flavor, although a lighter Burgundy would go well with the lighter fish dishes that Pascal prepares. It was fine with my seafood linguini while the Amiot was better with Martha's raviolis stuffed with duck confit and morels.

Chablis and Savigny-Les-Beaune

Traffic: The construction running through Simpson Bay has ended, but high season has started. While there are reports of driving east from Maho and Mullet to Cole Bay or the turnoff to Pburg with little trouble, there are also reports of considerable delays especially after 3PM. In years past,traffic heading east would start to back up at 3 to 4 in the afternoon and coagulate as the bridge opened twice in the next two hours. On Wednesday at about 2PM Unity Car Rental picked us up at the airport and breezed eastward to their location near Mailbox in Simpson Bay. We got our car in no time and headed for the Maho Market to pick up a few things and were at Sapphire by 3PM. On Thursday we headed through the French side, noting major road construction from the French bridge to the Marigot roundabout. It was slow but steady and then moved smartly through Bellevue and on to Select Wine Cellar and a lunch at Champagne Snack Bar. We then came back through Simpson Bay heading west at 4PM with no trouble.

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: Our flight was uneventful, smooth and early. Usually we have two flights, one from Albany to Newark with a delightful evening in the Newark Sheraton, followed by the 7:50AM Continental, now United, direct flight to SXM. We arrived at Albany Airport about two hours before our Tuesday evening flight to Newark, thanked our tenants who had driven us to the airport, and said good-by. We walked into the terminal and as I reached for my fanny pack for tickets and passports, my heart stopped. No fanny pack. It was on the floor of their car. I ran out of the terminal to see their taillights about 300 yards away, but they would take a left and another left to pass by on the main highway. I could still race through the parking lot and reach the highway before them, especially with a bit of assistance from the traffic light. Doing my best Dustin Hoffman Marathon Man impersonation, I made it to the highway but it was six lanes across and I couldn't get to their side of the road. I saw them, I waved frantically, and then I waved good-by. They have no cell phone and we weren't even sure they were heading home (an hour and a half drive). I went back into the terminal and rented a car, leaving Martha and the cat behind in case they saw the pack and returned to the airport. Martha canceled out the first leg of our journey making sure that we still had the rest of the reservations and I headed after the pack. I called the tenant's house and left a message. I called our other tenant and asked her to tape a message to their door and look for their arrival. They did go home. I did get the passports, and about three hours later, I was picking Martha and the cat up at Albany Airport. It took another three hours to reach the hotel in Newark. The next morning we returned the car at the airport and headed for terminal C for Continental. But wait you say, it's now a codeshare on United. We got back on the Airtrain and went back to terminal A. After that, it was uneventful, smooth and early. I can remember more placid times when I got onto the island and back with a driver's license and a library card.

Green logo Nature: On the right is our little buddy. He lives on the balcony amongst the potted plants and gives our cat some exercise. He was displaying his mouth pouch in an attempt to impress a potential mate, but I couldn't time the photo well enough.

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

Small Island stories: The FAA has downgraded Curaçao's Civil Aviation from category one to category two. I don't know exactly what that means, but it's not good. Of course, country St Maarten still hasn't set up its Civil Aviation Authority, so PJIA is part of Curaçao's downgrade. One thing it does mean is that WinAir will lose its codesharing with US Airways. Oh, and the airport is rationing jet fuel as they are about to run out. I am not making this up. Nonetheless, a Daily Herald headline said out local governor envisions the country as a "centre of excellence' in the region. The sad part is that he may be right.  


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
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 | 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 25 Dec the euro was at 1.304 and today it is at 1.268, about a 3% change in three weeks. Standard & Poor's downgraded both France and Austria, removing their AAA status. They also downgraded several other eurozone countries but they are the ones you have already heard about (the PIIGS) or ones you probably don't know about. Fitch and Moody did not follow suit, but at least some one of the rating companies thinks that two major and supposedly solid European countries are in the same soup as the US.

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 Wednesday evening we headed to Skipjack's for dinner. Traffic at 6:30 was a breeze and we got a parking spot at the front door. We had a bottle of the Concannon Pinot Noir ($31) and the tuna carpaccio, extremely thin slices of fresh tuna with pepper, diced red onion, capers, and an olive oil drizzle - squeeze a lime to your liking (below left, $16). Martha had the calamari salad ($17) and I had the blackened grouper (below center, $24). The bill came to about $101 after they added a 15% tip. [correction: after the government raised the turnover tax to 5%, they made it clear that the tax was not to be displayed on the customer's bill.] That's a wonderful price for fresh seafood prepared well. They give out a $50 certificate in the SXM-Info contest and one is available to all renters of my condo. Use that and this meal comes in at half price!
  Concannon Pinot Noir
  Tuna carpaccio Blackend grouper

Bruno Terrace Tuna Tartare
Champagne Snack Bar
On Thursday 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 in this terrace, on a lovely sunny day, enjoying a bottle of 2009 Savigny-Les-Beaune Premier Cru - Les Peuillets from Jean-Jacques Girard. There are always at least two specials on the blackboard here and today they were a seafood pasta and a beef tartare. Sylvain who had brought the wine from his shop averred that Burgundy goes with anything and ordered the seafood pasta, Martha had the beef tartare (above right), and I had steak frites, a bavette with crisp French fries and a bit of salad. The wine did go with everything. With a bottle of sparkling water and coffees, we still spent well under $70 for the three 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.

Piazza Pascal
We went to dinner at Piazza Pascal on Friday evening and had a wonderful time. It was the night before timeshare changeover day, so everyone was having a last restaurant fling and several of them were here. The upstairs terrace now has a roof and it was full all night. The downstairs has been remodeled with a slightly larger kitchen and bar, making the indoors dining area a bit smaller, but everyone wants to sit upstairs or in the courtyard. The wine list has also been remodeled and is much larger. There are still inexpensive wines to be had, but there is now a larger collection of better wines. One of our favorites is the 2007 Castello di Nipozzano chianti Ruffina Riserva at $48. We had this at La Gondola last year and liked it so much that I bought a couple cases from the Wine Cask in Cambridge, MA.

As mentioned above in the alcohol section, we had brought two bottles of Burgundy for Donna and Pascal to taste. Martha ordered the special ravioli with duck confit and portobello mushrooms (below left, $25 - they are still doing 1 to 1) and I ordered the Linguini Di Napoli (below right, $25). The sauce on the ravioli was wonderful and the duck/mushroom combo worked quite well with the larger, more flavorful Amiot Bourgogne. My somewhat lighter seafood dish worked well with the lighter Girard Bourgogne. Martha had four large raviolis (more than enough for her) and a dollop of tasty julienned veg. My dish had large mussels in the shell in the four corners of the dish, smaller mussels throughout, a bit of fish, a large shrimp, and tentacles throughout the linguini and tomato sauce. We finished with espresso and complimentary lemoncello. Our bill came to $56, very inexpensive for such fine food. Unfortunately, it was busy and we were tired so we left before we could catch up with Donna and Pascal.

ravioli with duck confit and portobello mushrooms Linguini di Napoli

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 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.

We bumped into Elisa Cohen at the Grande Marché on Thursday and she said that her restaurant on Orient Beach, Bikini Beach, was starting up the Thursday evening Thai Buffet again that very evening. If you like Thai food, this is your chance to try almost everything.

Last September we reported that Uncle Harry's had closed. Recently we heard that it had reopened with the same name, but Harry is not there. Reports on TTOL don't sound so good as most people put up with the location and food because of Harry. Sharon, the Queen of SXM, remarked that they had pushed the lobster price to $28.95 per pound while Skipjack's was selling it for $17-20. It's still a great place to stop for a drink as traffic backs up from the bridge to the airport in the late afternoon.

Fish Pot has not reopened this season, although I doubt that will upset many people. It was here before we arrived in the early 90's and I never could accept their prices. If you want better food in a lovely spot with a great sea view, consider nearby L'Escapade Restaurant or Le Tastevin.

Uncle Harry's


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 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."