St Maarten/St Martin
27 May 2012 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: We are back in the US since early April. On the right is one of our last sunsets from the Caribbean balcony of our condo. Since our return, I've been watching the morning temperature steadily climb. In most of March it was 75-77 F around 7AM. It was around 79 in late April. It started hitting 81 at sunrise in early May but has backed off to 79 again recently. About 70% of the days had a chance of precipitation, but as usual some areas get no rain and very few areas get enough rain to be bothersome. Early May featured a bad week with thunderstorms or a chance of thunderstorms every day including a forecast of such heavy rain (and consequent flooding) that they closed the schools on Friday 4 May! Below left is a shot of the upper levels of Porto Cupecoy taken from the hill at the French/Dutch border. That's Saba in the distance with a rain cloud moistening the rain forest at the top of Mt Scenery. Recently the temperature has ranged from 79 in the morning to 84 in the afternoon with partly cloudy skies and a nice 15 to 20 mph breeze. The coming week will be similar with a chance of rain in the week following that.

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 6:44 PM, gaining 15 minutes in the last 6 weeks. It will gain another 6 minutes up to the solstice on 20 June at which point there will be 13 hours and 20 minutes of sunlight on the island. We're back in the US and in NYC the sun sets on the solstice at 8:32, giving them 15 hours and 9 minutes of sunshine. Heading 2.5 degrees further north and not even a degree to the east brings you to our home where the sun sets on that day at 8.38 PM and we get 15 hours and 27 minutes of sunshine. In 2012 the full moon dates are 4 Jun, 3 Jul, 1 Aug, 31 Aug (a blue moon), 29 Sep, 29 Oct, 28 Nov, and 28 Dec.

SXM-Beaches: On the left is a recent photo of Petite Plage on the eastern side of Grand Case Beach Club which is on the eastern end of the long sweep of Grand Case Beach. The little beach is not exactly open to the public and has enough sand to please guests at the Grand Case Beach Club. On the right is a photo taken from the other side of GCBC's rocky point looking to the west. On this side heading back into town, the beach gets rather thin. There is enough sand to enter the water at nearby Flamboyant Beach Villas and Esther has a sea wall with plenty of sand on her property (below left).

The old location of Amandier and Le Shore reopened as Le Moon late last season and they have some sand. In town Calmos Café and Zen It on either side of the ghut (that's a local word for drainage ditch) have sand. In the center of the main strip, Love Hotel has sand and appears to have a small restaurant although there is no mention of it on their website, though there are photos of food. At the far end of the village California Restaurant, Ti Provençal, and Rainbow Café all have sand and beach chairs available. Generally Rainbow has enough sand to serve lunch on the beach. Wendy K has been there a few times and there are reviews of all three on the SXM-Restaurant site.

Outside of town, Bleu Emeraude (above right) has some sand, but no restaurant. It would be a lovely place to stay as it is very new, has a great view of the wide sweep of the bay with Anguilla in the distance, and a rather private beach.

Beach reading: The Fear Index by Robert Harris - (about $14 hardcover) - At the nexus of high finance and sophisticated computer programming, a terrifying future may be unfolding even now. Dr. Alex Hoffmann's name is carefully guarded from the general public, but within the secretive inner circles of the ultrarich he is a legend. He has developed a revolutionary form of artificial intelligence that predicts movements in the financial markets with uncanny accuracy. His hedge fund, based in Geneva, makes billions. But one morning before dawn, a sinister intruder breaches the elaborate security of his lakeside mansion, and so begins a waking nightmare of paranoia and violence as Hoffmann attempts, with increasing desperation, to discover who is trying to destroy him. Fiendishly smart and suspenseful, The Fear Index gives us a searing glimpse into an all-too-recognizable world of greed and panic. It is a novel that forces us to confront the question of what it means to be human. It is Robert Harris's most spellbinding and audacious novel to date. Somewhat timely given the shenanigans on Wall Street.

His first novel was Fatherland, set in a triumphant Germany's post-World War II Berlin, a major, if scary "what if?" story. Pompeii is backdropped by the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius days before the massive volcanic eruption. The Ghost Writer describess the shadowy world of contemporary North Atlantic politics. All were great reads and intelligent stories.

ginger Sapphire Beach Club: We are back in the US, so our condo is available until early January. The rate ranges from $700 to $1000 per week over the low season. You'll get a 10% discount from Unity Car Rental, one of the longest running and most trusted agencies on the island, and many more coupons as well, including the use of our 2012 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 Sapphire from the Dutch/French border on the hill just past Porto Cupecoy.

Here's a panoramic shot of the morning parade of incoming cruise ships heading past our condo with a very cloudy Saba in the distance.

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: Like Generalissimo Francisco Franco, Hard Rock has still not bought the Simpson Bay Resort. Don't despair, there are plenty of other spots, for instance VistaRoyale, aptly yclept, as the view over the infinity pool is stunning. And now it's an even better deal as Alan Samit, the owner, has said you can take 15% off the listed prices for the rest of 2012 by saying "Erich sent me."

Here's another bargain: We are renting our condo for $100 per night for any days within a month of the rental date. As usual, that is the price, no additional nonsense. We cover all taxes and service charges. We just ask that you tip the maid $5 to $10 per day.

Activities: Here's a great activity: Head up Hope Hill overlooking Orient Beach and you'll find several shops selling clothing and souvenirs, Paradise View Restaurant, and Bernie's Local Rums & Spices and Rum Tasting Emporium. The view from up here includes the wide sweep of Orient with Pinel, Tintamare, and Green Cay, and St Barts in the distance. The restaurant offers a great way to enjoy the view and breakfast or lunch. Afterwards, stop in a Bernie's to sample Ma Dou Dou or other rums, including Père Labat from the small island of Marie-Galante off Guadeloupe. Bernie also has spices and chutneys. She rescues cats and dogs so there are always several there that would appreciate a donation. On the right are the sugarbirds that flock to the feeder.

Construction: A barge dumping sand in Simpson Bay and the clearing of land in next to Port de Plaisance seems to be the start of the causeway project according to the Daily Herald. The project seems to be going forward despite the break-up of the coalition government. Sarah Wescott-Williams and Theo Heylinger seem to have parted ways. Sarah joined up with another coalition partner to form a new government without Theo. As he was one of the chief proponents of the $150 million project, some thought it might be canceled or slowed. Frans Richardson, a member of parliament, said that it would be difficult to stop a project that had contractual obligations and a Central Bank Bond.

And shortly after that, Theo Heyliger outlined the projects that had been started and others that will start soon. He mentioned the causeway, saying that permits, contracts, and financing agreements had been signed, but that the incoming government could stop the project. He didn't mention that that if they did renege on signed commitments, future business partners with the country of St Maarten would be few and far between. Dutch Quarter will be getting better drainage (more on that below), as will Cole Bay. Union Road from the border to the Kruythoff Roundabout is scheduled to be reconstructed. The Prins Bernhard Bridge at the intersection at the entrance to downtown Philipsburg will be redesigned as a rotary, removing the last stop light on the island.

And just this week as the new government was signed in, new Minister of Infrastructure William Marlin said that if t government could stop the causeway project, he "would recommend ... it." He then proceeded to mention "serious hot water" and backpedal.

Groceries: On the right is a pintade salad that Martha composed from the leftovers of the pintade (we call them guinea fowl) that was featured in the previous newsletter. We got the bird in the frozen food case at the US Market in Sandy Ground. They have fresh birds and if the birds don't sell, they become frozen birds at a greatly reduced price. This is our second meal from this $16 bird. It's based on the salade Niçoise that Martha loves at Kakao Beach. It contains lettuce (of course) black olives, hard-boiled egg, onion, and pintade substituted for tuna and sautéd zucchini substituted for green beans.

In other grocery news, Le Grand Marché stores will join IGA (Independent Grocers Alliance), becoming Le Grand Marché IGA. Trips right off the tongue, doesn't it. OK, maybe not, but it does rhyme! The IGA really is independent, in that all members are franchisees - they own their store and have banded together to achieve greater clout when purchasing products and in order to have their own store brand. In fact, the store brand was the main thing that the GM of Grand Marché mentioned in the announcement.

Alcohol: On the island we get most of our good wine from Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar. Wendy K who used to rent in Marigot gets most of her better wine from Martial at Le Goût de Vin in Marigot. Both are quite knowledgeable, Martial has a larger wine list, but Sylvain has a parking lot.

If you are looking for bargains on wine in the US, Lot18 has some great, though limited, offers. Almost every Friday from 1 to 5 PM, they offer free shipping on four to six offers. The offers are from two to six bottles, generally the same wine, but sometimes a vertical tasting from one vineyard, sometimes a range of wines from a single winery. I've never mentioned this because I never know what offers will be released until Friday morning and they are over at 5PM. That's pretty old news for a Sunday newsletter. On the right was an offer from Saturday, but even this offer won't be there today! However, if you follow this link you will get a $10 credit when you sign-up. Do so and you will get the announcements on Friday, so you can take advantage of these great deals.

Travel: The Daily Herald had a story about a Cuban businessman from Miami who was fined 4000 NAf (about $2200) for failing to declare the cash he was bringing into the country. He had about $21,000 and the SXM limit is 20,000 NAf (about $11,000). Beyond that, you must declare it at customs. They actually tried to prosecute him for money laundering, claiming that his possession of several cell phones indicated that he was a criminal. The judge tossed that charge out. As an aside, he should have declared the money as he departed the US. US Customs says: "There is no limit on the amount of money that can be taken out of or brought into the United States. However, if a person or persons traveling together and filing a joint declaration (CBP Form 6059-B) have $10,000 or more in currency or negotiable monetary instruments, they must fill out a "Report of International Transportation of Currency and Monetary Instruments" FinCEN 105 (former CF 4790)."

In an unrelated story, Delta says it will start a JFK-SXM nonstop in December.

Traffic: About noon on 23 April another truck came down the hill from Philipsburg and overturned at the new roundabout (it's called the Osborne Kruythoff Roundabout in honor of a character who unofficially directed traffic for several years) The full story is in the Daily Herald, but it's the usual story, excessive speed, only for the first time in my memory, the driver did not claim that the brakes failed. This time, the driver was OK and no one else was hurt. A pedestrian was killed in an accident here before the roundabout was built.

It was interesting that the same Daily Herlad issue that carried Theo's summary of construction projects had a lead story about a 2:20 AM crash that occurred on on the Prins Bernhard Bridge. An Elantra ran that stoplight and hit a Ford F350 taxi. In general the rotaries installed over the last few years have improved traffic flow on both sides of the island.

Green logo Nature: On the right is personal trainer and snake charmer Marci Cooke from Marci's Mega Gym with a close friend, a python I believe.

Our office is well over 100% solar-powered and our hosting company servers are about 130% wind-powered. I'm happy to report that in the 32 days before 17 April we bought 427 kwh and sold 431 kwh to NYSEG, our electricity supplier. We still paid $16.15. The St Maarten Harbour Group installed six windmills capable of generating 4 kw near the cruise ship docks.

Small Island story: Huey Long said, "Every man a king." Here on the island, the residents of Dutch Quarter stopped work on a project because they had decided the pipe being installed was too small to fix their drainage problem. The "Every man an Engineer" approach was abandoned when the head of the government public works explained that the project to fix their drainage problem had just been awarded to another contractor last week. It had not started yet and was not part of the project they were blocking.


An alert reader reminded me that in my return to the US and income tax haze, I forgot to award prizes in the 15 April newsletter. I immediately did so and notified all concerned. The winners can be found on the contest page of the SXM-Info website. There are almost no entries in the current contest, prizes to be awarded on 15 July.

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:

15 April to 15 July 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 July to 14 October 2012 | 14 October to 9 December 2012
same cast of characters as current contest



On 1 April Mar the Euro was at 1.334 and today it is at 1.251, a major change and the lowest it has been in almost two years. Greece is certainly worrisome, but it is a tiny part of the overall picture. We are heading to Paris in September, so this is good news for us, if it lasts that long.

California Restaurant is still offering 1 to 1. La Villa, Piazza Pascal and Rainbow Café, also in Grand Case, are offering 1 to 1 for cash. Almost all other restaurants on the French side that we have visited have offered us a better rate than 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.

Champagne Snack Bar
On a Friday last season we headed over to Select Wine Cellar to see Sylvain, pick up some wine, and have a lunch next door at Champagne Snack Bar. Bruno always has a seafood special on Friday and today we found the mixed seafood on some veg with rice (below center, $16). The seafood included a large moule, some shrimp, a large scallop, and two small filets that depend on what is available, but generally it is a pair chosen from grouper, mahi, and salmon. The other special was a steak with a pepper sauce, a bit of salad, and frites (below right, also $16). For wine, I chose a 2009 Chambolle-Musigny Les Mombies from Chantal Lescure (below left, $68), rather expensive, but as it came over from Select Wine, the price was retail, without a restaurant markup, and it was very good.

Palm Beach Restaurant
Wendy K writes: It was quite windy in mid-February when we went to Orient Beach, but we had made plans, so off we went to Palm Beach for lunch. Ainslie and I had gone three seasons ago, not long after they had opened, and it was a memorable experience. With the wind today, and not taking a transat [ed note: transat is short for trans-Atlantic, and in this case refers to the deck chairs on the trans-Atlantic ocean liners from an earlier time] and umbrella, the experience wasn't quite so impressive, but the service was friendly and top notch, and the food was excellent. We drank a Serame Merlot (19€, bottom left), chilled. Not bad. Tony had the "bavette" - flank steak stuffed with goat cheese, served with a green salad, and he requested frites (22€, bottom center). I had to try and compare the tartare de boeuf (19€, below right) with the others I've had this year. I still prefer to prepare the tartare myself, as I generally don't care for the mayo or olive oil that the restaurants generally use. However, this one was made perfectly, and was delicious, served with a tiny vegetable garnish, and a bowl of frites. The bill came to 60€. They did 1€ = $1.25, when the was 1.34, so that's a bargain, bringing our lunch up to $75. Highly recommended; especially for anyone who wishes to spend a "pampered" day at Orient.

Les Toqués
From a visit by Wendy K in mid-April: We drank our usual vin rouge for 16€. You can see from the pics we are sitting at the back of the restaurant, where there always seems to be a nice breeze coming in through the arched windows in the courtyard filled with very old bouganvillea. Most people sit in the front, overlooking the French market and harbor, but we like the cool, more quiet interior.

Tony had an escallope de dinde (turkey breast) sauce creme forestiere (a mushroom cream sauce). His choice for the side dish was the sautéed legumes, which are consistently outstanding (13€). I like the pizza Napolitaine (anchovies, capers, and black olives) at 11€, accompanied by a bottle of fiery olive oil, spiced with scotch bonnet peppers. I eat half, and the other half becomes our dinner.

The total bill was 40€ (about $60) for a relaxing "European" lunch. Parking this week around the harbor seems a bit better. Two days till "off-season".

2012 Restaurant Annual Vacations Dates
Hideaway Restaurant 1-25 September.
Piazza Pascal mid August- mid September.

News and Changes: Poutine! If you don't know what it is, you probably don't want to know. However, there was a thread on TTOL recently started by an unregistered (always suspicious), asking where to get Poutine on the island. My answer is always Pineapple Pete. Pete, or Pierre, is French-Canadian and has brought a bit of the heart-stopping, cholesterol-laced cuisine of his native land to our little corner of paradise. It turns out that the delicacy is also available at the Get Wet Beach Bar on the waterfront in Philipsburg, the Palms Grill at Sonesto Maho, and the Ocean Club bar and grill. If you really want to know what it is, this site will tell you, but I warn you it has graphic photos.

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

Porto Cupecoy Nights: Porto Cupecoy is continuing the Monday night Film Festival, showing US films for the next few months. Go to their site to see the schedule. Family Fun Night continues. 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.


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 Cantin, 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

If you take a short survey on the SXM-Privilege Card site, you can get a FREE 2013 card. Hurry as this is a limited time promotion!

  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."