St Maarten/St Martin
15 July 2012 Newsletter

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Contests | Restaurants | Bargains and Happenings


Cupecoy sunset

Weather: In the first couple weeks after the last newsletter, the weather pattern shifted into full summer mode: Partly cloudy with a chance of ran and thunderstorms with an overnight low of about 80 and a daytime high of about 86F, making it around 90 on the heat index. We were having much the same in the NE US, except our overnight low got into the 40s and the daytime high rarely got out of the 70s. All things considered, I'd rather be on the island. On 5-6 June Venus crossed the sun, ie there was a transit of Venus. Here are 20 photos from around the world. You really should look, as it won't happen again until 2117. You probably won't be here for that one. Toward the end of June, the Sahara dust was pretty bad. It coated cars and people, especially people already coated with sunscreen. Over the last couple weeks summer hit with a vengeance: high 80's during the day and low 80's at night, but with minimal rain.

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 6:52 PM. We have passed the solstice (20 June) so there will fewer hours of sunlight and earlier sunsets until next December when we reach the minimum sunlight of about 11 hours on the winter solstice. The photo (left) of the new moon was taken two days after the solstice. In 2012 the full moon dates are 1 Aug, 31 Aug (a blue moon), 29 Sep, 29 Oct, 28 Nov, and 28 Dec.

SXM-Beaches: On the left is a view of Simpson Bay from 1984. Compare this with the panoramic shot below. Unfortunately, I was not in an airplane when I took my shot below, so the actual beach is not visible with the bit of land separating the Caribbean from the lagoon. A more recent shot would show that strip to be a bit wider as a result of numerous fillings in the lagoon, both legal and illegal. The shot below does show that Cole Bay on the far side of the lagoon is a much more developed area with the Almond Grove development reaching up the hillside.

Beach reading: Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard - (about $11 paperback) - The Transit of Venus is considered Shirley Hazzard's most brilliant novel. It tells the story of two orphan sisters, Caroline and Grace Bell, as they leave Australia to start a new life in post-war England. What happens to these young women--seduction and abandonment, marriage and widowhood, love and betrayal--becomes as moving and wonderful and yet as predestined as the transits of the planets themselves. Gorgeously written and intricately constructed, Hazzard's novel is a story of place: Sydney, London, New York, Stockholm; of time: from the fifties to the eighties; and above all, of women and men in their passage through the displacements and absurdities of modern life. It's a very old book now, but it won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1980. Martha highly recommends it.

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 plumeria from Sapphire's gardens.

The bar/restaurant at Sapphire closed at the end of May.

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: Hard Rock has still not bought the Simpson Bay Resort, but Island Real Estate (run by Chef Dino Jagtiani's brother Arun) issued an e-newsletter on Friday offering ten luxury penthouse units on Mullet Bay Beach where the "Building 90" once stood. Nice location, but a bit pricey as it is 1.6 mil plus constructions costs.

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: From 1 July to 9 September, take a 10% discount on all reservation made or pay five nights and get one night free at Bleu Emeraude in Grand Case.

Here's our 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.

The businesses giveth and the government taketh away: Jules James from the UP Party filed a bill to change the timeshare tax from $50 per week to $10 per day. It seems that stays of less than a week incurred no tax, and stays of 13 days paid for only one week. This bill raises the weekly take and catches those who make shorter stays. It isn't a law yet, but be prepared for higher fees in the future. The complete article is in the Daily Herald.

Activities: Zuzu and Alain have sold their original catamaran (Flagship I) and bought a slightly larger one (Flagship II at 46 ft). SXM Cat Charters still offers a variety of sailing packages, ranging from a day sail to a 2 day, one night sail, to a regular weekly (or longer) charter. The boat has four cabins each with a bathroom en suite with additional accommodations for the captain and hostess/cook. The website has more photos and all the details.

On the night before we left last Spring, we went over to La Bamba Beach Bar to hear Category 5. That's King Bob and Branko from Serbia below left and right with the bass player and drummer in the center. La Bamba is near the bridge in Cole Bay, on Kimsha Beach next to Ocean Explorers. The Sunday night band is a regular thing and they do a full moon party that is much easier to reach than the one at Kali's on Friar's Bay.

Branko and King Bob

Groceries: Last newsletter showed a pintade salad that Martha composed from the leftovers of the pintade we had earlier. 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. On the right is our third meal from this $16 bird. This is soup with a bit of meat from the bird, stock made from the bones, skins, and scraps, and vegetables.

Below left is a cutting board full of chanterelles followed by a lone porcini (cepe). Both varieties are found in our woods. We covered the cepe with a five gallon bucket protecting it from snails and slugs. When the edges turned up and the cap darkened, it was time to harvest it for use in our morning omelet (The third photo has measurements in centimeters.) On the Fourth of July we had a red (pepper), white (onion), and blue (our mushroom) omelet. The flesh of the mushroom turned blue when exposed to air. On the island, we find that US Market (either at the French Bridge or Hope Estate) carries the largest assortment of fresh mushrooms.

Alcohol: Snooth just had an interesting article on six villages in Burgundy. St Romain (left) in southern Burgundy was mentioned, along with Pernand Vergelesses and Givry. You may recall that four years ago we celebrated my birthday by touring France, concentrating on Burgundy and we visited those three towns. This year it is Martha's turn and we will be spending a week in a flat with a view of the Eiffel Tower. We will tour Burgundy the week before we visit Paris, quite possibly with Sylvain from Select Wine Cellar as he buys wine for the coming high season.

We just bought 12 cases from the Zachy's $10-15-20 wine sale. They offer many wines at these price points with shipping included. The wines being offered sell for 1.5 to 2 times the sale price, so this is a pretty good discount. Eight of the 12 cases were Italian wines including a Ripasso, the wonderful wine that is halfway between Valpolicella and Amarone and a Prosecco, which goes well with hot tubs. They also have some interesting Rhone wines and we got a Chalone Chardonnay for $20, about half price.

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.

Saratoga Wine Exchange is selling Chapoutier's Domaine De Bila Haut from Haut Cotes Du Roussillon Villages , a great red wine rated at 94 points by Parker for a case price that works out to $11.44 per bottle. There is tax (in NY), but shipping was free when I looked on Friday.

Green logo Nature: On the right is a moth that visited our condo one evening. This one happened to be about four inches across.

Our office is well over 100% solar-powered and our hosting company servers are about 130% wind-powered. In the week before the solstice we generated eight-nine percent of the electricity used in the house and farm. The following week, which included the day with the maximum amount of sunshine, we only generated sixty-two percent of the electricity consumed. That was primarily because we turned on the A/C, but also because it was cloudier.

Small Island story: Some things never change department: The Dutch side of the island suffered a brief total blackout at 1:18pm on Monday 25 June. A circuit breaker detected too much current and shut down the system. The good news is that they were back on line within two hours.


Winners of the contest that ended today:
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October) - Vicky Davis
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Georgia Baxter
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - Georgia Baxter
Marci's Mega Gym - Two for One week with a shake - no entries
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate - Georgia Baxter
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two - Georgia Baxter
SXM-Privilege Discount Card - One free monthly card - Bruce Spring
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Vikki Whitley
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more - Nancy MCCarren
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two - Georgia Baxter
Escargot Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two - Michael Gilmore

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 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:

We met with Sylvian at Select Wine Cellar, enjoyed the tasting, and opted for the Belin Champange for the free bottle. It was very good. I will try and find this at home to drink again. He was a very nice host. We also went to Peg Leg Pub for the steak dinner. We had the place to ourselves with two other couples. The $50 certificate kept the cost under $100 after wine, main course, and appetizers. I enjoyed entering the contest and look forward to future entries. Over 16 days we only had only one 4 minute rain shower; otherwise the weather was beautiful. We tried the Hideaway Restaurant at La Vista. It was very good as were the other places we dined.

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



On 27 May the Euro was at 1.251 and today it is at 1.225, not much movement in six weeks, but lower still. I think at this point the Europeans have got the euro under control and it will rise.

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.

Le Fourmi

Wendy K reports: Late last season we went to Le Fourmi for a lovely lunch. I had the rumsteak sauce champignons (left, 14€) and Tony had the Paleron de Boeuf brasse a la Borgogone, similar to a pot roast (right, 16€). We drank the same Grimony Bordeaux for 19€.

Kakao Beach Bar
Martha and I had one last leisurely lunch on the beach at Kakao. We had a table with a lovely view of the action on Orient Beach. As usual she had her salade Niçoise (14€, below left) and I added my favorite, a pizza supreme (13€, below center) and a good sturdy wine to go with it all: a 2007 Cotes du Rhone from Guigal (28€, below right). With water and coffees our bill came to about 60€, converted to $80 using a rate a bit better than you could get in a bank. We had a lovely time with good food and good service, one of the best meals you can have with your feet in the sand.

There was a thread on TTOL asking about parking at Piazza Pascal. Parking can be found in the free lot across from Calmos and Pressoir, except it is usually full with restaurant staff before service even starts. Probably less so in the summer, but almost always true in high season. To reach either the free or the pay lot, bear right as you head toward restaurant row. If you do that, you reach restaurant row next to Spicy, across from Zen It. At that point you can turn right to get to the free lot on the other side of the ghut (drainage ditch). Turn left and you go past Blue Martini and turn left again just after it, into the pay parking lot on the left. Donna and Pascal at Piazza Pascal do 1 to 1 on the dollar, so they don't have a lot of profit left to comp your parking. There is a map on the parking lot site that makes the directions a bit clearer and there is a map on the Grand Case site that shows where Piazza Pascal is. A couple weeks later SxmChuck posted a glowing recommendation for the steak at Piazza Pascal.

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

News and Changes: Here's a link to a short video shown on Virgina This Morning (WTVR 6) with Dino Jagtiani preparing his very tasty black bean soup and his gazpacho in the same bowl. This was the initial promotion for a dinner that Mario Tardif, I from Mario's Bistro, Franck Mear from Le Pressoir, and Dino from Rare and Temptation restaurants will do in September in Virginia.

Boo Boo Jam at the northern end of Orient Beach has closed its doors and is seeking voluntary bankruptcy. The union had made life difficult after the management had fired a worker. I don't know who is right or wrong, but business is off on the island. I suspect several more closings over the summer. FaxInfo has a story (in French) calling it "Clap de fin pour le Boo Boo Jam," the final blow for Boo Boo Jam.

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. Antoine 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."