St Maarten/St Martin
14 October 2012 Newsletter

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Contests | Restaurants | Bargains and Happenings


Cupecoy sunset

Weather: We've made it through the worst of the hurricane season with minimal activity. However, the forecast is full of "Chance of Thunderstorms", relieved by "Mostly Cloudy" as tropical storm Rafael came within 55 miles of the island. (see photo right). Lots of boats moved into the lagoon, but the island mostly got rain and 50 mph winds. The surf brought seaweed to the cooling intakes at the power plant and knocked them off line several times, but no major damage has been reported. The temperature is still getting into the upper 80s during the day, upper 70s at night. I spent a glorious week at Pelican one October but Wendy K spent a miserable week in my condo when Hurricane Lenny visited at the end of November (and hurricane season) in 1999.

The box shows the current local conditions and here's the detailed forecast from Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast Sunset tonight will be at 5:50 PM. In 2012 the full moon dates are 29 Oct, 28 Nov, and 28 Dec. Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel.

SXM-Beaches: The big beach news is happening at Orient. First, Boo Boo Jam closed during a big labor dispute. Then it burned. Last I heard, the previous manager was charged with arson.

The other big news is that Norbert Luftman has opened another Bikini Beach next to Elisa Cohen's Bikini Beach. Bikini Beach (original) and Kon Tiki are in legal proceedings against Norbert Luftman's company Sindextour that claims to be the original developer of Orient Beach's Kon Tiki, Kakao, Waikiki, Bikini and Coco, who call themselves the "five stars" of Orient Beach, although the website that started this seems to have disappeared down the old memory home. Then there is the part that Sindextour's Authorization of Temporary Occupation of the property expired in 2009. It's a major mess and you can try to sort it out by reading this Daily Herald article, or maybe not.

There are a few things I am certain about: Elisa is a nice person and a good person. On the left, she is holding a check for $9000 that went "Feed the Children" for Tsunami relief. She raised the money by throwing a free concert at the real Bikini Beach.
Beach reading: Started Early, Took My Dog: A Novel by Kate Atkinson - (about $10 paperback) - Tracy Waterhouse leads a quiet, ordered life as a retired police detective-a life that takes a surprising turn when she encounters Kelly Cross, a habitual offender, dragging a young child through town. Both appear miserable and better off without each other-or so decides Tracy, in a snap decision that surprises herself as much as Kelly. Suddenly burdened with a small child, Tracy soon learns her parental inexperience is actually the least of her problems, as much larger ones loom for her and her young charge. Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie, the beloved detective of novels such as Case Histories, is embarking on a different sort of rescue-that of an abused dog. Dog in tow, Jackson is about to learn, along with Tracy, that no good deed goes unpunished.

We listened to this on Martha's Sansa Fuse MP3 player and laughed out loud several times, despite the subject matter. It helped that Martha had spent about a year in London many years ago. The company I worked for had an office in London and they frequently sent Brits to the US office and I frequently worked over there.

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 hibiscus that we grow outside in NY during the summer.

Last Friday night into Saturday morning we had temperatures in the low 20s. It was widely publicized, so we brought in all our sensitive plants from the terrace. Needless to say, there are many hibiscus plants to be found in Sapphire's gardens. On the right is a brugmansia flower. They are a tropical flower, but I don't believe that I have seen one on the island. This one came from our neighbor, a landscaper architect. We have been raising it on the southern terrace of our house. We certainly brought it in on Friday and on Saturday evening when our neighbors were here for dinner, it bloomed!

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: It's been a pretty bad season VistaRoyale is 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 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.

Activities: One of our favorite sea-going voyages on Celine with Captain Neil. We have bravely ventured out on the Lagoon Pub Crawl as Neil navigated the treacherous waters of the lagoon to take us to several treasured locations. We have enjoyed great food and drink at three different restaurants in one evening. Seriously, it is great fun, a great way to meet other similarly-minded tourists, and a great way to sample three restaurants in one evening.

Neil will take you out of the lagoon for several day trips on his cat, but if you crave something a bit wilder, check out Seaside Charters. It doesn't have to be quite as wild as this photo. It could be as serene as a pleasurable cruise to a secluded spot for a lovely lunch. Check out the website and find something you'd like.

Alcohol: We just got back from eight days in Burgundy with Sylvain from Select Wine Cellar. You can read all about our complete trip (eight days in Burgundy and a week in Paris) in our features section. There are some lovely photos, but I will warn you that all the wineries that we visited are mentioned, all the restaurants, all the museums, and both residences (a gite in Burgundy and an apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower!). The big news on wine is that the 2010 vintage appears to be as good as 2009, but the 2011 was a difficult year. We had some that was fine, some that wasn't. Choosing carefully should get you wines almost as good as the 2009 and 2010 vintages. That makes three good vintages in a row and it should keep prices down until the 2012 comes out. At that point, I hope you have a cellar full of good wines at good prices because 2012 featured very weird conditions and a lot of hail damage. Unless the grapes are picked carefully and vinified correctly, the wine will not be good, but there won't be as much because of the hail. Sylvain is expanding his inventory, but I'm looking forward to returning and tasting some old friends (the 2009 Burgundies) and some recent purchases from the 2010 and 2011 vintages.

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 don't won't bother to tell you what was offered last Friday because the offers expired at 5PM on Friday. That's pretty old news for a Sunday newsletter. I will say that some offers are pretty good and 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.

Green logo Nature: On the right is one of the turtles at the entrance to Marci's Mega Gym 2000.

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

Small Island story: I confess to being on features section">vacation in France and neglecting to read the Daily Herald, so I have no small island story. How about Martha's new favorite joke: How many men does it take to wallpaper as room? Four, if you slice them thinly enough.


Winners of the contest ending 14 Oct 2012:

Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October) - David Debes
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Gregg Reese
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - Gregg Reese
Marci's Mega Gym - Two for One week with a shake - No entries
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate - Richard E. Santaga
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two - David Debes
SXM-Privilege Discount Card - One free monthly card - SXM Norm
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Gregg Reese
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two - Gregg Reese
Escargot Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two - Paul Snyder

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:

now to 9 December 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:
9 December 2012 to 10 February 2013 | 10 February to 14 April 2013 | 14 April to 14 July 2013
14 July to 13 October 2013 | 13 October to 15 December
same cast of characters as current contest



On 26 August the Euro was at 1.251 and today it is at 1.295. That's up 3.5% in six weeks, or about 30% per year. It is however, at about where it was at the end of high season last April.

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
Late last high season we went to Select Wine Cellar to see Sylvain, pick up some wine, and have a lunch next door at Champagne Snack Bar. We ended up tasting a 2009 Lescure Pommard (right) as we headed over to lunch. Martha had the beef teriyaki (left, $15) and I had the mixed fish ($16). Both were good, but even the mixed fish stood up to the full-flavored Pommard.

Bruno sold the restaurant over the summer and it has had a few chefs and a few problems. I do hope they get sorted out before we arrive because we loved the prices on simple, but quite tasty food, especially when we could bring wine from the shop next door at great savings.

Rainbow Café

From late last April Wendy K reports: "Ainsley and I went to Rainbow Cafe today. After 3 or 4 really lovely days, it was a bit more humid; less breeze, and more clouds in the sky. There was one other couple on the beach when we arrived. Water was calm and we swam quite a ways. It rained hard for a short time, just as we'd decided to have lunch, but cleared again an hour or so later. It's definitely off-season here now. There were only a handful of people at the neighboring beach bars. Le Ti Provencal, although there were chairs on the sand, did not appear to be open. There were eventually a half dozen tables at Rainbow.

There is a new, more extensive menu. It's a little more expensive, but worth it, I think, for the varied choices. We had a glass of rosé and a virgin pina colada while on our beach chairs. For lunch we each had an additional glass of rosé, a bottle of flat water, which was a half liter of Voss. Ains had a special of filet de porc, which was wrapped in bacon and very flavorful (but she thought it was cooked a little too much - I contend you need to order pork "rosé" if you want it that way), some nice sautéed zucchini and carrots, and great homemade frites (better, I think, than L'Oiseau Rare). 23€. I had the tartare de Mahi-Mahi,(above right) with a petite salade with a perfectly-balanced vinagrette, and more of the wonderful frites. (22€). Ains had a decaf cappucino. were $5. Total bill, after our Privlege Card discount was just under 75€. The service was friendly and good, and the food very good. We said "a bien tot" until November. (Ed note: Rainbow was doing 1 to 1 on the dollar back then and I think they still are.)

French Restaurant School

Wendy K went to the French side cooking school for a great lunch, saying, "It was 15€ per person for a four course meal and well worth it. Today's aperetif was a drink with curaçao, peach liquor, gin, and pineapple juice. I guess the yellow/orange peach with the blue curaçao is what made it green. It was light and refreshing. The shrimp bisque came in a tureen with a puff pastry a top. A nice fish broth with chunks of shrimp in it. The biche en civet was not at all what I'd expected: a venison tenderloin that I ordered "rosé", and fortunately came "saingnant" (bloody), served with a pencil-shaped filo dough wrapped around finely chopped carrots, peppers, and venison, whipped potatoes, and a broiled tomato. There was a cheese course, followed by foret noir (black forest cake) and another pastry with fresh raspberries. We drank a bottle of Sancerre (12€) and the total bill was 42€ for a fabulous four course lunch!"

News and Changes: I've heard that the Fish Pot has new owners. The brothers from Bistrot Caraïbes, Pascal from Auberge Gourmande, Frank the chef from Coco beach, and Romain from Ti Provençal got together and bought it. They plan to open in November. There is no name yet, but Oceane has been mentioned. All these places have pretty good food and they are talking high end, like Le Tastevin. They've certainly got the view, but I've always thought that the Fish Pot spent most of its money on the lobster tank and scrimped on the fixtures and food.

The guy from the Brasserie des Isles has reopened the Hibiscus. It's now called the Quinze, serving breakfast, creperie, and pizza.

The Brasserie has been taken over by the girls from The Chalet. They will be doing raclette and fondue. Sounds good for them and for Grand Case.

Bruno is no longer involved with Le Cottage on a daily basis, but is still the owner. He has given the management over to Stephane (his old wine steward) and Stephane's wife. They are keeping the name, but switching to brasserie/bistro food.

Cafecito is closed for good.

There will be big changes at California Restaurant, Vanessa has said a few things to me, but I'll wait for her to give me the full story.


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

  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."