SXM-Info newsletter 11 November 2012

St Maarten/St Martin
11 November 2012 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Hurricane Sandy was big news in the Caribbean, but it started in the SW corner of the Caribbean and headed almost due north across Cuba and into the Bahamas dropping from a Cat 1 hurricane to a tropical storm. SXM, being located in the NE corner of the Caribbeam, was a thousand miles from the action. However, big winds over water produce waves and they travel. Big storms with rain and snow on the east coast of the US don't change the temperature of SXM very much, but they can send big rollers in our direction. The rollers roll over the road to Beacon Hill trapping people at Caravanserai and beyond. They also caused some power outages, but the flap of a butterfly's wings could cause a power outage at GEBE.

In any event, Sandy continued NE, following the US coast and using the warm waters of the Gulf Stream to replenish some of the energy lost in Cuba, moving back up to a Cat 1 hurricane. At the latitude of Washington, DC, a high pressure system over Greenland turned the hurricane 90 degrees forcing it to head in a NW direction, making landfall in southern NJ and heading diagonally across PA, where it became a tropical storm again.

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 5:44 PM. In 2012 the full moon dates are 28 Nov, and 28 Dec. In 2013 plan on full moons for 27 Jan, 25 Feb, 27 Mar, 25 Apr, 25 May, 23 Jun, 22 Jul, 21 Aug, 19 Sep, 18 Oct, 16 Nov, and 17 Dec. Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel.

SXM-Beaches: Toward the end of October there was plenty of sand on Cupecoy according to reports on TTOL. A few days later on 29 October, Wendy K took these photos. On the left are monstrous waves at Cupecoy Beach and in the center, you can see the destruction that they have wreaked. The pier near the monolith has been undermined. The rock in the center, surrounded by surf, is the monolith. On the right, is a wider angle showing the flattened pier and the monolith which is almost being crested by the waves. Admittedly, the monolith wasn't what it used to be and this storm made it a bit less again. Reports on 31 October say that there is some sand at the nude (NW) end of Cupecoy, but none at Ocean Club and Sapphire. Mullet has plenty of sand and Maho has very little.

And while we are talking about old times, on the right is a photo of Simpson Bay from about 1990. At the very center of the photo is the Horny Toad Guesthouse. The panorama below was taken from Pat Turner's Tropical Wave at Galion Beach. That's St Barts in the background. We had a lunch there and went up to visit Bernie at Local Rums & Spices next to Paradise View Restaurant.

Beach reading: Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child - about $16 for the hardcover, $11 for paperback - Published 15 May 2007 - Amazon says: "From a helicopter high above the empty California desert, a man is sent free-falling into the night. In Chicago, a woman learns that an elite team of ex-army investigators is being hunted down one by one. On the streets of Portland, Jack Reacher, soldier, cop, hero, is pulled out of his wandering life by a code that few other people could understand. From the first shocking scenes in Lee Child's explosive new novel, Jack Reacher is plunged like a knife into the heart of a conspiracy that is killing old friends and is on its way to something even worse. A decade postmilitary, Reacher has an ATM card and the clothes on his back, no phone, no ties, and no address. But now a woman from his old unit has done the impossible. From Chicago, Frances Neagley finds Reacher, using a signal only the eight members of their elite team of army investigators would know. She tells him a terrifying story about the brutal death of a man they served with. Soon Reacher is reuniting with the survivors of his old team, scrambling to raise the living, bury the dead, and connect the dots in a mystery that is growing darker by the day. The deeper they dig, the more they don't know about two other comrades who have suddenly gone missing. in a world of bad luck and trouble, when someone targets Jack Reacher and his team, they'd better be ready for what comes right back at them." Bad Luck and Trouble

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."

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 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.

On the right is a photo of the northern end of Mullet Beach with The Cliff, Rainbow, and a tiny bit of Sapphire in the background. From Sapphire it is about a half mile walk to Mullet, one of the largest and nicest beaches on the island.

SXM-Hotels: It's been a pretty bad season. VistaRoyale is offering a great 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." That's their view on the right.

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. New Year's is still available. You get a great view of the fireworks from the barge that our neighbor (he owns a couple casinos) anchors just off our beach. They explode at the level of our balcony. You can walk to great restaurants at Atlantis Casino and see great fireworks with your own champagne in our hot tub. No driving necessary! And that is a good thing on New Year's Eve.

Here's a shot of Shorepointe taken during the big storm. They put their breakwater on the sand and as you can see the waves can easily breach it. This is from a storm that was about 700 miles away.

Condé Nast Traveler has done its annual 100 best blah-blah. I'm not a great believer in rankings. I think I've gotten around more than most people, but I have only stayed at two of the top 25 resorts in the Caribbean and while I agree with the relative ranking of the two (La Samanna came in at number 22 and across the Anguilla Channel, Cap Jaluca rated number 14), I feel I have no ability to judge them versus the others. CuisinArt on Anguilla came in at 28. SXM didn't have any hotel in the top 30 of a combined Caribbean and Atlantic area (Atlantic is Bermuda and the Bahamas). St Barts had three in the top eight: Le Toiny (we've been there for a spectacular lunch), St Barts Isle de France, and Eden Rock.

Activities: On the left is Captain Neil's Celine on a day cruise. At night she plies the waters of the lagoon on her Pub Crawl. However, we hear that Neil is getting a newer, bigger cat! Stay tuned.

On the right is a paddle board in the calm waters of Le Galion. This photo was also taken at Pat Turner's Tropical Wave with St Barts in the background. Pat rents kayaks, sailboards, paddleboats, snorkel equipment and more. There is also a a good beach restaurant that always has some fine fish available, but you can read all about that in the restaurant review below. The bay is well protected by a spit of land and a reef. It's on the windward side so there is a good breeze, but the waters are quite calm, making this a great spot for kids and beginners to sailboarding, kite-sailing, and kayaking.

Construction/Traffic: Work is being done on the causeway. The Dutch side access will be shortly before the turn off to Mary's Boon at that end of the airport runway. You can look across the lagoon and see the progress on the other end, which is beyond the Port de Plaisance complex.

Welfare Road, the road through Cole Bay, is torn up again just after the Tropicana Casino and in front of the Daily Extra. This time they appear to be working on the root of the problem there - the sewage that runs down the road. There are deep ditches on either side where workers are doing something with the pipes. There appears to be little disruption of the traffic, but it is very early in the tourist season.

Rue de Hollande on the back of Marigot is ripped up just after the turn-off that takes goes down into town (a block from the old Vinissimo shop and the Change Point on the opposite corner on JFK Street). Traffic is re-routed down that street and into town.

The new road through Sandy Ground from the bridge to the Beach Plaza Hotel is completed, and very nice, except for one very large, not well-marked speed bump!

Alcohol: The best news I've heard in a while comes from Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar. He sent me his new wine list and I was happy to see many of the wines that I liked so much on our recent tour of France. The new list is up on his website, as is a coupon for a 10% discount.

Snooth (essentially Gregory Dal Piaz) just rated the vintages in several areas. In Italy, they compared the hot and dry conditions of 2012 to 2003, with some hopeful comments on the recent rains. For what it is worth Parker rated all areas of Italy (6 regions) from 2000 to 2008 (over 50 ratings) from 87 to 97 except for four ratings in the 70s in 2002. So much for a 100 point scale. The 2003 vintage was probably just above the 2002 in quality. Look for 2006 or 2004 if you have the choice.

In Bordeaux, Gregory expects "quality to be above average but uneven." Skilled wine makers may make quality wine, but it will be difficult. 2009 and 2010 were great vintages and 2008 was quite good.

Snooth says that the German crop is showing high sugar levels, possibly "the best sugar levels in about a decade".All that and a bumper crop! They talked to the same people I did in Burgundy, saying that there was hail and mildew leading to smaller crops, but the smaller crops are pretty good. They also say "high prices of today for the best 2011 and 2010 wines may well turn out to be bargains", or as I said, buy some now and store it. 2009 was a great vintage and 2010 and 2011 will likely be as good.

On the right are three Bordeaux that we tasted recently, left to right 1990 Ch Ducru-Beaucaillou from St-Julien, 1995 Ch Lynch Bages from Pauillac, and 1996 Ch d'Armailhac from Pauillac. It's a rather nice photo with the fireplace and its reflecting glass doors in the background. The wines were also quite nice, although at 16 to 22 years old, there wasn't a lot of fruit. Despite the 1990 vintage having received a rating of 10, the Ducru was fading. The Armailhac was from a year rated at 9, but we liked the Lynch-Bages (1995 vintage rated only 8) the best. A friend brought these over for a lunch that Martha put together featuring cuisine from the Bordeaux area (or nearby). One dish was a complicated snail ragout with country ham and garlic from Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of Southwest France.

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 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 the great deals. I recently picked up two bottles each of Fess Parker's Pinot Noir (remember Davy Crockett?), a 2009 Givry, and a 2009 Chassagne-Montrachet. Parker's Pinot was priced at $25 and the two Burgundies were bundled at $60 for the pair. I bought six bottles to get free shipping, although I do have to pay NY state tax.

Art: For the launch of Lucia Trifan's artbook "Burning tears", Tropismes Gallery will feature an exhibit of her work, paying tribute to a great artist of St Martin, and the Caribbean. The exhibit runs from 8 to 18 November.

Travel: 4 Oct marked the start of increased cruise ship arrivals with four boats in port: Norwegian Gem, Carnival Dream, Celebrity Summit, and Oasis of the Seas. They had over 20,000 passengers. As usual any passengers walking into town were surrounded by business touts, hair braiders, barkers, etc. The latest figures show the average cruiser spends almost $200 on the island.

Green logo Nature: On the right is a papaya tree on a back street in Marigot.

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

Small Island story: The Airport's operating company just received a rating of Baa2 on its senior secured bonds. According to Moody's Investor Services who gave the rating, a Baa2 rating means the obligations are deemed to be medium-grade and subject to moderate credit risk and as such may possess certain speculative characteristics. The 2 at the end indicates a mid-range ranking within the medium category. Regina LaBega, Managing Director of the operating company said that this was definitely great news for the company and for St Maarten. In St Maarten, a rating mired in mediocrity is great news.


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 14 October the Euro was at 1.295 and today it is at 1.271. That's not much change, but it is 2% in the right direction.

La Villa, Piazza Pascal and Rainbow Café, ali 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.

Tropical Wave

On one of our last afternoons on the island we went to Tropical Wave on Galion Beach. They usually has a fish special and today it was the combo fish plate. Martha had that and got some shrimp, some swordfish, a dollop of tuna tartare, and fish paste on a bit of baguette all surrounding some greens (left, 16€). I had a the mahi-mahi plate with salad and fries or baked potato (13.5€, center). Martha went with the fish plate. There's a small wine list and on the beach we generally go with a rosé. There are a couple under 16€. Our entire lunch came to 46€ and was converted at the going exchange rate to almost $60. The full menu is on the website and there are a couple coupons there to save you some money on lunch and watersports. As usual, we sat down and chatted with Pat until the staff closed the restaurant around us.

Mario's Logo
Mario's Bistro
We usually go to Mario's for our final meal on the island, but that would not work with our Monday departure as they are closed on Sunday, so we went on Saturday instead. Unlike the US, Saturday is usually a slow night because of the timeshare turnover. With reservations, we managed to get a table on the water.

  We were given a an artichoke and cheese bruschetta shortly after we were seated. Martha started with fresh caught bit of wahoo sashimi (12€, right) and I had a mixed veg, egg, and mozzarella dish (12€, below left). Martha's main course was a risotto with fresh girolle mushrooms and St Marcellin cheese (an ap at 12€, below center) and I had a young farm raised chicken (30€, below right). That seems expensive for chicken, but I see these chickens in US Market for $20. Our wine was a 2009 Mercurey Chateau de Chamirey (39€), a lesser known southern Burgundy that is quite good, especially in good years. It went well with our dinners. Service, as always, was fine.

We finished with espresso and were offered complimentary after dinner drinks. I've been enjoying old rum at home, rather than Armagnac, which came as a surprise to Didier, but there was some available. We chatted with Didi and Mario late into the evening, long past my bedtime. Luckily, it's a short drive home to Sapphire.

Les Toqués
Note the accent on the e in the name. It changes the pronunciation and meaning. It would seem to be a chef's hat, but it's a bit of a pun as the meaning is now flaky or goofy. Then again so are most chefs. Anyway, Wendy K is back on the island and headed over here for a quick lunch. "We sat at our usual table in back at Les Toqués, and both decided on a pizza for lunch. I had a Napolitaine (anchovies, capers, and black olives, below center) and Tony had pepperoni. I believe they were both 11€. A bottle of red wine (vin de pays) was 16€, and a with a bottle of San Pellegrino, the bill was 38€. We each brought home half of our pizza for dinner.

Ma Ti Beach

Wendy K had lunch at Ma Ti Beach in early November: "Tony had andouillette with legumes off the special menu (below center). I had tartare de boeuf (15€, below right) off the regular menu. Tony really liked his sausage and the sauce. We drank our usual bottle of Les Belle Murailles Bordeaux. The bill was about 50€. The beach shot is a bit of a mess but that is Le Shore and Le Sand off to the west."

Beach Andouillette Tartare

News and Changes: Sonya L'Escargot Restaurant wants you to know that they have opened after summer vacation and their longtime chef, Christophe, is back with a new menu. They are still doing the Friday night cabaret show and will continue this season.

Didier mentioned that Mario's Bistro has reopened after their summer vacation. Wendy K, who shares our love for Mario's, hopes to get there soon, so you'll get the latest info soon.

Le Shore is closed. You may remember the newsletter that mentioned noise issues they had over the summer. Le Sand, next door, is open. Much like Le Shore, the menu is quite expensive for lunch. There were probably a dozen people there around noon last Friday. It's an attractive space, but pricey!

Joel and Sonja

Transat Vanessa and Patrick have completely renovated the old California space in Grand Case in white, purple and grey, much like the logo on the left. The opening day for Transat Beach Restaurant was yesterday, 10 November. A transat is a long beach chair, so-named because they were used on trans-Atlantic cruise liners, probably before your time. The menu will feature contemporary cuisine with lots salads, moules, pizzas, and seafood. For the carnivores there will be chicken, beef, and duck. They will be open all afternoon and have tapas and cocktails on the beach for sunset and open for dinner after that. There will be a new boutique inside: "je, tu, île...sxm" with beachwear, original jewelry and accessories.

A walk around the Cupecoy area found that Le Fig was open for breakfast and lunch in the previous Cupecoy Market location. It's quite striking on the inside although I have seen some comments that suggest it too is pricey. Take that with a grain of salt. Fat Tony has opened on Jordan Road. That's the road that runs from Cupecoy Market past Arbor Estates to the Summit, lagoon, etc. All the roads here are named after rivers. There is Tigris along the lagoon and the main road is Rhine Road. Carlo seemed to suffer a bit in the storm.

I mentioned Bruno in the last newsletter, so I got the usual letter warning me about saying anything about Le Cottage. He wants you to know he is involved in some way, but I'll let his words inform you: "I'm the owner and i'm involve of Le Cottage." Clears that up.


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."