SXM-Info newsletter 9 December 2012

St Maarten/St Martin
9 December 2012 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: On the right is Passat passing by our condo at sunset with Saba in the background. The weather has moved into winter mode with fewer showers, daytime highs in the low to mid 80s and night time lows in the upper 70s. The current ten day forecast has only three days with a chance of rain and the chance only reaches 50%. Wendy K notes that the last week was the finest so far this season.

The box shows the current local conditions and here's the detailed forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast Sunset tonight will be at 5:33 PM. In 2012 the last full moon date is 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.

SXM-Beaches: Wendy K notes that last week Cupecoy had the most dry sand so far this season. Below is a panoramic shot of Marigot Harbor with Fort St Louis at the top of the hill and the West Indies Mall at the base. There is no beach here, but if you follow the harbor road (Rue de la Republique) to the left (north) it curves to the east and runs past a small beach.

Beach reading: Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan - (about $6 paperback) - This is not a novel, but a collection of short stories, chosen by Oprah for her book club. Amazon says "Each story in this jubilantly acclaimed collection pays testament to the wisdom and resilience of children, even in the face of the most agonizing circumstances. A family living in a makeshift shanty in urban Kenya scurries to find gifts of any kind for the impending Christmas holiday. A Rwandan girl relates her family's struggles to maintain a facade of normalcy amid unspeakable acts. A young brother and sister cope with their uncle's attempt to sell them into slavery. Aboard a bus filled with refugees, a microcosm of today's Africa, a Muslim boy summons his faith to bear a treacherous ride across Nigeria. Through the eyes of childhood friends the emotional toll of religious conflict in Ethiopia becomes viscerally clear. Uwem Akpan's debut signals the arrival of a breathtakingly talented writer who gives a matter-of-fact reality to the most extreme circumstances in stories that are nothing short of transcendent."

We met Uwem at a dinner party at the house of a former editor for O Magazine. The director of Yadoo was there and as Uwem was in residence at Yadoo, he was also invited. It was an interesting evening. He was barely a teenager when I worked in Lagos, but was not surprised by my recollections of the city. BTW, he is a Jesuit priest.

Say you are one of them

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."

You could sit on the balcony, have lunch, and gaze out at the Caribbean and Saba. That's a Guadaloupe melon and a crisp rosé from Select Wine Cellar.

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.

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."

Bleu Emeraude (right) in Grand Case is offering their one bedroom apartments for a studio rate: $210 instead of $260 per night from now until 21 Dec.

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.

Construction/Traffic: The airport is expanding northward. They are looking to have more room for planes to taxi back to the terminal. Currently, the planes must turn around and head back up the only runway, putting a hold on any take-off or landing until they have cleared the runway. In order to do this, the businesses from Turtle Pier on to the east will be closed and the airport and the road will move in that direction.

Alcohol: Traditionally, Deutz Brut Classic has been rated in the top 6 Champagnes, but recently the highly regarded REVUE DU VIN DE FRANCE, placed it among the top 5, describing it as "the most flattering and the most seductive." Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar has this for a mere $49, although the 10% off coupon on the website would get it a bit cheaper.

Snooth had an article on value pinot noirs. Given the $/€ exchange rate, only one was from in France: 2010 Jovino Pinot Noir Oregon ($16), 2010 The Seeker Pinot Noir Vin de Pays du Puy de Dome (France, $14), 2009 Stoneleigh Pinot Noir Marlborough (NZ, $14), 2009 Hangtime Pinot Noir California ($15), 2011 Menage a Trois Pinot Noir California ($12), 2010 Main Street Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County ($13), 2010 Newman's Own Pinot Noir ($10), 2011 William Cole Vineyards Albamar Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley Chile ($13), 2008 Yering Station Pinot Noir Little Yering Yarra Valley Australia ($14), 2010 Garnet Pinot Noir Monterey County ($15), 2011 SeaGlass Pinot Noir Santa Barbara ($10). The last was listed as a great value. We have had Hangtime and can vouch for it.

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: Tropismes Gallery is currently showing photographs from Jean Louis Sarrans.

Green logo Nature: On the right is a frigate bird flying near Skipjack's. They spend so much time in the air that their legs are useless.

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

Small Island story: Last newsletter mentioned that GEBE (the electrical and water supplier) had gone offline as Hurricane Sandy passed about a thousand miles away. As the newsletter was being prepared, but before there was any mention of the problem, GEBE was spilling a "small amount" of waste oil into Cay Bay. According to the Daily Herald they apologized, but never said exactly how much oil spilled into the bay nor did they say how this happened.

Another small island story: The former Turks and Caicos Premier Michael Misick has been arrested in Brazil. He was implicated in the massive corruption in Turks and Caicos that led to the suspension of their democratic government by the United Kingdom. In 1523, Jean Fleury seized two Spanish treasure ships carrying Aztec treasures from Mexico to Spain. Piracy flourished in the Caribbean until the mid-1720s. At this point, the descendants of the pirates have moved into the government.


Winners of the contest ending 9 December 2012
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October) - Lucy Minichino
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Richard Cochrane
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - Richard Cochrane
Marci's Mega Gym - Two for One week with a shake - Lucy Minichino
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate - Richard Cochrane
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two - Lucy Minichino
SXM-Privilege Discount Card - One free monthly card - Ron Johnson
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Richard Cochrane
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two - Ron Johnson
Escargot Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two - Ron Johnson

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 10 February 2013
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:
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 11 November the Euro was at 1.271 and today it is at 1.293. That's 1.7% in four weeks, just in time for high season.

La Villa, Piazza Pascal and Rainbow Café, all 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.

For our last meal on the island last season, we went for comfort and closeness: Skipjack's. The parking lot was full, but we found a spot across the street. All the cars made me grateful that I had told Daniel that we would be in for dinner on Easter. He had a table on the upper level waiting for us. If you are on that level, you get a nice view over the main dining floor to the water and even hills on the far side of the lagoon.

We had the usual bottle of pinot noir and started with the beer-battered shrimp (below left). Five large tasty shrimp arrived in a light batter with cocktail sauce. We asked for a bit of hot sauce and got some Matouk's Calypso sauce to put some heat into the cocktail sauce. Quite nice!

Martha asked for tuna, but it appears we were having an island-wide tuna shortage. Last night at Mario's Bistro, I could not have tuna because they also did not get their shipment. She had mahi instead and it was fresh and even better with the pineapple salsa (below center). I had the special crab crusted grouper (below right), essentially the one in the article on Creole cuisine on the website. It was also a wonderful piece of fish with a tasty topping. For dessert we had two glasses of cabernet. When it was added up, we had spent $108. They add a 15% service charge and I thought the service was worth another 5%. It's good fresh fish, generally prepared simply, but with many choices for sauce and sides.

Shrimp Mahi

Ma Ti Beach
As Wendy K lives on the lagoon in Cupecoy, she is quite close to Ma Ti Beach and visits often. Thus, we have another visit this month. The photo on the left, much like their sign on the road, indicates that fresh lobster is available. However, a rather special Daurade Royale was available on her recent visit. In English we call it a sea bream and the most popular and highly regarded is the gilthead or royal bream. According to Greek mythology, the royal bream was considered sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, and sexual rapture! Wendy said the fish was quite good but did not supply any details on its after effects.

Les Toqués
Cupecoy is also close to downtown Marigot, so Wendy K visits Les Toques often. Here is her latest report: "I had my favorite pizza Napolitiane (anchovies, capers, and black olives) for 11€. They have a fiery hot olive oil, with scotch bonnet peppers, pepper corns, and rosemary in it that really jazzes it up. Tony had "columbo de porc" (boneless pork chunks with a columbo sauce - (sort of like a curry, but not as spicy) for 12€. Keeping with his new diet, he chose sautéed veggies as a side dish: zucchini, onions, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, and what we think were fresh fava beans (never having had them, we weren't certain). The wine was our usual "house" wine for 16€. We ordered 2 more glasses of wine (3€ each) and the bill was 45€ for a very tasty lunch - and half a pizza left over for dinner tonight. It was a brutally hot/humid day today and the multiple fans were barely keeping up with the heat. The back room, which has a/c but didn't have it turned on, seemed to be getting a natural breeze from the courtyard behind, and was quite comfortable when I went to use the very spiffy new toilets." [ed note: The toilets in Durreche, the predecessor of Les Toqués were notoriously bad.]

Layla's is just a bit past past Ma Ti Beach as one heads toward Marigot from Cupecoy, making it convenient for Wendy K: "We haven't been here for about seven years. It's somewhat improved since then, with lots of tables in the sand, most shaded either by an awning or palm trees. A light breeze made it quite comfortable. The menu is fairly limited, with a few specials. The least expensive wines were a La Coste rosé and a Pinot Grigio - both 24€. Tony doesn't care for rosé, so we had the Pinot Grigio. The reds were either 27 or 28€. There were several tables filled at 1:00 when we arrived. Tony had a brochette de boeuf, which came with some nice roasted potatoes and veggies. I had tartare de boeuf, with frites and a salade, for a total of 18€. Tony's beef was a little tough, but tasty, and the portion was ample. My tartare was a little more "prepared" than I like it (too much olive oil, perhaps), but the beef was hand-cut and very good. The final bill was 61€, with 1€ added on for some kind of tax. Many restaurants on the French side have added this 2% tax in the last year. A lovely spot for a relaxing afternoon of conversation.

Mario's Bistro
Wendy K went to Mario's on Saturday and confirms my comments about Saturday being a slow night. " We began with a bottle of flat water and ordered a bottle of 2011 Morgon (33€, less than our usual Mercurey at 43€). I actually liked the Morgon better, as it had more body." [ed note: It appears to be a Marcel Lapierre wine. Morgon is one of the best Cru Beaujolais and, with age, the gamay grape will lose some of its fruitiness rival some of the lighter pinot noirs, such as Mercurey. Marcel Lapierre's wines may effect this change even sooner. I have a 2009 in my cellar and it is great. Unfortunately, for more information on Marcel Lapierre, I refer you to his obituary in the NY Times.]

"Tony's entrée was one of Mario's "trios" - this one with crab cakes, a crab meat "cappucino", and a couple of other seafood-based tapas. (I was hoping the on-line menu would help me out here, as I didn't take any notes). It was 17€ and he loved it. Mine was the Carpaccio of beef with St Marcelin "puffs", arugula, and shaved parmesan (17€, above left). I'm so glad it's still on the menu! His main course was grilled lamb chops (2 thick ones) with mac and goat cheese, a sort of mac-choux(sp?) with corn and some other diced veggies, and another little parfait glass of something yummy with parmesan (29€, below center). Mine was sea scallops with a half lobster tail and thermidore sauce, spinach, and crab mashed potatoes. I LOVE Mario's crab mashed potatoes. Not a big fan of thermidore sauce; however everything was excellent. Tony was very pleased with his lamb, and there was plenty of it. He generally complains there's not enough meat on the rack. We finished our meal with complimentary snifters of Calvados and Gran Marnier. The bill was 139€ before tip. I paid with my Capital One card - first time ever with a CC at Mario's - in euros, and Mario's had done the conversion as $178. Cap One is charging me $180, so I will certainly pay in dollars next time."

Mario's Logo

News and Changes: Escargot Restaurant, as usual, will be doing their world-famopus cabaret show on New Year's Eve. Reservations are a must.

Baccus has opened at the Blue Mall with a sidewalk café. At present, there is no wine shop, as there is at their location in Hope Estate outside Grand Case. The early TTOL reports on the food were not good.

Spicy Restaurant in Grand Case has changed its name to L'Artisanal. The owners, Sophie and Olivier, and the food, French, remain the same. They never did serve spicy hot food, so artisanal, though much overused at this time, is likely to attract more Americans.

We went for a five course Burgundy wine tasting dinner at Bleu Restaurant on Cape Cod and were delighted by the food, wine, and service. The first course was Cape Cod Bay scallops with chanterelles paired with a 2011 Rully Blanc. I have often sung the praises of Rully with seafood, especially when paired with the smoked salmon at Bistrot Caraïbes. Next came a grilled bronzini with white truffle honey figs paired with a 2010 Mercurey. This is a case where a light red wine from southern Burgundy was perfectly suitable with a very tasty fish preparation. I'm always surprised by how much I like a bit of sweetness with fish, be it a bronzini with honey figs or the nahi at Skipjack's (see review above) with pineapple salsa. The third course was a foie gras stuffed quail paired with a 2010 Auxey-Duresses premier cru, a very good, lesser-known Burgundy. Next was a rather large filet mignon (called a petit) topped with a compound butter and paired with 2009 Fixin premier cru. Dessert was a buckwheat crepe with emmenthal and fruit paired with a cremant, an overlooked sparkling wine from Burgundy. All the courses were quite good but the bronzini was outstanding. The wine pairings all worked well. Service was amazing as the entire restaurant (70 to 80 covers) was served essentially simultaneously, an amazing effort in the kitchen and on the floor.


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."