SXM-Info newsletter 30 December 2012

St Maarten/St Martin
30 December 2012 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Belated best wishes for Diwali, Hanakkuh, the solstice, Christmas, Boxing Day, and Kwanzaa. We are early in wishing you a Happy New Year, more so if you follow the Chinese calendar.

The weather has been pretty good on the island as the famed Christmas winds weren't as bad as usual. The forecast for the next ten days says the high temperature will be 84 for every day, the low will be 77 for seven days and 75 for the other three, and there will be no chance of precipitation for eight days and a mere 40% chance for the remaining two days.

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 5:44 PM. The moon is just past full. 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: Here's a shot of a Cupecoy sunset. The beach at Cupecoy has been pretty good so far this year, but it is variable. One thing that is consistent is the sunsets. You can count on the sun setting in the west. There was a thread on TTOL concerning the green flash, the spot of green that is visible as the last bit of the sun sets into the water. I figure that we have seen about half the sunsets in our three month visits over the last 15 years. We've seen many from Cupecoy Beach and many from our condo at Sapphire, overlooking Cupecoy Beach. I'd estimate that we see 3-10 green flashes per season, suggesting they occur about 10% of the time. You need to see the sun set into the sea with a clear horizon. I have never managed to photograph the flash, even with AVI feature on my digital camera.
Beach reading: The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin - (about $11 paperback) - This was Amazon's Book of the Month in August 2012. We listened to an audio version from our local library. At the turn of the twentieth century, in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest, a reclusive orchardist, William Talmadge, tends to apples and apricots as if they were loved ones. A gentle man, he's found solace in the sweetness of the fruit he grows and the quiet, beating heart of the land he cultivates. One day, two teenage girls appear and steal his fruit from the market; they later return to the outskirts of his orchard to see the man who gave them no chase. Feral, scared, and very pregnant, the girls take up on Talmadge's land and indulge in his deep reservoir of compassion. Just as the girls begin to trust him, men arrive in the orchard with guns, and the shattering tragedy that follows will set Talmadge on an irrevocable course not only to save and protect but also to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past.

Transcribing America as it once was before railways and roads connected its corners, Amanda Coplin weaves a tapestry of solitary souls who come together in the wake of unspeakable cruelty and misfortune. She writes with breathtaking precision and empathy, and in The Orchardist she crafts an astonishing debut novel about a man who disrupts the lonely harmony of an ordered life when he opens his heart and lets the world in.

The Orchardist

ginger Sapphire Beach Club: We are back in the US, but our condo is rented until we arrive on 9 January. It will be available on April 2. 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 2013 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 and watch sunsets like this one from the winter solstice in 2005. Might I suggest a glass of champagne 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: In my September 2011 newsletter, I had published a graph of Orient Express's stock price over the previous five years. It was not a pretty site, collapsing from 60 in the financial debacle of 2008 culminating in a low of about 4 in March 2009 - a stunning 93% loss. The stock did participate slightly in the general upswing after the bottom in March 2009. It reached 15 in 2010 but it stopped paying it's rather small dividend. Today it is only at $12, 20% of its pre-crash high even though the S&P 500 has almost fully recovered. I had heard rumors earlier and given the fire sale prices they were promoting in the Daily Herald, it came as no surprise that on 20 December the Daily Herald reported that an agreement to sell Porto Cupecoy to a local buyer had been signed. I hear the local buyer is Atlantis Casino and there may be a new casino between Porto Cupecoy and the Blue Mall, servicing high rollers ensconced in luxury apartments at Porto Cupecoy. The photo is from calmer days.

Construction/Traffic: The Daily Herald reported that water taxis are finally using the pier at the foot (western end) of Philipsburg near the Sea Palace Hotel. The Harbor Group has named it after Walter Williams, a local fishing legend.

Work is moving rather quickly on the causeway over the lagoon from the airport essentially to the Dutch side of the border near Port de Plaisance. It will aid those of us living on the western side of the two bridges and travelers arriving at the airport to get to the other side of the island. Getting to Marigot or Grand Case from the airport will be quite easy even if the Dutch Bridge is up. Those of us who live over here could get to Cole Bay to reach the Grand Marchè, Select Wine Cellar, the Ace Hardware Megastore, etc. It would still be a lengthy process to use the causeway to avoid the bridge and head to Pburg. In fact, if the east side backed up to the Kruijthoff roundabout, your path would still be blocked. The map on our website will make this much clearer.

Groceries: The US Market in Sandy Ground is now called Simply. It's essentially the same with a new sign out front and new shirts for the staff that say "Simply."

Alcohol: We just bought nine cases of 2009 Burgundy as I believe that prices will go up because of the poor 2012 vintage. The 2009 is a very good year, although 2010 and 2011 are pretty good. The 2009 is quite drinkable now and the four cases of 2009 Bourgogne from Faively are essentially our house Burgundy. The other five cases are better wines that I intend to leave in the celler for at least five more years.

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.

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.

Crime: I try not to dwell on crime. You can miss most of it by leaving nothing in your trunk and being home by 11PM. This summer seems to have been worse than usual, so it was a pleasant surprise to see that the Dutch police did traffic control in Cole Bay on the night of 14 December, stopping over 1000 vehicles. They got a substantial amount of marijuana, several knives, a stun gun, and some ammo. In addition, there were several traffic infractions. Rudy Guiliani found out that criminals need transportation and generally don't care too much about legalities. He arrested turnstile jumpers and found quite a few criminals. Lacking subways, St Maarten goes after unregistered cars, uninspected cars, and unlicensed drivers to achieve the same effect.

Gas: In mid December, Cadisco on the lagoon in Marigot near the French Bridge dropped its price from 1.34 to 1.31. That's euros, but as they take US cash at 1 to 1, it's also dollars. There are 3.785 liters per gallon, so that's about $5 per gallon, about a third more than we pay in upstate NY. The Dutch side has been more expensive for several years. There pumps are priced in Florin per liter and register a total in St Maarten Florin (1.8 to the dollar), not dollars. Divide the pump figure by two and add 10% for a very close approximation to the charge in dollars.

Green logo Nature: On the right is a papaya.

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

Small Island story: In mid December Daily Herald reported that Former United People's (UP) party finance minister Hiro Shigemoto was arrested on suspicion of fraud, money-laundering, and embezzlement as he is suspected of making double payments to a company that provided services to government. A week before Winair's Chief Financial Officer Robert Gibbs had been arrested, in connection with the investigation. Gibbs is accused of committing fraud, forgery, and money-laundering with regard to payment for his services. Pirates of the Caribbean: Part IV.


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 9 December the Euro was at 1.293 and today it is at 1.322. That's 2.2% in two weeks and about 4% in the last six weeks.

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.

tuna carpaccio
Wendy K says: "Ainslie and I celebrated her almost-finished two-day Immigration ordeal with a light lunch today at Skipjacks. She's been craving the tuna carpaccio for at least a couple of months, as the Toronto weather turned colder and she longed for SXM. I was thinking of the same thing until Ricky told us they also had salmon carpaccio as a special today. Both were $15.95. Both were cool and fresh and adorned with capers, some finely chopped red onions, and a drizzle of good olive oil, with a lime wedge on the side. We each had a glass of rose ($6.50) and a bottle of flat water. We used the SXM Privilege Card and got 10% off (lunch only)."
salmon carpaccio

Late last season we went to Le Ti Coin Créole at the far end of Grand Case. It's possible to walk from the central parking lot, but there is a bit of parking next to the restaurant and a bit more on the street. We got a spot in their lot and walked in to a window table and ordered the Cotes du Rhone (22€). Créole food is not necessarily hot, but Carl does offer some wonderful home made hot sauce. If you use it, a sturdy syrah from Rhone works well.
Martha started with a stuffed crab back (above right, 7€). She always has stewed Créole conch as her main course and as I always try to have two different main courses, so I have the conch salad as an ap (below left, 6.50€) so I can have some conch also. It's amazingly tender conch in a tasty and slightly hot dressing. Martha's stewed conch is in the center (13.50€) and I had shrimp Créole (below right, 15€). We were both very happy. The conch was tender, the shrimp was tasty. We skipped dessert, but you can check out the Sweet Potato Pudding photo and recipe from a previous article we wrote. The total cost for our dinner was $93, not bad for real Créole food from a real Créole chef, cooking in the Créole cottage he grew up in.
Stew Conch shrimp cr

L'Oizeau Rare Restaurant
Wendy K visited at the end of last season and sent this report: We started with a bottle of Beaumes de Venise at 26€. They have good-sized wine glasses, which we always appreciate! Tony chose off the specials board: a souris d'agneau a la Provencal 19€, which he liked better than any he's had this season (except mine, of course!). This is a dish he loves, so he tries it wherever it's served. It came with a sort of zucchini flan and a dollop of ratatouille, and the wonderful homemade frites they serve here. I ordered the tartare de thon (tuna tartare) 16€ off the menu, which came with a little salad of field greens and the afore-mentioned frites. The tuna was dressed with bits of pickled ginger which added a great zing to the dish. The total bill was 61€, with a note that the tip was NOT included. We left a good one, for a thoroughly enjoyed lunch. Although there's no real water view (a glimpse of the harbor in the distance), the restaurant has a real Caribbean feel with the louvered shutters and copious plants. Overhead fans allowed us to feel comfortable, even on a hot day which had little or no breeze.

Tahoma Restaurant
Wendy K went to Tahoma on 11 December and filed this report: "It was an unsettled day, with two squalls hitting us back to back just as we were finishing our morning walk around Cupecoy, and more this afternoon. Patty (Sungoddess at TTOL) said she saw a horizontal rainbow and although it was a quite windy day, but it was nice at Tahoma on Simpson Bay Beach. I joined Georgia and David (GaKaye from TTOL), whom I hadn't met before, and Patty for lunch. The surf was a little rough, but I didn't wear my bathing suit, so wasn't disappointed. It's a lovely peaceful (except when the planes land & take off) spot, with free chairs and umbrellas when you dine there.
The menu is on a blackboard. We all ordered salads: 2 goat cheese (below center) and 2 beef Thai (below right): $16 and $18, respectively. There is a 15% service charge added to the bill. Georgia, David, & I shared a bottle of pinot grigio, which they paid for and I didn't see the price; or that of the flat water we also shared. They served complementary shots of vodka and passion fruit juice, which were excellent. Next time I'll try the tuna or salmon tartare. An added "bonus" was the iguanas wandering around amongst the tables. The beach opens at 10AM and lunch starts at noon."

Wendy K visited Le Bistrot at the end of November and sent this report: "Le Bistrot was recommended by two different "foodie" couples on the beach last week. It's where Cugini existed the last couple of years in Marigot's Royale. It's not doing much business based on our friend's reports from their two dinners and our lunch today, but we really liked it, and will return - probably next week. They have a blackboard menu, which changes frequently (our friends had a stuffed rabbit loin, which, unfortunately, wasn't available when we visited.)
However, I did get to do my standard "tartare de boeuf" test, and Le Bistrot came out on top, so far. Not too much oil/mayo in the mix. The beef was hand-cut, with crispy capers and onions and good frites. (below right, 19€). Tony had the boeuf bourguignon (below center, 14€), and he said it was even better than the one he had at Les Toques the previous week (which he previously said was the best). He also loved the ratatouille which he had as a side dish. We drank a Cotes du Rhone, the least expensive red at 19€. Our total bill was 56.10€, with 1.10€ tax added. We were happy campers, but got caught again at the 2:30PM Sandy Ground Bridge, something to remember if you are heading back to the lowlands or Cupecoy.

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

The Daily Herald ran a good review of Dino Jagtiani's Rare Restaurant at the Atlantis Casino complex.

According to this TTOL thread Saratoga Restaurant in Cole Bay has closed. John Jackson from Saratoga Springs, NY was the CIA-trained chef/owner, although he has not been in the kitchen for some time and the restaurant has been for sale for some time. Twenty years ago, it was one of the better restaurants on the island.

While we are at it, TTOL also had a thread saying that Gus's Beach Bar and Chez Raymond on Bay Rouge and Arawak in Marigot were closed by the authorities.

L'Excellence, the French side cooking school restaurant, has delivered some good news and some bad news. First, the bad: Wendy K's first lunch this season was not very good, they are charging for water, and the wine selection is severely depleted. The teacher said that as he was nearing the end of the year, his budget was essentially gone, so he could not buy more wine. And now the good news: the next lunch was much better and Thierry Delauney (of Hibiscus, Montmartre, and Ti Bouchon) is the executive chef on Wednesdays!

The Daily Herald said that a court had ordered the government to give a long lease for the water rights behind behind the piece of land where Halsey's Restaurant, Lee's Roadside Grill, and Harbour Queen restaurant are located to Waters Edge Development Corp (WED). All three have stilts supporting parts of their structure. Lee runs his fishing empire from a dock, obviously in the water, and the Harbour Queen is a boat at a dock in the water.

Fig, the new restaurant that has taken over the space formerly occupied by Cupecoy Market, is now open for dinner as well as lunch and breakfast. There have been more good reports on the food.

Behind Fig on Jordan Road, there is more construction near BeBe's BBQ. Rumors suggest a mini-market.


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."