SXM-Info newsletter 13 January 2013

St Maarten/St Martin
13 January 2013 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: We left snowy and cold Salem, NY mid-day on 8 Jan. The temperature was still below freezing and the snow from late December was still covering my solar panels. We stayed overnight in Newark and arrived on the island via UA 267 into a warm (84 F) afternoon with bright sunshine and a bit of bluster. The shot on the right is a cruise ship passing by our balcony at about 7AM the next morning. It's raining off to the southeast, but OK here at Sapphire. It stayed hazy all day, blotting out Saba, but it was warm and sunny in Cupecoy. Despite that hazy shot, we have had some wonderful sunny days and interesting sunsets for the entire week.

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 5:56 PM. The moon is quite new. 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: This is the beach at Flamingo in a fabulous photo taken by Mary McDonald. For those of you who don't know, Flamingo is on the western end of Simpson Bay down Billy Folly Road, just after Pelican, now Simpson Bay Resort, possibly Hard Rock Something, but not yet. The more things change, the more they remain insane.

Beach reading: Bodies in Winter by Robert Knightly - (about $4 for the Kindle version) - From Publisher's Weekly: "Knightly, a former New York City police officer, makes a solid debut with this novel of crime and corruption. Seven years after Brooklyn cop David Lodge pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of Clarence Spott, who was bludgeoned to death in a precinct cell, Lodge leaves prison only to be gunned down shortly thereafter. Det. Harry Corbin and his partner, Det. Adele Bentibi, have trouble with the official theory of the case. They believe that evidence has been manipulated to finger Spott's brother as the murderer, and both buck their superiors by pursuing other leads. For Corbin, his unwillingness to simply go along to get along jeopardizes his long-held dream of a transfer to the homicide division. The trail, somewhat predictably, leads the pair to reopen the issue of Lodge's guilt. While no one will mistake this portrayal of police work with those of masters like Joseph Wambaugh and Michael Connelly, it's good enough to make further books from Knightly a welcome prospect." Martha is reading this on her Kindle. Bodies in Winter

ginger Sapphire Beach Club: We are in our condo at this time and it looks fine. The pool is clean, the teak deck surrounding the pool glistens, and even our hot tub is warm and clean. The unit will be available again on April 2 when we return to the US. 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 Random Wind on her way back into port after a great day snorkeling, swinging on the trapeze, dining, swimming, etc.

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.

Construction/Traffic: Shortly after arrival we circumnavigated the lagoon, driving through the lowlands and Marigot to reach Select Wine Cellar in the Orange Grove Shopping Center. The convenient parking is a bonus. After a bit of wine and cheese, we bought a case (see below) and headed to Grand Marché. After picking up some groceries we headed back through the Dutch side, noting that traffic was backing up on Union Road from the Kruythoff roundabout. We turned right onto the Cole Bay Bypass emerging at Tropicana Casino, avoiding the Kruythoff roundabout, and beat the 5:30 bridge by a few minutes. Welfare Road in Cole Bay and Airport Road in Simpson Bay were essentially stopped all the way to the end of the runway. There were several minor construction sites on both sides of the island but no backups because of them. The left center of the photo on the right shows the corner of the runway. This is where the backup started and as the bridge was probably rising by the time we got here, the backup would grow considerably. The pile of sand leaving that corner and heading toward the pilings is the start of the causeway that will make landfall at Port de Plaisance. (photo courtesy of Leland Harm)
Groceries: Simply in Sandy Ground, previously US Market, appears to be associated with Auchan, the French supermarket chain. We didn't go in to buy anything, but continued to Grand Marché where I picked up a Guadeloupe melon ($3.20/lb) and some Parma ham ($17/lb), Morbier ($7.80/lb), and Chaumes (14.60/lb) for lunch. We had the Guadeloupe melon for lunch on Friday with the Parma ham, a squeeze of lime, and a glass of Saint Croix rosé from Select. It's been a while since we have had one of these melons, but this one was great. The view from our balcony included Saba.

On the right is a previously frozen baguette brought back to life by a few minutes in a toaster oven. It is surrounded by a bit of Brad Kessler's Tomme, Societé's rather good Roquefort, the Morbier with the blue stripe, and Chaumes with the orange rind (from left to right).

Jenkins' Cheese Primer says Morbier is "the most seductive of the semi-soft cheeses." As for the Chaumes he says, "It's not bad, but it has neither the power nor the rusticity of true Munster." I rather like Chaumes, but will admit that Munster is better - if you can find it. I couldn't find any Munster (or Morbier) on line but here's some Chaumes from the Gourmet Store at only 50% more plus shipping. It's still cheaper than flying here.

Alcohol: While Martha was filling the cart at Grand Marché, I perused the intoxicating spirits aisle, finding the following prices. These are all in dollars per liter, although in some cases they are based calculations starting from the 700 or 750 ml price as no liter was available.

Johnnie Walker Black35 Jim Beam Black8 Mt Gay Black24
Johnnie Walker Red19 Woodford41 Mt Gay Extra Old35
Cardhu83 Knob Creek43 Appleton 1215
Bowmore Signature210 Maker's Mark35 Appleton Reserve10
Glenlivit 1551 Bowen VS Cognac49 Appleton V/X9
McCallan 1285 Delamain XO92 Kahlua14
Talisker 1054 Courvoiser VSOP39 Campari15
Balvenie 1499    Grey Goose29

Shortly before we left for the island, a friend asked if we wanted to plan a dinner around some 82 Bordeaux. We had done a lunch with another friend earlier in the year using vintages from the 90s, but this was planned as a six course dinner for six. We started with a 2009 white Mercurey Clos Rochette and salted almonds as the guests arrived. The first course was a crab timbale with a 1995 Pommery Grand Cru Champagne from Lot18. This was followed by sautéed foie gras with toasted brioche. A side of pearl onions and dried cherries cooked in white wine completed this course. We serrved a mystery 1955 Sauternes that Martha received in the 80s. As the photo shows, the label was completely gone. The cork said 1955 Sauternes Christian Médeville. Google sent me to information on Christian and eventually I found out that he owned Chateau Gilette in the Sauternes region and that he aged his wines in concrete vats for a long time. The 1955 Sauternes that we were drinking was bottled in 1983, so Martha was one of the first to get some. It was luscious and great with the foie gras, although at the current price of $433 per bottle, a bit beyond my price range. On the near right is our label and next to it is what the label looked like when the wine was released.

At this point, we reached the 82 red Bordeaux portion of the dinner. We started with snails, country ham, and herbs, serving the Reserve de la Comtesse, the second wine of Chateau Pichon-Lalande rated 87 by Wine Spectator. Our next course was thin slices of marinated Canada goose breast. The geese came from our friend's pond a couple days earlier. We served the Cos d'Estournal, rated at 95 by Parker and available for only $395 in Hamden, CT. Our final meat course was grilled moose steak, with our own Yukon gold potatoes, tomatoes Provençal, and roasted mushroom caps. The wine was the Lafite-Rothschild, rated 100 by Parker and available in Fort Lauderdale for only $2300 per bottle. We finished this bottle and opened the second wine from Lafite, the Moulin des Carraudes, rated 87 and available for $300 in California, although I found one in NY for $400. As there was now more red wine available, we added a cheese course featuring a local Tomme-like cheese from a friend and neighbor, novelist Brad Kessler. A rather fancy cake was served with a 2000 Rieussec, rated 90 and available in Stamford, CT for a mere $40. That's cheaper than the recent releases, but 2000 was not a very good year for Sauternes, while 2001 was a fantastic year. Seven wonderful courses over about three and a half hours with great wines - seems like a great way to get ready to arrive in SXM!

That was Friday night and we finished the last of the Sauternes at a friend's house for dinner on the Monday before our Tuesday departure. Arriving in on the island requires a visit to Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar, especially as he has expanded and remodeled. He now has a storage area in the basement, so his previous storage area in the rear of his shop now contains a large inventory of bottles that would have fit in with our dinner (right). There is also a large table and as we talked, Reblochon, Beaufort, and Roquefort cheeses arrived with a bit of baguette to accompany our 2010 Savigny-Les-Beaune Premier Cru La Lavieres from Jean-Jacques Girard ($35). It's a great wine, but his Savigny-Les-Beaune at $25.70 is quite the bargain and almost as good. We eventually bought some 2010 Aloxe-Corton also from JJ Girard, and a 2010 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru from Guy Amiot. The cheeses came from L'Epicerie De Marie and were a step above Grand Marché and probably better than the cheese found at the French side supermarkets.

I doubt you'll get another 1995 Pommery from Lot 18, but you will get a $10 credit when you sign-up. They will inundate your mailbox with offers - some of them quite good.

Doctors: There are several clinics and pharmacies on the Dutch side. We have always gone to the Mullet Bay Clinic and have seen Dr Hidde Deketh. The clinic is open M-F 8AM-5PM and Saturday 9AM until noon. I'm guessing that schedule means his golf game is not as good as that of US doctors. He did his residency in the UK so his English is better than the average Dutch citizen which is about as good as the average American. I know, I worked there for over six months. I would sometimes speak to waiters in Dutch and they would answer me in perfect English.

Pharmacies: The pharmacies here are not hand maidens to the doctors. They they can dispense many drugs that require prescriptions in the US. They generally will sell you anything for which you have a prescription (expired or otherwise) or even an empty pill bottle. They realize you are a long way from home and it won't be easy for you to get a new prescription. We used to go to the Mullet Bay Pharmacy which was next to the Mullet Bay Clinic at the Mullet Bay Resort, destroyed in 1995's hurricane Luis. The clinic kept the name and moved about 200 yards to Maho. Frank, the pharmacist, stuck it out a bit longer, but eventually moved to the Orange Grove Shopping Center, calling himself the Orange Grove Pharmacy. They are now one door away from Select Wine, so it is still convenient for us. Frank speaks excellent English and is a great guy. Many years ago, Martha had a spot of bother and we waited until 5:30 to seek medical care. While we were in the parking lot at Mullet, writing the phone number for after hours emergency care on a slip of paper, a sweaty young kid jogged up to the car and asked if he could help. We explained that we were just writing the number for emergency care. He asked about the problem and I imagine that the incredulous looks we were giving him caused him to mention he was the pharmacist. He had closed at 5PM and was just returning from his daily run. We told him the problem, he unlocked the door to the pharmacy, dispensed antibiotics (that would have required a prescription in the US), and explained that he didn't want to turn on the register/computer system, so we should return at some time to pay for the pills. Service well beyond the call of duty.

Gas: Cadisco on the lagoon is doing 1.31 per liter and accepting dollars at 1 to 1, so that's about $5 a gallon.

Green logo Nature: Martha thinks the flower on the right is a Begonia, but isn't sure. Neither photographer Leland Harms or I know what it is, so if you have a better idea, let us know.

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

Small Island story: There is a big hullabaloo over debt here in St Maarten. When the Netherlands Antilles dissolved, the Dutch said they would cover 183 million guilders of debt. St Maarten submitted receipts for 65 million guilders. A few years passed and there it stands. Holland is in the same mess as every other country and a visiting Dutch delegation said via its leader its leader, Marijke Linthorst, "I don't know where we would find the money." This didn't stop local Finance Minister Roland Tuitt from saying that there is still a chance for St Maarten to get a piece of the never collected debt relief program. Hope springs infernal.


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 29 December the Euro was at 1.322 and today it is at 1.334. Not much change over the last two weeks, but it has been volatile given America's propensity to drive off cliffs.

La Villa and Piazza Pascal in Grand Case are offering 1 to 1 for cash. Rainbow Café, also in Grand Case, is offering 1.2 to 1. 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.

  On Thursday evening we took the short trip to Fig for dinner. We had no reservations but they only filled about half the tables while we were there. I would advise reservations on Fridays and I suspect they will get busier as they get a bit more buzz. The main dining area is a lovely room in subdued browns and oranges. The color combination carries over into the artwork and napkins. There are about a dozen two- and four-tops spread around the room, easily arranged to provide tables for larger groups. The lunch and breakfast business focuses on the deli case in a slightly raised area with a few more tables behind the dining room. There are also tables on the terrace in front of the building. Being out on the terrace sounds nice, but Rainbow has built about seven stories high from lot line to lot line, so there isn't a great view. The menu is small starting with gaspacho and a soup of the day. There are four salads, all coming large or small. The smallest, least expensive salad starts at $6.75 and the largest salad featuring shrimp costs $16 and is a meal in itself. There are 10 main courses (tuna, chicken, lamb, duck breast, tilapia, salmon, and more). The preparations are simple, some sides are included, and you get to choose any one of seven sauces. The main courses range from $14 to $20. The wine list is small, but they worked with Martial at Le Gout de Vin, so it is well conceived. grouper
  The owners are Patrick, waiting tables, and chef Randy from Trinidad. We were still a bit tender from our two day journey so we just had a main course. I love tuna (below right, $17) and Patrick mentioned fresh grouper as the Fig fish of the day (below left, $14) which was all Martha needed to hear, despite the bottle of Ropiteau Borgogne ($21). I went with a spicy garlic sauce and Martha couldn't decide so Randy sent out four sauces for her to sample: chimichurri, arab garlic, jerk, and barbecue from bottom to top in the center photo. There is still a pesto and saté to be sampled. Our sides were fresh green beans, a rice dish, and a bit of tasty cucumber salad. Both fish were fresh and tasty, cooked perfectly. My tuna is quite red, but that's what I asked for. Service was fast and friendly and these prices are great.  
grouper grouper grouper

On Friday night we had reservations for one of the secluded booths on the upper level at Skipjack's. Isabella led us to our table and shortly after that Junior was pouring our Concannon Pinot Noir ($31). We started with beer-battered shrimp in a basket ($13), an absolutely standard menu item, but well done and tasty. Martha ordered the seared tuna (below left, $25). It's wonderful with the soy dipping sauce and there was enough to grace our salad the next day for lunch. I had a fresh bit of mahi with pineapple salsa (below center, $26). It's hard to go wrong with the fish, but the rib-eye steak has provided me with several fine dinners and consequent Philly cheese steaks at home. Service, as always, was fast and friendly (and gets 15% added to the bill). There's parking in front and more across the street.

SPN logo
SPN Café
On Saturday evening we headed over to SPN Café to see the early playoff game on one of their many large screens. They are part of Pineapple Pete's empire in Simpson Bay. We had a couple buckets of Heineken (5 beers for $15), some deluxe nachos (with ground beef, $14), and a calzone ($15) - all tasty, but not as picturesque as Kimberly.

The Netherlands Antilles (RIP) did not recognize foreign trademarks so this was the ESPN Bar back then. In the new country St Maarten it is Sports Pete's Nightspot. Stick with SPN.

News and Changes: Tuesday Night celebrations start up again next Tuesday (15 Jan) in Grand Case.

Big changes on the road at Atlantis Casino. Montmartre which went from the best French restaurant (per the readers of The Daily Herald) with the best hostess (per Gault-Millau) to a closed failure in a few years, was followed by Angelus that barely lasted a season, which is now followed by La Coupole. Across the plaza Casablanca became T-Bone which lasted one season and became a few more restaurants before emerging as Delight Wine Bar this season.


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
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."