SXM-Info newsletter 20 January 2013

St Maarten/St Martin
20 January 2013 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Last Sunday turned out to be a wonderful sunny day and Monday followed suit. In the early morning there were a few clouds and some rain squalls out in the Caribbean, but I could see Saba, Statia, St Kitts, and I may be delusional, but I think I saw a bit of Nevis poking up above the marine haze. The photo on the right was taken on Tuesday and shows the large patches of clear sky out toward Saba. It's actually a bit cool, getting down into the low 70s at night. With wind chill, that brings out the knit caps on the locals. It has been another lovely week with just a quick bit of localized rain on Thursday afternoon. Below is Saturday's sunset.

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: Here's another photo from Leland Harms. This was taken from high above the Simpson Bay resort looking back over the resort to Beacon Hill and Simpson Bay. Beacon Hill isn't much of a hill, but that's it heading to the left (south) in the center of the photo. It's the area south of Caravanserai Resort. Maho is where that stretch of land meets the rest of the island. To the right in the foreground is the Airport and the long stretch of Simpson Bay Beach. Leland was staying at Atrium and Royal Palm Resorts for three weeks around the end of October. Barring hurricanes, it is a lovely time of the year. If you click the photo, you will see some labels that I added to identify the landmarks.

The land above the cliffs at Cupecoy has been scraped again and some clearing is taking place across from Sapphire?

Beach reading: Contessa recommends The Two Old Fools series consisting of Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools ($4 Kindle, $12 paperback) and Two Old Fools - Olé ($4 Kindle, $14 paperback), essentially about the adventures of Vicky and Joe retiring to Spain.

Two Old Fools - Olé In the first book Joe and Vicky move to Spain. Perhaps if they had known what relocating to a tiny village, tucked in the Alpujarra mountains, would really be like, they might have hesitated. They have no idea of the culture shock in store. No idea they will become reluctant chicken farmers and own the most dangerous cockerel in Spain. No idea they will be befriended by an 85 year old spliff-smoking sex-kitten, help capture a vulture, or be rescued by a mule. Life is never dull as they embark on their Five Year Plan. At the end of five years they must decide. Will they stay, or return to the relative sanity of England? Vicky and Joe's story is packed with irreverent humor, animals, eccentric characters and sunshine.

In the second book they have finished fixing up their house and look forward to peaceful days enjoying their retirement. Then the fish van arrives, and instead of delivering fresh fish, disgorges the Ufarte family. The peace of El Hoyo is shattered. Vicky and Joe are catapulted (and 'cat' is the operative word) into more bizarre situations and scrapes. Surrounded by the previous cast of eccentric characters, the two old fools muddle through until they are forced into making a life-changing decision.

Two Old Fools - Olé

ginger Sapphire Beach Club: We are in our condo at this time and it looks fine. 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 the sunset cruises pass by Saba every evening. They come out here because we have the best sunsets.

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: The Baywatch at Beacon Hill has been upgraded with lots of new furniture, new pictures and mirrors, newly tiled kitchen, new bathroom light fixtures, sinks and faucets and a new staircase leading to the beach. Check out all of the new pictures at VRBO, enter VRBO number: 328737.

Bleu Emeraude in Grand Case is offering a one bedroom apartment for the studio rate from now until the end of January.

Activities: We have booked a daysail on Zuzu and Alain's new 46 foot catamaran (left). More photos to follow. I could tell you about all the great times I have had on Random Wind, but Leland Harms sent me this photo and said, "We went on Random Wind and anchored in the south end of Mullet Bay. The water was as clear as I have ever seen it in the years I have snorkeled in SXM. Captain Trevor likes to get the tourists in the water and then throw bread to the school of jacks that swarm and make the ladies scream. The jacks showed up nicely against the dark bottom of the ship (photo in Nature section). The Random Wind trip is fairly short but very relaxing and friendly."

Groceries: We stopped in at Simply in Sandy Ground, previously US Market, and found it to be much the same as last year. I got some Morbier at about $8.50 per pound about 10% more than the Dutch side. We also picked up some Tomme, Comté, and Petite Billy, non of which are regularly available on the Dutch side. Jenkins' Cheese Primer calls Petit Billy from the village of Billy in Berry excellent and the ladies at the cheese counter in Simply recommend it. The French side generally has a better fresh mushroom selection.

We also stopped at Sunny Market in Philipsburg as they usually have a better selection of fresh veg at good prices. Not so on Monday, but that is true of most supermarkets. They get cleaned out on Saturday and Sunday, leaving the gleanings for those who show up on Monday.

Alcohol: While Martha was filling the cart at Sunny, I perused the intoxicating spirits aisle, looking for comparisons to the prices I found at Grand Marché last week. One problem, especially at Sunny, is that many items have no shelf sticker, so I got few comparisons. I was surprised to find Grey Goose was cheaper at GM $29 vs $31, as was Johnny Walker Red $27.50 vs $19. Another problem with all this is that I was reading the stickers on the shelf. There is nothing that says those prices will actually be charged at the cash register. I read about $11 for a liter of Jim Beam Black at Cost U Less based on the sticker, but paid $15 when I got to the register. That was still cheaper than $21 at Grand Marché, and cheaper than regular Jim Beam at Sunny ($18.50). I did find my favorite rum at Sunny: Angostura 1919. It has now reached $29 per liter. It may not be my favorite at that price.

We stopped in at Select Wine Cellar in the middle of all this commotion on Tuesday and were surprised to see Daniel, late of Da Livio's in Pburg, currently at Daniel's by the Sea in Oyster Pond having a bottle of Gardies with Sylvain. We helped finish this rather large wine from southern France. We haven't seen Daniel since he left Pburg.

We are at the western Dutch/French border in Cupecoy and he is at the eastern border in Oyster Pond. The two points are as far apart as you can get on the island although it's not a long drive, but the route through the Dutch side is impossible at 6PM and the route through the French side features bad, twisting roads in the dark, and takes about 45 minutes. The drive back home through the Dutch side when traffic has cleared only takes about 25 minutes. I told him we had stayed with some friends at their condo in Lighthouse (a short walk away) and had tried, without success, to get a table for six without reservations about two years ago. He said that their kitchen and staff can service the tables for breakfast and lunch, but the kitchen cannot prepare multi-course gourmet meals for all those tables during dinner service. There may be empty tables, but they will not accept customers that they cannot service properly. You have to be impressed by that attitude. We were. Enough to get me to make the long journey on Wednesday evening.

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. We just got our first fill-up and it used most of a perfectly good $50 bill. The Dutch side government sets the gas price and they have aided the consumer by increasing the price from NAf. 2.47 per liter to NAf. 2.56 per liter yesterday. That's about $5.60 per gallon if they give you the correct exchange rate. Sometimes they miscalculate and sometimes they say the price is in dollars. Both are good reasons to go to Cadisco on the lagoon next to the stadium on the western edge of Marigot or between Grand Case and Orient Beach. Both of these stations do 1 to 1, making the gas cheaper and the conversion easier.

Green logo Nature: Leland Harms took this photo of these rather light colored jacks against the dark blue hull of Random Wind. Alert reader Rosann Noel identified last week's nature photo as a Crown of Thorns.
Our office is well over 100% solar-powered and our hosting company servers are about 130% wind-powered.

Small Island story: Jeff had a squib about the new plans for the Dutch side calling for several new, large hotels. I certainly agree with his lack of enthusiasm. As soon as the government began a causeway project to reduce traffic congestion, they propose several projects to bring us back to gridlock. This may also have something to do with the clearing at Cupecoy.


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 13 jasnuary the Euro was at 1.334 and today it is at 1.332. Big Whoop!

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.

SPN Café
SPN logo On Sunday evening we headed over to SPN Café to see the late playoff game on one of their many large screens. Sapphire doesn't have CBS. We had a couple buckets of Presidente (5 beers for $15, but these are 33cl bottles, not the 25 cl from Heineken), chicken saté ($8), and a Montreal all dressed pizza (mushrooms, peppers, and pepperoni, right, $15). Good food and good service, despite the crowd watching the Pats smack Houston.

Shakti Restaurant
On Monday we we had lunch at Shakti Restaurant in Simpson Bay. We started with two samosas, saag paneer (spinach with Indian cheese), dal fry (split peas with hot peppers), onion kulcha (nan with onion and spices), chicken mirch masala (chicken with tomatoes, chillies, and onions), and some rice. We drank three cold Kingfishers and took a bit of everything home for Tuesday's lunch. Our bill was under $50. There is a bit of parking in front of the restaurant. Service is good and the beers are cold.

Dal fry

Onion kulcha
Onion kulcha

Mario's Bistro
On Tuesday we celebrated our anniversary at Mario's, and yes, it is one of our favorite restaurants. We had made reservations long ago, so we did get a waterfront table. We started with two flutes of Mumm champagne and as they had received a fresh wahoo, we tried a bit of wahoo sashimi with the champagne. The oriental flavors and the fresh fish went well with Mumm. We were off to a great start.
That's the sashimi on the bottom with a layer of wakame seaweed and a pair maki rolls. For the main course Martha had a mahi fillet from the menu (left). It was plantain crusted with a plantain chutney, pumpkin risotto fritters, and a Dominican ratatouille. I had a special with sea scallops and large, very tasty, shrimp on a bed of spinach topped weith crispy onions and surrounded by lobster sauce (center). Despite the fish, we ordered the 2011 Lapierre Morgon. It's a grand cru Beaujolais made from the gamay grape, but it rivals Burgundy with an initial burst of fruit and lovely, long-lasting flavor. Didier showed up at our table with the molten chocolate cake (right), complete with a celebratory candle and offered complimentary after-dinner drinks. The total bill was 142€, a bit less than $190. It was a fantastic meal with superb service in a most spacious dining room.

Daniel's by the Sea
When we saw Daniel on Monday at Select Wine, he invited us to over to Daniel's by the Sea on Wednesday. I expected a warm welcome, but the fireworks, though a nice touch, were a bit much. With reservations, we really were "by the sea". You can see the Atlantic (or at least Dawn Beach) behind the candle on our table. To the left of the candle is a 2010 Guidalberto from Tuscany. It was quite young, but after about five minutes, it opened up to become a spectacular wine, full, flavorful, mellow, and long lasting. It worked well with the tenderest calamari I have had in a while. The calamari had some enhancements, lots of garlic and some jalepenos. The jalepenos were cooked, which calms them down a bit and the effect was a quite tasty ap.

Martha's main course was a veal valdaostana, a roll of veal, parma ham, and mozzarella cheese (below left). I had osso bucco (below right), slow-cooked to fall-off-the-bone, eat-with-a-spoon tenderness. Both came with delicious fettucine alfredo and both dishes were exceptional. Daniel has taken a circuitous route to get here (you can read about it on the website), but having done so, he has produced fine dining with great service on the beach. PS: TD Bank executives were conferencing at the Westin and they put on the fireworks. Don't expect them every evening.

Piazza Pascal
We went to dinner at Piazza Pascal on a lovely Thursday evening. We had 7:30 reservations and parked in the pay lot. The stroll down the street showed Bistrot Caraïbes to be rather busy. Nonetheless, Thibault took us to Ocean 82 across the street where Fish Pot was. It is quite sleek with a lovely double wide dining room running along the sea. Thibault, his brother Amaury, Pascal at Auberge Gourmande, and others have taken over this empty space, kept the lovely, large lobster tank and refurbished the rest. They have installed a chef and maitre'd to run the restaurant and have gone back to running their respective restaurants. Auberge was busy as we walked by, but La Villa was a bit slow as was Cottage. Donna had saved us the table next to the Buddha and presented the wine list with a sly smile. It's quite a change from the first year which had about a dozen wines. Donna had the distributor come over with a wine tasting and she choose the ones she liked. I noticed three that I had in my cellar in NY and choose the best (Nippozano Chianti). She suggested an even better super Tuscan (2010 Edizioni) that was fantastic. Like the wine at Daniel's, it tasted even better after as minute or two in the glass.

Martha and I had the Salsiccia Classico ($13, right), sautéed Italian sausage with peppers and onions in a tomato sauce topped with mozzarella. The wine certainly worked with this full flavored dish. Our main courses were a special pistachio-crusted red snapper in a saffron sauce with a sun-dried tomato risotto ($24, below left) for Martha and the Parmesan and herb-crusted tuna with a grilled pepper medley and a portobello salad ($26, below right) for me. A crust on a tender or flaky fish is always a welcome addition, and both dishes were fine with the flavorful wine. We ended with complimentary limoncellos accompanied by much chatter and gossip.

News and Changes:


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."