St Maarten/St Martin
24 February 2013 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Monday was warm, not hot, with lots of clouds, just a few sprinkles, and a marine haze so thick that even Saba was lost. Tuesday and Wednesday were the same and although Thursday still had haze, it was finally sunny. The photo on the right gives you an idea of what the early part of the week was like. That's a Coast Guard boat passing Saba in the morning. I'm pretty sure Saba is still out there, but it was nowhere to be seen. Below left is around sunset on Wednesday with a strange layer blotting out all other islands. On Friday we could see Saba and Passat came by just before sunset (below center). Friday and Saturday were perfect tourist bureau days and the last shot 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 6:17 PM, three minutes later than last week. In 2013 plan on full moons for 25 Feb (tomorrow, think about dining in Grand Case), 27 Mar, 25 Apr, 25 May, 23 Jun, 22 Jul, 21 Aug, 19 Sep, 18 Oct, 16 Nov, and 17 Dec.

This the sunset that broke through on the west when that strange layer above left was blotting out the view to the south.

SXM-Beaches: Tuesday's Cupecoy report said: LOTS of sand at Shore Pointe. Baby beach is gone at the eastern end, but usable (same as the previous Sunday), but the waves are calmer. However, Tuesday featured winds from the SE and rollers from the SW. By Wednesday, there was no sand at ShorePointe, but baby beach was looking better. On Thursday it was bit calmer, with a little dry sand at baby beach. Some chairs were set up at Shore Pointe and the pool is back. Basically, unless you look in the morning, you can't be sure what will be there, but there is almost always a bit of beach someplace.

Below is Plum Bay on Wednesday. The sky was still gray and the rollers were breaking enough to attract surfers. In the center is your scribe reading Sue Grafton to his cat. On the right is Lilly hiding out in the sea grapes on the edge of the beach. There's a bit of parking here supposedly under 24 hour video surveillance, a sign that says Nudity Forbidden, lots of sand, and few people, some of them nude. The surf breaks quite a distance from shore, so it is easy to get in the water. There are no amenities.

S is for Silence Beach reading: S is for Silence by Sue Grafton - about $8 - From Booklist: "Grafton's determined march through the criminal alphabet puts readers within striking distance of the end, a destination no Grafton fan wants to reach. The latest in the lexicon should really be C Is for Cold Case, since it involves a disappearance that took place nearly 35 years in the past. (Although the alphabet keeps progressing, Grafton's heroine, Kinsey Millhone, is still in her late 30s and, given her high-fat eating habits, probably wouldn't have survived to be a sleuth in her 60s.) The daughter of a really neglectful mother (who could have starred in I Is for Issues) has been haunted by her mother's disappearance from a Fourth of July celebration when the daughter was only three years old. Part of the intrigue from this case comes from Grafton's sensitive portrayal of the psychological consequences of neglect. Boldly departing from the conventions of victim fiction, Grafton portrays the daughter as sniveling and annoying as well as desperate. Millhone doesn't have much hope for the case but starts digging (it's fascinating in itself to see how Millhone flounders and flounders until she finds a crack in the case). Grafton juxtaposes flashbacks to 1953, when the mother disappeared, with the current investigation, giving different points of view on the woman. Although she gives us a bit too much of Millhone's eating and living habits (probably in response to fan enthusiasm), this novel also presents strong character portrayals, a mosaic of motives, and a stunning climax."

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."

On the right is a large plane coming past Saba on Friday afternoon.

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 esk@sxm-info.com 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.

Crime/Traffic: The Gendarmes stopped 115 motorists in the Bellevue roundabout between 1:00 to 5:00AM on Sunday morning, finding 13 under the influence. The head of the gendarmerie announced that his priority was drunken driving. The limit on the French side is 0.05 BAC versus 0.08 in the US. That's about 2.5 drinks for a 150 lb man and then one per hour thereafter. It's proportional to weight and that alone should dictate that women should drink less, but they also lack an enzyme that helps metabolize alcohol.

On Tuesday there were five cruise ships in town and they were large. Surprisingly, we found a parking spot on Front Street at 11AM. It was truly at the foot of town, so we had a long walk to L'Escargot Restaurant for lunch. Later, I found out where all the cruisers produced a traffic jam. It seems that many of the cruise ship people head for Orient Beach to check out the nude section and the topless women drinking for free at Sunset Bar and Grill have a similar following. I heard terrible stories about the cabs and buses blocking the narrow two-lane road into Sunset Bar and Grill. There were many residents attempting to leave their homes in Beacon Hill who found they could not get out. Avoid this area on Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Friday a pickup truck coming down from Agremont lost its brakes and hit a school bus on the eastern edge of Marigot. All the kids and the bus driver were fine. The driver and a passenger in the pickup truck were hurt and the driver had to be cut out of the truck. All this stopped traffic for about two hours. During this time a gang of criminals robbed five establishments (mostly Chinese groceries) in the area. Two of them have already been captured and one of them was due to be sent to jail in Guadeloupe that day.

On Saturday I heard that the gendarmes had busted another 13 drivers for DUI. Be careful.

I walked through Marina Royale to get to Sunevasion charters about 11AM one morning and met two gendarmes in shorts (with guns or tazers) patrolling the marina. It appears that some of the force is available for real crime-fighting. I know that drunken driving is a crime, but this "police blotter" notes only one traffic accident, caused not by a drunken driver, but by the usual truck with brake failure. Meanwhile five robberies take place in one afternoon.

Groceries: I did some major shopping at Simply in Sandy Ground because Fleur and David (from the previous version of Rainbow Café) were coming for lunch on Friday. We started with a Guadeloupe melon with Vendée ham and then moved on to a cheese and paté board. I picked up a lot of cheeses. Petit Billy, one of the best goat cheeses, is still 4.5€ for a 200 gram piece. Morbier is 13.90€ per kg ($8.50/lb), St Nectaire Fermier was 20.90€/kg ($13/lb), Societe and Papillon Roquefort and Beaufort were all 29.90€/kg ($18/lb). the cheesemonger recommended the Papillon. The Beaufort is a wonderful nutty firm cheese and the real Roquefort is so much better than Fourme d'Ambert or any other blue cheese.

That's Petit Billy on the two plates in the foreground, Comté and Beaufort on the plate back left and Roquefort back right.


Green logo Nature: On the right is a brown booby on the rocky point near Simpson Bay Resort. At least that's what photographer Leland Helms tells me.

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

Small Island story: Elisa Cohen tells me that she has three important court dates coming up in March. We had stopped in at Bikini Beach after our lunch at Kakao Beach. She's hopeful, but she can still use your support, so stop in for lunch or drinks.


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 14 April 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
SXM-Privilege Discount Card - One free monthly card
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two
Escargot Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two

Sharp eyes will notice that Peg Leg Pub is no longer included. It is for sale and neither Linda nor Jack Parker (the owners) are there to see that things are being taken care of properly. A recent winner could not get any response from the Pub's email and arrived with the gift certificate only to have the staff try six different phone numbers to reach Linda before they denied his prize. Until they get all this sorted out, we will not be awarding prizes for Peg Leg. There was a thread on TTOL (since removed), but the main item was this complaint and several more people chiming in with complaints and a few people detailing good happenings. There should be lots of good memories. The point, however, was that things are going poorly at the moment.

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:
now to to 14 April 2013 | 14 April to 14 July 2013
14 July to 13 October 2013 | 13 October to 15 December 2013
same cast of characters as current contest



On 17 February the Euro was at 1.336 and today it is at 1.319, the lowest in six weeks.

La Villa, L'Escapade Restaurant, 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, as is Paradise View Restaurant above Orient Beach. Auberge Gourmande and Palm Beach Restaurant are doing 1.25 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.

Auberge Gourmande
On Monday night we headed to Auberge Gourmande for dinner. We had asked for reservations for the 7:00 seating. Even at this hour the free parking lot looked very full so we headed to the pay lot. It was quite windy, so we choose a table inside rather than out on the porch.

We choose the special appetizer of the evening, a salad with smoked salmon slices surrounded by tomatoes stuffed with goat cheese (below left). Martha's main course was the scallop and shrimp duo in a saffron sauce with parmesan and mushroom risotto and a basket of veg (below center). I had the chicken breast delicately filled with Emmental cheese, topped with a morel mushroom sauce, served with a potato gratin and a medley of vegetables including a broiled half tomato, a bit of broccoli topped with chive whipped cream, red cabbage in a hollowed slice of squash, a stuffed pepper slice, and an eggplant extravaganza (below right). For this flavorful dinner we choose the 2009 Savigny Les Beaune. It's not the greatest Burgundy, but a fantastic Burgundy would overpower a chicken dish, even one with morel mushrooms. Pascal, the owner, was a bit disappointed in that a four top and a six top had canceled. That's 10 diners in a place that can do about 100, ie a 10% drop in income for the night. It turned out to be a busy night and both tables were filled before we left. Even though the restaurant did get very busy, service remained good and the food was great.

braised endive



L'Escargot Restaurant
On Tuesday we headed to Pburg for a bit of shopping and stopped for lunch at L'Escargot Restaurant. We had made reservations and had a nice table with a window looking out at all the tourists taking pictures of the lovely Créole structure that houses L'Escargot (below left). We ordered sparkling water and a bottle of Chateau Minuty rosé from Vernon. It's not exactly dry, but it's not too sweet to accompany fish. Martha had the conch salad (below center) and I had the calamari steak in a caper and lemon sauce (below right). Service is good and the food is better than ever, as Christophe, the former chef, has returned. Moreover, we think he is better than he was when he left. Our total bill was about $100 when a 15% tip were added. Joel and Sonya are still going strong after almost 40 years on Front Street. There's a photo (black and white) of them on opening night on their website. It's worth at least 1000 words.

Le Tastevin
On Wednesday we headed over to Grand Case for a dinner on the water at Le Tastevin. I first went to this restaurant in 1993 shortly after the current owners, Christine and José Manrique, had finished transforming the building into one of the prettiest restaurants on the water in Grand Case. Hurricane Luis and Hurricane Lenny forced them to do it again in 1999. They rebuilt a dining room almost 100 feet long running along the bay. Almost half the tables are on the water and the landscaping along the waterfront worked into indentations in the facade provide some of the most intimate dining areas in Grand Case.

Because we had reservations, a waterfront table at the far western end of the room was waiting for us. We started with sparkling water and noticed a 2008 Beaune du Chateau from Bouchard, a premier cru, on the wine list for a mere 59€, not such a great year (rated 89, but well above 2007 and 2006). Nonetheless, a good producer choosing from all his premier cru vineyards to make his hallmark wine can usually make something pretty good. However, as Ron Popeil says, "But wait, there's more." The waiter brought a 2009 bottle (rated 95)! We are rather partial to this wine as we served the 85 in magnums at our wedding reception at La Chamade in Marigot in 1998.

amuse bouche
foie gras with a fig compote Above right is our amuse bouche: a chilled cucumber soup. Martha's appetizer was a special, shrimp kadiaf (14€, left). This was four large shrimp stuffed with mint, wrapped in thin slices of phyllo dough and deep-fried. It came with a ginger and soy sauce and a bit of crisp lettuce. Martha had a glass of sauvignon blanc with this. My appetizer was the foie gras paté with a fig compote (18€, below left), one of the best on the island, and even better with a glass of Sauternes. Martha's main course was the rack of lamb roasted with fresh thyme from the menu (below center, 30€). It came with a tian of eggplant, tomatoes, olives, and feta. I had the pork tenderloin (25€, right) smothered with caramelized onions with a bit of polenta filled with molten reblochon. We finished with espressos, madeleines, and complimentary balloons of old rum as we listened to the waves slap the shore and gazed through the sailboats at anchor in Grand Case Bay to Anguilla as a waxing gibbous moon illuminated it all. The bill came to about $200, but the dining room is lovely, the view spectacular, the service impeccable, the wine superb, and the food is not only top quality, but well-prepared.

We look forward to this visit as we feel this is one of the most pleasant dining experiences on this island. It's even better if you go a few days before or after the full moon. The owners, Christine et José, have been here over twenty years and the chef, Patrick Guillerm, has been here for ten years. Even the kitchen help and wait staff are fairly stable. They are open every day for lunch and dinner. They were offering a good exchange rate of only $1.20/€. José's first job on the island was across the street at Auberge Gourmande. While we were dining a customer came in and showed José a restaurant bill from Auberge that José had given him 30 years ago.

Piazza Pascal
We went with another couple to dinner at Piazza Pascal on a warm, breezy Thursday evening. We had 7:30 reservations and parked in the pay lot, which was fairly full. The stroll down the street showed most places to be fairly busy. Donna had saved us a table on the upstairs dining area, which gets more of the breeze. We started with sparkling water and the Nippozano Chianti ($48).

Our friends had the wild mushroom risotto appetizer. I've had it before and from the taste I had this time I can report it is just as good as I remembered. Martha and I started the Salsiccia Classico ($13, right), sautéed Italian sausage with peppers and onions in a tomato sauce topped with mozzarella. The wine was fine with these full flavored dishes.
Our main courses were veal milanese, a sautéed veal scaloppini battered in egg, Parmesan and Italian bread crumbs ($22, below left) for the ladies, a Lasagna Bolognese Paesani, lasagna pasta in meat sauce with mozzarella, ricotta, and Parmesan ($21 below center), and the Linguini Di Napoli, shrimp, calamari, scallops, mussels and assorted seafood in a fresh basil tomato sauce over linguini pasta ($25, below right) for me. At some point we ordered a bottle of the Cetamura, not quite as good as the Nippozano, but it costs only $28. We ended with esperessos and balloons of old Saint James rum. The bad news is the previous server took a tumble down the very stairs that lead to this balcony seating area. He's OK, but will require rehab on his leg. His replacement is learning the ropes, but he is most pleasant and tries hard.

On Saturday we headed over to Orient, stopping as we came down the hill toward Grand Case to take this panoramic shot of all of Grand Case Bay with Anguilla in the background (below). We had left at about 11:00 and arrived at Orient long before the French are willing to eat, so we stopped in to see Bernie at Local Rums & Spices (left). Bernie had given us some salt cod that Martha had used to make great accras. She also had given us a scotch bonnet pepper (habañero) to make the sauce chien for the accras. We needed to thank her and what better way than to share a bottle of wine from Paradise View Restaurant next door (right).

Kakao Beach Bar
At about noon we came off Hope Hill for another leisurely lunch on the beach at Kakao. We had a table with a lovely view of the action on Orient Beach with Pinel in the background (below left). We ordered with a Guigal's 2009 Cotes du Rhone (28€) and a bottle of Pellegrino sparkling water. Martha had the smoked duck breast salad with phyllo-wrapped, baked St Marcellin cheese (below center, 19€). Our friends had this last week, so I didn't get much. I was most grateful for being allowed to finish this for Martha. I had a special, an Asian beef tip and veg with lemon grass (below right, 19€) I Our bill came to about 85€, converted to $114 using a rate a bit better than you could get in a bank. We lingered with espressos and flavored rum on a beautiful afternoon.

News and Changes: We've been wondering about Wednesday nights at Porto Cupecoy. We have seen a sign put out on Monday for movies in the plaza that evening, but nothing about the music in the plaza, which was on Wednesday last season. I tried the website, but portocupecoy.com is no longer with us and it appears the Wednesday music is gone also.

Safari Restaurant is now Table d'Antoine in Orient Village. Supposedly small plates.

Heineken Regatta: The Regatta kicks off on Thursday 28 Feb. It is the final call for registration with a welcome party at Port de Plaisance that evening. Friday is the round the island race and a party on the Boardwalk in Pburg. Saturday is the race from Simpson Bay to Marigot followed by a waterfront party. Sunday has the race back to Simpson Bay and the closing ceremonies followed by the BIG concert. According to their website, the artists are not finalized, but I have seen posters. Possibly this is another case of the webmaster is the last to know.

Drummers in Grand Case Grand Case Nights: "Les Mardis de Grand Case" - The Tuesdays of Grand Case - have already started. It still features the closing of the main street so it can be filled with local arts, crafts, and food vendors along with a few musicians. It's great fun, although it can get crowded and if you want a streetside table, you will need reservations or extremely good luck.

Marina Royale Nights: Thursday night has been claimed by Marigot's Marina Royale. They are doing some theme with live music. It runs until 25 April. There's even more happening on the Marigot waterfront on Friday evenings starting at 5:30PM.


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."