St Maarten/St Martin
17 March 2013 Newsletter

Other newsletters
Contests | Restaurants | Bargains and Happenings


Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Sunday was quite nice considering the alternative. There wasn't much breeze and it was hazy, but a lot warmer than back home, although most of the northeast is having a heat wave. By Tuesday there were whitecaps on the lagoon indicating a good breeze coming from the northeast, essentially our tradewinds. On the right is a photo looking to the south on Tuesday morning showing a heavy blanket of clouds. Some of them did burn off as the day progressed. On Wednesday morning, I awoke to the clearest day I have seen in 18 years. All four islands were visible from the balcony. Below is Nevis and St Kitts, Statia, and Saba, respectively. It stayed very clear on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, but the island is showing that it hasn't rained seriously in quite some time.

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 6:22 PM, one minutes later than last week. We are approaching the vernal equinox. In 2013 plan on full moons for 27 Mar, 25 Apr, 25 May, 23 Jun, 22 Jul, 21 Aug, 19 Sep, 18 Oct, 16 Nov, and 17 Dec.

Here's the sky between the setting sun and Saba on Saturday.
It's pretty cloudy and on Sunday morning Saba and Statia were lost in clouds, but St Kitts was partially visible.

SXM-Beaches: Sunday's Cupecoy report said the surfers were out. I heard the waves crashing again on Monday and there's a photo of the surfers on the right. The bad news is that you can't swim in this, but the good news is that sand is coming to the beaches. So on Tuesday, I could still hear the surf but the waves at Shore Pointe seemed a LITTLE calmer, and there was even a small patch of dry sand at baby beach (photo on below left) but again, if it looks like this, you shouldn't swim. On Wednesday, the surf was a bit quieter and there was a lot of sand at baby beach, but most of it was wet. By Thursday, there was enough dry sand for a row of chairs. Friday was a perfect beach day, calm water, lots of sun, but a few clouds. Saturday was even clearer, calmer, fewer clouds, and more sand. A perfect day to take Lilly to Cupecoy. Here she is at the eastern wall of baby beach staring at Martha in the water. That's Saba in the distance. She met Dany's dog and these sandpipers who were oscillating with the waves, always searching the retreating waves for tasty morsels.

Here's a shot of the surfers on Monday, taken from the recently scraped cliffs of Cupecoy.

Beach reading: Unnatural Exposure (A Scarpetta Novel) by Patricia Cornwell - (about $10 for the Kindle or paperback version) - Amazon.com Review: "Virginia Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta has a bloody puzzle on her hands: five headless, limbless cadavers in Ireland, plus four similar victims in a landfill back home. Is a serial butcher loose in Virginia? That's what the panicked public thinks, thanks to a local TV reporter who got the leaked news from her boyfriend, Scarpetta's vile rival, Investigator Percy Ring. But the butchered bodies are so many red herrings intended to throw idiots like Ring off the track. Instead of a run-of-the-mill serial killer, we're dealing with a shadowy figure who has plans involving mutant smallpox, mass murder, and messing with Scarpetta's mind by e-mailing her gory photos of the murder scenes, along with cryptic AOL chat-room messages. The coolest innovation: Scarpetta's gorgeous genius niece, Lucy, equips her with a DataGlove and a VPL Eyephone, and she takes a creepy virtual tour of the e-mailed crime scene. Unnatural Exposure boasts brisk storytelling, crackling dialogue, evocative prose about forensic-science sleuthing, and crisp character sketches, both of familiar characters like Scarpetta's gruff partner Pete Marino and bit players like the landfill employee falsely accused by Ring. Plus, let's face it: serial killers are old hat. Cornwell's most vivid villains are highly plausible backstabbing colleagues like Ring, who plots to destroy Lucy's FBI career by outing her as a lesbian. Some readers object to the rather abrupt ending, but, hey, it's less jarring than Hannibal's, and it's the logical culmination of Cornwell's philosophy about human nature.

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 shot from our balcony showing a cat and a yacht crossing paths with Saba in the background.

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.

SXM-Activities: Random Wind (left) frequently sees dolphins on its daily excursions. It's a single hull sailboat and Captain Trevor really does do some sailing, while Diane wards off thirst and hunger on the seas.

Sunevasion is located at Marigot's Marina Royale and has both sailing and power boats for hire. You can get one with a captain or without, assuming you have some sailing experience. Next door at the marina is ReveMarine, also renting power and sail boats for whole or half day charters.

SXM-Activities: Here's a nighttime activity: Music at La Bamba. There was a thread on TTOL asking if they played Oldies on Sunday night. I didn't hear any Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, etc, so they weren't playing oldies, rather songs from my youth, classics, not oldies. From left to right is Nacio on bass with an admirer, Eric on drums (drummers get no respect, or admirers), Bob on lead vocals trying to get some satisfaction, Branco on guitar (note the product placement), and a dancer.

Construction: The Blue Mall has opened, but is almost empty. Below left is an indication of what is there. After the huge run-up in oil prices in the 70's to a max of about $100/bbl they collapsed to $30 /bbl in the early 80's. Houston was hit particularly hard and buildings like this were referred to see through buildings. The center photo shows the fake lighthouse that's really a residence at Porto Cupecoy in the middle distance with the lagoon stretching out to Sandy Ground and the old bell tower at Belle Créole (the white tower just to the left of the lighthouse). The foreground is the spoil pile for the construction and the area where Blue Mall dumps its gray water when no one is looking. On the right is Bachus, a smaller version of the main Bachus in Hope Estate. It doesn't have nearly as great a selection of food or wine as the original store, but it's got quality food and wine. Unfortunately, there are several restaurants in Porto Cupecoy to satisfy the residents and renters there, Ocean Club has a restaurant, as does Sapphire, the Fig is across from Rainbow, the Cliff has a restaurant, and across from the Cliff is a raft of restaurants at Atlantis Casino. It's tough to get people to go too far for breakfast or lunch. Thus, we have never seen large crowds there. They are open on weekend nights and I have taken some great Cupecoy sunset shots from this area. It could be a great way to end the day or start the evening.
More Construction: On the left is the landing spot for the causeway in Cole Bay between Port de Plaisance and the border monument.
Destruction: On the right is the former six unit condo project on Airport Road just east of Turtle Pier. They were two or three floor condos mostly used for businesses. The Alpha Car Rental sign is still there and Panoramic was located here. If you are missing Mohamed, he has turned up in Clearwater, Florida. In ye olden times, Captain Neil lived here, docked Celine next door at Turtle Pier, and ran a denture business out of the first floor. This and all the rest of the buildings between the eastern end of the airport and the lagoon will be removed to make a return runway to the terminal.

Gas: Cadisco on the lagoon in Sandy Ground raised prices to $1.34 per liter after I drove by last Thursday. That's about 5.10 per gallon compared to $5.80 on the Dutch side.

Groceries: On the left is a pseudo salade Niçoise featuring a crabcake from Skipjack's. The potato started as a baked potato from Skipjack's, the hearts of palm, romaine, and green pepper came from Grande Marché, and the marinated white anchovies came from Simply. The view is from Sapphire Beach Club with an assist to the beautiful weather we are having and, yes, that is Saba in the distance about 26 miles out.

Alcohol: We stopped in at Select Wine Cellar to pick up some zinfandel and Burgundy. Sylvain opened a bottle of 2001 Chateau de Pibarnon. It's from the Mediterranean coast in Cotes de Provence and the cepage consists of about 60% Mouvedre grape. This vintage is selling for $67 per bottle and more recent ones are about $50. Surprisingly enough, it was a bit young. We got to talking about rosés as some of the best come from the Cotes de Provence. Sylvain mentioned that he has the Chateau Miraval Pink Floyd at $29, a highly prized organic wine. The domain is about 1000 acres in total. Some 75 acres on the valley floor are producing wine and many of the terraced hillsides have olive trees. The chateau was owned by a French jazz musician who put in a recording studio. Sting recorded there and Pink Floyd laid down tracks for The Wall. Recently Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie rented it on a three year lease with the thought that their twins will be born in France.

Green logo Nature: On the right is a ring neck dove sitting on the street light across from our lagoon balcony at Sapphire.

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

Small Island story: The front page of the Daily Herald's website listed five stories on Friday. Every one of them concerned the disabled cruise ship Carnival Dream. It appears the ship won't be leaving soon. Carnival chartered Delta to get everyone home, so on these days of light winds we have a dozen or so extra widebodies taking off to the west, heading past our Caribbean balcony.


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 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

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 10 March the Euro was at 1.300 and today it is at 1.308, not much change.

La Villa, L'Escapade Restaurant, Piazza Pascal, and Rainbow Café in Grand Case are offering 1 to 1 for cash. Paradise View Restaurant above Orient Beach is offering 1.2 to 1. Nearby Ti Bouchon offers 1 to 1 also. 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 a previous year, but we couldn't even fly one of us to SXM. Recently, they essentially gave us 1% cash back, but it could only be applied to travel expenses charged on the card. However, spending several thousand dollars at restaurants in Burgundy and Paris did not qualify as traveling expenses.

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.

There have been several comments on TTOL about restaurants adding 20% to a credit card charge. This is happening because more and more people are getting credit card alerts on their phones. What most people don't know because they don't think about it, is that the credit card company gets a message dcontaining credit card number and an amount for dinner. They have to approve or deny the pending charge. If it is coming from a restaurant, they know that most likely a tip will be added. To protect themselves, they add 20% to the pending charge. The card holder leaves a tip (or not) either on the credit slip or in cash. Eventually the restaurant will close out the pending charge with the final amount, but the pending charge remains in place until then. Restaurants usually don't take extra time during service to close out these charges, but if they want to get the money, they do have to close out the pending charge with the amount for the final charge. Thus, they generally do it that night or the next morning. If you get an alert with this pending charge, I can understand that you might be a little worried and question it. If you really worried about the money, you would call the restaurant or the credit card company. They are the only ones who are going to get your money back. The restaurant or credit card company will explain that, in fact, no one has taken your money as the charge is pending and will be finalized to the correct amount. Rather than worrying about their money, some people post something on TTOL accusing restaurants of charging them 20% extra. Please before you slander a restaurant, use common sense. No one would jeopardize the money and time they have invested in their business, as well as their reputation, for a few dollars. In this day and age of electronic communication, who in their right mind would do something so stupid intentionally?

On Sunday night we had reservations for one of the secluded booths on the upper level at Skipjack's. There was a crowd at the entrance but I caught Isabella's eye and she motioned us to our table. While there, I took this shot of Martha with yet another pendant from The Garnet, formerly Octaedre Gems. In short order Clevance (right) brought us bin 157 which is listed as a Cotes du Rhone but kept arriving as a much better 2007 Crozes-Hermitage ($31). Alas, the Jean Luc Columbo Cotes du Rhone arrived. It's not bad, pretty good, in fact, but not as good as the Crozes-Hermitage. I assume the supplier was out of the Cotes du Rhone and substituted this older, better Rhone, hoping to get rid of some inventory. He didn't know that 2007 was a fabulous year in Rhone, so we were very happy to get it. It was a great deal while it lasted!

We started with a basket of fried calamari with marinara sauce (below left, $11). Extra marinara sauce arrived within minutes of our request. Clevance, who has just started, was very attentive. Martha ordered the crabcake appetizer for her main course (below center, $14). It's nicely spiced and seems to contain more crab and less cake than the average crabcake. I had the blackened grouper, a rather firm white fish that stands up to blackening and tastes even better with the pineapple salsa (below right, $24). It was a really busy night so we finished our bottle of wine and required two glasses of the house Shiraz ($14) to get through the main course, bringing our bill up to $94 to which they add a 15% service charge. We actually got a parking spot in front of the building, but there is plenty of parking across the street. Good food, good service, and only $100 for two, half of that was wine!

Sol é Luna Restaurant
On Wednesday evening we went to Sol é Luna Restaurant in Mont Vernon. It's owned by Chef Christian and his wife, Brigitte, who runs the front of the house. Daughter Charlotte has returned from running a nightclub. With this kind of family attention, you can bet the service and cuisine is superb. The kitchen has been transformed into a cave and bar while the previous bar area and a bit of the dining area have been transformed into a larger open kitchen and the dining area has been increased slightly.

We listened to about a half dozen specials and consulted the menu, finally choosing two glasses of a crisp St Veran chardonnay to go with our appetizer and our wedding wine to go with the dinner we arranged. It was the 2009 version of Beaune du Chateau from Bouchard rather than the 1985 that we had in the previous millennium. At 60€ it was not cheap, but it was wonderful.

We received an amuse bouche of of very thick soup of green beans and zucchini topped with whipped cream laced with fleur de sel. Our appetizer was the special carpaccio of scallops with a cream and lemon sauce (left). Both worked well with the crisp chardonnay. Our main courses were both from the menu. Martha had the jumbo shrimp flambéed with brandy sauce and peppercorns with asparagus plus a bowl of risotto with herbs and arugula (below left, 30€). I had the veal medallions topped with foie gras and sweetbreads mixed with morel mushrooms and risotto which also had a morel mushroom (below right, 30€).

There is plenty of parking, either in their own lot or across the street on the road. The restaurant is lovely thanks to Brigitte's efforts in interior decoration. The grounds, which pretty much contain the view, are also lovely. The have just remodeled all the rooms in the guesthouse with a bit more construction to come. Check it out on the website. You could stay here and enjoy one of the finest dining experiences on the island.

News and Changes:

Drummers in Grand Case Grand Case Nights: "Les Mardis de Grand Case" - The Tuesdays of Grand Case - are still going on. Tehy still feature 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 street-side 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."