St Maarten/St Martin
14 July 2013 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Happy Bastille Day!

Weather: May produced 5.7 inches of rain, but June only came up with about 1.5 inches. Here in Salem we got over 8 inches in June, so I don't want to hear any complaints about rainy season on the island. In June the maximum temperature was 89 and the minimum only got down to 75F. There was generally a good breeze, averaging 12 mph but gusting to 40. I'd say that was a pretty good month as long as your a/c was working at night and you were close to a beach during the day. It's summer and the next ten days are typical: upper 80s in the day, lower 80s at night, with some fairly large possibilities of rain anf thunder for the first five days and then a rather pleasant, but warm, five days. Below is a shot taken from the road by the Blue Mall. The sun is setting onto the brushy cliffs above Cupecoy earlier this year, when the cliffs above Cupecoy still had brush.

The box shows the current local conditions and here's the detailed forecast from Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset tonight will be at 6:52PM. We have passed the summer solstice so the days will be getting shorter, dropping from the current 13 hours and 7 minutes of sunlight to about 11 in late December. In 2013 plan on full moons for 22 Jul, 21 Aug, 19 Sep, 18 Oct, 16 Nov, and 17 Dec.

Hurricanes: Just about everybody in the prediction business is saying this will be an active season for hurricanes. That's always a good guess given global warming and at this point the prediction is little more than a guess. As the average number of hurricanes for the last 30 years has been a bit over six, the fact that we have not had one in the first six weeks of the six month hurricane season suggests the forecasts may be a bit overblown. No pun intended. There have been three tropical storms and Chantal, the most recent one certainly brought some rain earlier this month.

SXM-Beaches: We got an email from Elisa at The ORIGINAL Bikini Beach Restaurant. She reports that they still in operation and awaiting the anullment of the authorization for the business now run next door as another Bikini Beach. The ORIGINAL is on the left as you look out to the beach. The Bikini Beach on the right is the imposter. Elisa is having a live concert Sunday 21 July with Orange Grove (right) to celebrate our 21st anniversary at Bikini. Good band, good place to be that evening, starts at 7PM.

Beach reading: Black Irish by Stephan Talty - (Kindle $13 or $18 for the hardcover version) - This is the first thriller from the author of Empire of Blue Water. A brilliant homicide detective returns home, where she confronts a city's dark demons and her own past while pursuing a brutal serial killer on a vengeful rampage. Absalom "Abbie" Kearney grew up an outsider in her own hometown. Even being the adopted daughter of a revered cop couldn't keep Abbie's troubled past from making her a misfit in the working-class Irish American enclave of South Buffalo. And now, despite a Harvard degree and a police detective's badge, she still struggles to earn the respect and trust of those she's sworn to protect. But all that may change, once the killing starts. When Jimmy Ryan's mangled corpse is found in a local church basement, this sadistic sacrilege sends a bone-deep chill through the winter-whipped city. It also seems to send a message, one that Abbie believes only the fiercely secretive citizens of the neighborhood known as "the County" understand. But in a town ruled by an old-world code of silence and secrecy, her search for answers is stonewalled at every turn, even by fellow cops. Only when Abbie finds a lead at the Gaelic Club, where war stories, gossip, and confidences flow as freely as the drink, do tongues begin to wag with desperate warnings and dire threats. And when the killer's mysterious calling card appears on her own doorstep, the hunt takes a shocking twist into her own family's past.
As the grisly murders and grim revelations multiply, Abbie wages a chilling battle of wits with a maniac who sees into her soul, and she swears to expose the County's hidden history one bloody body at a time. With Black Irish, Stephen Talty stakes a place beside Jo Nesbø, John Sandford, and Tana French on the cutting edge of psychological crime thrillers.

Obviously, I did not write that. It's over-excited ad copy, but the book (at least the audio version) is quite interesting especially if you want a glimpse into the workings of a hollowed out city. In 1900 Buffalo had more millionaires per capita than any city in America. It was the home of the Larkin Soap Building, an early Frank Lloyd Wright building featuring steel frame construction. When I grew up 20 miles south of Buffalo, it was still a vibrant city with a half million people. My father ran the South Buffalo Railway. I worked there during the summer after my junior and senior years of high school. When I graduated with a master's and bachelor's degree five years later, he advised me to seek employment elsewhere. In 1977 Bethlehem Steel Corporation (the owner of South Buffalo Railway) started closing their steel plant in Lackawanna, as did Republic Steel. The ripple effect cut the population in half.

ginger Sapphire Beach Club: We are in the US at this time. Our condo is available until our return in early January. 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 just another shot from our balcony showing a hazy Saba with a a couple sailboats gliding by.

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: Captain Neil leads the Lagoon Pub Crawl aboard Celine. This spring he regaled me with stories about Celine II, a bigger, better, and faster catamaran that he and a partner were refurbishing. It's still being refurbished. Look for it in December.

Furniture Shopping: We noticed that Plantation in the Orange Grove Shopping Center had closed as had a couple other places that we visited when shopping for furniture. We were especially saddened by the demise of Plantation as our teak dining table and chairs (right) were purchased there. I did some internet searching and found Arthur Lauer. They have fine teak furniture, including chairs, outdoor lounge chairs, benches, and umbrellas. The tables page has a 60" round teak table that closely resembles ours at a reasonable price. Moreover, they offer free shiping to the contiguous 48 states. That would include Florida. Miami is the home of 4 Star's shipping facilities. If you can deliver something there, they will ship it to the island at a reasonable price.

Groceries: On the left is a shot of our dining room table here in NY with a pile of chanterelles. We had the rainiest June in weather history and have the chanterelles (and boletes and oyster mushrooms) to prove it. We have been collecting so many mushrooms that even mushroom omelets for breakfast, bacon and venison burgers (ground bacon ends from our hogs mixed with ground venison) with mushrooms for lunch, and dinners with mushroom gravy isn't enough. We have been half-cooking the mushrooms in lots of butter with some shallots and freezing them in bags for later use. On the island Simply seems to have the best bulk selection of interesting mushrooms. The prices are generally better than those that Grand Marché charges for their tiny little packages.

Traffic: The French side has closed the Rue de Hollande and rerouted traffic into the center of town. This will add some time (and excitement) for those coming from Simpson Bay to Marigot or Grand Case. Reports say that it is quicker to use the roundabout at the airport to head back west to Mullet and through the lowlands to reach the western end of Marigot.

Head north out of the cemetary roundabout and follow the seashore route through Marigot to Gallis Bay. It's quicker than fighting through the bridges and Simpson Bay traffic only to reach the backup creeping backwards from the closed road in Marigot through Bellvue to the border!

Alcohol: For Burgundy, we have been drinking the 2005 vintage from our cellar, but I am missing the 2009 vintage that is currently available at many places including Select Wine Cellar on the island. I generally like wines with age, but the 2009 seems better. Both 2005 and 2009 were rated at 8 out of 10 by Berry Bros & Rudd.. However, 2010 got a 9 and the 2010s are available at many places. 2011 dropped back to 8 and 2012 harvest (currently unrated) was problematic. The time to buy Burgundies may be now, stocking up on the 2010 vintage.I did bring eight bottles of wine back from SXM this spring, including Chantal Lescure's Vosne-Romanee. That's more than the duty-free limit, so you have to declare it and pay duty, but I have been waived through 90% of the time. Sign up for Lot18 and you'll get some interesting offers. Not exactly French Burgundy, but they currently are offering a half case of California Pinot for $100. Special for Bastille Day, they are offering some great deals. Check them out.

Green logo Nature: On the right is a lion fish, an invasive species in the Caribbean. If you see one, let the local authorities know as they will try get rid of it. It is poisonous and will eventually dominate the reef if left unchecked. The venom of the lion fish, delivered via an array of up to 18 needle-like dorsal fins, is purely defensive. It relies on camouflage and lightning-fast reflexes to capture prey, mainly fish and shrimp. A sting from a lion fish is extremely painful to humans and can cause nausea and breathing difficulties, but is rarely fatal. Photo from Leland Harms.

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

Small Island story: Some homes being constructed by the St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF) reached their highest point recently, initiating the rafter-wetting ceremony. The SMHDF sent an email to various public officials requesting their presence. When Maurice Lake, the Minister for Public Housing, replied that he would not attend, the ceremony was canceled. Neither the media nor the Prime Minister's representatives were informed of the cancellation. The resulting story was the lead on the Daily Herald's website and probably didn't make any friends in the government.


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.

Winners of the contest that ended today:
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October) - Donna Turnbaugh
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Robert Ross
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - Robert Ross
Marci's Mega Gym - Two for One week with a shake - no entries
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate - Nancy Nowakowski
SXM-Privilege Discount Card - One free monthly card - Randy Jenkins
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Randy Jenkins
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two - Robert Ross
Escargot Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two - Donna Turnbaugh
Pizza Galley - $25 off on a dinner for two - Yvonne Robert

Current Contest: now to 13 October 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
Pizza Galley - $25 off on 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. I really check and while DiscoGolfGoddess entered 11 times, instead of increasing her chance of winning eleven-fold, she decreased it to zero as I deleted all of them. She did account for about half of the entries that were discarded.

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:
13 October to 15 December 2013
same cast of characters as current contest



On 26 May the Euro was at 1.293 and today it is at 1.307, up one percent over six weeks.

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. A few years ago my Citibank card said they would charge me 3% just for doing business overseas - even if it was in dollars! I switched to a Capital One card and I get a good exchange rate with no fee. 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 and neither did the gite rental in Beaune nor the apartment rental in Paris.

My United Mileage card is from Chase and every year when I leave for SXM, I notify both Cap One and Chase that I am going to the Caribbean for three months. I always mention to Chase that they won't see many charges because of their 3% foreign exchange fee. Recently they wrote to tell me that the fee has been eliminated. As I really need United Airlines to get to SXM from Albany in one day, I am grateful for the extra miles.

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.

L'Oizeau Rare Restaurant

In the week before we left the island we have to get Princess Lilly inspected by a vet. We always go to the Belgian vets up in Concordia. Afterwards, we like to celebrate at Oizeau Rare (exterior view below left). Actually, we'll take almost any reason to have a lunch at Oizeau Rare. The food is good, the prices are reasonable, and there are owners and family in the kitchen and dining room. The cool breeze from the harbor (assisted by overhead fans) usually makes it a pleasant place for people watching in the heart of Marigot. Lilly (below center) seems to like the greenery (below right) that fills two sides of the open-air dining room.

We started with a bottle of Badoit red extra-fizzy water and the 2009 Beaumes de Venise at 26€ from Jaboulet (as always). It's a Rhone, but a bit better than the average Cotes du Rhone and a good year. We then wrap and nice meal around this flavorful wine. In this case Martha had a croustillante de crabe, a very tasty crab in an asian-inspired sauce with arugula and pickled onions. I went with the burger formidable, an eight ounce Angus burger with lettuce, tomato and onion accompanied by some of the best hand cut French fries on the island.

Les Toqués
Wendy K writes: Earlier in the 2012/2013 season, we were worried that the chef at Les Toqués, was splitting with his partner, and would be leaving the restaurant. The deal did not go through, and we are very happy that he is still at the stove. He grew up and trained in Lyon, France, and the menu reflects the cuisine of the breadbasket of France.

There is a pizza menu (served during lunch and dinner), a lunch menu, a dinner menu, and a special menu which changes weekly. Today's special menu particularly catered to our tastes, and we will likely go later this week to try something different. Tony chose his usual Boeuf Bourguignone with "legumes" - an assortment of fresh, sautéed vegetables, served in a large bowl (below left, 14€). I had the lapin sauce moutarde (rabbit with a mustard cream sauce and lardons) with frites, because I LOVE frites. (below center, 15€). We drank a bottle of flat water and a bottle of the house Bordeaux (right, 19€). The total bill was 51€ for a very relaxing and enjoyable lunch. The restaurant is on the road along the water heading into Marigot, essentially across form the market. There's a bit of a view (below right), but the main attraction is good food at good prices.

We processed 73 chickens since the last newsletter, selling 55 of them, but we kept the livers, gizzards, and hearts from almost all of them. One of our first meals was a chicken liver salad (left) reminiscent of the one on the menu at L'Auberge Gourmande in Grand Case. The photo on their menu page is flambéed with Cognac and served with s some puff pastry in a creamy shallot sauce on a bed of mixed greens. We have been getting whey from a nearby goat farm for our pigs. If the whey is particularly fresh, Martha uses it to make mozzarella. On the right is mozzarella gnocchi with a tomato sauce and some pork sausage from a previous year's pig. On the island, one of the best uses of gnocchi in a tangy tomato sauce is under Mario's fabulous grilled tuna with bleu cheese.


Annual vacations

Summer is here. I have written to several restaurants about the 2013 season and have several answers so far.

2013 Restaurant Annual Vacations Dates
Daniel's by the Sea We do not close ever
Open Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner year round
L'Escapade Restaurant No closing, open every night
Paradise View 19 May - 13 June
Open in September!
Piazza Pascal 10 August - 3 October
Pizza Galley Aug & Sep, re-opening mid Oct
Mr Busby's Beach Bar We do not close ever
Open Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner year round
Ti Bouchon Mid July until first week of Oct
La Villa No closing

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.

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."