St Maarten/St Martin
10 November 2013 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: It should be getting a bit cooler, but a bit over a week ago, when we were getting extremely mild (over 60F) days in the upstate NY, it was hitting 88F on the island. However it was overcast and rainy - still essentially September weather. Last week was still warm (86F) and cloudy, if not raining. The coming week shows the temperature dropping down to a daytime hing of 82F (essentially normal for most of the winter) and nighttime lows in the mid 70s (also normal and great for sleeping). Below is a beautiful sunset panorama taken from Cupecoy last February.

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 5:51 PM. We have just passed the autumnal equinox (22 Sep) so there is a bit under 12 hours of sunshine, heading for a December minimum of about 11 hours. In 2013 plan on full moons on 16 Nov (soon) and 17 Dec.

Hurricanes: Another month since the last newsletter and we have one three day tropical storm with winds up to 50mph to add to the list of rather minor weather events for the season, We still have only two minor hurricanes: Humberto which never made landfall soaking the Cape Verde Islands, about 2600 miles away from SXM. Ingrid started a bit later 1500 miles to the west of SXM and headed further westward toward the Yucatan. It barely reaching hurricane strength in the Caribbean and made landfall with winds below hurricane strength. Just about everybody in the prediction business was saying this will be an active season for hurricanes. Normally the area has 12 storms, about six and a half hurricanes and almost three major hurricanes per season. About three months ago, NOAA issued their mid-season outlook for the this year, predicting 13 to 19 named storms, 6 to 9 hurricanes, and 3 to 5 major hurricanes, essentially starting at the average and ranging upward. These numbers were down slightly from their original outlook. We are almost three quarters of the way through the season and nowhere near the estimates. This year's first hurricane occurred on the latest date for the first hurricane in over a decade. We are way past September, typically the worst month, and just three weeks from the end of hurricane season. As I said before, the forecasts look a bit overblown to me.

SXM-Beaches: There had been a considerable amount of sand at Cupecoy, but all good things must come to an end. Rough seas (somewhat like the photo on the left) last Thursday took away most of the beach. There was still some sand at Shore Pointe, but with the waves coming up to the rock wall, it was not suitable for sunbathing and was diminishing. Keep hoping for a sunny, warm day with lots of sand, something like the photo on the right.

And you might get your wish: As of yesterday, Wendy K reports "Cupecoy still has sand in front of Shore Pointe, with parking along the wall across from the Blue Mall. A lot of sand had also come back to the middle beach, and more sand at a new-to-me beach this side of the Ocean Club (which Dany doesn't service/parking next to the OC)".

Mullet had quite a steep slope getting down to the water when on Thursday. The parking lot is very crowded, as usual, and will likely be awful today and tomorrow as it's St Maarten/Martin Day." [ed note: Columbus discovered the island on 11 November 1493 which is now Veteran's Day, earlier Armistice Day, and before that St Martin's Day in Catholic theology. St Martin is the patron saint of soldiers. It's a holiday down here and in the US. Moreover, the US is turning colder sending increasing tourist traffic. Added to the local holiday traffic, that means crowded beaches, especially Mullett, the favorite for locals.]

Orient only had room for 2 rows of chairs at Club O on Thursday when some friends were there.

Beach reading: The English Girl by Daniel Silva - (Hardcover $20, paperback $12) - An Amazon Best Book of the Month, July 2013: "The setup: A beautiful woman is snatched from her vacation on Corsica. A ransom note reaches 10 Downing Street. An ambitious, unfaithful prime minister seriously needs a fixer. Which leads his fixers to art restorer and Israeli spy, Gabriel Allon, one of the more believable and likable heroes in recent spy fiction. To call The English Girl a page turner is an over-simplification. Smart, unpredictable, and packed with bits of history, art, heart, and imagination, this is a page turner to be savored. Let me just say that I like John LeCarré. Big fan. Still impressively relevant and prolific into his 80s. But the torch must pass to someone. And it's been a while since I grabbed anyone by the lapels and said, "Read this now," so let me strongly suggest that you take The English Girl to the beach, or wherever summer may take you. Daniel Silva isn't quite LeCarre. He's a more modern breed, with some major DNA overlap. (Other DNA-sharing: Graham Greene, Joseph Kanon, Alan Furst.) When it comes to the vast club of practitioners of international spycraft, Silva is a cut above them all, and The English Girl is a masterwork" by Neal Thompson. Martha and I agree.

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 ferry heading to Marigot in the center, a double-masted sailboat heading out on the right, and a tiny speck of a boat, possibly a fisherman, on the left.

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.

Alcohol: Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar wrote to tell me that a lot wines come in last week, plus the delicious Supercassis from Vedrenne that we tasted with him in Vedrenne last fall. Mix it with a Bourgogne Aligoté for an authentic Kir, a wonderful apertif, especially at the beach. The Supercassis is $27 per bottle and Sylvain has a great 2010 Aligoté from Jean Jaques Girard at only $15.90. We tasted that in Girard's cellars with Sylvain on the same trip.

Sylvain has also taken over the shop next to his in the Orange Grove Shopping center and expanded considerably. Last year saw the addition of a large table in the back used for wine and cheese tasting and long, lingering lunches brought in from Champagne Bistro, just across the courtyard.

Traffic Traffic was HORRENDOUS last Wednesday with six cruise ships in port, including the Princess, sixth largest in the world, according to the Daily Herald. Wendy K tried to go from Cupecoy L'Excellence at the French Cooking School in Marigot. It took one hour and 15 minutes to drive from the Sandy Ground bridge to the school, with traffic at a standstill a good bit of the time. Apparently, Rue de Holland is still under construction, so traffic is re-routed through Marigot. I didn't think we were seeing much cruise ship related traffic, but they must have been part of the problem, as when we went to Les Toqués on Friday (at 12:45 - a better time) we sailed right in. We had no problems going to Phillipsburg last Monday and as a bonus, we noted that they are paving the access road to the new causeway on the Simpson Bay end. I think it will be a big improvement for Simpson Bay traffic.

Green logo Nature: On the right is a brown pelican silhouetted against a blue sky.

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

Small Island story: And if you think the traffic report above was a nightmare, here is the Daily Herald article describing the expected disruption to be caused by the Dutch Royal couple's visit. Read it and weep.


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) - Diane Fitzback
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Hector Hernandez
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - Hector Hernandez
Marci's Mega Gym - Two for One week with a shake - Ali Caracuzzi
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate - Ali Caracuzzi
SXM-Privilege Discount Card - One free monthly card - Hector Hernandez
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - DeLinda Goodman
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two - DeLinda Goodman
Escargot Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two - Diane Fitzback
Pizza Galley - $25 off on a dinner for two - Diane Fitzback

Current Contest: now to 15 December 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 a Sulay entered 33 times, instead of increasing her chance of winning, she decreased it to zero as I deleted all of them. She did account for about a third of the entries.

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



Four weeks ago the Euro was at 1.355 and today it is at 1.337, slightly better.

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.

Bistrot Caraïbes
On a Saturday evening in mid-March we headed over to Bistrot Caraïbes for 7:30 reservations. At this hour, there is hardly ever an available parking spot so we headed directly to the pay parking lot. Sure enough as we got to Bistrot Caraibes, we could see cars trying to park across the street from them, directly in front of Ocean82. It's a no parking zone because large taxis and buses can't make the corner turning on to Grand Case Boulevard if that spot is occupied.
We ordered water and a bottle of the 2011 Chateau Pierreux Brouilly, one of the better grand cru Beaujolais (above right). I usually have the smoked salmon appetizer as I consider it one of the best on the island, but there was a special of snails and mushrooms in a creamy garlic sauce (below left) and that is another one off my favorites. We had that and found it was quite nice with the Brouilly. For main courses, Martha ordered the veal scallopini roasted and gratinéed with blue cheese (27€, below center) and I had the grilled rack of lamb, with vegetables, and garlic mashed potatoes with thyme sauce (28€, below right). The Brouilly also worked well with these full-flavored appetizers. We passed on coffee but ended with complimentary balloons of 1991 Laubade Armagnac. The menu here does not change much, but that doesn't bother me because I like almost all of it and they rotate some wonderful specials. Altogether our dinner cost us a bit under $150.

Pizza Galley
Last April we headed over to Pizza Galley for our last pizza. As usual, it was the JP special pizza a roasted garlic clove in the center (left, $17 plus $2 for the garlic). We started with a large salad split between us and added our usual Cotes du Rhone from Mont Redon ($24). It's a 2011, rated 8 of 10, and tastes fine with pizza, even spicy pizza. The Daily Herald poll says this is the best pizza (and the best dessert) on the island. You can comment on their Facebook page. JP wrote me afterour last newsletter saying he was back from his summer vacation, awaiting your visit!

Les Toqués
Last spring Wendyk had another very good lunch at les Toques. She and Tony ordered from the weekly specials menu: Cassolette de la mer (15€, below left) for Tony, and Tartare de Boeuf (14€, below center) for Wendy. Flat water (3€) and a bottle of Bordeaux (19€) - they ran out of the 14€ bottle, and i don't think they'll be replacing it, but the total bill was only 51€. They do not add the tax, as some French-side restaurants do.

Tony's cassolette was a mixture of shrimp, scallops, mussels, and fish in a saffron broth with a gratiné on top. He had his usual "legumes" as a side dish - a meal in itself (below right).

Wendy says "I'm becoming accustomed to beef tartare being "prepared" (mixed with onions, cornichons, capers, olive oil, mustard, salt and pepper - and a raw egg yolk) for me. And while I still prefer to do it myself, and omit the olive oil, this version is as good as the prepared version gets, IMHO. I augment it with tabasco and Worcestershire sauce; more salt and pepper. It came with a large, very nice salad of Boston lettuce and various other veggies, with a light vinagrette, and a small bowl of frites. As usual, I brought about a third of the tartare home for a future bolognaise sauce."


Christian at Sol é Luna Restaurant said that his daughter, Charlotte, would be opening the restaurant for a light three course lunch, a formule, as they say in French. Monday through Friday you can get an appetizer, main course, and dessert for 20€, about $27. The restaurant is even more beautiful during the day, so I am looking forward to some long lunches with great food and some very nice wines. As usual, the restaurant will be open seven nights a week in high season.

A bit more than a week ago George at Skipjack's says not much is happening on the island other than the fact that Steve Jobs yacht, "Venus", has been parked across from us for about three weeks. His wife and children now own it. Unfortunately, he died a year before it was completed. Steve was closely involved with the design and it is the most unusual-looking yacht I have ever seen. There is no doubt that Steve Jobs viewed the world differently than most. It cost about $140 million. Here are some images from Google, so you can judge "unusual" for yourself. Unfortunately, the yacht left the island shortly after I received George's email.

Donna at Piazza Pascal have recently returned from their summer vacation and reopened the restaurant. She sent some photos of the new look for the Piazza (right) I think this is one of the best values on the island. Their prices are in dollars for cash customers and the quality is good. Husband Pascal is the chef and wife Donna runs the front of the house. Each has one helper. Thus, it is a small operation and the owners are on top of everything.

Sylvie and Amin Bousseta, the new owners of Il Nettuno Restaurant in Grand Case, contacted me and had me add that they were now handicap accessible after their recent remodeling. There's still a bit more remodeling to be done, but they hope to be open within days. They will be carrying on with a menu quite similar to the previous one.

Didier wrote to tell me that Mario's Bistro has opened after their annual vacation.

Paris Bistro has closed and the scuttlebutt says a Mexican Sports Bar is moving into the location???

Wendy K had lunch at Dreams in Nettle Bay, pronouncing it excellent, and visited Les Toqués twice. She was happy they're still in business, as it seemed busier than they were in March and April last spring.) As mentioned earlier she went to the French Cooking School last week. Thierry Delaunay is no longer cooking for any of the Excellence programs. Wednesday was was the first day for the newest class, and they did very well. Sam, the woman in charge does a good job with them. I met the Wednesday/Friday chef, who is a young woman from France. We were fairly impressed with the lunch, except the mahi mahi, which was very dry, and likely pre-portioned/frozen. We will give next Wednesday another shot, both from the traffic and food standpoint, and may switch to either another day, or another restaurant after that.

Fig has reopened in Cupecoy after their vacation. The restaurants at this end of the Atlantis Casino are all closed, and there was work being done on the whole area when I went by the other day.

Ernest and Fidel's and the Brasserie New York at Porto Cupecoy are still closed.

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.

Kakao Beach
Marci's Mega Gym
Endless Summer Beachwear
Oizeau Rare
Pizza Galley
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, and $50 off a daysail on Random Wind. 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 now have two Kindle devices, as Martha just bought a Kindle Fire, She paid about $200 for the device without the 3G option. It connects to WiFi which we have here in NY and at the condo in SXM, and nowadays, at almost all restaurants, hotels, etc. The Fire is essentially a tablet computer with Kindle capabilities and a camera. If you add Amazon Prime to the package you get free 2 day shipping on Amazon, access to a lending library of Kindle books with no expiration, and access to over 40,000 movies via Netflix. The Kindle Paperwhite e-book from Amazon is a great thing to take on a beach vacation. It is glare-free, weighs less than a half pound, and is one-third of an inch thin. It's only $119. 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."