St Maarten/St Martin
15 December 2013 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: The Christmas winds started early and have been fierce. There was a tornado near Oyster Pond and morning temperatures have been in the 70s! The cool weather has brought out long-sleeved shirts on tourists and hooded sweatshirts for locals. The Herald reported that the severe rainstorms have undermined hillsides leading to rock slides. The ten day forecast is filled with winds ranging from 20 to 35 mph, thunderstorms, and precipitation. Most inhospitable. Maybe this is atonement for the extremely mild hurricane season.

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. Below is a telephoto panoramic shot of a powerboat and a sailboat in the Anguilla channel with Anguilla in the background. Sunset tonight will be at 5:39 PM. In a week we will be at the solstice and the days will start to lengthen. The last full moon in 2013 will be on 17 Dec (Tuesday night!) In 2014 the full moons will be 15 Jan, 14 Feb, 16 Mar, 15 Apr, 14 May, 12 Jun, 12 Jul, 10 Aug, 8 Sep, 8 Oct, 6 Nov, and 6 Dec.

Hurricanes: Hurricane season is over and the prognosticators should hang their collective heads in shame. We had 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. Normally the area has 12 storms, about six and a half hurricanes and almost three major hurricanes per season. All the prognosticators were above the average at the start of the season and even regurgitated the same nonsense with their mid season corrections.

SXM-Beaches: After one set of squalls, Cupecoy had bit of sand at baby beach (the little cove just west Ocean Club). On one of the few calm days, the waves were barely lapping, and the water was very clear. The closest parking is on the west side of the Ocean Club. The lot is a bit rough and overgrown, but it is off street. That's an old photo on the right. You can tell because Porto Cupecoy and the Bleu Mall have not blighted the landscape.

Beach reading: A Simpler Way of Life: Old Farmhouses of New York & New England by by William Morgan and Trevor Tondro - about $45 hardcover - From Amazon: "This landmark book celebrates a rich and time-honored tradition in American architecture: the vernacular farmhouse. And nowhere in America is this tradition more evocative and venerable than in New York and New England, where Dutch, English, French, and Scotch settlers created an extraordinary legacy of simple one- and two-story structures dating from the seventeenth century. The houses portrayed here -- forthright, sturdy, and built by carpenters and masons rather than architects -- stand as enduring tributes to pragmatic, handcrafted design and the resourceful use of local, natural materials. They also stand as cherished, comfort-giving homes to current generations of owners, many of whom have sensitively adapted them for life in the twenty-first century. With striking color photography by Trevor Tondro and insightful text by William Morgan, this book documents 19 outstanding examples of this folk idiom. The structures featured here were built over the course of a century of American history, with each property expressing its own personality through regional traditions, period styles, building materials, and the imprint of caretakers past and present. While the style of these farmhouses show wonderful diversity, they are all eloquent meditations on a common theme: the intrinsic beauty and value of that which is old and true."

This is a coffee table book, not a beach book. We saw it at a friend's house, the Thomas McLean House, featured on pages 76 through 85. The photography is stunning. The house was also used in the Horse Whisperer, as the couple's weekend estate.

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."

The photo on the right was taken from our balcony at Sapphire. It is a telephoto shot of the early morning sun raking the houses on Saba.

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-Hotels: In Grand Case, California and Le Transat are no longer with us. The people from Love Hotel bought them and are doing another boutique hotel. L'Hevea Hotel a little further down the street and on the land side of the street has reopened under new owners.

If you wonder about tipping the maids, you should know that the minimum wage on the island was recently increased by 2.8%, from NAf 8.33 to NAf 8.56 per hour for all workers 21 years and older based on a 40-hour workweek. That's about $4.75.

Alcohol: Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar has obtained the lease on the space next to his shop and expanded again this summer. Last year he added a large table and a fine wine room and this year he has even more space which he has filled with a larger selection of wine. He is Burgundian and there is an accent on Burgundy, but he is also a master sommelier, so he has covered almost all of France (fine Bordeaux and some great Champagnes) plus little-known appellations. He does have a few fine Italian wines and a large selection of vintage California cabs. If you are looking for the cheapest wines, you probably should look elsewhere, but if you seek better wines at reasonable prices this is a great shop. It's in the Orange Grove shopping center in Cole Bay with plenty of parking. We frequently pick up some wine and have a lunch at Champagne Bistro next door.

Gas Prices: On 24 November, the Dutch side dropped prices for unleaded gasoline to NAf 2.40 per liter from NAf 2.59. That is down to $5.05 per gallon from $5.40 using an exchange rate of 1.8 NAf to the dollar. Not all gas stations use that rate. Many use 1.75. Some claim the price is in dollars. Most make a mistake in the calculation. Why bother? Head to Cadisco on the western outskirts of Marigot or Orient Beach where the price is $1.25 per liter or $4.72 per gallon

Crime: In Grand Case, the Police Municipal (police reporting to the head of French side government, generally locals, and generally used for traffic control and minor disturbances) are now walking the beat in groups of three every night. The gendarmes are French government police, generally not locals, who handle and solve major crimes. They now have a greater presence in Grand Case and not just the sobriety controls. In my humble opinion, the French side suffers more from crime than drunken driving. However, as a business plan I can see the advantage of lifting 500€ from a tourist versus actually trying to prevent or solve a mugging. The first is a money making operation that does not affect the locals and the second is a costly operation that does affect the locals.

However, there was a meeting of the Grand Case businesses on 14 November and some recent visitors posted their comments on TTOL on 24 Nov after a two week vacation. First they mentioned that Grand Case Beach Club is handing out flyers offering a round trip taxi ride from GCBC to any restaurant for $6 per person. Timing is everything and the driver is located in Grand Case so she can usually get to you within 10 minutes. Needless to say, the hotel and restaurants will make the call for you. Next, GCBC now has two security guards (in shirts marked "GCBC Escort") walking the dark stretch from the resort to the Spiga corner. An association of restaurant owners with funding are in the process of hiring a private security firm to patrol the boulevard every night from one end to the other.

Traffic: The causeway across the lagoon is still not under construction and there is still construction in downtown Marigot. Avoid it by going around the waterfront.

Green logo Nature: On the right is group of sandpipers enjoying an afternoon on Cupecoy Beach. Note they are totally textile-free (TTF).

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

Small Island story: Ever wonder what it is like to get residency papers here in paradise? Wendy K and her husband started six years ago. When she originally applied, you were supposed to reapply every year for six years, then every two years, and after 10 years you would get permanent resident status. When you reapply they want to see your previous paperwork, but in most cases they haven't even issued the residency permit for one year before you have to apply for the next year, etc!.

Last year she was told she would get a five year extension this year, but you never really can believe anything, because even when it's in writing they change the rules at whim! She was dumbfounded when we found she received permanent status and thankful because she had heard that others needed a home appraisal, in addition to previous requirements, such as a chest x-ray, proof of an adequate income, health insurance, etc.

Her original "application" through the lawyer was around $1200 (for two), plus the cost for the apostilles of our documents, and around $100 for an island accountant. Subsequent yearly costs are minimal: she found an accountant for $75; $10 to RBTT for a yearly letter of good standing; two 5 NAf stamps, $24 for photo IDs, and around $25 for registration forms. She still has to renew her photo ID cards every 5 years, assuming they get their machine fixed.


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) - Lee Martin
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Susan
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - Norm Oppliger
Marci's Mega Gym - Two for One week with a shake - no entries
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate - Bernadette Venesk
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Norm Oppliger
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two - Lee Martin
Escargot Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two - Norm Oppliger
Pizza Galley - $25 off on a dinner for two - Norm Oppliger

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
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



Two weeks ago the Euro was at 1.337 and today it is at 1.374. It doesn't seem like much, but that is almost a 3% drop in the dollar in two 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.

Champagne Bistro
Last March, we stopped in at Select Wine Cellar to pick up some zinfandel that we had ordered earlier and to replenish the red Burgundy that flies out of our wine cellar here on the island. We also were there to get lunch delivered from Champagne Bistro next door. Sylvain opened a bottle of an ever-so-slightly sweet white wine from Gascony, La Colombelle as an aperitif - a wonderful start to lunch. The specials were beef lasagne (below center) and a whole red snapper (below left), both $17. Martha had the fish and Sylvain and I had the lasagne. When Martha allowed that she liked red wine, even with fish, Sylvain decanted a bottle of 2001 Bandol (below right), 60% Mouvedre. Bandol is in the Cotes de Provence, between Marseilles and Toulon. The wine needed even more time in the bottle or vigorous swishing in the glass. Both lunches were good and my salad was made even better by the addition of a few drops of old and fabulous balsamic vinegar from Modena.

Le Pressoir

We had one final dinner at Le Pressoir with Daniel from Daniel's by the Sea and his wife Tina at Le Pressoir. We headed to the pay lot and took a short walk to the north. Our table was waiting because we had reservations, as you should in high season.

Daniel brought some superb wines for the evening: a 2003 La Viala Minervois, a 2001 Barbaresca, and a Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon (right). My appetizer had a bit of mahi with hints of heat and chocolate (below left), very interesting and very good with the Minervois. Martha had the shrimp fricasse (center) and I had a tbone steak with truffles. It was astounding with the Heitz cab.

It sounded like a simple dessert: a trilogy of sorbets. However, the sorbets were made here with exquisite care and arrived with a lovely presentation (right). All in all, it was a wonderful evening of food, wine, and friends. The food, wine, and service at Le Pressoir are superb. Well worth a visit.

Sol é Luna Restaurant
Wendy K went to Sol é Luna Restaurant for a light three course lunch, a formule, a couple weeks ago and was pleased. Charlotte (the daughter of Christian and Brigitte) opens for lunch 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.

Wendy went again this week (and now has a camera) and said: "Charlotte told me that she is pleased that things are going well with "La Table du Midi." The 20€ formule was the same menu we had last time we went, but I tried different things (except dessert).

She offers a few wines by the glass for 5€, and last time we were there, the pour looked very good, so we decided to try a different approach for us. I started with a glass of rose, and Tony had a glass of Carmenere. Mine was a bit more generous than Tony's, but glutton that I am, I also had a glass of the Carmenere later on. Not a good pour. I think we'll abandon this approach. We also ordered a bottle of San Pellegrino, which the menu listed at 3€ and we were charged 5€ for. Minor complaints out of the way, I'll proceed to the wonderful lunch.

Tony once again had the aubergine parmigiani as his "Tapas" plate (below left). He declared it better than it was the last time. I had the "Moules Mouclade": tiny sweet mussels in a light saffron sauce (below center). Tony's "Plat" was the "poisson du jour", which today was snapper (below right), served with a bit of potato and braised leek, and a few other veggies.

I had the "Canard Wok", which was a sliced duck breast Thai style, with bok choy, edamame, and other asian veggies with a hint of spice. Extremely yummy (below left)! For dessert, which they call "Verrines" [ed note: a verrine is a sturdy glass container], Tony had the creme brulee (below center), which actually didn't come in a little glass, while I had "pannacotta vanille pommes crumble" (below right). We declined coffee, but accepted 2 shots of vanilla ginger rum, which are the best we've had on the island. Our bill was 62€ or $84, a reasonable exchange rate.

Wendy K had lunch here last Wednesday without a drop of rain, but by the time she got back to Cupecoy to write this they were having another squall. Dreams has recently become very popular with some of the SOB and TTOL gang. Fortunately, we weren't confronted by large crowds. It was still "low" season, so most of the TTOL crowd is just starting to talk about coming down. It was pretty windy, and although there were people eating on the beach, they had the wind screens down protecting the inside, and also had fans going inside.

Davide greeted us and asked where we'd like to sit and what we'd like to drink. We ordered a bottle of Saumur-Champingy 2011 for 23€. We were looking for a not-to-break-the-bank lunch, especially with the euro at 1.3791 today. I had a pizza Napolitaine for 12€, and Tony had a cheeseburger with the wonderful frites, which was 13€. The "French burger" on the menu comes with melted camembert, which he wasn't interested in. Our total bill was 48€, and there should be a tax in there somewhere, unless it was included. [ed note: there is a 2% tax on restaurant food on the French side. Some places add it to the bill, some don't)

It was a relaxing, enjoyable lunch with great atmosphere, service, and ambiance. We were trying to come up with someplace on the Dutch side where we could have a similar experience without paying the euro price, and couldn't. I heard that the new Kokomo at Indigo Bay may be comparable, but it's a difficult drive past the airport and over the bridge for those of us in Cupecoy.

WendyK writes: Having made a reservation, things were all set for us when we arrived for lunch at around 1:00, although we were the only patrons! Last week Tuesday, I had lunch here with a friend and they were very busy. Maybe since today was the first real beach day we've had in weeks, no one was going out for lunch!

Nardia, a new staff member, took great care of us. We had a bottle of Cavit Pinot Grigio ($29) and began with an appetizer of the crispy calamari ($10.95 below left). Nice baby calamari, lightly breaded, served with a tasty marinara sauce. Tony had his usual Asian Plate ($17.95, below center) consisting of a generous portion of seared sesame-crusted tuna, calamari salad, steamed shrimp, seaweed salad, pickled ginger, and wasabi. I had my favorite Tuna Carpaccio ($15.95 on the ap menu, below right), which was augmented with a generous portion of capers and some red onion and good olive oil. Our bill was $73.85 before the 15% service charge, and no additional TOT tax was added. Skipjacks is our favorite Dutch side restaurant for a relaxing lunch with a wonderful view of the big yachts at Snoopy Island.

Momo from Ti Bouchon says his specials for December are Eggs Cocotte with Foie Gras and Black Truffle Oil (an appetizer at $15), Fresh Queen Snapper Grilled in a Parsley reduction with with Chorizo Marmelade (a main course at $38), The Traditionnal Cassoulet of Toulouse (a main course at $39), Angus Beef Tenderloin Rossini style with Pommes Dauphine (a main course at $42), and Braised Veal shank, glazed with honey, Orange, amd Lemon (a main course at $43). He will have a Champagne Bar where the following will be available by bottle only: Gosset Excellence $75, Gosset Grand Brut Rosé $118, Laurent Grand Siècle $295, Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut $155, Deutz Brut Classic $78, and Amour de Deutz $295.

Gerald Romani of L'Escapade Restaurant reports that they are open for lunch and dinner every day doing 1 euro = 1 dollar for cash purchases.


Bikini Beach and Kontiki: According to the Daily Herald, Elisa Cohen and Philip Just have lost the latest round in their long struggle to get operating licenses for their restaurants on Orient Beach. The judge decided that the criminal charges of fraud, complicity and collusion in the issuing of an AOT (operating license) renewal to Luftman (the developer by the Collectivité's Executive Council on 17 April 17, 2012 were not proven. The prosecution contended that that Arnell and Carti (government officials) had not abused their power. On 9 December, shortly after this verdict came out the Prosecutor General announced he would appeal the verdict. The saga continues.

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 is now free. 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. Visit their website to see where you can get one on the island.

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."