St Maarten/St Martin
29 December 2013 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: The Christmas winds are continuing. It's been cool, cloudy, and outright stormy with temperatures not even reaching 80 on some days - truly horrid weather, with squalls almost every day. The saving grace is that they generally arrive in the early mornings and late afternoons, so that beach days are still possible. Also, these squalls don't hit every part of the island. On the right is the full moon from about 10 days ago setting behind Porto Cupecoy and below is a panoramic shot of Green Cay taken from Kakao Beach on our final visit last spring.

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 5:46 PM. We are past the solstice and sunset is about 4 minutes later already. 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.

SXM-Beaches: Shortly after the last newsletter (15 Dec) WendyK met Patty (Sungoddess) at the beach by Ocean Club, which had flourished over the summer and is still there. Dany says it's usually gone by now and although he doesn't normally take chairs that far, he agreed to bring a couple down for us along with my rum punch, of course! The beach was great, with LOTS of sand, until about 1:00OM, when the black clouds rolled in and we were deluged by a squall. After that, the sun came out for about an hour but when we saw the next dark clouds approaching, we grabbed out stuff and scurried to our cars, just before the next squall hit. Since then, there have been more squalls than I can count. But it's rain, and not snow, so for that, we are thankful! [ed note: This has been one weird December, but it is still better than shoveling snow and sliding around on ice. The beach in question is below the parking lot to the west of Ocean Club. Follow a path through the brush.] Earlier this week, the beach had diminished to a rather small plot in the corner, but there is lots of sand at Shore Pointe.

Beach reading: Sycamore Row by John Grisham - John Grisham's A Time to Kill is one of the most popular novels of our time. Now we return to that famous courthouse in Clanton as Jake Brigance once again finds himself embroiled in a fiercely controversial trial-a trial that will expose old racial tensions and force Ford County to confront its tortured history. Seth Hubbard is a wealthy man dying of lung cancer. He trusts no one. Before he hangs himself from a sycamore tree, Hubbard leaves a new, handwritten, will. It is an act that drags his adult children, his black maid, and Jake into a conflict as riveting and dramatic as the murder trial that made Brigance one of Ford County's most notorious citizens, just three years earlier. The second will raises far more questions than it answers. Why would Hubbard leave nearly all of his fortune to his maid? Had chemotherapy and painkillers affected his ability to think clearly? And what does it all have to do with a piece of land once known as Sycamore Row? In Sycamore Row, John Grisham returns to the setting and the compelling characters that first established him as America's favorite storyteller. Here, in his most assured and thrilling novel yet, is a powerful testament to the fact that Grisham remains the master of the legal thriller, nearly twenty-five years after the publication of A Time to Kill. We listened to the audio version and liked it quite a bit.

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. 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. Random Wind, two other sailboats, and a barge are crossing in front of 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: On the left is a lovely sunset shot of Simpson Bay. It was taken from the Horny Toad Guesthouse, but the view is much the same from Azure Beach Studios as they are about 100 yards to the east. A bit further east is the Turquoise Shell Inn. It's on the land side of the street, but the other side of the street is vacant, so beach access is not a problem and they have a pool. All of them have cooking facilities and are quite close to the action in Simpson Bay.

Shopping: Since the last newsletter, we have seen the Official Opening and Blessing of the Blue Mall. Apparently, it was invitation only, and a friend had an invitation. She said it was an impressive assembly of island people. Champagne, at the initial welcoming hour, was served directly from Moet splits, with a straw. The Mall has several clothing stores, a Swatch, Svarkowski, and a frozen yogurt shop. Bacchus is no longer there and nothing has taken it's place. There is supposed to be a food court on the fourth floor, at some point.

Porto Cupecoy is much the same as last season: Head & Body, Blooming Baskets, The Art Lovers Gallery, Shipwreck Shop, and a high-end clothing shop. Rendezvous, Ernest & Fidel, Aux Quatre Vents, Le Batteau Ivre, and Brasserie New York (the old Miximo's) are the restaurants. The jewelry store is closed.

Traffic: The causeway opened and had a few problems, but seems to be working. There are nice reflectors and few street lights heading through the French Lowlands.

Green logo Nature: On the right is a bullfinch enjoying lunch on our Caribbean-side balcony at Sapphire.

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

Small Island story: This one is not funny: The same mosquito that carries Dengue (Aedes aegypti) also carries the Chikungunya virus and has caused a few cases of Chikungunya fever on the island. The symptoms are similar to Dengue. As always, protect yourself from mosquitoes, especially during crepuscular times when the mosquito is most active.


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 16 February 2014

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:
16 February to 13 April | 13 April to 13 July | 13 July to 12 October | 12 October to 7 December
same cast of characters as current contest



Two weeks ago the Euro was at 1.374 and today it is at 1.374 again. At least it has stopped increasing for a while.

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.

Mario's Bistro

WendyK reports: They were quiet on Saturday 14 December, and Didier said that this is always a slow week for them. (Cupeocy has been very quiet, as well, and Dany on the beach says the same thing.) There were 5 tables waterside when we left at 8:30. Nonetheless, dinner was wonderful, as always! The menu has changed some since we ate there 4 weeks ago, and Mario is still fine-tuning things to provide customer favorites.

We began with a bottle of flat water (5€) and a bottle of 07 Chateau de L'Estay St Emilion (42€). Our usual Mercurey is, sadly, out of our price range now. We shared the Thai Crab Cake, Cappuccino Bisque, and Spring Roll with peanut soy sauce, and sushi tempura (17€). This is a favorite, and Mario changes it somewhat every so often so it's something we almost always choose. Tony ordered a new menu addition of Open Scallop Ravioli with a shitake duxelle and leeks, lobster sauce and white truffle oil. (30€) I had sautéed Rice flake-crusted Chilean sea bass with coco pumpkin risotto, corn, and edamame salsa, and a sweet plantain corn dog (32€). The sea bass is always outstanding, but the risotto was absolutely the best I've ever had. I don't know how anyone who has an appetizer and main course has room for dessert, as we never do, but we enjoyed after dinner drinks of Grand Marnier and Calvados. Our bill was 126€ ( before the cash tip which we left). No extra charges were added to the bill.

Kakao Beach Bar
Having made reservations for our final visit to Kakao last season, we were awarded a front row seat out in the sand. The view from there was quite nice (left and center below). Our waitress brought us Guigal's Cote du Rhone (28€), a sturdy red wine capable of standing up to the spices in Martha's Créole platter (far below, left, 18.5€) and my pizza suprême, especially after the addition of the hot oil (13€). Our total bill was about 50€ ($65) plus a tip - good food and service at a reasonable price plus great views.

Yacht Club Marina Fort Louis
Last March, from Wendy K: It was two seasons ago when we last ate here, and we had decided there were other places we much preferred. Last month, however, Didier (from Mario's) told us it is one of his favorite restaurants, so we decided to give it another try. We were too late to secure one of the 4 dedicated parking spaces in front, and the lot further along was full as well, but I lucked out when someone pulled out of a space just across the street.

About half the waterfront tables were filled when we sat down, and several more parties came in after us. They were doing a decent business. One of the waitresses remembered us from our last visit, which was nice. Prices here are at least one step above our usual lunch spots, but certainly not out of line. A bottle of Drouhin's Laforet Pinot Noir was 25€ (below left). We decided to try a fried calamari "quick bite" (10.50€) to compare it with the fried calamari at Skipjacks. We decided we liked Skipjacks better, as there was less breading, but the Yacht Club's version was very good, and quite a lot. The breading had a bit of spice to it and the calamari were served with a remoulade-type dipping sauce. Tony ordered the "Filet de Durade Poele, Legumes sauté", a filet of sea bream with sautéed vegetables and saffron rice (below center, 24€). He enjoyed it, and the veggies, which I tasted, were delicious. I had "Escalope de Veau a la Milanaise, Gnocchi au 4 fromages", veal Milanese with a very light 4 cheese gnocchi (below right, 22.50€), about half of which we brought home for dinner. When the restaurant first opened, they offered Italian and Creole dishes, and there are still several Italian and pasta offerings on the menu.

The service was friendly and good, although there was a fairly long wait for the food (European-style). No complaints from us, as we were enjoying the wine, the lovely breeze coming from Anguilla, and looking at the boats. The total bill was 82€ or $110.70. I paid with our credit card in euros, as we were told they use a 1.35 exchange (it's 1.30 today). An enjoyable meal, and we will certainly return next season, if not before.



We are just rolling out a new feature on our restaurant site. Antoine Restaurant and Piazza Pascal will be offering gift certificates for sale. We expect more restaurants to follow. Treat your friends at your favorite restaurant!

There's still a few days left in December so I'll repeat that 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.


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."