St Maarten/St Martin
16 February 2014 Newsletter

Other newsletters
Contests | Restaurants | Bargains and Happenings


Cupecoy sunset

Weather: The worst of the squally weather seems to be over. Finally. On the right is a bit of blue-ish sky (OK, it's mostly solid haze, but it's not clouds) around the local Coast Guard as they keep the island safe. Despite the seemingly good weather, Saba was almost obscured on Monday morning (below left). The center photo shows the start of what became a green flash. You can see the AVI here: GreenFlash. Be prepared to wait. The far right is another beautiful, although cloudy, sunset. Down below is a cloudy sunset pano. Lots of clouds, but little rain, so I call it pretty good weather all week!

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 6:14PM, three extra minutes. In 2014 the full moons will be 16 Mar, 15 Apr, 14 May, 12 Jun, 12 Jul, 10 Aug, 8 Sep, 8 Oct, 6 Nov, and 6 Dec.

SXM-Beaches: On the left is the new sign at the NW boundary of Club Orient at Orient Beach. There is plenty of beach here but plenty of people also. On the right is a photo of the beach starting at Kakao looking north to the headlands of the island.

There's quite a bit of chop lately, the far end of the east coast storms. We noticed it in Simpson Bay on Friday when we had a Valentine's Day brunch at the Horny Toad Guesthouse. WendyK noticed big swells this morning at Cupecoy, but not much beach erosion at Shore Pointe. Rum punch day for her, but no swimming!

Beach reading: Survival of the Fittest by Jonathan Kellerman - about $8 (Kindle) or $3 (paperback) - Amazon.com Review: Legendary L.A. psychologist-turned-novelist Kellerman raids real life when inventing the adventures of his psychologist sleuth, Dr. Alex Delaware, and some of the scariest parts of Survival of the Fittest are historical. Eugenicists lurk behind a murder spree Alex must solve, and he notes that the eugenics movement involved one elite U.S. college professor who advocated castration of ethnically lesser men, a forced sterilization ordered by Supreme Court Justice Holmes that Hitler used as a precedent to sterilize millions, and the pre-Holocaust coinage of the phrase "final solution." Besides a truly horrifying theme, Survival of the Fittest boasts sharp but not arch dialogue; savvy psychological insights into stressed-out cops, suicides' loved ones, and malevolent therapists; and a sense of place so vivid that the Los Angeles Times has rated Kellerman the most evocative L.A. author since Raymond Chandler. The plot's as twisty as a canyon road, and it's great fun to ride along with Dr. Alex and his sidekick, the burly, gay LAPD detective Milo Sturgis, as they dodge large red herrings and strive to find out why mildly handicapped kids are suffering "gentle strangulation" by killers who sign their handiwork with the mysterious letters DVLL, and what the devil this has to do with the high-IQ group Meta. Bonus for Kellerman fans: his Israeli serial killer catcher, Daniel Sharavi, star of his 1988 bestseller The Butcher's Theater, joins the sleuth team. But in the gory finale, Dr. Alex faces absolute evil all alone.

ginger Sapphire Beach Club: We are in our condo (Unit 255) at this time. The A/C works, the elevators work (the broken one was repaired), beach towels are available, the common areas are clean, the pool is lovely, and even the hot tub has warmish water. It will be available starting in April at rates ranging 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."

On the right is Random Wind going by under sail with the faintest outline of Saba in the distance.

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: L'Esperance Hotel on the outskirts of Pburg has a fabulous pool (left) and free Wifi. The rooms are clean and neat. The rates are low, so if you need an extra day (or two) to add to your timeshare week to get a cheaper flight or just to avoid the Saturday crush at the airport, spend a relaxing day here.

SXM-Activities: I bumped into Diane Smith in the line for mail at Mailbox in Simpson Bay. She's the owner and captain of Random Wind, the third boat we ever went on. It's been a while, so we made plans to join her for the daysail. If you want to sail, snorkel, swim, and swing (left), Random Wind is the boat. She's a real sailboat and when the wind is right, all you'll hear is the wind in the sails and the splash of the waves (and maybe some Jummy Buffet).

To get to the very best snorkeling, you have to get to the far side of Anguilla. If you'd like to come back that day, you need power. On the right is Lambada, the first boat we ever went out on. In this photo she's on her nightly sunset cruise coming past our condo. During the day she makes a run out to the best snorkeling spots.

Groceries: We avoid holiday dinners (Christmas, New Years, Valentine's Day, etc). The restaurants are crowded, the staff is overworked, and frequently you are required to take a multi-course, expensive meal. Martha actually likes to cook, now that she is no longer doing it professionally. I have all the wine I want in my cellar (OK, it's a broom closet here). We have access to great groceries including frozen artichoke bottoms (left), frozen peas, frozen cepes (right), and frozen snails - all from Super U. Our VD dinner started with the snails in garlic and parsley butter and moved on to a fresh duck breast (also Super U) with a creamy, mushroom sauce accompanied by an artichoke bottom cooked in a broth made of duck trimmings filled with sautéed peas and shallots. There were potatoes of course, thin sliced with a bit of cream and cheese.

Alcohol: Our wine was a 2010 Nuits-Saint-Georges from Chantal Lescure, $65 at Select Wine Cellar. Considerably less than you'd pay in a restaurant. Use the coupon on the website to get 10% off.

Shopping: Trouble in Paradise, I've blown out my flip flop. Surprisingly enough, there is still a shoe repair shop on the island. For $8, you can get a pair of shoes put back together. The shop is on Unity Road. That's the one that runs from Cole Bay past the Orange Grove Shopping Center (home of Select Wine Cellar), past the Harley joint, past Grand Marché and Princess Casino to the roundabout at the causeway and the border. The cobbler is near Divico and Greenfingers. His front door is on the side street, but he is the first building, so he is essentially on Unity.

Crime: The police have reported lower crime statistics for 2013. Of interest to tourists would be dwelling burglaries dropping 37%, robberies dropped 20%, and car thefts down 16%. The car theft figure for St Maarten is half that for St Martin. There are more details in the Daily Herald.

Travel: St Maarten just released figures for visitors in 2013. The fourth quarter showed occupancy increasing by 7% versus the figure for 2012 and the total yearly occupancy for 2013 was 69% versus 63.3% for 2012. I've been thinking it wasn't so crowded, but this may be because of the better traffic flow with the causeway in operation.

Green logo Nature: The fluff balls on the right are two very young ring neck doves being protected by their mother.

The Daily Herald picked up the story on renewable energy here in the Caribbean and the Herald says GEBE may add 2mW of solar panels. Our office is well over 100% solar-powered and our hosting company servers are about 130% wind-powered.

Small Island story: I sent an email to the Miami Herald that is freely distributed here, pointing out that page 7B had a rather large 5B directly under the 7B. Moreover, every story on 7B claimed to be continued on 7B, when a quick glance to the left showed them to be continued onto 6B. I never expected an answer, but they replied they had sent my comments to the local Daily Herald who prints the paper. I really expected nothing from that, but amazingly, the pages are now numbered correctly.


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



A week ago the Euro was at 1.362 and today it is at 1.369. It doesn't look like much, but at the end of a year of not much per week, it would bring the Euro to more than 1.7!

Piazza Pascal and La Villa, 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.

You should not be paying a currency transaction charge as there are many credit cards that don't have this onerous charge. My United Mileage Plus Explorer/Chase card no longer charges it and gets my first bag checked free for all United tickets purchased on the card. My Capital One card gets a good exchange rate with no fee. The frequent flier benefits can be used on any airline and there are no blackouts. Basically you get to spend 1 cent on air travel for every dollar you charge to your card. However, we can usually get a round trip from Albany to SXM for 35,000 miles on United. They would sell me that ticket for about $700. Do the math and you see you would have to spend $70,000 on Cap One to get enough "miles" to buy the ticket. Consequently, we rarely use the Cap One card. As there is no yearly charge, it is a handy spare card. We found it best to 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 which makes it essentially the same is getting a ticket through their system. Moreover, 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.

We always notify our card companies of our travel. Chase actually accepts this info on-line, making it much easier.

There are discussions on Credit card Forum and Daily Markets that may help you decide what card is best for you.

Bistrot Caraïbes
On Monday evening we headed over to Bistrot Caraïbes to meet some friends. We parked quite close as the restaurant comps the parking in the pay parking lot, if you show your receipt. We ordered water and a bottle of Chablis, thinking how the crisp wine would cut the oiliness of the wonderful smoked salmon that I would order as my appetizer. Thibault had just received a few cases of a very good white Mercurey (2011, right, 55€) and suggested that instead. I do like a good white Burgundy and in truth, when the salmon is long-smoked, it isn't as oily as other preparations. So we had the Mercurey and I was astounded by how good it was. I also ordered the 2011 Brouilly (36€, a grand cru Beaujolais) for the main course. The salmon was quite full-flavored, even moreso with capers and onions (below left, 15€). The big round flavor of the Mercurey, the unctuousness, worked well with the salmon, which comes with toast points for added crunch.

Martha had marmite of red snapper, wonderful dish that she has frequently as it features a tasty fresh fish with saffron and mussel sauce (24€, below center). I had the lamb chops on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes with a thyme sauce and a vegetable medley (28€, below right). The Brouilly was very good with these dishes.

We passed on coffee and dessert, having complimentary balloons of 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 about $166, at an exchange rate of 1.3, versus 1.36 at the bank. Our friends both had the flown-in-fresh French sea bass, another of our favorite dishes, and the special Tataky tuna appetizer. Thibault gave us a taste of this new appetizer couple weeks ago and it has now become another of our favorite dishes here. If I have a complaint, it is that there are too many dishes that I like here.

Kakao Beach Bar
We stopped in late without a reservation and didn't get a front row seat on the beach. Let that be a lesson to you. The view from the front tables was quite nice (below left with a parasailor in sky). Our view wasn't quite so good. Plan ahead and be rewarded. Our waiter brought us Guigal's Cote du Rhone (28€), a sturdy red wine capable of standing up to the many flavors (and extra anchovies) in Martha's Salade Niçoise (below center, 14€) and my mixed grill (22€). Martha thinks this is the best Niçoise on the island. My mixed grill had beef, lamb, duck, and chicken. The potatoes had been deep fried and drizzled with a persillade. I had a difficult time fending off Martha's attempts upon my potatoes. Our total bill was about 70€ ($95) plus a tip - good food and service at a reasonable price plus great views.

French Restaurant School

From WendyK: "Today was our first day back at the school after a long break. Unfortunately, they still haven't replenished the wine stock. Our cocktail of the day was a screwdriver, not very inventive or picturesque. The amuse bouche was a crustless cheese quiche, decorated with a bit of phyllo dough. The ap was a Guadeloupe melon with prosciutto, garnished with some cornichons, which made a nice contrast with the fruit and salty ham. (below left) The main course was mahi with a beurre blanc sauce, pommes vapeur, and haricots vertes (below center). There was a buckwheat crepe for dessert. We drank a bottle of San Pellegrino sparkling water (3€) and a bottle of Chablis (14€) As the lunches are 12€ each, our total was 41€."

Ti Bouchon Restaurant
On Thursday we counter-programmed the karaoke at Sapphire by going to Ti Bouchon in Cul de Sac. The colorful old Créole house has the bar and kitchen and the porch that wraps around two sides of the house serves as the dining room. There is a small but most interesting menu with aps ranging from $10 to $20 and main courses from $25 to the low $40s. As usual, Momo has several specials that are worth your consideration and he is more than happy to discuss his menu and specials with you.

Momo and family spent three months in Spain last summer so he has returned with renewed enthusiasm for Spanish wines and influences on his cuisine. We ordered fizzy water and a 2005 Bentus Rioja (right, $59).

Our amuse bouche was a lobster carpaccio with a hint of lime and a whipped cream topping sprinkled with poppy seeds. (above left) My ap was the eggs murette, eggs poached in a red wine sauce with little silverskin mushrooms, bacon, and tiny button mushrooms. Very tasty and very Burgundian (above center, 13) I followed that with a special of scallops and shrimp with a risotto topped with a medley of vegetables all swimming in a tasty sauce (above right, 36). Martha had a special long cooked veal shank on a bed of crushed potatoes with an orange caramel glaze and veg (right, 39).

Momo presents a bill and says he doesn't care if you pay in euros or dollars. Just like last year's visit, you should choose dollars. Our bill was $153 to which we added a tip for his entertaining service.

Palm Beach Restaurant toward the northern end of Orient Beach frequently has parties on Sunday. This week they are doing a fitness party. That's a bit different from the places that feature the Platinum Room girls and champagne. Although the Platinum Room girls generally look pretty fit.

Here's a few warnings: It appears that some banks are no longer accepting traveler's checks. Not my problem, you say? You cash them at restaurants. Unfortunately, as these banks ultimately are presented with the traveler's checks that you gave to a restaurant, that means the restaurant will no longer take them either. The thread on TTOL had an unreg saying that Casino Royale had a sign up saying they did not take them. Given that everybody has credit cards and most restaurants accept them, traveler's checks are a declining business. Be prepared.

Thursdays at the Marina I've never been to Harbor Queen as I am not a great fan of all I can eat. I'm certain that I can eat more than I should eat and either my wallet or my waistline will suffer. It appears that Harbor Queen solves this dilemma by offering slow service, at least according to this TTOL thread.

As many may remember Peg Leg Pub went through a bad patch a last season. A new manager was installed and things were better, but not perfect as this thread on TTOL shows. Three of three responders said they would not return

And a final warning: Boca Marina got very mixed reviews recently. Ignoring a couple who only had drinks, three of six responders said they would never return.

The Thursday night party at Marina Royale in Marigot has started and will run until 20 March. It will feature the usual bands and parade and shops will stay open until 9PM. After 20 March there will be the Sip and Chat promotion along the waterfront (more details later).

The Tuesday Night Party in Grand Case started on 21 January and will run until 30 March.

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!

Here is the current list of the ARCHA members contributing to the security and clean-up of Grand Case. They would appreciate your continued support of their efforts. The sticker is displayed at businesses that participating in this much-needed endeavor.

Hotels and Residences:
Grand Case Beach Club
Le Petit Hotel
Bleu Emeraude
Catalina 4
Hevea Hotel
Auberge Gourmande
Bistrot Caraïbes
Il Nettuno Restaurant
Le Tastevin
Piazza Pascal
Le Pressoir
Calmos Cafe
La Crepe En Rose
L'Effet Mer
Restaurant du Soleil
Ocean 82
Blue Martini
Le Cottage
El Cafecito
Le Ti Provencal
Tijon Perfumery
La Boutique D'anaise
Octopus Diving
Que Du Bonheur
Cotton Club SXM
La Boheme
Sexy Fruits
Tropismes Galerie
Simple Elegance


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."