St Maarten/St Martin
11 January 2015 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset


Weather: When we left the northeast, we left some bad weather behind. Sorry about that. In truth, the heavy snowfall shown below arrived for Christmas and was gone by New Year's. It certainly made the cardinals stand out. On 3 Jan we drove with our neighbors to the airport. We headed south off our hill, through the town of Salem, and turned west on route 29 toward Albany. It was a distance of about four miles heading south. Within a half mile, we met the blizzard coming straight at us. An hour later as we pulled into the hotel at the airport, there was an inch of snow on the ground. Our neighbors wisely eschewed a restaurant dinner invitation, turned the car around, and headed home. We stayed at an airport hotel and awoke to about an inch of snow with ice pellets coming down. This was what we left behind. It wasn't much snow, but turned into bitter cold. On the right is what it was like yesterday in front of Kakao Beach. On the right below is a shot taken from our balcony of the contrail from a southbound jet.

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 5:54 PM providing eleven hours and 8 minutes of sunshine, about three minutes more than the 11 hours and 3 minutes for the solstice on 21 December 2014. For 2015, the full moons will be 3 Feb, 5 Mar, 4 Apr, 3 May, 2 Jun, 1 Jul, 31 Jul (a blue moon), 29 Aug, 27 Sep, 27 Oct, 25 Nov, and 25 Dec.

This sunset pano was taken from the Caribbean balcony of our condo

SXM-Beaches: On Saturday we went over Orient Beach for lunch at Palm Beach Restaurant. Orient is a wide crescent generally facing the east. The tradewinds come from the east, sometimes as a cooling breeze, sometimes using the sand to effect a free dermabrasion, sometimes bringing hurricanes. The southern end of the beach is somewhat protected by a reef and the central section is protected by Green Cay (see pano below). As Palm Beach is at the northern end of the beach, they fared worse than most of the beach bars and restaurants here. They have been working hard and have rebuilt the front of the their structure, raising and strengthening it. Below left shows the beach back in operation with an excavator in the background. There are more photos in the restaurant section of this newsletter. In the center below is a shot of the sea of the deep blue umbrellas that mark Kakao. The photo was taken looking north toward Mont Vernon. The photo on the right is Olivier and a customer at Orange Fever with a hint of Green Cay in the washed-out backgound. They lost a lot of beach and the structure sustained some damage. Most places here were back in operation quickly, as most of them were never very substantial. Aloha was probably one of the more substantial structures and it has been restored despite the French side government's announced plans to flatten the existing structures and move them back from the water in the near future. This has a two-fold purpose. Global warming has been raising the normal water level and storms have been taking away sand, causing many beach front restaurants to have no, or very limited, beach. People come here because of the beach, a major portion of income derives from renting beach chairs, and this leads to food and beverage sales. Reason number one is, therefore, money. Reason number two is that the new structures will be safer, sturdier, and better looking. This may be related to money also, but long-term money, something rarely considered here in the Caribbean.

Beach reading: Like Life by Lorrie Moore - (about $12 paperback, $8 Kindle) - This is actually a book of short stories. Martha borrowed the Kindle version from our local Salem, NY library while we were here on St Maarten. We no longer have to use up half a suitcase for reading material! In any event, Martha likes the book and Amazon says: " In Like Life's eight exquisite stories, Lorrie Moore's characters stumble through their daily existence. These men and women, unsettled and adrift and often frightened, can't quite understand how they arrived at their present situations. Harry has been reworking a play for years in his apartment near Times Square in New York. Jane is biding her time at a cheese shop in a Midwest mall. Dennis, unhappily divorced, buries himself in self-help books about healthful food and healthy relationships. One prefers to speak on the phone rather than face his friends, another lets the answering machine do all the talking. But whether rejected, afraid to commit, bored, disillusioned or just misunderstood, even the most hard-bitten are not without some abiding trust in love."

ginger Sapphire Beach Club: We are in our condo (Unit 255) at this time. The pool is clean and full, although a section of the bottom is failing, allowing some water loss. The alternative is to drain it in high season and fix it at all deliberate Caribbean speed. Building 2 has only one working elevator. Other than that, we have A/C, hot and cold water, beach towels, and maid service. The pool bar/restaurant is open. The condo will be available in early April at $1000 per week or less until 15 December 2015 when the rate rises to $1500 per week. You'll get a 10% discount from Unity Car Rental, one of the longest running and most trusted agencies on the island, and several more coupons as well. Check the calendar on our website for available dates. On the right is some cactus on our balcony with a bit of sugarbird nest in the top. Sharp eyes may detect Saba in the distance. Below is a pano from our other balcony running from Mont Rouge on the left, the lagoon and Anguilla channel with Anguilla in the background, to Sandy Ground and Marigot harbor with Créole Rock in Grand Case in the background.

A visitor in early April said:

The vacation was GREAT. Your suite is very nice, the plants, books and cd's made it home-like. We especially liked tooling around the Island listening to Dexter Gordon and Miles Davis on the cd player in Unity's car; which was by the way, a great deal. He upgraded us one level and charged us low season rates. The Pub Crawl was a success. Neil has a knack of getting a group to interact and have fun and we always go out with him at least once. Select Wine Cellar was a highlight. Sylvain steered us to some bottles that were very good. All in all it was a great vacation. Thanks for the coupons they made our stay even better than usual.

Best regards,
Nick & Sharon

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.


We caught up with Pierre, aka Pineapple Pete, in the Grand Marché as we were both on major shopping expeditions. Life is good at the restaurant and there is music every night. It is regularly voted the best spot on the island for live music by the discerning readers of the Daily Herald.

We will be spending a bit of time watching the NFL playoffs in the SPN Café next door in the mega-complex that Pierre has constructed in Simpson Bay.

Groceries: Speaking of shopping, we stopped at the Super U in the Howell Center on the eastern side of Marigot. There is ample parking and it is a well-stocked, lovely place. They have quite a bit of frozen food, and while we generally avoid it, frozen food makes a fair amount of sense out here at the end of the food chain. It is especially good for sensitive food, like mushrooms and fish. Fish processed and frozen at sea is probably better than fish dumped in the hold of a ship that fishes for five days and takes three more days to return to port. We picked up mahi ($10 per pound), yellowfin tuna ($7.30 per pound), calamari ($7.70 per pound), cepes ($11.70 per pound), and artichoke bottoms ($9 per pound). There is a good selection of fresh meat, cheese, and low end wines.
Alcohol: But man does not live by low-end wines alone. It is necessary to stop in at Select Wines in Orange Grove to see what Sylvain has in stock. We stopped in for a case within hours of our landing on Monday. We also made plans for a lunch on Friday featuring venison from our farm. We also brought some of the Brad Kessler's Tomme from goat's milk that we aged in our wine cellar and a wedge of Consider Bardwell's Dorset, a cow's milk cheese. The other guests at the lunch were Sylvain's former partner, Marina, and Patrick, the landlord for the Orange Grove Shopping Center. Sylvain gave us a blind tasting and I guessed one of the wines from our recent visit to Piedmont. It was a 2010 Barbaresco from Adriano, one of our favorite stops. Next came a Rhone and a good one, but more than that was beyond me. It was a 2010 St Joseph Les Pierres ($59). On the last one, I went with a Burgundy and a good one. It was a Burgundy from the Cote de Beaune, a Pommard from Chantal Lescure ($87), a very good one and drinking quite well at the moment. Use the coupon on Sylvain's website to get 10% off on his list prices.

Gas: The Cadisco gas stations on the Lagoon in Marigot and at Orient are still doing 1 to 1 on the dollar for gas. Their station in Nettle bay is not. the lagoon station is quite convenient for us and they were charging 1.18 per liter, or about $4.70 per gallon. The cheapest gas we found was actually at the station in La Savanne at the western side of Grand Case. They don't fool around with 1 to 1 but they are selling gas for 0.98€ per liter, about $4.40 per gallon. My opinion, but if you don't take at least one trip to Grand Case for dinner, you've wasted your vacation. So while you are there, get some gas.

Travel: We did make it to the airport on the morning of 4 Jan and despite quite a crowd, we got to the gate a bit before boarding. Didn't matter, no gate agent was there. Nobody showed up until after we should have taken off. We didn't take off until we should have landed in Newark and we got into Newark about an hour late, after we should have taken off for SXM. However, the displays said our next flight was delayed and still at the gate. Didn't matter, no one gate agent was there. Didn't I say this earlier? We went to the United Club and eventually got a voucher for a bonus night at a Ramada in Newark and $14 worth of "food". I pointed out that there were three of us traveling on the ticket: Martha, me, and Lilly (at $250 round-trip). The basic answer was tough luck about the cat, but thanks for the $250. As it was before noon and the hotel wasn't going to take us until 3PM, we camped at the United Club. There was a shift change and one of the new United Club desk clerks was a cat lover. She at least called the hotel as a rep of a company that did a lot of business with them and asked if Lilly could be accommodated. The answer was yes, but don't flaunt the cat. The lesson here is that if you speak nicely and don't get what you want, wait a bit and try another agent. If you get in a shouting match that every agent hears, you will not have much luck when you try another agent.

green logo Nature: The tree outside our condo has almost reached our sixth floor balcony! A ring-necked dove has set up shop on one of the leaves. I can only assume she doesn't know that palm trees have adapted to hurricanes by having thick sturdy, trunks that stand the winds and thin, spindly leaves that flop about with the slightest breeze. Not good for eggs. Our office is well over 100% solar-powered and our hosting company servers are about 130% wind-powered.
Small Island story: Marcel Gumbs is the new Prime Minister for this edition of the newsletter. I've seen several comments saying he is a good and honest politician. I note that the incoming ministers have decided NOT to give government employees a holiday on 2 Jan. Moreover, businesses CAN remain open on New Year's Day. The Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications (TEATT) announced that "Various businesses throughout the country that offer services to our tourism-based economy will have the opportunity to cater to our valued visitors." Ya think?


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 8 February
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
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 ago Sulay entered 33 times for one contest, 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 for that contest.

Here's some comments from a past winner:

We met with Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar, enjoyed the tasting, and opted for the Belin Champagne 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. ... 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:
8 February to 5 April | 5 April to 31 May
31 May to 30 August | 30 August to 6 December
same cast of characters as current contest



On 21 December the Euro was at 1.223 and today it is at 1.184, almost what it was when all this started about 15 years ago.

Piazza Pascal and La Villa, in Grand Case are offering 1 to 1 for cash. Nearby Ti Bouchon offers 1 to 1 also.

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 Signature Visa Venture 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 as 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.

Cap One just offered Martha a Quicksilver Visa Signature Card that gives us 1.5% back - no fooling around with miles. They do not charge an exchange fee on foreign transactions and they do provide rental car insurance. This will be our primary card as airline miles are not as valuable or as easy to use as they used to be.

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.


Pizza Galley
JP was happy to see us as we walked in without a reservation. He was even happier when we said it was our first meal on the island this season. We had the same dinner we always have: we split a small Caesar salad and have a JP special featuring pepperoni, Italian sausage, green peppers, mushrooms, caramelized onions, black olives and mozzarella cheese. We add a head of roasted garlic and order the Cotes du Rhone from Mont Redon ($24). JP has expanded the wine list with several more moderately priced wines. We still think the Rhone works well with a full-flavored pizza. Word to the wise, all the interior tables were taken or reserved. We had a great time outside at the picnic table, but it does rain - even in paradise.

On Wednesday we went to Skipjack's for a chat with George and lunch. The restaurant is doing quite well. Necessity is the mother of invention, and as the restaurant is not about to get bigger, increased efficiency is helping to accommodate the increased number of guests. No need to describe the details, but I find it interesting that George with help and suggestions of his staff has rearranged the workflow to maintain what I always thought was very good service. I do admit that I had to lower my expectations when I walked into a restaurant that had every table full and people waiting in the entrance. There is reason for that and the reason is good food at good prices served by friendly, attentive people.

We walked into the dining room to find Betty (and husband Phil) from the Horny Toad Guesthouse at a table. They invited us to join them. Martha had the crispy calamari salad, lots of fried calamari on romaine lettuce with two dipping sauces ($17). I had the Asian plate, seared sesame crusted yellow fin tuna, calamari salad, steamed shrimp, seaweed salad, and wasabi with a soy ginger dipping sauce ($18). We split a bottle of the Estancia Monterey County Chardonnay ($33). It was a lovely, great-to-be-back lunch on a beautiful day. Now, if I could only afford one of the mega-yachts parked a hundred yards away.

Palm Beach Restaurant
We headed over to Orient on Saturday. We knew it would be windy on the windward side, based on the whitecaps on the lagoon. We got a waterfront table with great views of Green Cay, Tintamarre, and Pinel and started with a Mon Redon Cotes du Rhone (21€, right, the girl is holding the bottle, the other girl). It's a good wine with full flavored food. When you come here, you should at least consider the fresh fish on the specials board, and the grouper in an Thai fashion sounded great (below left, 22€). We were amazed at the amount of grouper, and even more amazed by its zesty taste. I went with the mussels in a curry, cream sauce (below center, 19€). Another jolt to the tastebuds and great with our wine. So, good wine, fine service, and a great lunch on Orient Beach for only $84 as they use 1.25 as the conversion. I should have used my card and and asked to pay in euros! The photo below right shows how the mussel shells are supposed to be stacked in Belgium, home of moules frites.

News and Changes: We frequently post some dining photos to Facebook. Less frequently we post activities and other things related to SXM or food. If you're interested, I trust you know what to do.

If you are looking to purchase gift certificates for island restaurants, check out Antoine Restaurant, Piazza Pascal, and L'Escargot Restaurant. Treat your friends at your favorite restaurant!

Hervé has sold his interest in Kakao Beach. Doumé is on his way back to the island to run things. At present Bernard, one of the owners of Taï Chi (along with Doumé), is managing Kakao. Hervé is running Le Piment, the pizza shop in Orient Village.

Bluefin Restaurant has opened in the spot where Montmartre reigned for many years before it lapsed into obscurity. I've seen good things on TTOL, but someone who lives nearby said he did not frequent fish restaurants with few customers.

Olivier Lange, aka Captain Oliver, died last September in Paris, leaving behind a niece (Axelle Lange), a nephew (Francois Lange), a brother-in-law (Pierre Bigiaoui), companion (Maggi Shurtleff), and Maylïs Rioust de Largentaye, his assistant, personal secretary and executor of his will. According to the Daily Herald, he also left behind a huge seething mess that even involves the French side as they sent gendarmes over to claim Captain Oliver's Marina and restaurant for France previously. I cannot condense the story so you really should read it to see what can happen down here.

Dino Jagtiani from Temptation Restaurant has produced a cookbook with art work by Sir Roland Richardson, St Martin's treasured artist, and poetry by Laura Richardson, Roland's wife. Together they have poured their shared passion, creativity, and talent to the best of their ability into this magical archive of St Martin's flavors. For further information, please contact Chef Dino Jagiani dinojagtiani@aol.com or Sir Roland and Laura Richardson roland.laura@wanadoo.fr

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.

For flights, car rentals, and hotels: CheapOair can get you there. It's always worth the effort to check their rock-bottom prices. We were looking for flights to Spain or Portugal and really wanted first/business class, but found only $8000 flights (each - ouch!). That was a bit much. Martha checked CheapOair and got about half that. It's still about three times the cost of cattle class, but I'm willing to pay that.

  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 for 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."