St Maarten/St Martin
8 February 2015 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Last Sunday turned out to be OK despite the heavy downpour in the morning. The rest of the day was pretty cloudy, but the rain seemed to clear the sky making Saba, Statia, and St Kitts visible. Monday was warm and hazy with more than enough clouds and humidity, despite the forecast. On the right is Venus (upper right) shining above a cloudy sunset. Below left is an early morning rainbow that arced from Cupecoy Bay over to the French lowlands. I took this picture from our Caribbean balcony and noticed the rest of it as I descended the stairs to the pool for my morning swim. Tuesday was hazy with a bit of rain in the morning. Wednesday was warm and so hazy that Saba was nowhere to be seen. Thursday was much the same and Friday featured a squall that drove everyone from the pool around lunch time. It did clear the air and at sunrise on Saturday I could see Saba, Statia, and St Kitts from the balcony. Below center is a photo of Saba wherein you can see the houses and on the right is St Kitts. The pano below shows Statia on the left and Saba on the right. All three of these were shot just after sunrise. The forecast for the next ten days shows only one clear day, two partly cloudy days, and seven days with a chance of rain totaly about 0.4 inches. Next Sunday is supposed to have 0.17 inches. The high temps range from 81 to 83F and the lows from 73 to 75F.

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 6:10 PM providing eleven hours and 27 minutes of sunshine, six minutes more than last Sunday. For 2015, the full moons will be 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.

SXM-Beaches: Wendy K, our senior Cupecoy Beach reporter, reports that last Sunday: "Hard to believe with all this wind coming across the lagoon that Cupecoy is calm! Unfortunately, there's little sand at Shore Pointe and no good water access, but there is a small pool. Middle beach and Baby beaches have the most sand. It looks like maybe 2 feet of dry sand in front of the chairs at BB and no sand to speak of at Ocean Club. This week starts off with very calm, clear water, but no sand. There are nice pools at Shore Pointe, some sand at the middle beach, sand the full length of baby beach, and no sand at Ocean Club." Jadira Veen from St Maarten Pride has written a few choice words on the recent denial of beach access at Cupecoy.

The beach pano below was taken from Link 1 while driving past Divi Little Bay. Philipsburg has quite a beach. We always look forward to a pleasant lunch at Antoine Restaurant where you can dine inside and have the view on the left. You can also dine on the beach and use the chairs.

Beach reading: The Hours by Michael Cunningham - (about $12 paperback, $10 Kindle) - From Amazon: A daring, deeply affecting third novel by the author of A Home at the End of the World and Flesh and Blood. In The Hours, Michael Cunningham, widely praised as one of the most gifted writers of his generation, draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair. The narrative of Woolf's last days before her suicide early in World War II counterpoints the fictional stories of Samuel, a famous poet whose life has been shadowed by his talented and troubled mother, and his lifelong friend Clarissa, who strives to forge a balanced and rewarding life in spite of the demands of friends, lovers, and family. Passionate, profound, and deeply moving, this is Cunningham's most remarkable achievement to date. And it won the Pulizer Prize.

ginger Sapphire Beach Club: I just had someone email me to say that a manager at RCI told her that Sapphire dumped RCI. It's hard to find any truth around here, but my talks with Bob Barron, who owns a week here and received the letter, suggest that RCI put Sapphire on probation, giving them a few months to correct things. The bad news is that you can't trade your weeks through RCI but the good news is that this may force Sapphire to fix things. Moreover, even though one cannot find Sapphire on RCI's website, it does exist on Interval International's site. 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. Buildings 1 and 2 have only one working elevator each. 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.
Below is a shot of the sunrise photo of Statia and an incoming plane taken from our balcony on Tuesday morning. Statia is a bit over 8 square mils, forty miles from SXM. The taller mountain at a bit more than 600 meters is the Quill, now a dormant volcano. At the other end of the island is Mt Boven, a bit under 300 meters high. The flat area between the two mountains is where most of the island's 3600 residents live according to a 2001 census.

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.

SXM-Activities: Just before sunset one night last week, I spotted this guy on a paddle board. He is in the center of the photo on the left and quite visible in the telephoto shot on the right. I suspect he came from Mullett Beach. Both Tri Sport and Tropical Wave rent watersports equipment. Tri Sport also rents bikes. Tropical Wave is at Galion Beach which is a great spot for beginners as the bay is quite flat because of a sand bar and a reef. It is on the windward side, so there is a good breeze. Tri Sport is quite close to the Simpson Bay Bridge on the airport (west) side.

Gas: Gas is still cheaper on the Dutch side. They are charging about 1.75 NFl per liter and offering an exchange rate of 1.75 NAFl per dollar, essentially $1.00 per liter, if, and it should be a big IF, they do the exchange rate correctly. Short of carrying a calculator, a ten dollar bill is 17.50 NAFl which is 10 liters or about 2.6 gallons. The tanks on small cars are about 10 gallons, so $40 should fill a small tank. Thirty dollars would be 52.5 NAFl, and get you almost 8 gallons. While the Dutch side is cheaper, Cadisco is selling gas at a few pennies over a dollar at their Orient and Marigot stations where they do one to one on the euro. Thus, your savings on a full tank of gas might be a quarter. Other stations on the French side are selling gas for 90 to 95 euro cents, but not doing one to one, so at 1.15 $/€ they are no bargain either and there is always the conversion problem.
Alcohol: We stopped in to see Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar and replenish our cellar. We bought two more bottles of the wonderful Cotes du Rhone from Usseglio ($23). It's big and smooth, stands up to spicy pizza and plays nice even without spice. I got two more bottles of Girard's 2012 Savigny-Les-Beaune as our house wine ($29) and two bottles of the Trembley Chablis ($18.50). I frequently have a glass of the Chablis to start off the evening. It goes well with sunsets. Use the coupon on Sylvain's website to get 10% off on his list prices.

Travel: There was an informative article on Anguilla in the NY Times recently.

green logo Nature: On the right are the two chicks and a parent who has returned to feed them. Note the prominent ring on the adult and just a hint of darkness on the necks of the fledglings. Adult males and females are essentially identical.
Our office is well over 100% solar-powered and our hosting company servers are about 130% wind-powered.

Small Island story: Read what it says on the Alegria sign to the left. You may have to enlarge it, but I don't have to say anything.


Winners of the contest ending 8 February
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October) - Greg Lerch
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - DJ Swenson
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - DJ Swenson
Marci's Mega Gym - Two for One week with a shake - Rita Johnson
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate - DJ Swenson
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Rita Johnson
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two - Greg Lerch
Pizza Galley - $25 off on a dinner for two - Greg Lerch

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 5 April
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:
5 April to 31 May
31 May to 30 August | 30 August to 6 December
same cast of characters as current contest



On 25 January the Euro was at 1.129 and today it is at 1.131. With the euro being so weak against the dollar it behooves those of us with dollars to check the exchange rate offered by restaurants again. For several years French side restaurants have been offering better exchange rates, especially for cash. The real rate is under 1.2 and I find many French side restaurants have lowered their rates to 1.2 and are sticking with it. Ask for your credit card to be charged in euros, assuming you followed my advice below and got a card that has no charge for foreign transactions and gives you the wholesale rate on the exchange.

Il Nettuno Restaurant, 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.


Piazza Pascal
On a breezy and cool Monday evening we went to dinner at Piazza Pascal. We had 7:30 reservations and parked in the pay lot, which was fairly full. The stroll down the street showed most places to be fairly busy. Donna had saved us a corner table in the new upstairs dining area. Business has been doing well and most tables were full before we left. Reservations are a good thing, you get to dine where you want and you may even get the table that you want. We started with sparkling water and Lluna's (our waitress) favorite wine, a Tuscan Sangiovese 2013 "Le Focaie", Rocca Di Montmassi at $34. It's amazingly good considering it probably hasn't been in the bottle more than a year.

We shared the sautéed Italian sausage with peppers and onions in tomato sauce with baked maozzarella cheese ($13). This dish contains everything I like about Italian cuisine: a tomato sauce with peppers and onions with mozzarella and some tasty sausage. Martha had a special ravioli of lobster, crab, and spinach in a red sauce with julienne of various vegetables. I had the Linguini Di Napoli (below right, $25), shrimp, calamari, scallops, mussels, and assorted seafood in fresh basil tomato sauce over linguini pasta. I was offered spicy sauce, which I accepted without question. We ran out of wine so we had a Sicilian wine, the 2011 Nero D'avola, Feudo Principi Di Butera ($36), also recommended by Lluna. I liked it a bit better, quite possibly because it had a couple extra years in the bottle. We ended with limoncellos. Total cost, about $140 as they are still doing 1 to 1 for cash purchases. There is no water view, but this is one of the best deals in Grand Case.

Tropical Wave

On Wednesday the three of us went to Tropical Wave for a lovely lunch on Galion Beach. Lilly the Lynx searched for her own lunch while we looked over the menu and wine list. There are three nice rosés on the wine list we we chose the middle one, Carte Noire, for 16€ (below center). Nana (below right) showed up quickly with an ice bucket and some pretty good wine. (I assure you that the Coke was for another table.)

They usually have a fish special and today it was red snapper en papillote. This being the 21st century, the papillote was not parchment, but aluminum foil (below center 15.5€). I had that and Martha choose the mahi plate (below left, 13€). Both lunches came with a bit of salad and some starch: rice, baked potato, or fries. Our entire lunch came to 45€ and was converted at 1.2 to $54. We paid with euros. They do not accept credit cards The full menu is on the website and there are a couple coupons there to save you some money on lunch and watersports. As usual, we sat down and chatted with Pat until the staff closed the restaurant around us. This years news: Somebody stole his motor boat, eventually leaving it on the reef with the motors missing. Within a week Hurricane Gonzalo arrived essentially without warning. Tryst, his catamaran sailboat, did not survive. The French government told him not to repair any hurricane damage to the restaurant/watersports facilities. He repaired the damage and is refusing expropriation.

Le Tastevin
On Thursday we headed over to Grand Case for a dinner on the water at Le Tastevin. The big news is that José and Christine have sold the restaurant to Pascal from Auberge Gourmande and Amaury and Thibault from Bistrot Caraïbes. The exterior has been repainted and remodeled a bit in a Bistrot Caraïbes fashion, which is decidedly modern, not Caribbean. José has agreed to finish out this high season.

We arrived at 7:30 to an almost full restaurant, but because we had reservations, a four-top waterfront table awaited with it's lovely view of sailboats in Grand Case harbor and Anguilla's lights in the distance. We started with sparkling water as we waited for our friends to arrive. Our first wine was a 2007 Vougeot Premier Cru. The 2007 red burgundy vintage only rated a six, the second lowest rating in over a decade. The good news is that it is ready to drink and, frankly, even in a bad year, Premier Cru Vougeot is pretty good, especially if it was made by a good producer, as Mongeard-Mugneret is.

The usual amuse bouche didn't make it into the new regime. Our appetizer was a special, a carpaccio of tuna (16€, below left). Martha's main course was another special, turbot in a Hollandaise sauce with julienned veg (below center, 28?). I had yet another special, an osso buco (26€, right). We finished with a complimentary balloon of old rum and a glass of champagne as we listened to the waves slap the shore and gazed across Grand Case Bay to Anguilla. The bill came to about $125, without the wine. The dining room is lovely, the view spectacular, the service impeccable, the wine list superb, and the food is not only top quality, but well-prepared.

We look forward to this visit as we feel this is one of the most pleasant dining experiences on this island. Even the rolls are fabulous and the butter is an AOC version from Serrigny. To enhance your experience, go a few days before or after the full moon as it lights up the bay (as we did). They are open every day for lunch and dinner.

La Table d'Antoine
On lovely Friday evening we went to dinner at La Table d'Antoine in Orient Village. We had 7:30 reservations and it was crowded when we got there, but we did find a parking spot just outside the village square. There is a Friday night party in the square and a jazzy duo performed in the center of the square with plenty of vendors around the edges. Most of the seven restaurants were very full.

We started with drinks (first of the season). Martha had a Martini Rouge, which, in France, is red vermouth, not some weird martini. I had the usual Campari and soda water. We looked over the rather small menu and I certainly could find some things that interested me, but I really perked up when the specials board arrived (right). This is my kind of restaurant, much like the original Bistro Nu. We had the tartare of mahi with Caribbean spices as an ap. Quite a bit of very tasty mahi arrived in half a coconut shell (below left, 16€). Martha had the chicken leg and thigh stuffed with conch in a lobster sauce (below center, 22€) and I had the stewed beef cheeks. Both came with some crunchy sautéed zucchini and a lovely potato puré. Everything was remarkably good and inexpensive. The wine list was fairly long, touching all bases. We had Lapierre's 2013 Morgon. It was a bit young, but benefited from breathing. The total bill was about 80 €, a bit over $100.

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.
Just this week, Marigot's Marina Royale claimed Thursday night as their party night. They will run until 19 March. They also claimed to have gendarmes, local police, and private security on patrol. As noted above there is a Friday night party with the a band and local vendors in Orient Village. On the left is the jazzy duo that played on 6 February.
Mardis de Grand Case (The Tuesday Night Party in Grand Case) runs from 20 January until 10 March 2015, a total of eight nights rather than the usual 12 because of budget cuts.
If you are looking to purchase gift certificates for island restaurants, check out Antoine Restaurant, Piazza Pascal, La Villa, and L'Escargot Restaurant. Treat your friends at your favorite restaurant!

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
Auberge Gourmande
Bistrot Caraïbes
Piazza Pascal
Le Pressoir
Le Tastevin
La Villa
Ocean 82
Calmos Cafe
Blue Martini
Le Soleil
Le Cottage
Tijon Perfumery
La boutique D'Anaise
La Boutique D'anaise
Cotton Club SXM
La Boheme
Sexy Fruits
Simple Elegance


Coupons: Below are links to the SXM-Info clients who have coupons on their websites. I have removed the SXM Privilege Card which used to charge a small amount for a card that got 10% (or thereabouts) discounts on many things. It then became free and now the website is under construction.

Kakao Beach
Marci's Mega Gym
Endless Summer Beachwear
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 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."