St Maarten/St Martin
5 April 2015 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Last Sunday was still fairly cloudy at noon, but cleared up and our last three days on the island were warm and mostly sunny including this shot of a sailboat passing by Saba. Below left is a three master heading past Saba and on the right is a cruise ship catching the morning sun as it goes past Saba. Note the clouds that generally cleared up as the day warmed up. The panoramic shot below shows a tanker with St Kitts in the background. It had been hazy for the last few weeks so it was a welcome change to see some of the neighboring islands. 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 6:26 PM providing twelve hours and 23 minutes of sunshine, seven minutes more than last Sunday. The full moons for 2015 will be: 3 May, 2 Jun, 1 Jul, 31 Jul (a blue moon), 29 Aug, 27 Sep, 27 Oct, 25 Nov, and 25 Dec. The ten day forecast shows highs of 82 to 83 and lows of 74 to 76 with four sunny days, three partly cloudy days, and three days with a chance of rain amounting to less than 0.1 inches.

SXM-Beaches: Report from Wendy K, our Senior Cupecoy Correspondent: "By last Sunday the sand had shifted as usual, and the pools at Shore Pointe were filled in. More sand had eroded from baby and middle beaches. The corner at Ocean Club beach was also coming back. There were few pelicans that morning, so maybe the sardines had moved away."

Beach reading: Blood Hunt by Ian Rankin - about $7 (Kindle) or not much for used hardcovers or paperbacks, it's a very old book - From Publishers Weekly Admirers of Edgar-winner Rankin's bestselling series featuring Edinburgh's Insp. John Rebus (Fleshmarket Alley, etc.) may be disappointed by this stand-alone suspense novel, which has more in common with the works of Frederick Forsyth and Robert Ludlum. Gordon Reeve, an ex Special Forces soldier with serious anger management issues, has settled down to a tranquil second career running a survival camp in a remote part of Scotland. When he learns that his journalist brother, Jim, with whom he hadn't been close for years, has shot himself in California, Reeve resolves to seek answers. Once in the U.S., Reeve begins to suspect that his brother was murdered because of an investigative piece he was working on involving a major chemical company. But that Grisham-like plot is soon made secondary to a game of cat and mouse Reeve plays with a deranged former military colleague, leading to an anticlimactic and predictable ending. Rankin's gifts as a writer will have many quickly turning the pages, but longtime fans will hope for a return to form in his next outing." "Not the greatest of reviews, but good enough for beach reading" - ESK

Sapphire Beach Club: We are not in our condo (Unit 255) at this time, having made it back to Salem, NY where most of our farm fields were under snow when we arrived. Two days in the 60s got rid of most of the snow and now it is mud. All things considered, Sapphire, even with its warts, is better than this. The pool was clean and full, all buildings had at least one working elevator. We had A/C, hot and cold water, beach towels, and maid service. The pool bar and two restaurants are open. They have painted the exercise room and are working on some of the machines. My condo will not be available until April of 2016. I've scheduled a bit of maintenance in early April and have a rental from 21 April until 1 May and then a long term rental from May through December. We will use the unit from early January until early April of 2016.

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: Below left is photo with from our Caribbean balcony with Random Wind in the lower left corner stopping for a snorkel and lunch. On the right of the photo is Passat, the ship whose website has appropriated one of our maps. That's Diane doing the acrobatics off the Tarzan swing.

Travel: We flew back on April Fools Day, having spent a couple days packing things up. I dropped Martha at the airport and got a skycap to help with luggage while I took the car to Michael at Unity Car Rental. I had requested a junker and it was still a junker when I returned it. No worries about dents and scratches, mate. Unity is in Simpson Bay so I was back at the airport in fifteen minutes. Martha was all checked in and waiting for me! We went over to the food court and had our last wine and cheese tasting on the island before we headed up through security and on to the gate. United was on time and we even landed in EWR a bit early.

At immigration, they had a new system where a disgruntled employee allowed several people out of the Santa Claus line and told them to get in a shorter line in front of one of the open booths. We chose the slowest, chattiest attendant and became one of the last to arrive at the baggage carousel. It didn't matter as our luggage wasn't there yet. We got it and headed to customs. We had brought a wine shipper when we came down in early January. I have some that use nestable cardboard inserts to protect the wine. I can break down the cardboard container so that it is flat and nest the inserts so that it will fit in one of our large pieces of checked luggage with room to spare. We also had a wine in a box container with a plastic bladder. It holds 3 liters, 4 bottles of rum, in a fraction of the space and weight. I brought back a case of fantastic Burgundy averaging about $50 per bottle and four bottles of $20 Angostura rum in the bladder. I declared 3 liters of rum at $60 and 9 liters of wine at $600 and a cat. Lilly, the cat, got us immediate access to the USDA line and a man there said he was not interested in cats, just throw your luggage on the belt into the sniffer. And that was that.

As usual our connecting flight departed from the furthest gate that United had from our landing gate, not only the far end of the other concourse, but downstairs with no facilities. Consequently, we ate upstairs in one of those restaurants with a tablet on the table. Even the waiter couldn't make ours work so he went to another table and used used another tablet. The only thing that the tablet does well is increase the tip as the default setting adds 18%. Because he used another tablet, when the food was ready, no one knew where it went. With the long walk to the gate and ordering problems, we had to hurrry through dinner leaving half of an expensive beer behind. I rushed downstairs to get in the boarding line, only to stand there for 45 minutes. Our flight to Albany made up a few minutes and the luggage was delivered quickly. Our neighbors had parked our car in the short term lot at the terminal, so a three minute walk brought us to our car. An hour and a half drive brought us to the snow-covered hills of Salem, NY at 11PM, over 12 hours since leaving our condo.

In other travel news, the Anguilla ferries have increased the toll from $15 to $20.

Alcohol: We went over to Select Wine Cellar on Tuesday to pick up a case of wine to bring home and have a last lunch from Champagne Bistro with Sylvain (left, taller in a black shirt) and Petrus (shorter in a light tan coat). Sylvain knows that I like Musigny. The real Musigny is a tiny grand cru plot in the village of Chambolle-Musigny. There are two other plots there that have grand cru status (Petits Musigny and Les Bonnes Mares) and several premier cru vineyards. There were several of these in the mixed case that I brought home.

green logo Nature: On the right is a pair of pelicans looking for lunch as they head east across Cupecoy Bay in front of our Caribbean balcony.

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

Small Island story: We tried to do this the easy way, but here is the hard sell: Take this survey about your internet usage and you will be entered into a contest for dinner for two at Daniel's by the Sea. An island friend is pursuing a psychology degree via long distance learning. One of her requirements is to conduct a research study on internet use, personality traits, and the impact this may have on an individual's social life. She's past halfway to the 300 responses she needs by mid-April. Your responses will be confidential; the survey doesn't ask for your name. It might take 15 minutes. If you can spare that much time click this link to the survey. Thanks much.


Winners of the contest that ended on 5 April
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Bonnie Simpson
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - Kenneth Fritz
Marci's Mega Gym - Two for One week with a shake - Kenneth Fritz
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate - Kenneth Fritz
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Bonnie Simpson
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two - Bonnie Simpson
Pizza Galley - $25 off on a dinner for two - Kenneth Fritz

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 July
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
Ti Coin Créole - $30 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 July to 4 October | 4 October to 6 December
same cast of characters as current contest



On 29 March the Euro was at 1.089 and today it is at 1.097. Fairly steady. 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 than market exchange rates, especially for cash. The real rate is under 1.2 at this time 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. This is no longer much of a bargain.

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.

In the spring of 2014 Cap One 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.


Kakao Beach Bar
We had a reservation and got a rather nice table on a lovely afternoon in early March. We started with some water and a bottle of Cotes-du-Rhone from Guigal. It goes well with a thin crust pizza topped with mushrooms, onions, ham, and a lot of spicy oil. Martha had a shrimp salad with extra anchovies. The food was quite good and they have more complete meals if you wish - check the menu on their website. You can't beat the view and the service is good. Prices are pretty good. This cost about $70 and the wine and water were almost half of that.

Champagne Bistro

In late February we stopped in at Select Wine Cellar and ordered lunch from Champagne Bistro. On the left is Martha's duck confit - very tasty with scalloped potatoes in a nice creamy brown sauce. I had steak frites with a mushroom sauce, some veg, and some very nice frites. Sylvain also had the steak and offered up one of his inexpensive Bordeaux, Chateau Lescure ($20), from St Emilion and a Hautes Cotes de Nuit ($39.50). The plates are about $20.

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, L'Escargot Restaurant, L'Oizeau Rare Restaurant, Piazza Pascal, and La Villa. 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

We just added Lucia's Taxi Service as a client. She has a seven seat van and like most taxis looks forward to island tours rather than short trips. She has a tour discount coupon on her site. She'll also meet you at the airport or take you to the airport at the end of your visit. Her English is excellent y se habla español.

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.

Kakao Beach
Marci's Mega Gym
Endless Summer Beachwear
Lucia's Taxi Service
Pizza Galley
Select Wine Cellar
Table d'Antoine
Tropical Wave

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 Amazon. 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."