St Maarten/St Martin
6 December 2015 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: The previous ten days were pretty warm, reaching 85 on seven days and 84 on the others. One night a cold wave swept over and the temperature dropped to 76, otherwise it was 77 or 78 for the low. There were eight days with some rain somewhere, never much, but adding up to 1.4 inches. I doubt any spot actually got all 1.4 inches, but since Thanksgiving, it has been pretty cloudy. The next ten days show eight days with at least 40% chance of rain and two clear days. That's about three weeks of mostly cloudy, if not actual rain. It's usually not this bad in December. We get December winds which turn some beaches into free dermabrasion facilities, but the rainy season is supposed to be gone.

Also gone are hurricanes or at least hurricane season which came to an end on 30 November. Early forecasts in April by Tropical Storm Risk (TSR) and Colorado State University (CSU) were quite close to actuality in terms of the number of storms, with TSR being closest. The Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) counts not just the number of storms, but adds in the duration. Both predictions were low but TSR was closest. In May/June NOAA and the UK Weather Service added their predictions to revised predictions from TSR and CSU. TSR had reduced the number of storms and the ACE thereof. CSU merely added one storm but maintained the same ACE. NOAA was a bit low on storms, but very close on ACE while the UK had fewer storms but one more hurricane leading to a higher ACE. CSU and NOAA issued lower predictions in August while TSR increased their prediction. Hurricane Joaquin arrived in late September doing great damage in the Bahamas as it came up just 2 mph short of a Category 5 hurricane. It lasted into October as it headed for Bermuda. Because of its strength and duration it produced about half the ACE for the entire season and caused NOAA and CSU who had just decreased their predictions in August to be short of the mark. The complete story is in this Washington Post article. Here's the detailed forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset tonight will be at 5:36 PM. The last full moon for 2015 is on Christmas 25 Dec. The full moons for 2016 will be 23 Jan, 22 Feb, 23 Mar, 22 Apr, 21 May, 20 Jun, 19 Jul, 18 Aug, 16 Sep, 16 Oct, 14 Nov, and 13 Dec.

The cloudy weather does lead to some interesting sunsets, like the pano below.

SXM-Beaches: The revamp of Orient Beach is progressing. They obviously have missed a November opening but are still talking about December.

Wendy K reports that there is finally sand and calm water at Cupecoy. The only thing missing is sunshine. She also notes that the "coming soon" real estate office at the round about in front of Porto Cupecoy is nearing completion. It will be an attractive building, with a curved facade, but, like the Blue Mall, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Closer to our home on the lagoon, the vacant lot across from BB's and Fat Tony's, at the corner of Jordan and Tigris Roads, is no longer vacant. Four 3 story buildings are going up, which will be more housing for AUC students. It's like a little city there now. Fortunately, our end of the road remains natural.

Beach reading: The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz ($13 Kindle or $17 hardcover) - This just came out in early September of 2015. Martha downloaded a copy from our library and we listened as we worked in the kitchen. Stieg Larrson died in 2004 of a heart attack induced by walking up seven flights of stairs because the elevator was not working. He had written three impressive books in the Lisbeth Salander series which were published posthumously and followed by both Swedish and English movies. Having left no legal will, his father and brother wrested the estate from his long term partner, Eva Gabrielsson, and they have chosen David Lagercrantz as the writer of this sequel.

"Salander and Blomkvist have survived the authorship transition intact and are just as compelling as ever . . . Fans of Stieg Larsson's captivating odd couple of modern detective fiction will not be disappointed." Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

"Rest easy, Lisbeth Salander fans, our punk hacker heroine is in good hands . . . A twisty, bloody thrill ride . seamlessly woven together by Lagercrantz, in fact, if you hadn't seen his name on the book jacket, you'd likely assume it was Larsson's own handiwork. An instant page-turner." USA Today (4 out of 4 stars)

I'm not quite as thrilled as the NY Times and USA Today were, but it is certainly suitable for beach reading.
Sapphire Beach Club: There seems to be no more news from management. Jeff Berger claims that Sitbon (the operating manager who was putting together a a bid to buy Sapphire) is now suing Sapphire (Verdier). Other news is that there are no elevators working in building three, the newest! We are not in our condo (Unit 255) at this time and have a long term rental from May through December. He hasn't mentioned any problems and we will use the unit from early January until early April of 2016. Our tenant will move to unit 254, a studio next to our one bedroom unit, for those months. Unit 254 will be available for rent after that.

On the right is a colorful sailboat with Statia 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: I asked my hotel clients what they had been doing over the summer and La Vista Resort said that in La Vista they had upgraded bathrooms upstairs in the penthouse, upgraded shower stalls in the 1 bedroom penthouse and 1 bedroom deluxe units, retiled bathrooms in 1 bedroom deluxe, put flat screen TV's into penthouse bedrooms, installed new electronic safes (no charge). In La Vista Beach they re-upholstered furniture, resurfaced the pool, put in new safes (no charge), put flat screen TV's in second bedrooms, and new artwork and draperies are coming soon. They also mentioned that this year there is a week 53!

Alcohol: Sylvain has put up his Christmas tree. It looks quite tasty. We can't wait to get back to lazy lunches from Champagne Bistro served in Select Wine Cellar.

Groceries: Wendy K reports that she's been to the Gourmet Marché at Porto Cupecoy, which remains the same as last season: good quality produce, and well-stocked shelves, if a little pricey. It's so convenient for me, as I can walk there in 10 minutes. The Grand Marché in Cole Bay is undergoing renovations while open. The long deli counter was defunct, and the wine room was torn apart when I was there on Monday. Super U (site of the old MATCH in the outskirts of Marigot) is my favorite market for all things French - especially cheese, reasonably priced, and they give a favorable $1.05=1 euro exchange.
Gas: Cadisco on the lagoon near the French Bridge is getting 0.93€ per liter for unleaded (sans plomb) gas. As they are doing 1 to 1 on the exchange, that makes it about $3.50 per gallon.

green logo Nature: On the right is a sugar bird in Sapphire's gardens.

Our office is well over 100% solar-powered. In fact, in six years of operation our solar panels have produced over half the electrical needs for the house, my work shop, and a large animal barn. Our hosting company servers are about 130% wind-powered.

Small Island story: It's time for us to attempt to comply with the Cat Importation Regulations. The "country" of St Maarten requires extra tests, injections, and sprays plus Federal level signatures. The closest USDA office is 1.5 hours away and all this is to be done within two weeks of our arrival date. Those two weeks include Christmas and New Years in our case. It costs about $500 to bring our cat to the island, $250 in airfare and $250 in inspections, injections, etc. Obviously the cat needs a few injections even if she doesn't travel, but the extras and the USDA signatures are overkill as there is a standard international form.


As you can request five prizes on one entry form, you could win a bargain on entertainment, dinner, and a gym to work it off! That would be five prizes to one person.

Winners of the contest that ended 6 December:
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Rena Haigh
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - Joe Altman
Marci's Mega Gym - Two for One week with a shake - no entries
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate - Paul Falkenberg
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Joe Altman
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two - Joe Altman
Pizza Galley - $25 off on a dinner for two - Georgia Baxter
Ti Coin Créole - $30 off on a dinner for two - Georgia Baxter

Current Contest: now until 31 January
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 dinners and activities. I really check and a 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:
6 December 2015 until 31 Jan 2016 | 31 Jan to 27 Mar | 27 Mar to 22 May
22 May to 21 August | 21 August to 20 November

same cast of characters as current contest



On 5 October the Euro was at 1.121 and today it is at 1.088. That is about a 3% drop in two months, but it rose 3% on Friday, 4 December.

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.

L'Escapade Restaurant, Il Nettuno Restaurant, Piazza Pascal, and La Villa, in Grand Case are offering 1 to 1 for cash. Nearby Ti Bouchon and Rancho del Sol are offering 1 to 1. 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 and Quicksilver actually accept this info on-line, making it much easier than working through the hell of telephone answering systems.

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


We took a trip to Montreal in mid-October, just in time to catch their first snowfall of the season. It was light and did not stick, but still, it was not optimal for touristing. Via Flipkey, we found a nice condo on the outskirts of Old Town at 699 Rue St Maurice. On 16 Oct we drove up in less than four hours. Martha's brother Pierce, executive chef at Frank's in South Carolina, and his wife, Joanna, having flown up, were waiting at the apartment.

Thursday night we walked to Club Chasse et Peche. Martha was a chef and with Pierce at the table we presented a tough crowd, but the knowledge of the staff, the quality of the dinner, and the interesting wine list won us over. After two more days and five meals at five restaurants we chose this as the best fine dining experience. It was also the most expensive, only by a bit, and that may have been because of a splurge on a Premier Cru Pommard from Chantal Lescure ($145). The next day we had lunch at nearby 3 Brasseurs, a good micro-brewery with an interesting menu featuring burgers, poutine, and pizza-like flatbreads (photo left). That night we took a short Uber ride (5km) to Au Pied Cochon.

The restaurant was cramped and boisterous, but one can overlook that when every dish has foie gras in it or on it. Service was good and knowledgeable. We had the naked foie gras ap and a butternut squash stuffed with a pork and cheese soufflé with foie gras (left). Our main courses were the namesake Pied Cochon (right), pig's kidneys, and conserved canard in a can. All good. We walked part way home, stopping at a bar for another drink before Ubering home.
On our last night, we went to La Petit Extra via Uber ride, about 2.5km. We found this restaurant to be the favorite of the three. It had a lively bistro atmosphere, widely spaced tables, and a very friendly staff. Our waitress was happy to chat with us in French or English and she was very knowledgeable. The food was very good, possibly not as refined as the Club, but lower in price. We had boudin and cepes as starters and moved on to sweetbreads (left), venison (right), and fish soup. They had a very complete wine list and there were wine recommendations for every menu item.

And this is the problem with picking favorites. The first restaurant would appeal to those who like fine dining in a reserved (and lovely) location. The second would appeal to those who love foie gras, but it was cramped and loud. However, the prices were great. The third had a lively atmosphere but it was possible to chat and the food was bistro fare, known more for heartiness and quantity than refinement, but that is a lovely bit of venison tenderloin.


Wendy K went with a friend to Tropicana last March: Monique made reservations for our lunch in late March, which was a good thing, as they were very busy. We started with a kir, somthing I seem to have only at Tropicana these days. (5€ each). Monique ordered the moules frites, a special (15.25€), and I had my favorite Landaise salad, with smoked duck breast, duck gizzards, roasted potatoes, hard boiled eggs, and a lightly-dressed salad (14€). Monique had one of the daily special desserts: a French version of strawberry shortcake, with a very light cake, yummy whipped cream, toasted slivered almonds, and a decorative strawberry coulis (10€). I had an additional glass of rose (5€). There was a nice breeze that cooled the restaurant and kept the ceiling fans spinning on a hot day.

Moulin Fou
In late February last season, we had a sushi/sashimi dinner at Moulin Fou. Sylvain, the wine steward, runs Select Wine Cellar by day and at night he's here. As always, when in Maho we use the valet service at Casino Royale to solve our parking problems. The restaurant has been remodeled and looked lovely. There are outdoor tables and while some people feel that getting to watch the show at Cheri's without having to eat CHeri's food is a benefit, we prefer to avoid both the food and the show by dining inside Moulin Fou or dining outside on Tuesday when Cheri's is dark.

On the left is Sylvain and Philippe, our waiter. We just had a wonderful sushi/sashimi platter from Chef Q. Sylvain recommended a light Burgundy which led us to the 2012 Aloxe-Corton from Jean-Jaques Girard, a wine we had tasted with Sylvain when we joined him on a buying trip to Burdundy a couple years ago.

Bistrot Caraïbes
In mid-February last season, we headed over to Bistrot Caraïbes for a great meal. We parked in the pay parking lot which is quite close and free if you show their receipt to the restaurant. We ordered water and as I knew I would be having the wonderful smoked salmon appetizer, I asked Thibault for a crisp white wine to accompany the salmon. He offered a Montagny Premier Cru (2011, left). I do like a good white Burgundy and this one was was quite nice with the full-flavored salmon with capers and onions (left, 15€).

Martha had marmite of red snapper, a wonderful dish that features a tasty fresh fish in a saffron and mussel sauce (26€, below center). I had the beef tenderloin in an herb sauce with wild mushrooms and asparagus with mashed potatoes (29€, below right). For an extra 7€ I had my tenderloin topped with a slice of foie gras. We had a 2009 red Burgundy (right) with our main courses. We passed on coffee and dessert, having complimentary balloons of Armagnac.

When Momo returned from his summer vacation, he found that Le Ti Bouchon had received a TripAdvisor Hall of Fame award for five years of excellence, celebrating fantastic food at reasonable prices.

L'Escapade Restaurant is open everyday from 11:30am to 10:30pm non-stop and doing 1€ for $1 in cash.

JP at Pizza Galley says he has been open since Friday the 6 Nov and is doing well. During the off-season the kitchen was moved and the restaurant is twice its original size. The Dock Bar should be open by 15 Dec.

Mario has opened his Bistro in Porto Cupecoy. He is in the spot on the water where Moulin Fou established an outpost for a short time. You'll have much more parking in a gated area with security. No website at this time, but he says soon. When entering the Caribbean Standard Time zone, set your calendar back at least a decade and remember that soon is only somewhat more likely than never.

I chatted with Mike at Big Fish in Oyster Pond. The website is up and running and they are featuring no corkage Tuesdays and an early bird three course meal for $30. The venue has bee completely revamped. I can't wait to bring over a bottle on Tuesday!

The Herald had an article about a meeting of French-side businesses damaged by the Sargassum weed. The damage is mostly financial and mostly to restaurants on the NE side of the island as tourists don't want to swim with the weed nor do they wish to smell it as it decomposes. The photo with the article shows Pat Turner from Tropical Wave gazing into the camera.

Cugini will be opening with Tony, Sam's cousin, running the show. It is expected that Sam will return as he regains strength after his successful treatment for cancer. We had a very nice meal there last season. Martha especially liked the focaccia and I marveled at the wine list and cellar (right).

Harbor Restaurant has opened next door to Skipjack's in the space where The Wharf was many years ago. Same old, same old: Pizza, steaks, burgers but fresh fish and lobster. Seems interesting, but it is next to Skipjack's one of the best seafood restaurants on the island.

Melange has opened in the old Peg Leg location at Port de Plaisance. It has table grills, a feature which underwhelms, as there is a reason for large exhaust fans in commercial kitchens.

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 opened The Grill in the former location of the Sugar Cane Café at Starz Casino, formerly Atlantis. It's not as upscale as Temptation, but still features his special talents in the kitchen. They are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Dino has also produced a cookbook with art work by Sir Roland Richardson, St Martin's treasured artist, and poetry by Laura Richardson, Roland's wife. For further information, please contact Chef Dino Jagiani dinojagtiani@aol.com or Sir Roland and Laura Richardson roland.laura@wanadoo.fr. Another reason to buy Dino's cookbook is that he led the team the won the first-ever San Pellegrino Cooking Cup of the Caribbean in late April. The full article is in the Daily Herald.

Avantika, serving fresh Thai cuisine, is now open for lunch from noon to 3PM. It's located on the second floor of the Plaza del Sol in Simpson Bay, across from Toppers. Dinner is available from from 5:30PM seven days pere week.

From Wendy K: In Marigot, Durreche became Les Toqués several years ago, and is now called Le Divin although it has the same owners. They deserve a lot of credit for hard work and determination. A bakery has been added to the back portion, there is a bar along the street side for a quick cold beverage, and a restaurant with plenty of seating. They finally seem to be doing well.

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 espaƱol.

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

  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 or work in the kitchen. 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."