St Maarten/St Martin
17 January 2016 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: We arrived on 7 Jan and it was quite cloudy and hazy, even Saba was lost in the marine haze. It was and has remained pretty warm, reaching 83 to 85 on most days and dropping to the mid 70s at night. I got rained on twice in my half hour morning workout in Sapphires's pool, once near the start when I was in bright sun from the east whilst it rained, and later, toward the end of my workout when it was totally overcast. As usual, most of the day was great. As I write this, Wunderground says partly cloudy but it looks good to me. The pool seems a bit chilly, probably from the 75F nights. Below right is a lovely sunset taken from our Caribbean balcony at Sapphire. Below left is an early morning shot of a cruise ship blotting out most of the island of Saba as it heads past us to Pburg. The pano shot far below was a spectacular sunset that ended in a green flash on 13 Jan.

The next ten days show 6 clear days, 2 partly cloudy days, and 2 days with a chance of rain totaling almost nothing. A high of 83 will be reached on one day, all others will be 82F. The overnight low for all ten days is 75F. That's a pretty nice batch of weather heading in our direction, big thumbs up to the tourist bureau. Here's the detailed forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel.

Sunset tonight will be at 5:57 PM. That provides 11 hours and ten minutes of sunshine. We are almost a month past the solstice, heading for 50 more minutes of sunshine in about 60 days on the vernal equinox (20 June). The full moons for 2016 will be 23 Jan (next Saturday, 22 Feb, 23 Mar, 22 Apr, 21 May, 20 Jun, 19 Jul, 18 Aug, 16 Sep, 16 Oct, 14 Nov, and 13 Dec.

Travel: As usual, we stayed in Albany the night before our 6:00AM flight. When I checked in I was a bit surprised to get the rack rate. It turns out that the hotel was sold between the time I got my discounted (geezer status) reservation and my check-in. They seemed to have a reservation. I had checked a few days earlier about the reservations, but not the price. United got us to EWR on time and the nonstop to SXM left on time and arrived early. There were no forms to fill out for the first time in 20 years. I had always heard that bags and bags of those forms were taking up space and creating a fire hazard, as nobody ever mined the information. One of Michael's team at Unity Car Rental was waiting outside the terminal and within 15 minutes we were on our way. This year, as I had a med student as a full-time tenant, I had purchased a year of internet service, so we skipped the stop at The Mailbox and went straight to the Sapphire. We unpacked a few things, changed out of winter clothing and headed to Select Wine Cellar for wine and then to nearby Carrefour (formerly Grand Marché).

SXM-Beaches: Wendy K says: "There is no sand at Shore Pointe. The Lemondrop season has begun, so chairs are on the rocks. Since the waves calmed down, there's a big pool in the rocks there. Lots of sand now at the middle beach, but the waves are still coming up. I went to baby beach where there is sand, but waves still coming up there too. Hopefully tomorrow will be better." There is always tomorrow, unfortunately, it is here and as I type, I hear the sound of waves crashing. We've been getting major swells from the north, putting the French side on alert. These are presumably related to Hurricane Alex, the first January hurricane since 1938.
  Fields of Wrath by Mark Wheaton This is not being released until 1 Feb, but Martha got a free advance download to her Kindle. It's an updated version of the Grapes of Wrath. Amazon says: "Following his ordination as a priest, Father Luis Chavez returns to the mean streets of his youth, hoping to put his past behind him. But the brutal murder of a worker in Ventura County's vast farm fields compels Luis to return to his criminal roots in order to unravel a massive conspiracy. Teaming up with Michael Story, an ambitious Los Angeles deputy DA, Chavez goes undercover as a farm laborer to bring down an immense human-trafficking ring tied to one of California's most prominent and powerful families. Fighting to stay on the path of the righteous while confronting evil at every turn, Father Chavez finds himself in a battle of good versus evil, with the souls of hundreds hanging in the balance."
Sapphire Beach Club: On the right is a view of Statia from our Caribbean balcony. We are in our condo at this time and our long term renter has moved next door into unit 254. It will be available for a couple weeks in mid April. Sapphire is in pretty good shape. The pool (which was usable last April, but leaky) has been repaired. The tiles around the pool were just pressure-washed. The stairwells are being cleaned regularly. Building one has one working elevator, building two has one working elevator, and those in building three have won the jackpot with two working elevators. The hot tubs (they are not Jacuzzis) are not functioning, but rarely have been hot over the 20 years I have been here. It appears that Jean Verdier is in the hospital and his son Philippe Verdier is in charge, but is nowhere to be seen. The sales staff says the Verdiers won their dust-up with Bruno Sitbon. The staff seem to know nothing about the court case that Jeff Berger says was argued this week with a decision expected 8 March.
What I have heard is that Sitbon had an agreement to put in half a mil, and run the place for two years while he turned the original shop in the lobby into a high end liquor store and added two more lobby shops, blocking the view of the Caribbean. He also rearranged the poolside area, putting in a sushi/Thai restaurant, blocking more views of the Caribbean. These things and a glossy picture book of the few working condo units were required in order to lure the well-heeled buyers that Sitbon claimed were backing him. His friends and relatives ran these places collecting cash while they lived in the building (presumably rent free) as I left last April. Now, he is gone supposedly because he could not come up with the cash to buy the place. The liquor store is being remodeled, the other two shops are closed, and the sushi/Thai restaurant has disappeared down the memory hole, although Da Paulo is still here with twice as many seats in his restaurant and few customers. Philippe seems to have hired a new team headed by Jan Borsje who was here three years ago and worked wonders. But wonders cost money and the Verdiers do not like to part with it, so they parted company with Jan in his last incarnation. He's back on a three month contract this time and they seem to be pushing quarter shares, an indication of how many timeshare owners have taken a walk. Another indication is that this week's manager's party produced about 60 guests for free drinks and snacks with live (and loud) music. I'm having a meeting with the sales staff on Monday. Stand by for more news next week.
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: Here's a shot of Porto Cupecoy. Check out the weird twin boats at the right hand end of the docks. The house on the hillside directly above the last building belongs to Jasper Johns, noted flag painter.

Alcohol: On the day we arrived (Thursday 7 Jan) we went to see Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar. We found him having a glass of wine with another friend. Our arrival brought the drinking ability up to the full bottle level, so Sylvain opened a chilled bottle of the Deutz Classic Champagne. The Wine Spectator gave this wine a 90 rating late last year. It is probably the best $45 bottle of Champagne in the Caribbean. Budget shoppers will appreciate the Belin, a real Champagne, at a real fine price ($30).

If you like Kir Royale (cassis and champagne rather than cassis and Borgogne Aligoté) he has Supercassis from Vedrenne in Nuits Saint George at $25 per liter. Budget Kir Royale can be produced by mixing cassis with Gazela, a slightly fizzy, low alcohol, vino verde from Portugal for only $8.50.
SXM-Activities: No, dear reader, you are not being mooned. That is yours truly doing a bit of downward dog much to the amusement of Lilly the cat. She joins me most mornings for about ten minutes of yoga/stretching/calisthenics before my half mile swim.

For other activities we went to Equinox, a Sports Book, Bar, and Grill at Starz (formerly Atlantis) Casino. They are in the space that housed Gondola. The TVs and the comfy chairs and couches put other sports bars to shame. Even the food seemed pretty good. Heineken is on tap and over the course of a playoff game, it's easy to consume a liter or two and with some tasty nachos we had a $40 bill. Unfortunately for them, for $40 Martha bought an NFL pass available only outside the US showing all the playoff games via the internet. We ran an HDMI cable from computer to TV and we watched the Pats take apart the Chiefs on our own comfy couch with a bottle of Savigny-Les-Beaune and some carpaccio from Mario Bistrot. No hot dogs, but we did have boudin blanc.

Gas: Cadisco on the lagoon near the French Bridge is getting 0.91€ per liter for unleaded (sans plomb) gas. As they are doing 1 to 1 on the exchange, that makes it about $3.40 per gallon.

Groceries: We have been to Carrefour (formerly Grand Marché), Cost U Less, Sunny, Super U, and Simply in the last 10 days. Super U and Simply are offering 1 to 1. Using greenbacks will save you about 10%. While Carrefour has tarted up what was a dim shopping experience at Grand Marché, Simply still looks a bit better and Super U is super. Sunny isn't quite so sunny but they do have good prices on vegetables and carry our favorite rum, Angostura 1919. Simply remains our choice for cheese, paté, and charcuterie as they have a wider selection and a real person behind the counter cutting the products to the size you request. We got real Roquefort for about $16 per pound, Morbier for about $8 per pound, comté for about $9 per pound, and a round of Petit Billy for $4. Here's a real eye opener: 2 lbs of yogurt at Carrefour were about $3, 2.2 pounds (a kilo) were $1.33 at Super U and tasted better!

green logo Nature: That is probably a kingbird on top of the palm tree that is reaching our sixth floor balcony. The tell is a white band on the tail that is conveniently hidden.

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: In speaking about the new restaurants at Orient, District One representative Steven Patrick said "the 2,500 euro rent ... sent a message that St. Martiners were not wanted." He's saying that the St Martin government (presumably St Martiners, no birther problems here), didn't want St Martiners?


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.

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:
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 20 December the Euro was at 1.087 and today it is at 1.091, essentially no change despite even wilder swings in the stock markets since the Fed raised their interest rate from zero to 0.25%.

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. Simply and Super U are also offering 1 to 1. Note this is generally only for cash payments using US greenbacks. 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.


On Friday, a week ago, we went to Skipjack's for our first dinner on the island. It's close and good with some parking, if only across the street in the last bit of undeveloped Simpson Bay. We had reservations and were glad we did as we walked into a fairly full restaurant. We ordered a Ropiteau Pinot Noir ($30, center). Martha chose a special, grilled swordfish (left), and I had the yellow fin tuna loin, sesame crusted and lightly seared (right, $26). Both came with salad and your choice of starch. My tuna had a special soy based dipping sauce and Martha had her choice of sauces. Both were good, but we both agreed that the tuna was better. The red wine was perfectly good with the fish and rather inexpensive. With a 15% tip added to the bill, we spent about $100 for more food than we needed. We added a bit more because the service is friendly and fast.

Pizza Galley
After watching the Seattle/Minnesota playoff on 10 Jan at the Equinox Sports Book and Bar at Starz Casino, we strolled next door to Basilico to get a wood-fired pizza. After sitting at a table we headed for Pizza Galley in search of service. We arrived and got the last seats in the house, but decided to head over to the new bar that JP had built. It's called The Dock and there is a dock for dinghys from the multitude of ships in the lagoon. You can get food at the bar, so we ordered our usual 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). We were warned that it might take 45 minutes. I made sure that there was another bottle of wine available and as there was, we settled in. It was a lovely evening and in only 25 minutes we were chomping away on the pizza that regularly gets voted best on the island.

Champagne Bistro
On Tuesday (12 Jan) we stopped at Select Wine Cellar to top up our wine cellar and ordered lunch from Champagne Bistro. Martha and Sylvain had pasta with small clams in a creamy sauce (left, 21). I had a pork tenderloin that was tender as could be, also in lovely creamy sauce. Sylvain added some 2012 Marsannay from Fournier ($45) for a great lunch.

Mario Bistrot
On Friday (15 Jan) we celebrated our wedding anniversary here, as usual. The here, however, is different as over the summer Mario, the only remaining partner still involved in the business, moved over to Porto Cupecoy. It was a very short move but it crossed the international border requiring a new business registration (NV in Dutch) and for good measure he changed the name slightly, the logo, and the URL for a new website. I have repointed the old website to the new one. There was only one staff member I did not recognize. The new restaurant has the same number of seats with the same generous spacing, with a much larger bar and a couple tables in the bar. So Mario has a slightly bigger restaurant in a much better neighborhood with security and he doesn't have to worry about the euro. He's a happy, albeit rather busy, camper!

We had a reservation, of course, and arrived on time to have a chat with Bobby at the bar and after a few minutes Mario came out for an even longer chat. Eventually, he had to do some cooking so we headed over to an indoor table. There is some outdoor seating, but not much of a view except for the other restaurants and shops at Porto Cupecoy that surround the plaza. In the daytime, one could see the lagoon and the hillside but it is inky blackness at night.

We started with a nice basket of rolls (left), a bottle of water, and a 2010 Crozes-Hermitage that was quite nice (about $40). The year is one of the two rated 10 in the last decade. The other is 2006, unlikely to be found on the island. It's a Rhone, but not the most flavorful as we were going with fish and chicken as main courses. The wine was wonderful with the ap from the menu: seared beef carpaccio with black truffle aioli, reggiano, arugula and shredded foie gras (no photo, $21). This was very tasty and while the wine was spectacular with the ap, it did result in a somewhat backward dinner as Martha chose a lighter main course: the crusted halibut sautéed with clams and artichoke in a fricassee with saffron aïoli (center, $37). However, she drinks red wine with almost everything, so she was happy. I had a very flavorful special: a chicken breast topped with foie gras and caramelized onions in a skillet with carrots, tiny onions, and new potatoes. This was probably the best chicken dish I have ever tasted - foie gras will do that to almost anything. We took a bit of this home and ended with complimentary balloons of Armagnac. They add a 15% tip which brought our bill to $185. I added another $10 for good service from a knowledgeable and friendly staff.

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 had opened The Grill in the former location of the Sugar Cane Café at Starz Casino, but is not involved any longer.

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."