St Maarten/St Martin
24 January 2016 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Last Sunday turned out to be a lovely day although it ended with a mess for the cruise ship and Saba (right). We just had a bit of a sprinkle that led to the rainbow below left. The rainbow is a bit off in that the pot of gold is in Stew Leonard's house at the top of the hill. Monday was just as nice, if anything, a bit too warm. Wednesday found the navy protecting us from a tiny sailboat with Saba in the background. The water spouts are an indication of the winds that have been roiling the island. The sunset pano produced a bit of a green flash on Thursday night.

Not exactly weather, but for the next couple weeks five planets will be visible about 45 minutes before sunrise if you look south from the northeastern US. You'll need very good eyes on a very clear morning to see tiny Mercury. The next ten days show 6 clear days, 1 partly cloudy day, and 3 days with a chance of rain reaching 33% but totaling 0.05 inches. The high temperature will be 82 reaching 83F on two days. The overnight low will be 75F with two days dropping down to a bone-chilling 74F. That's another nice batch of weather heading in our direction, big thumbs up to the tourist bureau. Sorry for all of you on the east coast. Here's the detailed forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel.

Sunset tonight will be at 6:02 PM. That provides 11 hours and 16 minutes of sunshine. That's six minutes more than last week. We are just over a month past the solstice, heading for 44 more minutes of sunshine in about 60 days on the vernal equinox (20 March). The full moons for 2016 will be 22 Feb, 23 Mar, 22 Apr, 21 May, 20 Jun, 19 Jul, 18 Aug, 16 Sep, 16 Oct, 14 Nov, and 13 Dec.

Bay Rouge West St Martin Beaches St Maarten Beaches Sint Maarten Beaches Saint Martin Beaches SXM-Beaches: Dare I say it? It appears that the sargassum weed is diminishing. It may just be the result of Hurricane Alex followed by the monster storm roaming over the east coast, but it's good news for now.

Bay Rouge is named for the pinkish cast of its sand. It's a pretty beach with the Falaise des Ouiseaux (Bird Cliffs) to the west and David's Grotto on the east. The photo on the left from 2016 looks along the beach from the entrance over the two beach bars to the cliffs. There is about a mile of mostly sandy beach off to the west of the entrance. The other photo shows the rocks that start the formation that encloses the grotto. There are beach bars serving food and drink and beach chairs are available. The grotto has suffered in recent storms and is partially collapsed.

Bay Rouge East St Martin Beaches St Maarten Beaches Sint Maarten Beaches Saint Martin Beaches
The Bird Cliffs below were featured in Speed 2. At one point the cruise ship was heading south into the cliffs on the north side of the island. The next scene had it heading north into GEBE's oil tanks in Cay Bay on the Dutch side. It ended south ,crashing into Marigot, running up onto a beach (?) at the Marigot Market. It crunched over the ground coming to rest at a newly built church clanging its bell.

Martha said that we have enough sand at Sapphire to get into the water safely. I can hear the waves crashing and feel the breeze that suggests the water itself may not be too safe. Moreover, Wendy K said on Saturday: "The current seems to have changed, with waves now heading back towards Shore Pointe beach. Still, the water is very choppy with some large swells, but not as bad as the last few days. The most sand is still at baby and middle beaches." this morning she said "The sand has filled in the pool at Shore Pointe beach, and covers the cave end of the beach. Still dry sand for one row of chairs at baby beach."

Bird Cliffs

Restless by William Boyd ($4 used, $13 paperback, $5 audio CD) The New Yorker says "Boyd's ninth novel, an absorbing historical thriller, is loosely based on the history of a covert branch of British intelligence created to coax America into the Second World War. The story unfolds on parallel tracks as Sally Gilmartin, born Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian emigrée recruited into the British Secret Service in 1939, reveals her clandestine past in an autobiography that she gives to her daughter, Ruth, a graduate student and single mother living a dull civilian life in Oxford in 1976. These installments give the narrative momentum (the accounts of Ruth's daily life drag, by contrast) as Eva describes the taciturn spy who recruited and trained her before becoming her lover; her secret propaganda work in New York; and the act of duplicity, almost deadly, that forced her to flee to England and live under an assumed identity. Ruth barely has time to process the shock of her mother's secret before she is swept into a dangerous game: finding her mother's betrayer before it's too late." Martha really liked this semi-historical novel.
Sapphire Beach Club: On the right in the blue long-sleeve shirt is Jan Borsje, the new manager at Sapphire, serving drinks at the Manager's Monday night party. It's one hour of free drinks and tasty, free finger foods from Da Paolo. There is a loud band but they are up against the building, blasting their sound out to sea.

I did listen to a sales pitch this week and learned that a year end week in the 2BR,2B villas will be worth $48,000 in April when they have finished remodeling, but as I am already an owner and the remodeling is not done, I can take 40% off, dropping the price to $19,000. They will be renting these weeks at $3500 and the maintenance is about $1000. The figures work out to a bit over 10% return on investment. I find the rental income reasonable ($1750 per week per couple). However, there was no deduction for the rental commission and no mention of maintenance fee increases and no mention of the lack of maintenance that brought Sapphire to its current condition.

The swimming pool works and Martha uses the gym daily. We did have a pretty good lunch at Da Paolo (see below) and the views from our unit are spectacular. Below is the view to the south east, essentially the area off Maho Beach. At the far right of the photo, peeking out from the haze, is St Kitts.

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: We stopped in at the Horny Toad Guesthouse on Simpson Bay and found the gardens to be lovely because of all the rain in December. Betty has put solar panels on both buildings, cutting her electric bill in half. The beach looks fine, no sargassum here.

Alcohol: Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar has been having a great time lately. We've been enjoying the low alcohol, slightly fizzy Gazela vinho verde from Portugal with a dash of his Supercassis from Vedrenne in Nuits-Saint-George. It goes welll with sunsets.

SXM-Activities: Random Wind remains one of the top rated activities on the island. Diane and Captain Trevor take you on a tour in a sail boat. As it is a round trip, at some point the wind will be favorable, the sail will be hoisted, and the serene sounds of the sea are all that you will hear (maybe a bit of Jummy Buffet). In addition to the tour of SXM's coastline, the journey goes to a few dive spots and has a wonderful lunch at one of them. It depends on the the wind and the waves. That's their swing on the left.

On the right is a battery operated gondola. It's also quiet as it takes you on a lagoon tour. We caught up with the gondola and the gondolier at Skipjack's. He was coming to the dock looking for some customers. There is more info on their website.

Groceries: We went back to Carrefour to get fresh milk. There are few places on the French side that have fresh milk and we worry about the turnover as we are a long way from the dairy. The bottles used to say McArthur Farm was in Florida. Now they say they are part of Dean Foods in Texas. I hope they don't ship to Texas and then distribute to the Caribbean.

Here's a shot of the entrance to Simply on the ocean side of the main road in Sandy Ground. They are on the Marigot side of the French Bridge. We usually get our more exotic cheeses and patés at Simply. The cheapest Cadisco Gas is on the lagoon side of the road, a bit closer to Marigot.

Gas: The Dutch side lowered gasoline prices from 1.67 NAf to 1.6 NAf per liter this week. If you get an exchange rate of 1.75, always a big IF, that's $3.46 for a gallon, close to, but a little bit more than the Cadisco offering super at 0.91€ but taking dollars at 1 to 1, so no exchange rate shenanigans are possible. Now that there is no gas station at the Airport, this is the closest gas station for those of us in Cupecoy.

green logo Nature:The dove is back on the nest in the palm tree off our balcony. She hatched out some chicks on Tuesday.

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: You knew the construction at Orient would be here someday. It was quite costly despite saving money by ignoring various parts of the building code: no vents for stoves, no floor drain in the kitchen, no shutoff for the electric, etc. The last is not much of a problem as there is no electricity yet. They told Orange Fever they would be able to choose the color of their new building and then painted it green. I'll be mining this fiasco for years.


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 17 January the Euro was at 1.091 and today it is at 1.080, off 1 percent in another turbulent week.

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. If a French side restaurant offers a bad exchange rate, 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 you will get 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.

We had a Capital One Signature Visa Venture card. It's true that frequent flier benefits could be used on any airline and there are no blackouts, but that is because you accumulate 1 cent worth of ticket for every dollar you spend on the card. Then you use that to buy a ticket. To buy our round trip from Albany to SXM costs about $700 meaning we would have to spend $70,000 in order to get the ticket. Frequently we can get flights on United for 37,500 frequent flyer miles, ie the frequent flyer miles on United are worth about 2 cents, about twice as much. In the Spring of 2014, Martha was offered a Capital One Quicksilver Visa Signature Card that gives us 1.5% cash back - no fooling around with miles. They do not charge an exchange fee on foreign transactions and they do provide rental car insurance. This has been our primary card as airline miles are not as valuable or as easy to use as they used to be. Consequently, we canceled the Capital One Venture card with a $30,000 credit limit. The newer Quicksilver card only had $18,000 limit. I asked if they could bump up the credit limit on the Quicksilver card. Seems logical, they were on the hook for $48,000 before I canceled, why not keep the total the same. They said it doesn't work that way. My reply was that when the Quicksilver card runs out of credit limit, I'll use my United card. Your loss.

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. The first one has a review of the new Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. It gives you 2 points for travel related purchases and then allows you to take 20% off when purchasing your rewards through their Ultimate Rewards portal. It's tempting.


Sale e Pepe
On Sunday night we met Tina at Sale e Pepe. Her husband, Daniel (by the Sea), had to work because of large crowds and short staff. We got a nice table outdoors, although it is on the main road through Simpson Bay just before Billy Folly Road heads off to Pelican/Simpson Bay Resort. The restaurant is brand new and bright. The wine list had about 15 wines priced from $30 to $115. We chose a 2011 Brolio ($54) that was quite nice. There were nine aps ranging from $6 to $16, 11 pastas from $18 to $21, and eight mains from $19 to $32. We started with the antipasti, probably enhanced for friend's of fellow chefs. It contained most of the staples: ratatouille, red peppers, anchovies, caper berries, and sun dried tomatoes. We also got a platter of moules and three wonderful breaded shrimp.

The latter were so good that Tina asked from them as the preparation for her shrimp dinner (center). Martha went with the regular shrimp and I had a seafood pasta with lots of shrimp, moules, and small clams. It was all good and went so well with the wine that I needed to order another bottle. I chose a Dolcetta d'Alba, a soft, flavorful wine with just a hint of sweetness. The total bill was $180, not bad considering that half of it was wine.

Da Paolo
On Monday (18 Jan) we took the elevator to Da Paolo, the restaurant that surrounds two sides of our pool here at Sapphire. The pool is lit at night and offers more of a view than the inky black waters of the Caribbean. During the day, the view over the villa roofs toward Ocean Club is better than your average winter view in New England. The room itself is rather nice and the tables and chairs look quite smart. We were given the Planeto menu for breakfast and lunch, as the restaurant turns into Da Paolo for dinner. We got a bottle of rosé and some San Benedetto sparkling water. Martha had a Caesar salad ($12) with a few shrimp and I had a pizza with ham and mushrooms ($12). Both were good. Paolo was the chef at Carlo's, now Basilico, at the nearby casino. He is an accomplished chef but this location will get few walk-ins and there is not enough parking for the people who are staying here. Moreover, you won't get much support from timeshare owners who paid top dollar for units with a full size refrigerator, a stove top, and a dishwasher.

Auberge Gourmande
On Wednesday night (20 Jan) we headed to Auberge Gourmande for dinner. We had asked for reservations for the 7:00 seating and arrived at about 6:00 so we could visit with a few other restaurateurs. We actually pulled into the pay lot just behind Joe, the owner. Auberge Gourmande comps the parking. We took our corner table inside.

We skipped appetizers and chose two specials: John Dory with clams for Martha (below left) and a mostly boneless quail with a lovely stuffing on a bed of black trumpet mushrooms topped with foie gras for me (below center). As usual each dinner was accompanied by four to six fancy vegetable creations. Martha had some beet purée in a zucchini, a bit of eggplant, and a major and very tasty portion of saffron mashed potatoes. I had a broiled tomato, squash purée, mashed potato, a bit of ratatouille, and some broccoli. The John Dory looked spectacular and with its bit of crispness on outside, it added texture to the taste. My quail was over the top with flavor. Because of Martha's fish, I chose a lighter Burgundy, finding a not very expensive Marsannay from 2012, probably the best vintage since 2010.

Pascal tempted us with profiteroles (below right). They were quite good and with a bit of complimentary rum we ended a wonderful evening. We have been going to this restaurant since the 90's. Our list of restaurant reviews contains about 30 reviews going back to 2005 when we started the newsletter. This was one of the best meals we have had. They have all been good, but this one sparkled!

We went with another couple to Big Fish for dinner on Thursday. New owner/operators Mike and Theresa Wilson revamped the menu, wine list, building, and furnishings. Both the menu and wine list are long and crefully arranged. They have a former chef at Sushitto making great sushi: upper left is a dragon roll ($18), below that is a special rice-free "roll", and upper right is some lovely tuna. They have fish: mahi, snapper, grouper, salmon, ahi tuna, shrimp, cod, jumbo scallops, and John Dory. Choose a fish and then choose a sauce: coconut curry, creamy lobster, creamy garlic and dill, or chimichurri. There are several other standard preparations: shrimp provençal, snapper Oscar, etc. They have pasta and I was sorely tempted by the seafood pasta, but was pushed to the fantastic veal chop with fontina cheese (below right, $37), one of the stars on the non-fish portion of the menu. Martha had the chef's special shrimp (below left).

Our friends both had a duck a la orange, on special (above center). There are lots of sides to be had and desserts that were way beyond my abilities. The wine list has around 70 entries, leaning heavily on the US. The sushi was good and inventive. The rest of the menu is the responsibility of Chef Wendell Laurence. His efforts so far have rewarded him with the Crystal Pineapple award from the tourist bureau. Beautiful place, you will find something you like on the large menu, and the service was quite good.

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.

Seems to be more of that going around. After selling Il Nettuno Restaurant, Raymon returned to to run it last March. It appears that things didn't work out and the restaurant was closed on Wednesday night - not a good sign in high season.

As mentioned above, we arrived in Grand Case rather early on Wednesday to talk to various restaurateurs. In fact, Joe at the parking lot across from Il Nettuno told us what he knew about Il Nettuno. We then walked down to Bistrot Caraïbes, checked out their lobster tank, and found out that they were doing well, as they should be. They were trained well and work hard, making them one of my favorite restaurants.

A bit further on we stopped at La Villa (Florence and Christophe to the right) to settle up the gift certificate sales over the summer. They said low season was very low, but they are doing well now. Patrick Guillerm late of Tastevin is now their chef, and one of my favorite chefs. It will be interesting to see what he has done here.

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


The Gill Commodore's Cup takes place on 3 March, followed by the St Maarten Heineken Regatta. It opens on 3 March with a party at Port de Plaisance. A round the island race starts on Friday morning with shorter races on Saturday and Sunday.

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."