St Maarten/St Martin
31 January 2016 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Last Sunday turned out to be quite cloudy by the end of the day. Monday and Tuesday were pretty hazy in the morning, but cleared out. Monday produced the sunset pano below, taken from Sapphire's pool area during the Manager's Party. It ended in a green flash. Early in the week Passat came by on their sunset cruise (right). Below left is a wreck from 1995's Hurricane Luis rusting peacefully in the Bay of Potence on the north side of Marigot. In the center is Fort Louis on the hill above Marigot harbor. Note the fairly blue sky, but also clouds. These were taken on our way to a sunset cruise on Lambada on Thursday. Shortly after these shots, a downpour soaked us thoroughly as we walked from our parked car a few feet to Select Wine. The photo below right shows yet another cloudy sunset. It has been hazy and cloudy with more rain than usual and looks as if it will stay that way.

The next ten days show 4 clear days, 2 partly cloudy days, and 4 days with a chance of rain reaching 55% next weekend but totaling only 0.33 inches over the ten days. The high temperature will be 80F reaching 83F on two days. The overnight low will range from 72F to 75F. It's winter and the temperatures are falling. Here's the detailed forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel.

Sunset tonight will be at 6:06 PM. That provides 11 hours and 21 minutes of sunshine. That's five minutes more than last week. We are about halfway between the solstice and the equinox, heading for 39 more minutes of sunshine 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.

This is the last week five planets will be visible at once. Look to the south about 45 minutes before sunrise in the northeastern US. You'll need very good eyes on a very clear morning to see tiny Mercury which will just be rising.

SXM-Beaches: Mullet Bay was a very crowded beach when the Mullet Bay Resort was in operation in the early 90s as it was, and still is, a very pretty beach on the sheltered side of the island with sunset views. It is now popular with people who don't stay in a place with a beach (and that includes locals, especially on weekends and holidays). On the right is a 2012 photo taken from the north end of the beach, just past the two beach bars, showing Cupecoy Beach Club, The Cliff, and Rainbow in the distance. It shows lots of available beach if you bring your own chairs. Below left shows Mullet as the quintessential Caribbean beach with lots of white sand, palm trees along the fringe of sea grapes on the beach, and volcanic mountains in the distance. Those are seagrapes below right. There is not a lot of seaweed on this side of the island and the beach is protected from the tradewinds and hurricanes coming from Africa by the central highlands. Mullet tends to be calmer and that explains why it tends to remain relatively unchanged over the years.

Wendy K says "Sand is returning to the beach by the Ocean Club. There is sand at baby beach, and LOTS of sand at Shore Pointe. Very calm water this morning" (Friday).

Mullet St Martin Beaches St Maarten Beaches Sint Maarten Beaches Saint Martin Beaches Mullet St Martin Beaches St Maarten Beaches Sint Maarten Beaches Saint Martin Beaches
Strip Jack (Inspector Rebus, No. 4) by Ian Rankin ($8 used, $14 paperback, $45 audio CD) Publisher's Weekly says "For all the right reasons, Edinburgh Detective Inspector John Rebus calls for comparison with Colin Dexter's Oxford copper Inspector Morse. Both spend a lot of time in pubs and bemoan the onset of middle age; each is a shrewd detective with a literary bent who operates in an academic town where clashes of culture beget victims. When much-loved politician Gregor Jack is discovered in a midnight raid on a discreet brothel, a surprising number of journalists are on hand--a situation that endangers Jack's political future. Jack's wealthy wife Elizabeth, a noted partygoer whose friends are equally well-heeled and hedonistic, can't be found. Her body is soon pulled from a nearby river, a fatality mirroring the recent murder of another, unidentified, woman. A drunk who brags of the first killing gives a false address and vanishes north of the city. Meanwhile Rebus, trying to trace a cache of valuable stolen books, finds himself talking again to the late Elizabeth's coterie of party friends. Rankin creates a living, breathing world in which his weary protagonist tackles his cases while involved in the intricacies of the day-to-day: pints and hangovers, stumbling romance, wet weather, damp clothes, tricky superiors and wide-eyed subordinates. All are brought to bear, yet all are ultimately jettisoned as Rebus closes in on the satisfying solution." This is Martha's late night Kindle reading. She's not finished yet, but we both liked all of the first three Inspector Rebus novels.
Sapphire Beach Club: The battery on our door gave out, making our electronic key cards useless on a Friday around noon. That's the last full day for maintenance before Saturday, the timeshare turnover day, when lots of rooms need to be ready. I was assured by Juan, the maintenance manager, that it would get fixed before the maintenance crew left. We were staying in, as we avoid the timeshare crew crowding into restaurants on their last evening. At about 8PM the daytime front desk guy showed up with the programming console (and his wife and child). There is no outlet near the door, so he could not plug it in. Luckily, I have a 50 ft extension cord. He still couldn't do anything as the battery needed to be replaced. That required a maintenance man with a special Torx screwdriver and a battery. He arrived about 45 minutes later and we did have a usable door before they left at about 9PM.

It's heartening to know that it got fixed, but suppose we were both on the outside when we discovered the problem? Would we have waited nine hours to get into our room? On Tuesday the AC in the main room stopped working. I mentioned this at about 10AM and it was fixed by 1:30PM. It needed a new capacitor which they had in stock. Having things in stock has long been a problem here. Light bulbs, toilet paper, sheets, and towels have all gone through shortages.

But things seem to be getting better. We have an elevator, the swimming pool works, and Martha uses the gym daily. The TV is hopeless, but nothing spoils the spectacular views from our unit. Below is the view from our lagoon side balcony over the lagoon to the ruins of La Belle Créole, damaged in 1995 by Hurricane Luis and never repaired. Some places have even less maintenance than Sapphire! In the very far distance on the left is Anguilla. Above on the right is a photo taken from our Caribbean side balcony of Mercedes, a square-rigger. She's motoring with limited sails up because last Sunday was quite blustery.

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.
Alcohol:On Friday we had a pot luck lunch with Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar, Marina, his former partner, Patrick, his landlord, and three other friends. Martha had made a bean salad and there were lots of cheeses, foie gras, smoked meats and fish, and good crusty bread. We had started with a 1.5 liter white Cotes de Roussillon from Gardiés, but the level of wine drinking was bumped up a bit when one of the friends picked a 2009 Vosne-Romanee off the shelf. It had the plainest label possible, but was a fine wine, nicely aged, amazingly good for a commune wine. Most of the others were premier cru wines, but this one from a great year with the most age held its own.

SXM-Activities: The Herald said that "Exotic dancers desirous of operating at adult entertainment clubs in St. Maarten will no longer be issued with residence and employment permits to ply their trade in the country. The dancers will instead have to apply for an independent entrepreneurship licence to legally work in St. Maarten." That's what SXM needs, more entrepreneurs.

On Thursday we went out on Lambada's sunset cruise. It was a pretty nice day, but it poured as we headed to the Simpson Bay Resort to board. As usual, it only rained for about 10 minutes but it stayed pretty cloudy. Some clouds in the distance continued raining, producing a complete rainbow off our stern as we headed west. Part of a second rainbow formed above the original one. The sunset wasn't so great as there were thick clouds on the horizon, but we did get the tiniest bit of green flash as the last bit of sun dropped behind the dense clouds.

Groceries: On the left is a variation on a salade Niçoise using mahi rather than tuna. We got a package of frozen mahi at Super U and had a mahi dinner one night and this salad a couple days later. On the right is the refurbished Sarafina's Bakery. We still believe their finettes are the best bread on the island. We buy several and freeze them, reconstituting them in a toaster oven as needed.

Gas: The Cadisco near Simply in Sandy Ground is offering gas at 0.89€ and giving 1 to 1 on the exchange ($3.37/gallon). That's down a bit from last week, the Delta Petroleum station near La Santal on the west side of the French canal is offering 0.83€ and 1 to 1 and it's slightly closer to us in Cupecoy. ($3.14/gallon)

green logo Nature: On the right are the two new chicks from our dove. The palm tree is pretty healthy this year because of the recent rains.

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: The Herald wrote that TelEm Group says its technicians are on the lookout for some "mystery" repairmen who damaged one of the company's underground telecommunication cables and joined it back together, ... wait for it ..., using duct tape. There are two rules in Caribbean maintenance. If it moves and it shouldn't: duct tape. If it doesn't move and it should: WD-40.


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 for the contest ending 31 January
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Bryan Faircloth
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - Bryan Faircloth
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate - Bryan Faircloth
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Bryan Faircloth
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two - Terry Anzalone
Pizza Galley - $25 off on a dinner for two - Terry Anzalone
Ti Coin Créole - $30 off on a dinner for two - Terry Anzalone

Current Contest: now until 27 Mar
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
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:
27 Mar to 22 May
22 May to 21 August | 21 August to 20 November

same cast of characters as current contest



On 24 January the Euro was at 1.080 and today it is at 1.083. Pretty 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. 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.


Palm Beach Restaurant
We headed over to Orient on Monday. We knew it would be windy on the windward side, based on the whitecaps on the lagoon. We got a waterfront table with great views of Green Cay, Tintamarre, and Pinel and started with a Chateau Paradis Rosé (left, 23€). We could have had a red wine with the sturdy food we were ordering, but rosé goes better with beaches in the afternoon. There is a very large specials board and you should at least consider the fresh fish. Martha had a carpaccio of tuna marinated in soy and ginger (below center, 26€) from the board and I had a lightly seared tuna steak with Asian flavors and a Créole sauce on the side (below right, 22€). Martha did lose a bit of her salad to the tradewinds roaring past us. Eventually the staff dropped some high-tech wind screens, solving the problem. Both lunches were quite good and I really liked my Asian vegetable mixture that came with mine. They offered a rate of $1.1 to 1€, essentially at the rate of 1.09 as found in the FaxInfo for that morning.

Pizza Galley
On Thursday night after our sunset cruise on Lambada we had dinner at Pizza Galley and another chat with JP. We skipped our usual salad as the cruise involved a fair amount of snacking. We ordered the JP Special Pizza (Pepperoni, Italian sausage, green peppers, mushrooms, caramelized onions, black olives, and mozzarella cheese, $19 with a half head of roasted garlic, below center), and the house wine and the Mont Redon Cotes du Rhone (below left, $26). There is a wine list, but this is a quality Rhone blend from a good year and it is fine with pizza. It was a great meal perfectly filling for the two of us and only cost about $55 including a generous tip for the crew.

JP stopped by and we got to talking about when we met back in the 90's at Friar's Bay and how much things had changed. The boat he and Lorna worked on, Lady Mary, had sunk in a very late hurricane leaving them without jobs at the very start of high season. Luckily, he got a job managing Turtle Pier at the last minute. On the way out we found him chatting with Sue and Dan who go back even further, which led to even more reminiscing. Good food, good wine, good company on a lovely evening in an open air restaurant.

Piazza Pascal
On a nice Saturday evening we went to dinner at Piazza Pascal. We had 7:00 reservations and parked in the pay lot, which was about half full. The stroll down the street showed most places to be busy, but not packed. Donna had saved us a corner table in the upstairs dining area. Business has been down about 10%. She has noted a distinct lack of Canadians as their dollar has tanked because their major export is oil. Because we had reservations we got to dine when we wanted and even get the table that we wanted. We started with sparkling water and Lluna's (our waitress) favorite wine, a Tuscan Sangiovese 2014 "Le Focaie", Rocca Di Montmassi at $34. It's amazingly good considering it probably hasn't been in the bottle more than a year.

We discussed the sautéed Italian sausage with peppers and onions in tomato sauce with baked maozzarella cheese ($13). This dish contains everything I like about Italian cuisine: a tomato sauce with peppers and onions with mozzarella and some tasty sausage. We decided to order two main courses as Martha thought I'd have to finish most of hers. She had the Linguini Di Napoli (below right, $25), shrimp, calamari, scallops, mussels, and assorted seafood in fresh basil tomato sauce over linguini pasta. She was offered spicy sauce, which she accepted without question. I had a special: a variation on osso buco, a long cooked, very tender veal shank, but with a truffle and cream based sauce accompanied by truffle risotto. It was amazing at a mere $30, because Pascal says he has friends in the truffle business. We ended with another glass of wine for Martha and an old rum for me. Total cost, about $105 as they are still doing 1 to 1 for cash purchases. Since that isn't as great as it used to be, they are now comping the parking! There is no water view, but this is one of the best deals in Grand Case, good food, nice wines, with friendly service in a nice spot.

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!

Karakter on Simpson Bay was closed briefly by the Dutch Public Health Inspectorate for "detrimental hygienic conditions". It's open now.

They also closed Mary's Boon and two food facilities in the Caribbean Cinemas Megaplex Theatres for a string of health violations during a joint random inspection on Thursday evening.

I've heard other places mentioned, but it appears to be cleanliness or merely certificates, rather than major changes. The Inspectorate may be on a tear because it is a month until the Heineken Regatta brings a lot of publicity. Given the troubles in the US with e coli, norovirus, etc, they might want to clean things up beforehand.

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."