St Maarten/St Martin
7 February 2016 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: It has been a pretty good week, not too warm, a bit cool at night. The photo on the right is from Thursday morning showing to sailboats bracketing the hazy island of Saba 26 miles off our Caribbean balcony. The sea appears to have calmed down as I can no longer hear waves crashing. By that afternoon the sun had burnt off the haze and you can see houses on Saba behind the local Navy if you click the photo to get the enlarged version (below left). On Friday the sunset was rather nice as the sun came down through the clouds and reached the horizon - perfect conditions for a green flash (below center and the pano). By Saturday it was quite hazy, fairly windy, and the waves were a bit more boisterous in the photo below right.

The next ten days show four clear days and 6 days with a chance of rain never getting over 50% and totaling 0.5 inches over the ten days. The first seven days have all the clear days followed by three straight rainy days starting next weekend. The high temperature over the first five days will be 83F dropping to 82F on the final five days. The overnight low will have a similar pattern: four days of 75F followed by 74/73. It's still winter and the temperatures are still falling. Here's the detailed forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel.

Sunset tonight will be at 6:09 PM. That provides 11 hours and 26 minutes of sunshine. That's five minutes more than last week. We are about halfway between the solstice and the equinox, heading for 34 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.

SXM-Beaches: We've had two trips out to Orient and roamed from Palm Beach restaurant near the northern end to Club Orient at the southern end, which is most of the beach. It has looked pretty good, no sand erosion and the seaweed seems minimal. The reconstruction of the bulldozed lolos is way behind schedule. They are mostly constructed, but lacking in utilities. Moreover, the boxes that they built are unsuitable for restaurant use. The "lucky" renters will have to put in stove/oven vents, floor drains, and more before they can open for business. On the right is the beach at Tintamarre. I took this shot from Paradise View Restaurant using a 42X zoom. The first pano below was taken from the hill approaching Palm Beach Restaurant. In the foreground are the rocks near Coco and Green Key is in the distance. The lower pano was also taken from Paradise View. It will enlarge greatly if you click it. Sharp eyes may detect St Barts in the haze.

Yesterday, Wendy K said "The good sand we had all week at Shore Pointe beach has started to shift to the middle beach and baby beach. The water was a little choppy today at Shore Pointe, but I went in and bobbed in the waves for a while. It the wind shifts tonight, as predicted, who knows where the sand will be tomorrow.

Big Red Tequila by Rick Riordan (It's a collector's item, but we got a free copy for the Kindle from our library.) Amazon.com Review: Rick Riordan has loaded his first mystery with lots of genre baggage: this story about a man coming home to San Antonio, Texas, to rescue his old girlfriend and solve the 12-year-old murder of his sheriff father is a virtual homage to James (The Last Good Kiss) Crumley. But Riordan writes so well about the people and topography of his hometown that he very quickly marks the territory as his own. Tres Navarre has put behind him the teenage days when he and his friend Ralph Arguello would cruise through San Antonio, drinking a ferocious mixture of cheap tequila and Big Red cream soda. A University of California Ph.D. in English plus a fascination with tai chi chuan led Tres naturally enough to work as a private investigator in San Francisco. But one call from the love of his early life, the mysterious and captivating Lillian Cambridge, now trapped in dangerous work and love relationships, and Tres gladly trades his trendy Peet's coffee for the stronger brews of home." The book was the winner of the 1998 Shamus Award for Best First Novel and the 1998 Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original!

Sapphire Beach Club: On the right is our pool at night. They have toned the color down and stopped the flashing. You'll notice that there is no one dining. It's been a pretty good week here at Sapphire. They have been working on the TV system. The TVs work, they just get no signal because the wires used to bring the signal from the receiver in the basement were small from the beginning and not very reliable especially after 20 years. The amazing thing is that the system was built with maintenance in mind. I always thought I was watching a weather report from my youth south of Buffalo, NY. We're here on the island for three months starting in January, and back in Buffalo, it was pretty much three months of snow. That's essentially what we got on the TV here. A new cable fixed the snow problem on the TV, but Buffalo probably needs another solution. Now we need some decent channels.

On other fronts, it appears that somebody has told the zumba girl that she and her six zumbateers do not need to violate OSHA noise regulations during their morning workout ... and more amazingly, she listened! Similarly, the bar has been slightly quieter. The really big news is that after 20 years, I got the reserved parking space mentioned in my purchase and sale agreement.

Below is another great view from out lagoon balcony. It's a pano of Porto Cupecoy taken from our lagoon balcony. Porto Cupecoy was originally built by the Orient Express Group. They owned La Samanna just over the border in France and contiguous land stretching over onto the Dutch side. They knocked over some 200 year old rock walls built by the island's slaves, filled in mangrove swamp, and spent big bucks on this project heading into the great recession. In order to stay afloat, theysold off some properties, including Porto Cupecoy, and they have rebranded all their hotels as Belmond, dropping the iconic Orient Express name. Porto Cupecoy is rather pretty, especially when compared to Ocean Club and the Blue Mall.

Our unit will not be available in early April when we leave as we have signed a lease with our previous med school tenant. He will be here through the end of the year. Next door, studio unit 254, will be available for a couple weeks in mid-April. Check out the website and send Jim an email if you are interested. Below is a pano taken from our lagoon balcony showing all of Porto Cupecoy.

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: While doing errands in Simpson Bay, I stopped in at Azure Hotel to say hello to Mike and Fawnette and take these photos. They are on the beach in the middle of Simpson Bay. The beach photo on the right was taken from the edge of their property looking over to Beacon Hill. They live in the main house on the property and the hotel rooms cluster about the main house forming a courtyard around the entrance. There is a lovely fountain in the courtyard and several trees full of birds. Look closely and you can find three doves in the photo on the left. The color of the doves almost matches the bark on the tree. The center photo shows that the boat tail uses his coloration not for camouflage, but to attract attention.
Alcohol: Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar had a good week. Any week is good with Richebourg (left), a grand cru from the commune of Vosne-Romanée. The entire vineyard is about 18 acres and produces about 26,000 bottles in an average year. I wasn't there. We were home drinking lesser Burgundies (right). The 2014 Chablis from Tremblay is $18.50, a very good price. The 2011 Pommard from Chantal Lescure is $66, the 2012 Marsannay from Fournier is $45, and the 2012 Savigny Les Beaune from Girard is $26.

Groceries: On the left is the entrance to Super U at the back of the Howell center on eastern edge of Marigot. There is a large sign on the street. I looked up the cost of tomato juice and found Super U to be the cheapest at $1.75 per liter vs Sunny and Cost U Less (admittedly V8) at about $2.15. Super U and Simply are doing 1 to 1 on the euro.

Gas: The cheapest gas we have found is at the Delta Petroleum station (right) near La Santal on the west side of the French canal. It's offering 0.83€ and 1 to 1, as the signs show. That's $3.14/gallon and it comes with a helpful attendant.

Shopping: We stopped in at DK Gems while doing some errands in Pburg. A couple years ago we bought a new wedding ring for Martha using sapphires and diamonds as in the original. This year we needed it resized. We had made plans to meet Deepti and the rest of the clan there and you'll see Raj, Jeff, Kamal, and Deepti. They have always been most helpful in getting jewelry cleaned, resized, or repurposed.

SXM-Activities: On the left is a photo taken from our Caribbean balcony showing Random Wind returning from her daysail loaded with snorkeling, swimming, swinging (on the Tarzan swing), dining, and a bit of drinking. ReveMarine can take you wherever you want to go or you can rent the boat and take yourself. Power or Sail - your choice.

green logo Nature: On the right we see the pair of doves that have hatched out two chicks that have now fledged. They are now teaching the chicks to get their own food. If you look on the right about halfway up, you'll see one of the chicks, requesting food.

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 Sonesta Maho's restaurant, The Point, was closed on Wednesday by the Inspectorate of Public Health. A bit later, the Council of Ministers announced that the Inspectorate of Public Health was closed and will stop raids of businesses until further notice. Do I have to say anything?


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 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 31 January the Euro was at 1.083 and today it is at 1.116. That's about a 3% change in a week. I wonder how long the French supermarkets will continue with 1 to 1 for cash!

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, 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.


Shanghai Brasserie
On Sunday night we took a very short drive over to Porto Cupecoy for dinner at Shanghai Brasserie. It's a transformation of the old NY Brasserie that was here. Elisa Cohen (right), late of Bikini Beach, did the transformation over low season and she has done quite well at it. We had dinner reservations, but at 7PM, it was not very crowded. It did fill up by the time we finished dinner, so reservations may be required later - better safe than sorry. We had a corner table in the back and started with sparkling water and an organic Cotes du Rhone. We went with a sturdy Rhone wine given my tendencies to go for hot spices with Chinese cuisine.

We started with an assortment of crispy spring rolls (above left), vegetarian and pork dumplings (above center), and Szechuan wontons (a special, below left). I especially like the crunch of the spring rolls and the fried dumplings, but the slippery wontons were quite tasty. Martha's main course of crispy yellow noodles, Hong Kong style, required the water to dump the veg, meat, and seafood onto the waiting noodles. My Singapore noodles came with the veg and seafood. I spent my young adulthood in working Boston about a half mile from Chinatown. My half Jamaican, half Chinese secretary carried a bottle of hot sauce in her purse. We had a fellow engineer who was first generation Chinese and spoke several dialects. These were handy people to guide us through lunch, invariably with Singapore noodles. I'm used to more sauce and at the prices we were paying, considerably less meat and seafood. I asked for more sauce and the waiter quickly brought my noodles up to spec. We were in no shape for dessert. We closed out our bill of about $90 to which was added a 15% tip.

Paradise View Restaurant

We went to Paradise View on Monday, the day before Candlemas. The restaurant, high on Hope Hill, was offering a free dessert crepe with one filling with every purchase of a savory crepe in honor of Candlemas when they will be closed. We had a nice Burgundy from Bouchard and it went well with the savory crepes. Quite the view from our table, isn't it? Martha had the Popeye crepe with spinach (of course), tomato, and cream. I had a Forestiere with ham, onion, and cheese (center, but for they most part, they all look the same). We asked for one free crepe with two fillings rather than two free crepes each with one filling and Lucy was happy to accommodate us. As we had sliced almonds and chocolate, the dark (and very good) chocolate showed through the crepe a bit more. It was a lovely lunch with a great view for only $66, including an extra tip.

I took several photos here and they were incorporated into the section on beaches.

Bistrot Caraïbes
On Thursday evening we headed over to Bistrot Caraïbes to meet some friends. We parked in the pay parking lot. The restaurant comps the parking, if you show your receipt. When we arrived at 7:00 they were not very busy, but the restaurant was full by 7:30, so reservations are a good idea.

We ordered water and a bottle of 2012 Rully (55€), thinking how a crisp wine would cut the oiliness of the wonderful smoked salmon (below center, 15€) that I would order as my appetizer. It turns out that this older (at least for a white wine) vintage, was no longer super crisp, but had mellowed into a hint of sweetness. Nonetheless we liked it so much we needed another bottle as we all had the smoked salmon. Martha had a special fisherman's platter (below left, 29€) that was delicious and I had a special tuna, quickly seared, but essentially sashimi on the inside (below right, 27€). The Brouilly was very good with these dishes. I had a balloon of 1991 Armagnac and an espresso before leaving. The total cost was $190 per couple, expensive, but we spent about $155 on wine alone.

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, Piazza Pascal, and La Villa. Treat your friends at your favorite restaurant!

As mentioned above, the Health Inspectorate went after a few more places this week but after they closed the restaurant at the Sonesta Maho, the Council of Ministers closed the Health Inspectorate.

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 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.

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."