St Maarten/St Martin
20 March 2016 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Happy Equinox

Weather: Monday arrived with a light rain shower in Cupecoy. Saba was barely visible and Statia was lost in the mist. It continued on with rain and cool winds, probably the worst day of the season. Tuesday arrived with a brilliant view of Saba, Statia, and even a bit of St Kitts. The marine haze was gone but it was still cloudy and cool. The sunset pano below is from Tuesday night. Wednesday finally ended a week of very cloudy and rainy weather. We had a wonderful lunch at Chanteclair in Marina Royale and the photo on the right shows the sunset lighting up Saba. Thursday morning brought the clearest day in a long time. It was still cloudy as the shot on the left below shows but Saba and its houses were quite visible (especially with a 42X zoom (below center). Moreover the blanket of clouds burned off leaving blue sky with a few puffs of white as in the shot below right with Random Wind about to sail out of the frame into Bay Long. Sunday started out nicely, but has clouded up and we are currently having a whiteout. We also felt a minor earthquake here, although the epicenter appears to have been a 6.0 quake about 200 miles east of SXM.

The next ten days show six clear days, two partly cloudy days, and two days with the chance of rain reaching only 30% and totaling a mere 0.04 inches over the ten days. The high temperatures will be will be 83 and the overnight low will 75F or 76F over the over the next five days. That's less rain and more sun than the previous week with smaller temperature swings. Here's the detailed forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset tonight will be at 6:23 PM. That provides 12 hours and 7 minutes of sunshine. This is the vernal equinox (20 March), when everybody gets 12 hours of sunlight (actually a bit more because of the bending of light rays by the atmosphere.) The full moons for 2016 will be 23 Mar (this week!), 22 Apr, 21 May, 20 Jun, 19 Jul, 18 Aug, 16 Sep, 16 Oct, 14 Nov, and 13 Dec.

SXM-Beaches: According to the Daily Herald, the negotiations between the local French government (Collectivité) and the three holdout restaurateurs with Saint Martin Wake Up are progressing. The French side kitchen inspectors have passed the buildings, apparently without mentioning floor drains. The Collectivité has agreed to maintain the dirt road to and through the area and clean the beach. They have also agreed to increase the rental term from three years to five years. There was no agreement on reducing the rent or on postponing the rent. IMHO, this is not much progress. Passing the kitchens cost the Collectivité nothing and didn't save the restaurateurs much. Agreeing to maintain a mile or so of dirt road to Caribbean standards doesn't cost much and ought to be a function of government in the first place. Ditto the beach cleaning. If the Collectivité claims to own it, and they rent it out, they ought to clean it. Increasing the rental term costs nothing, especially if a COLA is included. Despite this, the Herald said "Further blockades not planned while talks continue." I hope they are right, but this article suggests that they are quite a distance from complete agreement. That distance can only be covered by quite a few euros.

On Friday, Wendy K said "Cupecoy has sand only at baby beach this morning, and there were some decent sized swells, such that a surfer dude was contemplating the water at middle beach." Looking out the two balconies shows white caps on the Caribbean because of a strong wind from the south. The other balcony looks over a relatively calm lagoon.

In other news, Tropical Wave is still fighting to keep their operation going on Galion Beach. Pat has been collecting signatures at the restaurant and you can add yours on the internet. At this time there are over 632 signatures.

Help save Galion Beach! Please sign this petition.

Beach Reading: Food in History by Reay Tannahill (about $12) - It's an interesting world history of food from prehistoric times to the present. A favorite of gastronomes and history buffs alike, Food in History is packed with intriguing information, lore, and startling insights - like what cinnamon had to do with the discovery of America, how a new plow in Europe sparked the crusades, why the cow is sacred in India, why stir-frying was invented, and how food has influenced population growth and urban expansion. It was first written in 1973 and revised in 1988.
Sapphire Beach Club: We had another nice manager's party on Monday night with the band called "Two", and like last week, it was held in the lobby as the rain clouds were threatening. Sapphire and the golf course are quite green. The pano below was taken from our Caribbean balcony on Wednesday. It was a really clear morning. You can see Statia on the right and a hint of St Kitts between the the cruise ships heading over to dock in Pburg.

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.

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-Activities: On the left is Random Wind out for her snorkeling, sailing, Tarzan swinging journey around the leeward side of the island.

On the right is Mercedes looking like a ghost ship as she sailed by at night.

Groceries: We've been doing a lot of shopping at Super U as they are doing 1 to 1 pricing for greenbacks. Carrefour certainly spiffed up the Grand Marché on Unity Road and some things there are cheaper. They carry Great Grains in the large double packages. It's half the price of other granolas, even the Carrefour brand.

Martha also found a bargain on veal liver: 9.55 NAf per kilo or dividing by four, about $2.40 per pound (divide by 1.8 to change NAf into dollars and divide again by 2.2 to change kilos into pounds and, as 1.8 x 2.2 is 3.96, just divide by four). She bought a three pound package for a little over $7. There is a bit of waste involved in cleaning up the liver, but she only cooked half of the package freezing the other half in a bit of milk. The resulting dinner with a mustard based sauce and mushrooms over rice was enough for dinner with a lunch left over. That prices the protein for our dinner at about $2. That saving was immediately invested in a bottle of 2012 Savigny-les-Beaune Premier Cru from Girard. (about $40 at Select Wine Cellar).

Gas and Parking: The cheapest gas we have found is still at the Delta Petroleum station (left) near La Santal on the west side of the French canal. It's offering 0.83€ and 1 to 1, as the sign shows. That's $3.14/gallon and it comes with a helpful attendant. Cadisco, across the French Bridge, on the lagoon, was selling gas at 0.87€ per liter. That's about a $2 difference on a fill up.

I actually went to the Cadisco because they were giving away the blue zone parking disks that you will need if you park in the spaces marked in blue. Basically you can only park in the blue zone for a limited time, usually two hours. You set the time that you parked on the disk and leave the disk on the dashboard. If a traffic cop sees that your disk is too much before the current time or two hours after the current time, you get a ticket. Cadisco was out of the disks.

green logo Nature: On the right is five foot iguana crossing the RN7 in the lowlands.I think that is the largest iguana I have ever seen here.

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: This is not a snarky story. In a Daily Herald story, the Dutch Health officials turned away the Norwegian Gem because of sickness on board, possibly the norovirus, although the ship blames bad water picked up in PR. The ship can carry 2384 passengers and 1154 crew. There was no mention of how many passengers there were nor of how many were ill, although TTOL puts it at a mere 63. Given the recent sickness at Maho, I can understand the desire to keep illness away. They sailed off and docked at Tortola.


As you can request five prizes on one entry form, you could win a bargain on entertainment and dinner! 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
DK Gems - $150 off a $500 purchase
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 13 March the Euro was at 1.115 and today it is at 1.127. That's another weekly increase, this time about 1.1% change in a week, making it a 2.4% change over the last two weeks and in the wrong direction for those of us with dollars.

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.

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.


Shakti Restaurant
On Monday we we had lunch at Shiv Shakti Restaurant in Simpson Bay. We started with a papadam (thin crispy bread containing cumin seeds topped with onion, cilantro with a bit of heat, an onion kulcha (right), and two Kingfisher beers. We ordered a palak paneer (spinach with cheese, below left) and a dal made from lentils (or other seeds from legumes, below right) with some very hot peppers in the mix.
We also had a chana masala (below left) and a lamb masala (below right). Chana means chick peas and masala is a mixture of certain spices. I probably should say uncertain spices as it changes from region to region, even chef to chef. Usually the mix contains cardamom, coriander, and mace (the bright red covering on the nutmeg seed, not the pepper spray).
With an extra beer (we asked that everything be made extra hot!) and rice, we had enough lunch certainly, but also another lunch on Tuesday for a mere $55. Locknath, formerly the chef at Lal's Indian Cuisine, opened a second location in Philipsburg across from the St Rose Arcade in 2013. If you are cruising into Pburg, this is one of the closest restaurants to the dock.

Bajatzu Bar & Grill
On Thursday (St Patrick's Day) we headed over to Bajatzu on the second floor of Maho at the western end of Simpson Bay. We used the free valet parking at the casino, crossed the street to the escalator, and were seated in our reserved table in few minutes. It was almost empty when we arrived at 7:00PM but got pretty busy as the night went on. We ordered water and a bottle of 2012 Geverey-Chambertin from Bouchard (left, $50). Shortly after that we received hot rolls, some with a crunchy cheese topping, and good butter.
Last year's manager, Elisa Cohen, is now at Shanghai Brasserie at Porto Cupecoy. Her $42 prix fixe has been replaced with a $35 three-course early bird special until 7:30. It offered three aps: a house salad, a Caesar salad, and snails in garlic butter. I chose the snails (left). There were several main courses offered, but it's a steak house. I went with the steak. It was strip loin from Creek Stone Farms in Colorado (below left). Not the most tender cut of meat, but very flavorful. It came with a nice sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, and a bit of veg. I believe all dinners came with mixed veg and a choice of starch. Martha had a very tasty banzai chicken ($25, below center) that was marinated in ginger and sesame. She chose a baked potato. The wine went well with the dinners. The 2012 is a better vintage than either of its neighbors on the vintage charts. I had a choice of ice cream or crème brûllée for dessert and chose the latter (below right). It came in with a little bit extra, a strawberry and kiwi garnish. All in all, a wonderful evening and the early bird menu made it quite affordable. Moreover, we took home some chicken for a lunchtime salad.

Mezza Luna
On Saturday, we stopped in at Mezza Luna in Nettle Bay for a lunch with our feet in the sand. It has changed hands (and name) twice since we were here last, but we had heard good things about this incarnation, so we checked out the menu. It looked interesting enough and shortly thereafter, we were sitting at a table under a palm tree on the beach (right). We ordered a bottle of water and a 2014 Valpolicella from Allegrini (below center, 32€). It was young, possibly even impertinent, but it played nice with Martha's linguine with shrimp (below left, 25€) and my veal stracetti with cheese and arugula and a side of lightly spiced linguine (below right, 24€). We both felt that my dish was quite good, but Martha's needed a bit more spice. It's a personal taste and remember we hasked for the extra hot Indian food! Our total bill was 86€ and as Ruth was very attentive we slipped in an extra $10.

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!

There is a Thursday night party at Marina Royale in Marigot. The theme changes weekly. There is a Tuesday night party in Grand Case. There are Wednesday and Friday night parties in Orient Village.

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
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 their offerings.

Kindle: We now have have two Kindle devices, as Martha 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." 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."