St Maarten/St Martin
8 May 2016 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: About three weeks ago there was a string of three beautiful clear days when all the neighboring islands came into view. It ended in one of the worst days of the year with lots of rain and totally overcast. This miserable weather continued for about two weeks. It does make the island green and fill the cisterns. The next ten days will be bleak. Six will have a chance of rain, generally over 50% and reaching 75% at times. The total rainfall is expected to be a bit over 1 inch, which is to say not much spread over six days. The other days won't get any brighter than partly cloudy. High temperatures will be 84-85, dropping to 77-79 at night. On the right is a sunset shot taken in Marigot during better times.

Here's the detailed forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset tonight will be at 6:36 PM. That provides 12 hours and 54 minutes of sunshine, about 45 minutes more than the last newsletter a month ago. The full moons for 2016 will be 21 May, 20 Jun, 19 Jul, 18 Aug, 16 Sep, 16 Oct, 14 Nov, and 13 Dec.

Our return: We stayed on the island for only four days after the last newsletter. I had found a deal from United and upgraded to business class for 12,500 miles and $125 each. We left Sapphire at 11:00AM on 7 April and I dropped Martha, Lilli in a carrier, two carry-ons, two checked bags, and case of wine from Select Wine Cellar at the terminal. There were no porters outside so Martha went in to find one. All she found was a baggage cart. We piled the baggage high on the cart and she pushed it in to the empty first class check in. I drove the car back to Unity Car Rental's nearby world headquarters building and they quickly returned me to the terminal. We get one free bag each because we put the tickets on our UA Mileage Plus Card. We got another free bag and a 70 lb allowance for each because of the first class upgrade. Thus, there was no charge for the wine, but it did need to go through a different check in procedure. Martha had finished all that by the time I got back to the terminal. She had my passport to show to the check in personnel, but I did not have to show my face as the upcoming security checks would suffice. We headed over to the food court and got out our sandwiches and a half bottle of wine for a light lunch before heading upstairs and on to the gates.

It was fairly crowded so we tried the executive lounge. Our first class tickets did not amuse the gatekeeper, but a pair of Jacksons got us admittance to a less crowded space with free, but very low end, wine and some decent snacks. We boarded on time with no trouble and enjoyed plenty of legroom and a decent meal. As we taxied to the gate in Newark Martha's phone gave her the message that our next leg, from Newark to Albany, was canceled. It took an hour for immigration, baggage claim, and customs. As usual we declared that we had food (usually cat food, but this time leftover sandwiches that we had made but did not eat because we got a meal in business class), an animal (Lilli the cat), and alcohol. It appears that the officials are more concerned about food and animals than alcohol as we had to go over to the cat and food detecting machine which detected sandwiches that were seized. 12 bottles of wine, a bottle of Calvados, and four bottles of rum were allowed to enter duty-free.

Now the fun begins. Normally, one exits customs and finds a luggage check-in for connecting flights. We had no flight but we did have a huge amount of luggage to schlep to a United agent. It had been a very windy day in the plains and the northeast. No small planes, like the ones that fly Newark to Albany, were flying. United offered us flights on the next day, but no hotel. They would refund a part of our ticket costs but that is only done online. We started looking for a rental car agency and the first had no cars. The next were expensive and I was truly amazed that none of them seemed to have software that would allow them to determine their closest agent to a renter's destination. The conversations went like this:

Agent: Where will you be returning the car?
Me: We are going to Salem, NY.
Agent: We don't have a location there. What is near there?
Me: West Rupert, VT.
Agent: None there. Care to try again?
Me: (At this point I was becoming aware that this was like the Monte Python Cheese Shop, except that I was not keen to guess!

Hertz had a car and a location in Saratoga Springs, considerably closer than the Albany Airport return of the other car rental agencies. Soon we were in the bowels of Newark Airport at 8PM in a car with no GPS. You may be aware that route 95 goes from the top of Maine to the bottom of Florida but neither you nor anyone else knows what happens to it as it gets near New Jersey. The Garden State had two high speed tollways (Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike) before Eisenhower turned Republican conservatism on its head and built an interstate highway all across America. New Jersey, therefore, has no interest in getting you anywhere near the national free highway system making life difficult for travelers. We did manage to get out of NJ and onto Route 87 in New York, arriving home at about 1 in the morning after spending $14 in tolls! The next day we had to return the car to Saratoga Springs, 45 minutes over and 45 minutes back for both of us but we were home.

Newsletters: During the last couple weeks on the island I gathered many photos to fill out the beach, activity, Sapphire, restaurant, and nature sections of the newsletter until we return next January. My Sony Vaio was complaining about its hard drive so I was attempting to back it up and we bought a new Dell laptop via Groupon to be shipped to our NY address. On the morning of 7 April in SXM the Vaio was particularly recalcitrant as was the external hard drive that I was using for backups.

First thing on 8 April, I opened the box with the new Dell laptop and plugged it in. First thing it said was that it didn't recognize the charger that came with it. They conveniently put the serial number and service tag on the bottom of the computer. The first two calls had agents tell me that the service tag was for an Illogic 359 Tablet (or similar). I mentioned that it said Dell and was a laptop. That caused a transfer that ended in a dial tone. I tried again getting the same runaround only this time the transfer worked, leading me to an agent who picked up and said I had a Dell. We started to set it up but when I got to the part about setting up a windows account, I quit and said I would return it. To their credit Groupon sent me a return postage file. I printed it, put it on the box, put the computer back in the box, and got my money back rather quickly.

After returning the car in Saratoga Springs, we went to Best Buy and got a high end HP laptop with 16 Gig of RAM and a Terabyte of solid state hard drive in an aluminum case. Of course Windows 10 is incompatible with many of the programs I have been using so they all had to be upgraded and I have lost a lot of the work I did over the last two weeks on the island. Don't expect as many restaurant reviews this summer.

SXM-Beaches: One week ago, Wendy K said "My final Cupecoy beach day will be at the beach at Shore Pointe, where the sand has conveniently just returned. It's coming back along the Ocean Club stretch, but the surf is a little rougher there. The weather has been pretty strange. For nearly 2 weeks we've had dense cloud cover, heavy air, and not much in the way of a breeze. I'll likely regret saying this in a few days, but right now I'm looking forward to some cool Cape Cod weather!"

Below is a rough day on Cupecoy in April of 2005. Baby beach was being pounded by some serious rollers.

An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd ($12 Kindle, $13 paperback) From Publishers Weekly: Starred Review. Set in the summer of 1917, Todd's excellent second mystery featuring British nurse Bess Crawford (after 2009's A Duty to the Dead) smoothly blends realistic characters with an intricate plot. When Bess accompanies Lt. Meriwether Evanson, a severe burn victim, from the Continent to England, she's surprised to spot the pilot's supposedly devoted wife, Marjorie, crying on another man's shoulder at a train station. After returning to saving lives under German fire in France, Bess is stunned to read in a newspaper that Marjorie has been stabbed to death in London. Soon after, the depressed lieutenant commits suicide by cutting his own throat. Unable to resist involving herself in the murder investigation, Bess seeks to identify Marjorie's unknown companion, the possible killer. In addition to supplying a challenging puzzle, Todd (a mother-son writing team) does a superb job of capturing the feel of the battlefield and the emotional toll taken on those waiting back home for a loved one's return. Martha downloaded this from our library to her Kindle.
Sapphire Beach Club: There is a timeshare owners group on Facebook. Most of the recent comments are favorable. Charles Frosch put a photo on Facebook of a truckload of new stainless steel refrigerators arriving on site. On the right are some boats from the Heineken regatta sailing past our Caribbean balcony. The pano below is also from the Heineken Regatta with a bonus landing about to take place at Princess Juliana Airport. Also taken from our balcony.

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 is heading west out of the frame on her daily sail featuring snorkeling, swimming, and a fine lunch. Unlike the motor cats, Random Wind uses her sails and there is nothing like moving along swiftly when the only sound is the wind in the sails.

Groceries: Wendy K reports that "I just returned from my final shopping trip to Super U. They were doing 1 euro = $1.05 - still not a bad deal. This was the price they were giving when we first arrived last November." It appears that they are willing to lose about 10% but when the actual rate gets over 1.1, they cut their losses by moving to a more realistic exchange rate.

Travel: The US government has cautioned Caribbean countries offering a Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP) to be extra cautious about who they give their passports to, and ensure that recipients have no terrorist or crime links. This came from the US embassy in Barbados shortly after Antigua and Barbuda decided to remove Iraq from the list of countries whose nationals are barred from obtaining citizenship under the twin-island nation's CIP.

Dump: Over Patriot's Day weekend the Dutch dump rising from the Salt Pond caught fire sending smoke and ash into the nearby neighborhoods. It's a regular occurance and fairly disgusting to the neighbors who collect rainwater in cisterns fed by their rooftops. The Daily Herald had an editoriual that will probably has as much effect upon the problem as the five different councils that have ruled St Maarten since 10-10-10. That's 10 Oct 2010, when the Dutch side became a country. Here's a photo from facebook.

Carnival: The Calypso competition on 25 April did not get a new King. For the first time ever, a queen was crowned. Shakiya beat Kiaso Brat by just one point. Lots of photos on the Daily Herald story. Carnival ended with the Jouvert Jump-up featuring 25 vehicles, 17 of them had bands or deejays. It started at 4AM on Wednesday, 27 April. After winding through Sucker Garden, Arch Road, Illidge Road, Walter J. Nisbeth Road the Jump-up ended at Carnival Village close to 12:00pm. Only 16 people were arrested amid the several fights and stabbing incidents. The police warned about the dangers of alcohol. The Daily Herald article has many photos.

Then and now: Take a look at the photos that La Villa has posted. I wasn't even born when the first aerial shot of Grand Case was taken. Neither was the airport!

Crime: On a Monday in early April just after noon three armed men stormed into Tropicana Casino in Cole Bay and threatened the staff while demanding cash. They drove off in a car that was later found in Cay Bay. On 22 April the Daily Herald had an article about the capture of three chain snatchers in Pburg. The bike patrol was instrumental in the capture.

The Daily Herald reported that Ridge Damissee (24), the man who killed officer Benjamin last August, was not given a life sentence, not even the 20 years that the prosecutor requested, but a mere 8 years. The guy who merely provided a hammer to Damisse got 2.5 years?!?

Alcohol: We certainly miss lazy lunches from Champagne Bistro served in Select Wine Cellar. We did buy a case at fantastic prices and bring it home. Even though we declared it, US Customs did not charge us duty.

Rental Cars: Michael at Unity Car Rental has an offer for my readers: Rent an economy car during the summer and he will upgrade you to compact car at no extra charge. Just reserve online and mention the SXM-Info upgrade from economy to compact in the comments section.

green logo Nature: On the right is a cardinal with a very tasty grub.

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 Daily Herald's 1 April article on the proposed sewage treatment plant above Indigo Bay with effluent trickling down to water crops on the hillside was just that, an April 1 story, known as April Fools Day in English and Poisson d'Avril (Fish of April) in France. The Herald's recent editorial on sewage treatment and garbage disposal makes a bit more sense. The Dutch side truly needs a better garbage solution than piling garbage up on the back side of the town that has the cruise ship terminal. The editorial suggests that the French upgrade the Anse Marcel garbage disposal facility and accept Dutch garbage while the Dutch put in a decent sewage treatment plant and accept French sewage.


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 22 May
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:
22 May to 21 August | 21 August to 20 November

same cast of characters as current contest



On 3 April the Euro was at 1.140 and today it is at 1.140. It's bounced around over the last month but has stayed above the lows of February.

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. Super U switched to $1.05 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.


We went with two other couples to Big Fish in early March. Parking is a bit tight, but we have always found a spot. We had reservations and had requested a six-top in the dining room, eschewing the roaring winds and possibility of rain. It had been a difficult week on the island. Our appetizers were the Yutzu Shrimp, tempura shrimp in a smoky chipotle and sweet soy sauce ($16 below left), that were very tasty. We also had the Hurricane Calimari, fried calamari with Chef Wendell Laurence's secret sauce (below center, $14). On the right is the chef with his recently recently received Crystal Pineapple signifying his Chef of the Year award. His sushi chef has recently come over from Sushhitto.
Our dinners were the sea scallops in a lemon ginger beurre blanc topped with cilantro, garlic, and a lemon zest ($33, right), a terrific veal chop pounded thin, lightly breaded and baked with fontina cheese topped with a shallot and veal jus ($37, above left), a surf and turf - lobster and filet mignon - a special (above center), the seafood pasta with shrimp, lobster, crab, and sea scallops ($33, above right). You'll note that the light red sauce indicates that some cream has been added.

Our desserts were a black forest cake ($10, below left), a crème brûllée ($9, next), a gluten free Nutella cake ($10, next), and some Zacapa old rum (below right).

No wine mentioned because Tuesday is no corkage night! We brought our own, although the restaurant has a large and reasonably priced list.

Wendy K reports that "Four of us had lunch at The Grill (formerly Sugar Cane Café at Starz formerly Atlantis Casino), which has been closed since Dino Jagtiani left in December. [ed note: I avoid places with frequent name changes] We had a very disappointing experience: nothing really interesting on the menu and the food was unremarkable, at best. The waitress was pleasant, but with just one other table of customers, she managed to take 20 minutes to bring our drinks. The food service was no better. Two of us had beef carpaccio ($13) which was 4 slices of tasteless beef with a little garnish and a dollop of good pesto. It was supposed to come with fries. They arrived 10 minutes after we received our carpaccio (I'm not kidding), and were of the previously frozen variety. A glass of rose was $5 and a good pour. Crossing the Grill off our list for the time being." [ed note: Now you know why]

Chanteclair Bistro has announced a new schedule for the low season. They will be closed on Sunday and Monday and Saturday lunch will be reserved for a cooking class. There is a special seafood menu on Thursday evenings and a 28€ menu on the other nights.

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, Chanteclair Bistro, L'Escargot Restaurant, Piazza Pascal, and La Villa. Treat your friends at your favorite restaurant!

The parties in Grand Case and Marina Royale in Marigot have ended with the advance of low season. There are still Wednesday and Friday night parties in Orient Village for a while longer.

Here is the current list of the ARCHA members contributing to the security and clean-up of Grand Case. They would appreciate your continued support of their efforts. A blue oval sticker is displayed at businesses that participate in this much-needed endeavor.

Hotels and Residences:
Grand Case Beach Club
Le Petit Hotel
Bleu Emeraude
Auberge Gourmande
Bistrot Caraïbes
Piazza Pascal
Le Pressoir
Le Tastevin
La Villa
Ocean 82
Calmos Cafe
Blue Martini
Le Soleil
Le Cottage
Tijon Perfumery
La boutique D'Anaise
La Boutique D'anaise
Cotton Club SXM
La Boheme
Sexy Fruits
Simple Elegance


Coupons: Below are links to the SXM-Info clients who have coupons on their websites.

Chanteclair Bistro
Endless Summer Beachwear
Kakao Beach
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."