St Maarten/St Martin
8 January 2017 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather:It's been a bit rainy over the last week. We got rained on as we drove home from Pizza Galley in Simpson bay on Thursday evening, again on Friday evening on our ride home from Big Fish in Oyster Pond, and on Saturday returning from a shopping expedition to Super U. Having said all that, the rest of the time it was at least partly sunny. Saba has been lost in the marine haze for several days.

The next ten days are more of the same possibly worse, with five days having a chance of rain totaling about three-quarters of an inch, three partly cloudy days, and only two days worthy of mention by the local chamber of commerce. But as I type this, Wendy K is back on Cape Cod with about a foot of snow on the horizon. So it could be worse. On the right is a shot of the square rigged Mercedes sailing past our Caribbean balcony. Saba is in the background but totally lost in the marine haze. Below is a pano from Vikki Whitley showing a sunset view in Grand Case on Friday. The partly cloudy days with a chance of rain make for interesting sunsets. She has moved to Grand Case from Canada and started a Facebook page of her adventures.

Here's the detailed forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset tonight will be at 4:52 PM. That provides 11 hours and 7 minutes of sunshine, much better than Salem, NY, although my laying hens noticed the increasing light and have tripled production since the December Solstice. In 2017 the full moons will be 12 Jan (this week!), 10 Feb, 12 Mar, 11 Apr, 10 May, 9 Jun, 8 Jul, 7 Aug, 6 Sep, 5 Oct, 4 Nov, and 3 Dec.

SXM-Beaches: We had friends in our unit for eight days leading up to New Year's Eve. They liked Bay Rouge. It's certainly close to our unit in Cupecoy.

cover Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo - $8 (Kindle) - From Booklist: "Sometimes, setting mirrors action in crime fiction, but other times, the beauty or tranquility of a landscape serves to heighten the horror of the crimes that unfold against it. Such is certainly the case in Castillo's Kate Burkholder series, starring the police chief of Painters Mill, Ohio, seemingly a near-bucolic community set in the midst of Amish country. In this sixth installment, Kate must connect the dots linking a horrendous 1975 robbery gone wrong (reminiscent of In Cold Blood, Amish man was killed, four of his children died in a fire, and his wife disappeared) and a string of 2014 murders suggesting that the victims may have been involved in the decades old crime. But why has the revenge fueled killer waited so long to begin extracting his or her pounds of flesh? Castillo effectively combines an airtight plot with a revealingly complex look at what can happen when a fissure develops along the fault line separating an insular community from the secular world. As always, the introspective but determined Kate straddles both worlds with remarkable dexterity. Castillo shows again why the phrase "gritty Amish mystery" is no oxymoron."

As usual, we borrowed the book from our library via the internet and listened to it on Martha's Kindle.

Sapphire Beach Club: We are in our unit at this time. There were a couple problems when we arrived, but they were fixed within two days. On Friday there was a wine and cheese party in the lobby with a singer (right). Jan (our manager) was there, making himself available. I mentioned the ceiling that was coming down in my bathroom and it was fixed on Saturday morning. The pano below shows show calm the lagoon was on Sunday morning. By late Saturday the planes were taking off to the west. They only do that when it is very calm which doesn't happen often because the trade winds are almost always present. The pano also shows some undergrowth being scraped away in the foreground. I've been told that this is regularly done at the behest of the med school to make things safer for pedestrians (a good portion of whom are med students).

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.

Gas: In our driving we found some French side stations at 0.95€. Some of them (Cadisco on the lagoon in Sandy Ground/Marigot) are offering 1 to 1, saving you 5%. Delta Petroleum on the western side of the French bridge had a sign advertising gas at 0.88. I believe they are still doing 1 to 1 so that makes them a clear winner, about 12% less than anyone charging 0.95 real €. I don't even bother to look at the Dutch side as they have been higher for several years. Moreover, they give a lousy exchange rate or don't give you any exchange rate insisting that the price on the pump is in US dollars!

Travel: We did our usual overnight in an Albany Travelodge on Wednesday with a 4:15 cab to the airport for an early Thursday morning flight to Newark followed by the 9AM nonstop to SXM. Lilly, the wonder cat, had a tab of valium and enjoyed the flight much more than we did. We were a bit late getting off the ground and later still at the landing. Passport control was quick and the baggage didn't take too long and we found Unity Car Rental waiting for us.
Traffic: Many business owners that we have visited said the business was lower than normal at the start of high season but is picking up now. We noticed a lot of rental cars parked in their lots as we drove around last week. That certainly points toward lower tourist counts, but we also noticed the parking lots because we were stopped in traffic, signifying higher tourist counts. We spent over an hour driving to Big Fish in Oyster Pond, having left Cupecoy at 5:30, presumably after rush hour.

Crime: The Herald reported that a double homicide was discovered at about 11PM on Friday evening in Sucker Garden. We were attempting to come home from Big Fish at that time and turned around to return via the French side when we saw the backed up traffic. These were the first homicides on the Dutch side this year.

Alcohol: Our first stop after unpacking a bit was at Select Wine Cellar in Orange Grove. We drive toward Simpson Bay, but take the causeway over to Cole Bay and take the first turn off the rotary driving past Carrefour and Port de Plaisance. We started with a welcome bottle of Deutz Champagne before picking out a case of good Burgundies: 2014 Savigny-Les-Beaune Premier Cru from Girard, 2013 Pommard Vielles Vignes from Girard, a 2013 Marsannay from Fournier, and a 2015 Chablis from Trembley. We are looking forward to our lunches from Champagne Bistro next door with wines from Sylvain.

Groceries: After our adult beverage at Select, we returned via a short shopping trip at Carrefour. They are looking better that they did in the last days of being a Grand Marché. The next day we went over to Super U to finish our shopping. Their cheeses, meat, and frozen food selections are better than Carrefour. Carrefour has fresh milk, better yogurt, and usually better prices on vegetables such as potatoes, onions, peppers. On the left is a plate containing two famous cheeses from Jura in northeastern France: Comté and Morbier, justifiably famous in my opinion as they are two of my favorites. The Morbier from Super U looked better and was about 5% cheaper (using pricing based on cash purchases which can be done at 1 to 1 at Super U). Comté can be generic Comté as found at Grand Marché or an AOC version made from raw milk as found at Super U. We also picked up some beef shin (jarret) for beef stew. It went well with Savigny-Les-Beaune and and football playoffs on Saturday evening.
green logo Nature:On the right are is our screen porch. No, not down here but in Salem, NY on 22 November. We had the plexiglass panels in place and the room heated up nicely convincing our brugmansia to bloom.

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: Good news, bad news. Shortly after the last newsletter GEBE brought its newest and largest diesel generator, number 20, on line. The extra capacity should allow them to meet demand even if a generator is off-line for repairs or maintenance. At about the same time the main internet cable leaving Puerto Rico for St Maarten was damaged. The damage occurred about 2 miles off the coast of Puerto Rico. Telem tried to work around the damaged line but had more difficulties with a fiber cable from the French side. It took a week to get a semblance of service back.


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 19 February 2017
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

Future Contests:
19 February to 9 April 2017 | 9 April to 25 June 2017 | 25 June to 1 October 2017 | 1 October to 24 December 2017
same cast of characters as current contest


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.


On 18 December the Euro was at 1.045 and today it is at 1.053. That's less than a 1% increase in three weeks.

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 is offering 1 to 1 for cash. Note this is generally only for cash payments using US greenbacks and are subject to change.

There was a recent article in the NY Times about credit cards and travel benefits. Check it out here.

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.


Pizza Galley

Our tradition has been to open the condo a bit and then visit Select Wine Cellar and Carrefour for some basics. We return for more unpacking of the owner's closet, but having arisen at 3:45 in the morning we stop early and go for a salad and Pizza at nearby Pizza Galley. We usually share a small Caesar salad and a JP Special pizza with a roasted garlic head while drinking the Cotes du Rhone. The galley has moved upscale and now has a wine list so we decided to try the Chianti at $25 and we changed the pizza to the one we make at home (sausage, mushrooms, peppers, and onions with a very garlicky sauce). Big changes. The pizza was fine but we forgot that as garlic lovers we need to add the head of garlic. We also are francophiles, at least in our wine taste, and like the Cotes du Rhone more than the Chianti. Next Saturday evening JP plans to Rock the Dock with a Saturday Night Fever (wear your leisure suit) party.

Big Fish

On our second night here we visited Chef Wendell at Big Fish to congratulate him on his second Crystal Pineapple award. We met friends at Lighthouse and walked over to the restaurant. Having had apertifs and snacks at Lighthouse, we only ordered main courses and wine. I can recommend the King Estate Pinot Noir Acrobat from Oregon for $49. It went well with my rare tuna with Asian spices (left, $30) and Martha's special pesto crusted seabass (center). On the right is most of a whole bronzini (Mediterranean sea bass). It's owner managed a few bites before I got a photo. There were six of us dining and everyone thought the food was great, as was the service. We noticed Daniel (from Daniel's by the Sea)and his wife, Tina, celebrating her birthday at a nearby table.

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

The list of annual closings for area restaurants has been removed, starting with this newsletter as essentially everyone who is going to be back this season, is back and running at this time.
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."