St Maarten/St Martin
15 January 2017 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Monday was pretty cloudy but we did not see rain. Tuesday started with rollers crashing on Cupecoy that I heard before I even saw them. Saba was barely visible and Statia was lost in a rainstorm (right). It's been cloudy with a few drizzles and a lot of wind (and rollers) up until Saturday. This is a result of the major storm hitting the US east coast. We don't get snow but we do get the wind and rain. It's finally over so this morning is pretty good and it is supposed to be clear and sunny this afternoon.

The next week is clear with some clouds on Friday and Sunday with 80/79F for the high and 74/75F for the low. This is the stuff that the tourist agencies pray for. The photo on the right was from early in the week. The cruise ship is sailing past Statia which is not visible in the rainstorm. Below left is the same shot on Tuesday with Statia visible. In the center is Saba and on the right is the Heineken boat going out for a sunset cruise. The pano was taken from the road in front of the Blue Mall on Thursday. They have cleared up the brush above Cupecoy Beach.

Here's the detailed forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset tonight will be at 5:57PM. That provides 11 hours and 10 minutes of sunshine. In 2017 the full moons will be 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: On the right is a shot taken from the Horny Toad Guesthouse of the sun dropping into the Caribbean (looking west, obviously). The pano below shows the eastern part of the beach around noon. There is public access to the beach from many short roads off the main road snaking along the shore. There is, however, no public parking and spots on the road are generally occupied by residents. It's best if you stay in a hotel in the area if you want to use this beach. In addition to the Toad there is Azure Hotel, Mary's Boon, and Turquoise Shell. At the very western end of the beach is Karakter, a beach bar that frequently has entertainment at night and has some parking.
Looking East from the Horny Toad

cover The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø - $10 (Kindle) - From Publishers Weekly: This sixth installment in Nesbø's popular series finds Harry Hole, Oslo's most successful and least collaborative police investigator, spending the Christmas season trying to unravel a knotty murder case while bemoaning the loss of a friendly superior and working around the demands of the strong-willed new boss. The novel alternates between Harry's sleuthing and a Croatian assassin's attempt to evade him long enough to escape the city. John Lee selects a properly surly and world-weary voice for Harry, and an accented, desperate one for the killer known as the little redeemer. Since the book travels through various strata of Oslo society and even includes a side trip to the former Yugoslavia, Lee is given ample opportunity to display a panoply of Norwegian and Croatian accents. He uses his own rich British accent to guide us smoothly through the novel's descriptive passages. Since the author packs his fast-paced scenes with crucial details easily missed, Lee's clear, crisp rendition is a blessing. However, several shifts between Harry's sections and those of the little redeemer are so abrupt, narrated by that same well-modulated voice, it may take listeners a moment to realize whose story is being told.

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

Sapphire Beach Club: I had a long chat with Philippe this week. I'm even more convinced that Sitbon will never get control of Sapphire. The sales staff are making some sales and some maintenance money is being paid. I am paying mine. The place looks better than when I left last April. The elevators, stairwells, and common areas have been painted and the lights are working. I have seen some of the rooms that have been upgraded and their refrigerators, cook-tops, dish washers, TVs, and microwaves are better than mine. (As a full owner, I am responsible for my own furniture and appliances.) Things are getting better and if someone doesn't pay, they can't stay, and their unit will be made ready for sale. On Friday there was a wine and cheese party in the lobby with a Tanya Michelle singing. They actually had some wines that I would drink. Jan (our manager) was there, making himself available.

All the photos were taken from our Caribbean balcony, Below left is a flight coming into PJIA and the next two show the Coast Guard investigating floats in the water. We watched for quite a while and never saw anything come up, nor have we seen anything in the papers.

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.

Traffic: On Monday we had a very slow drive out to Grand Case and after turning onto the entrance road to restaurant row, we found we could not take the right which would allow us to get to Le Pressoir or Grand Case Parking as the gendarmes had blocked off the street. We were forced to go straight into town where we had to make a left and look for parking on restaurant row - not likely. Luckily, there was a spot in the parking lot in front of the defunct supermarket! We never did see anything about the disturbance, although I have heard that the current batch of gendarmes actually make drug busts rather than chasing after tourists.

We managed to drive into Pburg in about 45 minutes on Friday. We go past the airport and rather than fighting our way through Simpson Bay, we take the causeway and approach the Krytoff rotary via Cole Bay. That's the rotary near the KFC. It's essentially where the road from Cole Bay (Unity) meets the one from Simpson Bay (Welfare) and the one from Pburg. We l took link 1, the first turnoff from the rotary at the peak. It goes down to the Bel Air hotel and along water (and Divi Resort) to the bottom end of Front Street. We actually found a parking spot on Front Street.

Alcohol: We stopped in at Select Wine Cellar in Orange Grove to replenish our wine cellar as we had stayed home watching the playoff games. We found that the Savigny-Les-Beaune went well with the playoffs, so we got more of that and ventured out to a Chambolle-Musigny ($83), some Cotes du Rhone from Usseglio ($19.50) and an Italian wine, Barbera D'Alba ($23.50).

green logo Nature: I'm still working off some nature from back home. This photo is from the the previous big storm in the northeast. I was hoping to use it as a Solstice card, but I'm a bit late.

Our office is well over 100% solar-powered. In fact, in seven 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: You are welcome to visit the island, but don't try to visit the island's website. An article in the St Maarten News Network said the website is down because the government is behind in payments.


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 8 January the Euro was at 1.053 and today it is at 1.064. That's 1 percent in a week, not good if it keeps up.

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.


Piazza Pascal
On a drippy Monday evening we went to dinner at Piazza Pascal. We had 7:00 reservations and could not get to the parking lot (see above), but managed a spot in the lot of the defunct grocery store. The stroll down the street showed most places to be very slow. Donna had saved us a corner table in the upstairs dining area. Because we had reservations we got to dine when we wanted and even get the table that we wanted. Donna said that it had been slow and there was only one other couple. Because of this Chef Pascal came out to discuss his menu. After much discussion, we started with the Cozze Calabrese, sautéed and steamed mussels with spicy chorizo sausage in a white wine and garlic broth. We started with sparkling water and Lluna's (our waitress) favorite wine, a Tuscan Sangiovese 2015 "Le Focaie", Rocca Di Montmassi at $38. It's amazingly good considering it probably hasn't been in the bottle more than a year.

I had the Linguini Alla Napoli extra spicy (below right, $26), shrimp, calamari, scallops, mussels, and assorted seafood in fresh basil tomato sauce over linguini pasta. Martha 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 risotto with mushrooms and truffle oil. It was amazing at about $30, because Pascal says he has friends in the truffle business. We ended with limoncellos. Total cost, about $113 as they are still doing 1 to 1 for cash purchases. 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.

It turns out that this is the exact same meal we had the last time we were here but Martha and I switched main courses.

Champagne Bistro
On Tuesday we stopped at Select Wine Cellar to see Sylvain and replenish our meager stocks after busy weekend. We arrived as Sylvain was putting in the lunch order at Champagne Bistro. It turns out there was already a couple in the wine room, so we added our order and joined in the fun. We split an appetizer of seared foie gras that was fabulous. Most of us had the veal Marengo with pasta. The dish was invented by Napoleon's chef after the battle of Marengo in 1800. It can be made with either veal of chicken sautéed, then braised with tomatoes, onions, olives, garlic, seasonings, and white wine. The other couple prefers Bordeaux so we started with a bottle of 2009 Chateau Soutard Saint Emilion and quickly got to the 2009 Chateau La Pointe Pomerol ($82). Our last wine with the lunch was a 2015 Prima Donna Minervois from the south of France ($42). I still prefer pinot noir to Bordeaux, but found the Minervois quite interesting. Our dessert was the 25cl bottle of 2002 Hungarian Tokaj ($37), a lovely, very sweet wine.

Altro Italian Bistro
We went to Altro Italian Bistro in Porto Cupecoy on Thursday, the latest creation of Brigitte and Christian Moreau with their daughter Charlotte. They will feature fresh pasta and as it's still in start-up phase Christian has a small menu with many specials. The aps are all around $20 and the main courses are mostly under $30.
That's the family on the left and our wine on the right. It was a 2014 Savigny-Les-Beaune, a rather nice Burgundy from a one of the better recent vintages ($75).
We shared a tuna carpaccio appetizer (left) and Martha had pasta wrapped around leeks and cured pig cheek (aka guanciale), a special.
I had a giant ravioli with sweetbreads, foie gras, and shitakes. Everything was great, spiced well with many tastes and textures. The cost with a 15% tip included was $193. They will be opening for lunch soon, redoing their three course lunch menus from Sol é Luna. They have a lively bar scene.

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."