April 18, 2008: Day Trip to Saba
Saba had been recommended to us as a beautiful island. At the same time, people deterred us from sailing there because there is no protected harbor or anchorage. There are moorings one can tie up to, but it is very rolly even in light winds. Therefore, we decided to take the opportunity to escape the noise and dust created by Winston as he was to finish sanding our teak on Friday, April 18, and took a high speed ferry to Saba, about 20+ nm Southwest of St. Maarten. The ride was very bumpy despite fairly low winds but we got there in slightly over an hour. We took a taxi to tour the island. It has a very interesting story. It is very small (only about 5 sqm), with incredibly steep mountains (up to 3000 feet) and deep valleys, no beaches to speak of, just rough coastline - beautiful. It is very lush. Only one main road leads up and around the island with a very few "dead ends" branching out from there. The road is 20 km (not miles) long and was built by privately financed concrete and through the initiative of Joseph Hassel. He took a correspondence course in road bilding to prove incorrect the Dutch engineeers who has voted the construction of a road in this rough and steep terrain as impossible. After 20 years, the 20km were built, and the road is heavily used ever since.
Similarly, it had been determined that the island could not afford to build on airport due to the uneven terrain. Remy de Haenen, a pilot from St. Barts was called in to try to land on the island. He succeeded, and the islanders went to work, grading and paving a strip of land 1,300 feet long, today's shortest commercial runway. Unfortunately, we did not get to see it with our own eyes, but we have heard stories from people who have flown there, who all confirm that it for sure is an adventure.
There are only two "towns" Bottom and Windward. Bottom is largely the governmental area. Most of the trade, including most of the housing is in and around Windward as it is higher up in the mountains and cooler than Bottom. 1,500 inhabitants descending from Dutch, English and Scottish ancestors and a few slaves make up Saba's present population.
People seem extremely friendly. We noticed the rather small black population on this island compared to most of the others where the majority is black - super friendly, highly educated and a great pleasure to deal with - no attitude, no "you owe me", nothing, just plain pleasant. Our driver's grandmother came initially to Saba from Scotland and she returned to Saba though her mother had left the island years ago. Everyone we spoke to just loves living on the island, appreciates the little crime (the prison - yes, they do have one - was recently upgraded such that prisoners have cots to sleep on. Previously, it was concrete slabs with wooden slats). They don't believe in making prisoner's live "cushy" as they said. For that matter, there were just very few though able to accommodate 9. Because of the small population, everyone knows everyone, making crime almost difficult, except for the occasional petty theft, we were told. A nicely protected life.
We visited a number of artists, a glass maker, a pottery maker, a beautiful gallery (they had a 50% off sale and we purchased two small prints). We could have spent a lot of time walking around but we went to the Ecolodge for lunch - high up in the mountains (a short walk from where our driver dropped us off) - in a beautiful and tastefully decorated restaurant. The food could have been a little nicer, but it was ok. We decided to walk down the "stairs" to Windward where our driver picked us up for the return to the harbor.
We are very happy that we did take this tour but we were also happy that we did this via ferry and not with our own boat. Most likely, we will not ever get back here, but we for sure are happy to know the island in its present state and to have met a lot of very nice people there.