I recently counted the times I’ve either flown, ferried, or come in on a cruise ship to Sint Maarten in the last two months; my arrivals and departures added up to 14 times (interesting considering I had never visited the island until late 2015)! During my stops in Sint Marteen, my eye has caught glimpses of the intriguing, mysterious and prominent shape of Saba (a municipality of the Netherlands) in the distance, sometimes clear, sometimes covered in clouds. Tired of just seeing Saba from afar, and wanting to experience the island for myself, I purchased a last minute ticket on Winair and extended my latest Caribbean trip so that I could visit this island.
The Winair planes I’ve flown on have all been tiny 19-passenger prop planes. I had flown with this particular pilot on flights to other Winair served destinations at least two times prior and I immediately spotted his trademark unique socket wrench bracelet.
Landing in Saba is a trip – this is the world’s shortest commercial runway (only 396 meters or 1300 feet long) – both ends drop off in sheer volcanic cliffs down to the ocean. Our total flight from Princess Juliana Airport to landing at Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport lasted only 12 minutes; prior to touch down we descended so that we hit the very beginning of the runway. This was necessary due to the short distance; immediately after landing the pilot braked hard and we stopped before the end of the runway in order to make our turn to park in front of the tiny terminal.
Prior to visiting the island of Saba – the person I was staying with informed me to either hitchhike or catch a taxi from the airport to her house. She didn’t leave an address but said to tell the driver “take me to the lady’s house who drives the blue motorbike”! This is the type of island I like to visit – not crowded and where addresses are referenced by a unique characteristic of the home owner.
Just as my host indicated – as soon as I mentioned a ‘blue motorbike’ the taxi driver knew where to take me. My host manages a villa which I have all to myself – a sizable multi story house that seems to be the highest on the island – perched on the side of the mountainous slopes of Mount Scenery. Pretty sweet digs with a pretty sweet view overlooking Sint Eustatius in the foreground, St. Kitts in the background and the ocean 400 meters below.
This island spans a number of eco systems. My first words upon landing to someone was that ‘this looks like Iceland’ – with the rugged mountain volcanic landscape, steep slopes and visually a lack of vegetation. However when I hiked through the upper reaches of the island I quickly made the comparison to Papua New Guinea – with thick rain forest vegetation, bromeliads, lots of moss and ferns and other rain forest plants.
I hiked the Sandy Cruz Trail – a thin path that winds its way around part of the island. For two hours I was the only one on the trail.
Then I hiked to the top of Mount Scenery – arriving in thick swirling fog & clouds, a dramatically different micro climate then found lower on the island. But I waited a few minutes while on the summit and soon the clouds parted and I was greeted with spectacular views of the the island below.
With such steep hills, trails and roads – if one does any sort of hiking while on the island – after a few days you will starting becoming in very good shape!
Two names appropriately describe the two primary communities on the island, Windward Side and ‘The Bottom’. With only about 2,000 people living on the entire island much of the population is found in these towns. Interestingly, the Saba University School of Medicine is located in The Bottom – and the student population comprises at least several hundred of the total population.
And when you visit The Bottom be sure to try the excellent Island Flavor Restaurant – fresh fish and veggies from their garden are served daily.
Saba is not known for beaches (go to nearby Anguilla for those), instead people come to the island for Scuba diving – with its steep ocean walls, there is a diversity of marine life just off it’s shores.
For more information about this unique island, visit: www.sabatourism.com