This past week that I was spending time in St. Maarten, I decided to take a quick three day trip over to the rocky island of Saba, Netherlands. Saba is not a usual tourist or yachting destination, since it’s steep rock cliffs rise directly from the water, and make anchoring near and accessing the island very difficult. So, since I had some time in the area, I decided to take a quick trip over to check it out.
I was initially going to take The Edge ferry over from St. Maarten to Saba, but on the morning I got to the ferry, it was broken down. Instead, I made the fortunate decision of booking a quick flight on Winair, the regional airline.
Winair flies DHC Twin Otter 19-passenger aircraft to Saba. Since the Saba airport runway is so short, the Twin Otter is just about the only plane that can reliable land on it.
The flight over to Saba was great – taking off and cruising in the Twin Otter was a complete pleasure – the plane is very comfy, and has smooth performance. Additionally, the landing went well – the airport is on a very steep cliff, so the pilot much touch down perfectly, or risk rolling off the end. Luckily our landing went smoothly. I sat in the very first row of seats in the plane, so I got a front row view over the pilots shoulders of the landing. They both looked fairly relaxed, and we actually stopped well short of the end of the runway. As soon as the plane touched down, the pilot switched the props to reverse thrust to slow us down very fast.
During the flight, I met two students at the local medical school – Ajit and [Jane]. They were on their way back to Saba after vacationing for a week on St. Maarten. They were both fun to hang out with, and [Jane] and I ended up hanging out later in the week with a few of her other classmates.
On Saba, I stayed at El Momo Cottages, owned and managed by a guy named Andries. I heard about El Momo from Peter, a guy I was staying with at The Crew House the previous week in St. Maarten. When I got to El Momo, Andries was out on the grounds “gardening” with a machette. When I found him, he was very very nice, and got me checked in and setup at my cottage – The Lizard Cottage – fast. Andries is a great guy, and was consistently hospitable, attentive and easy to get along with during my entire stay. Besides being a great host, he’s also a generally cool guy – I ended up going to the beach with him and a few other guests, and we shared a decent amount in common – definitely a good person to stay in touch with.
El Momo Cottages is an amazing place to stay. The whole place is tucked deep in the jungle on a hillside just above The Windward Side, Saba’s main town. El Momo is a collection of cottages and small buildings, all connected by concrete and gravel stairways winding through the jungle. Guests get their own private cottages, and the office, bathrooms, showers, and restaurant/dining area are all in their own separate buildings tucked into the jungle. Also, El Momo has a nice swimming pool, which is kept nice and clean, despite the constant onslaught of seeds, twigs and flowers from the surrounding jungle. I was very impressed with this place – it’s natural setting makes it feel like you’re really living in the jungle – and despite all the gardening, the paths are all about 1/4 covered with invading plants, vines and flowers from the surrounding jungle – a very natural feel. It’s also livable, clean, and peacefull. My cottage was well maintained and clean, and came with it’s own porch, linens, and visitors guide. Andreis is not only the owner, caretaker, gardner and mechanic, but he’s also the chef – and makes guests very tasty breakfasts in the morning. Also, I loved the “honor bar” in the dining hall, which was stocked with lots of drinks, beer, wine, rum, and snacks to take at will, with a small clipboard to write down what you take – convenient! I really can’t say enough about how cool and comfortable staying at El Momo was.
I was only in Saba for 3 days, so my activities there were pretty condensed. During my first day, after landing and checking in at El Momo, I unpacked and relaxed in the jungle for a bit, and then went for a walk into town. There are two main towns in Saba – The Bottom and The Windward Side. The Windward side is essentially the main town, and where most of the shops and restaurants are. I spent most of the afternoon my first day walking around The Windward side, and checked out a bunch of the shops. For dinner on Day 1, I stopped at Saba’s Treasure, a local bar and pizza joint. Showing up at an age old locals bar on an island in the Caribbean was definitely interesting. As I saddled up to the bar and ordered a Presidente Beer – a beer from the Dominican Republic which is popular in Saba – I was immediately given the look over by a bunch of locals sitting at the bar, as well as everyone else eating. I had a few sips of beer, and then started talking to some of the random people, including a sailor who was laying over in Saba for a while, waiting to race is sailboat in the next regatta in Bermuda. It was very very interesting talking to another sailor in a bar – I really considered this guy – who had a couple people around him – to be classes ahead of me, not even in the same realm, and definitely not somebody I would ever be able to talk to. However, we quickly launched into an hour long conversation about sailing, and problems with sailboats, getting very detailed in discussing random stuff like jib telltale attachments, sailboat refrigerators, spinlock and block construction, and regatta strategy. Definitely interesting that I could have a whole conversation about that kind of stuff.
Day Two on Saba was the big hiking day. I woke up early and Andreis prepared me a tasty breakfast. Then, I went down to town to meet [Jane] and Justin at the trailhead for the Mt. Scenery hike. Mt. Scenery is the main mountain in Saba, and is covered by thick thick jungle. As we started to hike up the jungle trail, we noticed large orange fiberoptic cable pipes running up the mountain alongside the trail. There’s a large transmission tower at the top of the mountain, and the community was in the process of running new communications lines to it, as part of a complete upgrade. Hiking up through the jungle was amazing. As we got higher, we ascended into a thick cloud, and got a bit of rain. Being in the thick jungle, with lizards and frogs everywhere, giant palm and banana trees, vines, and mud everywhere, combined with the weird orange pipes was a gritty experience. I quickly began to feel like I was in the jungle level of some sort of video game.
Then, as we got near the top of the mountain, the video game feel of the day turned squarely into a James Bond Goldeneye for N64 level, as we came upon the huge radio transmitter sitting at the top of the mountain, dissapearing skyward into the clouds. The jungle was quickly growing into the huge tower, and scattered around the base were many broken and rusting satellite dishes, and a delapidated and cracked communications building. The whole thing was very surreal. [Jane] and I climbed a ladder we found up to the roof of the building, to get a first hand view of the base of the transmitter. Very very interesting.
I then went back to El Momo, and met up with Andreis and a few of the guests who were staying there. We took Andries’ car down to the only beach on Saba. Since Saba is a rock island, there are no natural beaches. So, the community decided to build one themselves by blasting away rock from the cliff and importing white sand from St. Maarten. It was fun swimming there, especially considering how much effort and community support went into creating it.
Dinner on day two was back at Saba’s Treasure for some more pizza.
Day three, my last day, was another day of exploration. [Jane] and I met up again, and walked down to the cliffs to find the abandoned sulfur mine. Apparently this mine had initially been created to mine sulfur, with it being offloaded from the sheer cliff via zipline to a nearby small rock island, which was accessible to ships. However, it was quickly abandoned because the terrain was just too rugged. We explored inside the sulfur mine, and then went back to town for more milkshakes!
Finally, I flew out of Saba in the afternoon, and returned to St. Maarten. Overall it was an amazing trip!