Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Saba - Part Two

During our stay in Saba we booked into The Cottage Club Hotel. This 'hotel' is really a Great House (old heritage Saban home) surrounded by ten little private cottages, each with a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and balcony. The freshwater pool and surrounding gardens create a peaceful tropical atmosphere and this place could definitely become home for a while. Not to be hedonistic but I made sure that I fully enjoyed the hot shower, guiltily not turning off the water while lathering up and scrubbing off the mud. After a few months of boat showers this was pure heaven!
Pretty gardens and pathways wind their way up to the Great House.

Our little cottage on the right, Windwardside village in the background
Breakfast was cooked and served up in the Great House.
Eggs, cheese, bacon, toast, yoghurt and fruit grown on the island. A great breakfast before a hike.
Catching up on Jim's photos from yesterday, he captured some awesome moments that I wanted to share.

Takeoff from SXM overlooking the lagoon and Marigot Harbour. We can actually see Mowzer down there.
The pilot (and Jim) has Saba airport in his sights - on the only relatively flat piece of land on the island.
Did I mention the mud at the top of the mountain?
We all made it, surrounded by Elephant Ear plants and the clouds.
Hanging on for dear life in the wind as the cloud magically clears.
Almost lost my hat! Windwardside is just a mere 500 meters below.

This was Jim's mantra pretty much at each corner we turned as we took in more and more views such as these.

On to day two... The day dawned with more cloud and rain than sun and we were so happy that we had made it to the top of the mountain with the sun yesterday. Nothing daunted we decided to tackle The Ladder that would take us all the way down to sea level on the west coast and I think we were quite thankful for the cooling mist on this more parched side of the island.

When Saba was first settled (these people had to have a cog or two loose I think) some enterprising person looked at the sheer cliffs rising from the sea and said, "Yeah, let's carve steps in that cliff and every single item and person that comes ashore can be carried up there." That's of course if they survive the landing on the rocky 'beach' in the surge of the swell. Saban pride tells stories of 12 men carrying a Steinway grand piano and a visiting bishop up these steps, but I just think it is the remoteness and inaccessibility that in many ways has preserved so much of what we love of Saba. One huge advantage of this difficult access is that there is no way any 18th century pirate was going to be bothered with all that effort to raid a few fishermen and farmers who lived high up above the sea. The Ladder leads to a village called The Bottom which for many years was connected to Windwardside by donkey tracks. Only beginning in the 1930s did further developments by other crazy Sabans include "the road that couldn't be built" and then the airport in the 1960s. The only way to truly understand the tenacity and fortitude of the people who undertook these feats is to see it yourself but perhaps these pictures will help to give the idea.

Old track, now a hiking trail on the way from Windwardside to The Bottom
Along the way was this pristine garden gate leading to an idyllic cottage in the cloud forest.
The sheltered ravine below is home to banana and other fruit.
Don't know this one, anyone?
This one I know, young bananas just starting to ripen above the flower pod.
And here we go...
The cliffs of the western coast - I see what Jim means by friggin' ridiculous!
The 3-masted sailing ship was redolent of past eras just off the 'beach'.
All the way down at sea level, just look at the rocks on that landing zone.
At least they built rest stops on the way up.
Round and round you go as you climb the concrete steps.
Even above the actual ladder, the way is not easy.
Respite at the top, once again surrounded by the peace and tranquility of the village.
We arrived back at The Bottom, which seems rather ironic after the hard work to climb back up from sea level. The Bottom Bean, a little cafe served us up some lunch of panninis and made-on-the-premises gelato and as a fitting end to our visit, some truly Saban hospitality. I asked the owner if he could call us a taxi since I was pretty sure my legs couldn't make it back up to Windwardside and his response was that if we were willing to wait until he'd just closed up the shop, he'd drive us up there himself! We never did get his name but were very thankful for the ride.

Neat and tidy, not a spec of litter anywhere, but tons of concrete prevent the whole place just sliding down to the sea.
Our time on Saba was finally winding down, as did the road back to the airport where we boarded the last WinAir flight of the day back to St. Martin. Other than on an aircraft carrier, I can't imagine a more exciting takeoff as the pilot takes every inch of runway he can get, revs the two prop engines to their absolute max and then slingshots down the runway to lift off at the very last moment before the cliffs plummet into the sea.

Not even going to try to pronounce the name of the airport.
Farewell Saba, until next time.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas Catch-Up

We had a fabulous second day on Saba that I will post about shortly, but in the meantime as I was going through all the photos accumulated on the camera and phone, here's a short review looking back to our Christmas in Marigot with Jim.

We baked yummy cookies
Jim figured out the favourite pastime in the anchorage
We had a bit of turbulent weather pass through around mid-day
Jim tried out the inflatable paddle-board
... And found it easier in huge wind sitting down
And we finished off the day with a golden sunset.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Saba Bound

Firstly, this post is dedicated to my amazing mother whose birthday was celebrated yesterday. Here's to you Mom!

Thanks Peter for the great shot of Mom.

Our time with Jim has included a good bit of exploring and some nice relaxation. Christmas Day we actually scored a stuffed turkey breast and had a great meal on the boat and among all the festivities we made sure to get in some good beach time as well. Saturday included a trek across the lagoon and lunch at Lagoonies and on Sunday night we found ourself sharing cocktails aboard Champlain, a beautiful Oyster 55 belonging to Sam & George whom we met up in Grand Case along with Joanne & Jean from Elli Blue.

The beach at Friar's Bay.
The swell churned up the water to a turquoise milk-shake look.
This morning we were up early and over to the airport via taxi to catch the 8:20am flight to Saba. The flight is only 12 minutes long but the anticipation of the landing on the 396 meter runway made it feel much longer. Saba is a tiny Dutch island situated to the southwest of St. Martin and is a completely different world. There are no beaches, cliffs rise straight up out of the ocean and rise to the tip of Mount Scenery at 880 meters (about 3000'), and the entire picturesque island feels as though it were plucked out of Gulliver's Travels. This is our third visit to the island but we were quite excited to introduce Jim. And introduce him we did!

Awaiting our WinAir flight to Saba.
After a quick taxi ride from the airport to the charming little town of Windwardside where we found our rental cottage, we dumped our bags and headed for the trailhead for the hike up the mountain. We have never been lucky enough to find the mountain without her mantle of cloud and it looked like this morning would follow the tradition for Jim, but undaunted we carried on.

Henry doesn't look so sure about the plan.
Jim reads up on all the details.

Our first stop was Maskerhorn Hill above Windwardside where we watched the clouds passing between us and the peak. We ascended the trail that includes 1064 steps without which the slippery, steep trail would be impassable and made it up to the top where magically, as we patiently waited, the clouds thinned and finally dispersed, revealing the reward of the most amazing views below.

The view of Windwardside from Maskerhorn Hill.

Clambouring around the top of the mountain involved slithering over some pretty intense mud and boulders so we quickly laid on a bet regarding the one that made the first unplanned descent to knees or bottom. Some areas even required the use of ropes to belay up or down the boulders but regardless I was the one to unceremoniously slide my feet across a big boulder to come to rest straddling it like a horse. I can tell you that Saban mud sticks very well to the inside of a thigh but Jim and Henry didn't manage to get through unscathed either.

Yay, we made it!! But did you notice we're in a cloud?
Ooey, gooey mud on the trail.
Only if the cloud clears!
We nicknamed this portion of the trail, The Garden of Eden.
Wispy clouds dispersing over the perfect little village below.
Suddenly it was clear; Saba airport on the only piece of flat ground on the island.
Mount Scenery is the highest point in the Kingdom of The Netherlands.
Saban mud does only clean up easily.
Hell's Gate, just above the tiny little runway.
Rappelling over slippery boulders near the peak.
A view through the cloud forest.

The descent back down to the village was no easy feat since 1064 steps up to the top means 1064 steps pounding on the knees back down to the start. Our little cottage at The Cottage-Club Hotel provided the perfect respite with views back up the mountain and pretty good wifi.

Yep, we climbed that! The view from our cottage balcony.
The ocean glimpsed from the cottage.
Everywhere we look there is some kind of tropical bloom.
Tomorrow is going to come awful soon for my tired knees, with plans to hike to to The Bottom, the village on the west side of the island and home to a medical school, and then on to The Ladder, whose name should tell you what we're in for!