Monday, April 18, 2016

Another Island that Brushes the Clouds - St. Eustatius

St. Eustatius - more fondly referred to as Statia, lies just a 40-mile jaunt south of St. Martin in the little chain of islands that includes Saba to the north-west, St. Kitts & Nevis to the south-east and Montserrat beyond that.  Saba and Statia are part of the Dutch Caribbean and it is common to find the customs agents and other officials speaking Dutch around the port, but most people speak English more often than not.  Each of these islands also hosts, or more properly is there because of, a volcano - some more active than others such as the Soufriere Hills volcano on Montserrat that we visited last year.

As we approached the anchorage on Statia, the customary cloud cover topped Quill, the dormant volcano that we were here to climb.  We could however, just make out the edge of the rim, since Quill is a unique volcano where we were hoping to climb down into the crater at the top.

The tiny little harbour at Statia with the town of Oranjestad on top of the cliffs.
The history of Statia goes back to settlement in the 1600s, followed by 22 handovers between the Dutch, the English and the French.  There seemed to be a pattern of the English taking it from the Dutch, the French taking it quickly to prevent English dominance of the area and then the Dutch somehow ending up having it back where they built up a powerful duty-free port full of merchants, cut-throats, slaves and thieves.  Repeat this multiple times until 1816 when the Dutch finally held the island up to the present day.

Originally, the slim piece of land between the water and the cliffs was filled with warehouses, shops and taverns, where more duty-free trade occurred than any where else in the Caribbean.  It is hard to imagine today in this sleepy little backwater, and following a hurricane in the later 1800s most traces were destroyed other than the stone foundations of a few of the more sturdy buildings.  The little town of Oranjestad today sits on top of the cliffs, away from the fury of the storm surge when hurricanes blaze through.

A few restaurants and a dive shop now sit along the waterfront below the church and Fort Oranje on the cliffs above.

The crumbly cliffs of volcanic ash line up all the way down the coast.

After checking in with customs, immigration and the harbour office, we purchased our national park passes and hiked up a goat trail to the town above.  There is a road, but it's a long-way round and between the gravel trail and an old slave road we explored later, these are the two quicker ways to ascend the cliffs on foot.

Statia's main business today is as home to massive fuel bunkers and a refuelling dock, and the north end of the island sees a steady stream of massive cargo ships.  While we were there, there seemed never less than six ships either at the dock or standing off awaiting a tug to help them to the dock.

A breakwall around the town pier offers the only protection, although today the seas were calm.

Looking north, Saba on the horizon and cargo ships awaiting fuel in the background.

After the hustle and bustle of St. Martin, the streets here are quiet and narrow, with quaint old buildings along the way.

Statia is also a very dry island with scrubby brush and cactus - this one beautifully in flower.
We decided to head up to the top of Quill in the morning before it became too hot, but the humidity and lack of exercise over the last couple of months definitely took its toll and found me (not so much Henry) huffing and puffing my way up the relatively easy path to the rim.

The first part of the walk took us up Rosemary Lane, straight towards Quill.

At the top of the lane we diverged onto a dirt road and then the trail that wound it's way up the remainder of the gentle slope.

The national park area is well signed with loads of good information about the local flora and fauna.

And here was a real surprise for us, we actually saw a Red Bellied Racer snake.  Can you see his body wriggling through the leaves and his head on the left.  No worries, not poisonous.

There were a number of trail options, all beautifully signed.  How often do you see fine calligraphy on a hike??

Horror story come to life??  I almost feel sorry for the poor tarantula and those big black wasps that buzz around now scare the daylights out of me!
Has he cornered the market??  At this point we could choose the trail down into the crater or up to a viewpoint on the rim - we did both.
On Dominica the Mountain Chicken is a frog that has been eaten to near extinction.  Here we feed the mountain chicken,  which is ironic since it will also probably be eaten, but doubtfully to extinction.

Henry scrambling down the path, dwarfed by this magnificent silk-cotton tree.

More staggering trees and lush, moist undergrowth.

Buttress roots wind their way around the tree, sometimes forming cavities with great hiding places.
After a bit of time wandering around the crater, we hauled ourselves back up the ropes to the rim and then headed upwards for what promised to be a magnificent view of the north end of the island.

We were rewarded!!  Statia is formed by two volcano islands linked in the middle by flat ground formed of volcanic ash.  Here the airport has ample room but the land is much too arid for any productive farming.

Looking down into the crater and over to the opposite side of the rim - the trees at the bottom are unbelievably huge, reaching for the sky.

We finished up our time on Quill and headed back down into the village of Oranjestad in search of lunch.  The CoolCorner beckoned with cold beer and yummy Chinese food - a local watering hole where the business of the day was conducted in the bar as folks came and went.  Fortified, we carried on wandering around the charming little town with it's well-preserved ruins and quaint little cottages.

Ruins of the Dutch Reform Church and it's tombs dating back to the 1700s.

Well preserved, with wonderful views over the anchorage.

In the market for a little Statia cottage? - don't plan on flipping this one soon, I doubt there is a hot market here.

Cobblestone streets lined with old shingled buildings - imagining this place back in time is relatively easy.

Fort Oranje stands guard over the anchorage and the entire west coast.

The old slave road leads up from the harbour and provides pedestrians (and goats) with a shortcut to the village.

Looking up the coast, past the fuel terminal to neighbouring Saba.

A Fort Oranje canon has Mowzer in it's sights.

One of the few remaining original buildings in the lower town area - the Old Gin House is now a restaurant and hotel.

With the Classics Regatta underway in Antigua and beckoning us over, our time in Statia was soon over, and off we headed further east.  

As a happy note as we finished up our time in these little islands, we finally caught our first fish on Mowzer.  No, we haven't been fishing unrewarded for the past year, we only picked up gear recently and started trolling a line behind the boat on the last few passages.  However we'd been unrewarded until we picked up this lovely little yellow-tail snapper - great eating!!