Voyage of Traveler / Blog

February 12, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Saba

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 6:52 pm

February 12, 2009

Hi, Everyone,

Last week we were in Saba, part of the Netherlands Antilles, for only seven hours.  Barbara calls that “Touch and Go Cruising.”  But better to see it than skip it, I say.  I mentioned it briefly in an earlier Postcard, but want to share with you a few more things about Saba (pronounced Say-ba).

The island is tiny, only 5 sq miles, and volcanic.  The volcano is extinct now, with the last eruption 5,000 years ago, so there is much vegetation covering its steep cliffs, with portions like a tropical rain forest.  The mountain peak is called Mount Scenery, and at 887 m (about 2,700 ft) it is the highest point in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  The island has a population of 1,300, plus 500 medical students at the Saba University School of Medicine (established in 1992.)

The island was discovered by Columbus on his second voyage, but he found it too mountainous, too small, and with no natural harbor.  So he claimed it for Spain without ever landing on it, and sailed on.  The nearby Saba Bank, just 6 nm to the SW, and 90 sq miles in size, is one of the best fishing grounds in the Caribbean, and fishing has always been the primary industry.  The island still has no hotels, just a few guest cottages–and they are very charming.

There are two villages.  One is called The Bottom, located at the bottom of the volcanic crater.  The other is called Windwardside, located on, you guessed it, the eastern slope of the Mount Scenery, where it gets a good steady breeze year around from the trade winds.  In 1972 a man-made harbor was built to accommodate small ships and ferry boats–but way too small for a cruise ship.  Up until that year, when a ship would come with a delivery, it was off loaded at sea onto 20 ft wooden row boats, which somehow managed to safely–most of the time, anyway–beach themselves on the rocky shore.  Lumber was usually just thrown overboard and then gathered up on the rocky coast as it drifted ashore.  Everything imported was then transported on the backs of human porters by hiking up a steep 800-step stairway from the shore to The Bottom. In 1925, finally, a donkey was imported to help transport the goods. The first airplane landed on the island in 1959 on a dirt field that was leveled by hand tools. It has since been improved, but is still a short runway.

The island is getting a well-deserved reputation as one of the great dive sites on the planet.  I really enjoyed our guided dive with my daughter Kellie and my son Brian.  Then, with Yansen, we took a taxi up the Road They Said Couldn’t Be Built–that is really the name of the road, but the locals just call it The Road, for short.  The Road took 20 years to build, completed in 1958, after a local fisherman took a correspondence class on civil engineering.  It was constructed with local labor using hand tools, and is an amazing accomplishment because of the rugged terrain.

There is no running water in either of the two villages.  Each home or business collects rain from the roof and channels it through rain gutters to a private cistern for that property.

The villages have kept the island’s architecture traditional, and it is very charming, with red roofs, storm shutters and stone fireplaces–used for cooking, not heating.  Electricity was finally added to the island in 1970.  Before that, it was candles and oil lamps after sunset.

Pretty amazing place, Saba.  Glad we stopped here, even if it was a “touch and go.”

For more information:

Living the Dream,
with Kellie, Brian and Yansen

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