We took off from the Princess Juliana airport in Sint Maarten, made famous for having the small one at the beginning of its runway. Maho beach, for the reason that planes do to you and to bathers moments before landing.
And because the fun of experiencing the power of the jets of the biggest Boeing and Airbus models has become popular there. The aircraft we flew to Saba had little to do with these.
Saba is visible from the Maho Beach. As are Anguilla, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Eustatius and Saint Kitts & Nevis, along much of the coast and peaks of Sint Maarten. Unsurprisingly, a quarter of an hour after departure, we landed on the runway at Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, one of the shortest in the world.
After immigration, the bags were collected, and we met Dona, a convenience taxi driver from St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, but who had moved twenty years ago and finally moved to Saba, her grandmother's island.
It is in Dona's car that we make the first trip through Saba, like the following ones, typical of a roller coaster.
Windside of Saba
Always at those, we ascend the steep slope of Zion's Hill to the island's second village, Windward Side. There we find a village full of white villas, with white fences and red tin roofs from which hang Victorian ornaments. gingerbread trim and windows with green shutters.
This architectural and visual harmony is not unrelated to a set of laws in force, created to avoid disformities and aberrations.
Saba might even be Dutch. It is, in fact, the smallest municipality in the Netherlands. These houses, many of them secular, are the product of the island's intricate history.
Mark Johnson's Creative Jewelry
Dona takes us to the presence of Mark Johnson, one of Saba's prodigal, wealthy, and creative sons. We found him in your room. The Jewel Cottage, a 150-year-old cottage adapted as a luxury jewelery showcase where Mark spends part of his time behind his laptop filtering orders and other important messages in his mailbox.
In addition to being a designer and jewelry merchant, Mark is an art collector and a serious traveler with a passion for the history and reality of the places he has the privilege of visiting, sometimes in search of new exotic gems of superior quality, or in search of paintings and sculptures and the like worthy of your investment.
Regardless of the place or theme we are talking about, Mark is not only aware of but also surprises us with repairs, analyses, stories and experiences, some more precious than others, all of which mold in us an inevitable wonder.
Mark takes us to Villa Compass, one of the charming traditional villas on his Saba property list. Show us around the house and give us some time to get settled. Soon after, we went out for lunch.
With the days in Saba numbered and the afternoon progressing, we did it in a bit of a hurry. “If you are really brave, leave as you still have time. Just know that it's pulled.”
Mark commented on the ascent to Mount Scenery (887m), the supreme summit of the island and the Kingdom of Netherlands. We were aware that we were going to suffer. Accustomed to these penalties, we are not deterred by the host's warning.
To the achievement of the Ceiling of Saba. and of the The Netherlands.
We find the start of the well-marked trail by the roadside, just below Mark's home and the center of Windward Side.
Gradually, uphill by steeper, step by step, we saw the path to the Dutch zenith grow steeper and lusher, flanked by prolific colonies of large ferns, some arboreal, palms, bananas, elephant's ears and soaked trees and carpeted with bromeliads, moss and lichens.
The higher we climbed, the wetter and windier the slope became, eventually battered by gusts that dragged an endless caravan of clouds from the southeast.
Finally, we reach the flat area of the summit. The trail is subdivided in the direction of two distinct thresholds, both on vertiginous cliffs. Either way, they zigzag through a dense forest of trees and undergrowth.
We avoid a black snake. We continued towards the southern edge of that top. We avoid the cloud-disguised precipice and climb a final rocky ramp that takes us to the vantage point facing Windward Side.
Barely holding on to a communications mast to prevent the gusts from sending us flying, we spotted the village below, lit by a dim sunlight that had somehow managed to evade the billowing mist.
At the mercy of the Endless Nebulosity
The moment proved exceptional. From then on, for a good half hour, the best we could manage was to get a glimpse of the village again in two or three lapses between clouds.
As we waited, we realized we were in the company of a stubborn rooster, we guessed coming from the lands below. For a while, he remained at the base of the rock, watching our movements, but when he saw us open two energy bars, he climbed it in three times and did not give up until he got his share.
Convinced that capricious weather would get the better of us, we inaugurated the poignant return to Windward Side.
A Precious Welcome at The Jewel Cottage
That night, sore but satisfied by the small achievement, we had dinner with Mark Johnson and Glenn Holm – responsible for promoting tourism in Saba – at The Jewel Cottage of Mark. We exchange travel and adventure stories. Diverse about the wanderings and the world of Mark's gems.
Several others about the genesis of Saba and the life of its approximately two thousand inhabitants, many of them Dominican, Venezuelan and other immigrants who arrive attracted by the rewarding salaries and conditions and end up settling and establishing or bringing families.
The small size of the island meant that the historic families are few, with half a dozen predominant nicknames, especially Hassell and Johnson. Most of them have mixed Dutch, English, Scottish and African ancestors.
Some even share the genes of Irish exiles in 1625 by Charles I, when the newly incumbent king sought to remedy rebellions he himself generated by assigning rebel lands to a group of Scottish nobles who supported him.
The Rollercoaster Tour to Saba
Early the next morning, we leave with Glenn Holm who leads us from Windward Side across the island. There are so many ups and downs, the hills and the valleys that, at times, it seems impossible for Saba to measure only its 13km2 officials.
We pass through Saint Johns. Shortly after that relative high, we spotted The Bottom – English corruption of the Old Dutch de Botte (the cup).
The Botte, or rather The Bottom
As the current name suggests, the capital of Saba appears in a deep valley, surrounded by mountains on all sides.
Glenn proudly explains to us that the Saba University School of Medicine is located there, a reputable institution that attracts hundreds of students from the United States determined to obtain their MD (Medicine Degree) in an exotic environment but which, without nightlife or similar escapes, keeps them stimulated and focused.
We had lunch at The Bottom. Soon after, Glenn challenges us to look inside the Sacred Heart Church, built in the remote year of 1935. We open the door. We found the temple deserted. We are attracted by the bright colors that surround the altar.
We realized in three stages, why the willing islanders refer to it as “The Sistine Chapel of Saba”. The person in charge is Helen Cornet, a local artist who painted that corner of the nave with incredible detail and, so Glenn Holm informs us, illustrated with the faces of her determined countrymen.
The Now Sandless Beach of Well's Bay
From The Bottom, we descend a new steep slope in the direction of Well's Bay. The rounded cove lacks the white – or even black – sand, characteristic of almost all the Caribbean islands.
As Well's Bay is missing, Saba in general lacks such sands, and the closest thing it has is the beach with large round and polished pebbles that we see ahead. Saba doesn't belittle for it.
“Can you see those colorful buoys floating by the rock? Must be divers. We have established ourselves as one of the best diving destinations in the world. Most of the visitors we receive come here for nature and, in particular, for the incredible diving they find here.”
Are characteristic of the Saba National Marine Park, underwater caves and tunnels and underwater volcanic pinnacles up to 30 meters from the seabed, covered by healthy and lush coral reefs, sponges and other invertebrates.
In this increasingly rare type of ecosystem, divers can easily find parrotfish, barracudas, sharks, rays, octopuses, turtles and lobsters, among many other sea creatures.
For a long period of Saba's history, Well's Bay and others around the island were the habitat of other specimens much more feared by colonial powers.
Colonial Lottery Wins for Holland
Saba was inhabited by Arawak Indians at the time when it is believed that Christopher Columbus sailed off the island, not very enthusiastic about disembarking there due to the rugged and rocky coastline. Only 140 years later would Saba welcome European visitors, a group of English castaways with no alternative but to try to get there.
Three more years later, a Frenchman adrift in the Caribbean claimed Saba for King Louis XIII. Completely ignoring this pretension, the Dutch governor of the neighboring island of Saint Eustatius – which we plan to visit on an upcoming incursion into the Antilles – has assigned Dutch families to occupy it.
After another twenty-four years, Saba had already been dominated by piratical Jamaican governors, the dreaded Edward, Thomas and Henry Morgan.
The reign of this trio and Saba's reputation as a refuge for pirates lasted until, in 1816, the Netherlands took it for good and, using slaves brought from Africa, it developed sugar, indigo and rum productions there.
The Smallest Municipality in the Netherlands
In more recent times, Saba became part of the Netherlands Antilles, but when, in October 2010, this autonomous territory was dissolved, Saba became a special municipality within the Netherlands.
It was endowed with a specific constitutional status equal to that of Saint Eustatius and Bonaire, a status that allows the inhabitants of these islands to vote for the election of members of the Dutch House of Representatives.
Early the next morning, we boarded the “The Dawn”, the vessel that ensures the marine connections between Saba and Sint Maarten. The Caribbean Sea was still churning and condemned us to an hour and a half jumping up and down frightening waves. Nothing new in those remote places.
Three days after flying to Saba, we return to Sint Maarten, half of the other Lesser Antille (the rest of the territory is French), constituting the Kingdom of Holland.
There we returned, committed to resuming the north-south route through the stepping stone of the Antilles. The more of its islands we visited, the more we were enchanted by the countless Caribbean eccentricities.