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Flying to Saba - an Island I’d Never Heard of...

After two years off from international travel, I can finally go abroad again

semi-overcast 88 °F

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The island of Saba comes into view from the window of my tiny, “puddle jumper” plane

It has been hard watching planned vacations slip away during the two years that Covid-19 has been shutting down our world. First, my 2020 spring break to Morocco was cancelled. Then, my summer 2021 excursion to Norway was sunk. Desperate to get out of the States, and resume my country count that had stalled at 93, I researched where vaccinated Americans could go. Of course, I wanted it to be someplace new. During my web surfing I stumbled upon an island I had never heard of - Saba (pronounced “say-Buh”). Or as my friend Tom called when he saw pictures, Isla Nublar from Jurassic Park!
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It had been more than two years, but I was finally off on an international adventure!

Saba is a five square mile island inhabited by only 2,000 residents. Many are descendants of Dutch colonists, and the island is a rare mountainous gem with no crime or poverty, from what I’ve read. It is formed from a now dormant volcano and consists of huge, jungle-clad mountains rising up out of the sea. There are no beaches on this Caribbean island. Visitors come for the abundant hiking trails and amazing scuba diving. Since I don’t scuba, I will hopefully get a chance to do snorkeling at least once during my time here.
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Saba is a former Dutch colony that has only 2,000 inhabitants on its five square miles

One of the reasons it is very much is from the beaten path for the Caribbean is that there are no flights arriving here from the U.S. To get here, you either take a ferry or fly from St. Maarten, which is what was doing early on a Saturday morning. The De Haviland DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft holds less than 20 passengers for the 15-minute hop to the island. I always like flying small planes like this. You actually feel like you’re up in the air and not just riding a giant bus in the sky. Fun fact: Saba’s runway at the tip of the island is supposedly the shortest commercial strip in the world. That said, I have had more “white-knuckle” landings than this one, but it was thrilling.
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Saba is formed from a dormant volcano and is very mountainous, home to excellent hiking

It was a bit of a splurge for my hotel, Juliana’s, and the balcony view was every bit it was billed to be. Juliana’s is located in Windwardside, one of several small communities on the island. I chose to be based here because it has most of the amenities like restaurants, supermarkets, and tour agencies. One of those, Sea Saba, was my first stop once I was unpacked. I had contacted them prior to arriving about signing up for one f their snorkeling trips. They are a diving outfit and we’re very upfront with me. They said they take out snorkelers on their dive trips only when conditions are favorable. They pulled up the current conditions online and said Monday looked like my best chance. They told me to have Juliana’s call them Monday morning to confirm if conditions would indeed be favorable enough.
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The view from my balcony at my wonderful room at Juliana’s in Windwardside

I have to admit that I am a bit nervous about this. Snorkeling in the open sea is intimidating. I am a moderate swimmer, at best. And as any who know me can affirm, I am deathly terrified of sharks. And guess what Saba is famous for its divers being able to spot? Sharks! Yes, I know these are usually black-tip reef sharks that don’t attack humans. Yes, yes I am aware that I have a greater chance of being struck by lightning than being munched by a shark. Phobias aren’t rational, though. I am more than 50% sure I will pee myself if I actually spot a shark while I am snorkeling! Still, I hope I can go Monday. You believe me....right?
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The well-maintained Mt. Scenery Trail - the most popular hike on Saba

Next up was up, up, and further up. The most popular hike on Saba is the aptly named Mt. Scenery Trail. The mountain’s peak is not only the highest point on the island, it is the highest point anywhere in the possessions of the Netherlands. The trail is very well maintained, and consists of a mix of stone steps, the mountain’s rock, and judicious spots of concrete. Still, it is slippery in some spots with vegetation and considered a “Difficult” climb on their trail system. The trailhead is a couple hundred yards from Sea Saba’s offices. I had been in a bit of a quandary on how to dress for Saba’s hikes. Should I bring hiking boots? Are shorts good enough, or should I wear long pants? There was very little information online, and even contacting the organization that maintains the trails didn’t get the response I needed. As it turns out, hiking boots would have been the best choice.I didn’t bring them and was instead relying on my Keens hiking sandals. The shorts were fine on Mt. Scenery, but I think some of the other ones may require long pants (I brought my lightweight pants with zip off legs, thankfully).
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The view of the Saba coastline as I hike up and up the Mt. Scenery Trail

The hike was grueling, every bit as “Difficult” as they labeled it. My legs were pretty rubbery by the end, but I feel fine as I type this later this evening. I was happy for the sections with rope or guardrail hand holds. It was slick From the halfway point when you enter the Cloud Forest. The official word on this hike is that the top is usually enshrouded in clouds, and you rarely see the killer views that you would otherwise on a clear day. It was a relatively clear day, though. What’s better, every group of hikers that I encountered coming down said the views were amazing. It was a great day to hike Mt. Scenery. I had also heard the views can come and go from the summit. One moment clear, one moment socked in with clouds. It was a roll of the dice, and so far all the players I’d met were winning!
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More views looking down from the Mt. Scenery Trail

As I neared the top, I spotted a bit of mist closing in on the island. Oh, no, I tried to hurry, but this was the steepest part of the trail. And sure enough, as I closed in on the summit, I found myself in a Cloud Forest. All around me, the greenery was cloaked by a thick fog of mist. There were actually two separate viewpoints at the top. The one near the communication tower that looked down on Windwardside wasn’t 100% cloaked. Occasionally, bits of the coastline would spring into a fuzzy focus. Other times, the gray curtain would totally block off my view. Since the views “come and go,” I waited about 20 minutes before heading to the other viewpoint. It was even worse. Gray clouds swept silently past in an unending parade of disappointment. Every single hiker that I met while climbing had seen great views. Me? Nope. I rolled a “1,” as my gamer friends would say.
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Wouldn’t you know it? Clouds close in and ruin my view from the top

The trudge downhill seemed even longer and more grueling than I expected. I would have sworn that I should have finished the hike 20 minutes earlier than the three hours it took. Still, it was exhilarating. The views hiking up before the capricious clouds closed in were magnificent. I saw a decent amount of wildlife - speckled lizards, black snakes, and even a goat who was desperately trying to avoid the “culling” going on here on Saba. Apparently, they don’t have natural predators and their population is getting out of control. Some trails are closed certain days while hunting is taking place.
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One of the speckled lizards who watched my hike upward, looking at me as if to offer, “Crisp?”

My shower in my awesome hotel room felt wonderful, and it didn’t bother me much that the cloud cover had turned to rain showers. I look forward to four days on Isla Nublar, and as I type this, all the Jurassic denizens are serenading me. Tomorrow is a new hiking adventure, one that hopefully ends better than Mt. Scenery did today. Come back to read further adventures as I try to avoid being eaten by sharks or other prehistoric denizens of this island I had never heard of before.

Posted by world_wide_mike 00:25 Archived in Caribbean Netherlands

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