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Tidal Pools are a Fascinating World by the Seashore

Veteran Saban resident leads us on a hike through volcanic rock to his favorite places

sunny 84 °F

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The tidal pools on the island of Saba, our fascinating hike for the day

Our last full day on the island of Saba featured a hike along its volcanic, rocky coastline to its tidal pools. We were guided by our ever-present driver, Garvis, who has lived on the island his whole life and everyone recommends to show visitors the pools. It has been one of his favorite places ever since growing up. He pointed out places he fished, climbed, and swam. Once at the pools, he showed us his favorites to relax and even take his children to teach them to swim.

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Saba’s pools are actually splash rather than tidal pools, as you see a pool being infused with more water from a big wave

Garvis picked up our group of four Americans at Juliana’s Hotel, and then drove us on the winding but stunningly scenic road to the airport. The Tidal Pools are just a short walk from there. The airport itself is gorgeously sited between the Pirate Cliffs and Cove Bay. The sun was shining brightly and the waters of Cove Bay and Spring Bay beyond it sparkled. Above them, Old Booby Hill - named after the birds that nest there - was a bright green cone. In the bay in front of us, a large mass of Sargasso seaweed had been brought in by the waves. The Sargasso is the brown streaks we saw on our flight in to St. Maarten. We were worried that it might be pollution or an oil spill, but it turned out to be completely natural. Some islands are upset about its bloom because it washes up on their pretty white beaches. Saba, of course, has none of those and doesn’t seem unduly concerned about it.

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Any drive on Saba includes looking out the windows as the island’s stunning scenery

After a short walk past an abandoned and ruined boiler for sugarcane or indigo, and through some scrub brush, we arrived at the moonscape of jagged, volcanic rocks. There are yellow blazes painted here and there to navigate yourself to the pools, but we had Garvis to show us the way. When the going got tricky, he reminded the four of us in single file to step where he stepped, to avoid loose rocks and follow the easiest path. First, he took us on an overlook of the tidal pools - which are actually splash pools. Rather than being created by a receding tide, they are actually formed by larger waves splashing over the rocks and creating the pools. So, the pools were not necessarily connected to the ocean at high tide then split off when it receded. Rather it was the opposite. The biggest and most advanced waves filled in or replenished these areas.

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Cove Bay, with its Sargasso brought in by waves, and Spring Bay beyond

We admired the pools, pointing out coral and even some fish we could see swimming around in them from above. He then showed us the “path” down to the pools and let us make our choice. It was a 10-foot drop with a rope hanging halfway down. He demonstrated the descent and we were immediately game for attempting it. I set my camera bag/backpack against some rocks and slung my camera around my back ready to go. Max, who plays adult amateur hockey beat me to the punch and was the first to descend. He did it without mishap - balancing on the uneven and slippery after dropping the last several feet. I went next. I scrambled down, lowering myself on the rope and finding footholds u til my feet hung about three feet from the rocks. I landed okay, overbalanced, stepped across the narrow arm of a tidal pool, then slipped on the wet rocks and my foot went into the pool. Not a gold medal “plant” — a bit over-rotated the Olympic judges might say. Jenny and Ellen followed next. Not to critique their landings, but both involved water and one involved pulling Garvis, who was trying to steady us upon our landings, into the water with them!

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The crystal clear pools are filled with spiny sea urchins

This was our rite of passage, though. We entered into a beautiful and secret world. We marveled at the dozens of spiny sea urchins in the pools. We were fascinated by the coral formations growing in them - half-formed Brain Corals and yellow tubular ones. And the fish! There were tiny, yellow and black Sergeant Majors darting about. Their were guppies, crabs, and even a Finding Nemo Clownfish. Then we noticed the tiny snails! Their little purple legs pulled them along the surface of the rocks underneath the water. We oohed and ahhed over each little pool and its own little ecosystem. We took pictures and videos, exploring further and further as the series of tide pools stretched along the shoreline.

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It was interesting to see coral growing in these tiny pools

Occasionally, we’d hear the rush of the surf and a fresh big wave would crest the rocks and dump an infusion of water (and probably tiny sea life) into the pools. I switched between my camera and IPhone, and am glad I did. My SLR camera took the best scenic photos and wide shots. The iPhone excelled at the closeups and videos. Garvis was content to let us take our time and wander, obviously taking pleasure in our delight at a place near and dear to him.

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Garvis contemplates the view of a place he has loved since childhood

After we had explored this section of the pools to our heart’s content, we ventured back to our rope entrance/exit. We all ascended much easier than we descended. We gathered our equipment and continued on as Garvis had fresh wonders to show us. The first of these was a quiet, sheltered pool surrounded by high, Martian red volcanic walls. There was a twenty-foot long pool here with almost no sea life. This was where he brought his youngest children to learn to swim. The sunlight reflected off the water to create a beautiful rippling effect on the walls. It was like Mother Nature’s soothing light and sound show. Had I worn my swimsuit - like I considered - I would haves loved to swim in this pool.

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The turquoise sea crashing against the dark red lave rocks makes for spectacular scenery

Garvis gave us a choice at this point. The quick easy way back or the slightly harder scenic road. We all nodded assent to the scenic way. We picked our way among the volcanic rock, Garvis urging us to follow in his footsteps. He instructed us how to sequence hand and footholds - essentially keep three points of contact while the fourth limb moved you forward. On the Sandy Cruz hike two days ago, I felt my hiking sandals were a liability. Not enough traction left on the soles meant I had to constantly guard against slipping. On this jagged red rock, the rock was the traction. It was sharp and latched onto the rubber of your soles providing an extra firmness to your footing. It scraped up all of our hands a bit, too. Nobody minded the odd scuff or scrape, though.

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We saw crabs and other crustaceans among the pools and scuttling along the sun-drenched rocks

Our last stop was on shore watching the crashing waves buffet the rocks and mix white foam with the gorgeous turquoise sea. I have always loved rocky coastlines, and joyed to the sound of the surf, the cry of the seabirds, and the turmoil of the raging battle of sea and land. After we had taken our last photos, Garvis led us up towards the fence surrounding Saba’s tiny airstrip. It was slow and difficult going until we reached the fence and found a much more level and easier path going around the outer circuit. We relaxed a bit when we saw the path, as we all had been dreading picking our way 200 yards around to the other side of the airport.

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I have always loved rocky coastlines and the crash of the surf

We had one last thrill left on Garvis’ tour, though. Suddenly, a loud roar just above our heads made all of us clutch the fence in alarm. A plane had just taken off and flown less than 50 yards above us. It was the twice-daily turboprop to St. Maarten and we were all amazed how we did not hear it coming. The steep drop from the runway to the rocks hid the sound till it was literally right over our heads. Wow! It was like something out of Hollywood, we chuckled. Of course, we wondered if it was all part of Garvis’ plan. My guess is no, because it happened so suddenly we couldn’t snap a picture. If he truly had lingered to lead us up here at takeoff time, I think he would have told us to have our cameras ready. But who knows?

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Little did we know as we were scrambling along the rocks just beneath the end of the runway, a plane was barreling towards us!

It was an amazing day, though. We had talked earlier about how exploring around the tide pools tapped into that childlike fascination in all of us far discovering creatures. It was the nautical equivalent of turning over a rock or log to see the world of insects living beneath it. Sharing the day with Garvis, Max, Ellen, and Jenny added to the experience as we all fed off of each of our’s fascination with what we were seeing. Garvis lived up to his billing as the best tour guide for the Tidal (Splash) Pools. His stories and recollections of his time spent here on Saba gave us a look inside his world. We travel to see new worlds, and our day at Saba’s pools with him was the essence of traveling.

Video of fish and other sealife in the pool

Watch this video to show why Saba’s pools are “splash pools” and not tide pools

Check out more tiny fish swimming in the tide pools here

Posted by world_wide_mike 01:04 Archived in Caribbean Netherlands

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