Government Gardens and the North Coast Trail

Windwardside From Maskehorne Hill, 2013
Windwardside From Maskehorne Hill, 2013


Greetings and Happy New Year, all! Saba brought in the new year in grand fashion, and I celebrated at the local hotel/dive center Scout’s Place. The fireworks show was pretty grand for this tiny isle, albeit a lot more dramatic than the US, since the colorful night explosions were fired out of the old Captain’s Quarter remains down the hill in Windwardside, quite a bit closer than US regs would allow, meaning you had red, green, blue, and white embers and streamers within 50 yards or less from our crowded perch on the wooden terrace. No pics, though; didn’t want to be dripping champagne and happiness on my little camera. My typical no clock cycle in Saba appears to be 5am-10pm, but I caught a second wind and made it until I got dropped off at my St Johns house at 2am. I actually spent the majority of the night prior to the fireworks behind the Saba Trail Shop, where the Conservation Bureau (responsible for both Saba’s Marine Park and all of its trails) roasted a full pig on a constructed pit of brick and embers, while various folks manually turned the spit for 8 hrs. With some deference to the vegetarians among the blog readers, that was the most succulent pork I’ve ever tasted. Really fabulous, and made better by the fact that we had fresh veggies from the government gardens for the freshest salad. All in all, it was fab, and I’m hoping all of you celebrated with a bang or a whimper, depending on your style, but with much fun!


The Farm on The Level
The Farm on The Level

A steep 380’ road climb out of the main Windwardside leads to The Level and Booby Hill, where clusters of cottages and houses old and new overlook arguably the best village views on the island. Up on The Level is The Farm, Saba’s first shot at reinvigorating a dying tradition: farming. All over the island there are stone steps that appear to lead to nowhere, or old terraces and cleared plots where sustenance farming used to be a mainstay of the island. The Saban government contracted Cuban agricultural specialists–who have done this extensively, particularly since the economic sanctions started in the 50’s–to reclaim this plot of land and grow everything on.

The Farm In Sight of Mt Scenery
The Farm In Sight of Mt Scenery
Otto - Cuban Agricultural Specialist for Saba
Otto – Cuban Agricultural Specialist for Saba

Otto, shown here, is the latest of the Cuban contractors, a gregarious, friendly gardener who, in addition to growing nearly every vegetable and fruit you can imagine up here (Saba’s volcanic soil is incredibly rich), also teaches local schoolchildren. It’s all part of a tres cool plan, and I hope they can amp up interest in the way the local farm movement has swept the US, particularly northern California, where I’m from. Note the big blue barrel at the top of the gardens; water conservation is something I’ll address in an upcoming blog, as it’s a very interesting topic here on Saba. Doesn’t hurt that the gardens sit in gorgeous setting, across from Mt Scenery.

Je t’adore Saba!


James "Crocodile" Johnson Below The Steps To Mary's Point Ruins, North Coast Trail
James “Crocodile” Johnson Below The Steps To Mary’s Point Ruins
North Coast Trail View of Torren's Point, Well's Bay
North Coast Trail View of Torren’s Point, Well’s Bay

Saba is a hiker’s delight, with trails crisscrossing all over, complete with challenging terrain, loose scree, alternate blazing sun, gusty winds and rain pelting the primary and secondary rainforests, replete with dramatic coastline and village views. The Saba Conservation Bureau’s James “Crocodile” Johnson—a multi-generational Saban—is the de facto ranger for all of Saba’s hiking trails, and he is a walking bush medicine and flora/fauna expert. Saba’s northern side is wild, rugged thick foliage, complicated by continuous cliff erosion that forces James to gather volunteer crews and reroute the North Coast Trail (guide required…e.g. Crocodile) three times in recent years.

Cave of Rum Bay
Cave of Rum Bay
Windswept Cliff Tree, North Coast Trail
Windswept Cliff Tree, North Coast Trail

Croc led our little group of five solid hikers on a 4 hours traverse of this trail, climbing steeply out of a walled “gut” to the remains of Mary’s Point, a small village founded in the 1600’s until the government forced them to relocate to The Bottom in the early 1940’s due to the encroaching erosion on their settlement. And sure enough, we saw the edge of a cistern hanging over a thousand foot drop to the ocean, a mere 15 feet off the trail. Parts of this trail are not for the faint of heart, as goats regularly start landslides that send rocks bouncing down the switchbacks, and places are so steep and loose in parts, they’ve wired thin cable to pull yourself up or down, with vertical drop-offs right at the edge of your feet. But once you get up, it becomes a traverse through lush, dense tropical foliage, mud, lichen encrusted rocks, patches of elephant ears. With James pointing out the local names for every flora used for medicinal purposes, its clear Saba is a living representation of preservation of rainforests everywhere, but it’s a less complicated issue to control on tiny Saba than it is down in the Amazon. I’ll check in with Sierra Club when I get back to the states to see if they’d have trail maintenance volunteers to visit Saba and help the Conservation Bureau.

Crocodile Johnson. Goatstalker
Crocodile Johnson. Goatstalker
Great Point, Saba North Coast Trail
Great Point, North Coast Trail
View To Green Island, North Coast Trail
Green Island, North Coast Trail

The culmination of our hike was the off trail descent to Great Point, where you have the most expansive ocean view on the island chewing up your field of vision, with western looks at the Saba’s only persistent beach—reachable only by water—The Cave of Rum Bay and Diamond Rock, and Green Island and Flat Point to the east. The Winair planes come right at you before banking left and descending along the cliffline to the airport. In addition to the large bowie knife at his side, Crocodile is one of just a couple licensed gun owners on the island, so issued to keep the goat population in check. In the picture here, on the way down to Great Point, we ran across these plains of grass where goats run wild like wildebeests, and James showed his acumen in shuffle stepping towards an unsuspecting goat. Click on this thumbnail picture to see it full sized: I love the expression on the other goats who’ve spotted him, and they bleeted like crazy trying to warn their pal—Bob, get the hell outta there, it’s the goatstalker!— ‘til Croc got within a few feet of the goat, and it jumped up  and took off like a bat in hell down the ridge. What a hike – loved every minute of it!

LOCAL PROFILE – Sunday Backgammon

I’d like to throw in a personality profile here and there of the people I meet here to keep it real. Bob, Uwe, and Michael are a group of long term expats here who gathers every Sunday at Saba Snack in downtown Windwardside to play backgammon for hours with a Chess Grandmaster-like intensity, occasionally broken up to order beers and food for brain upkeep.

Sunday Backgammon
Sunday Backgammon

Michael is a Dutch speaking Irishman—complete with hard Irish accent–who drove a taxi here for a while before his taxi broke, and he’s the all purpose everything support and maintenance guy up at Ecolodge in the hills above Windwardside. He’s the epitomy of the Irish spirit, super friendly and talkative, liberally dishing out advice, opinions, and tales tall and short. We’ve had some great conversations over beer late into the windy star filled nights. Uwe is the intense, soft spoken, friendly German who started a bike rental shop here on Saba, and also does handyman work for Tricia (my landlady and friend from the earlier blogposts) and the properties she manages. Bob…well I don’t know a lot of about Bob other than he’s another friendly amigo—do I sound like a broken record?—with a UK accent, he’s married to Marie, a sweet French girl who runs a really interesting arts shop where she crafts custom jewelry for visitors made from rock and artifacts found on Saba (more on that in future posts). But Bob is also a very friendly, cool dude. I think I captured the essence of their backgammon passion in this collage, and Sundays are a quiet day on Saba, with most things closed except church and a couple of the restaurants.

More more more to come! Hope this is all interesting enough to keep you coming back, as I love and welcome all comments. I continue my diving the amazing reefs and formations of Saba, meeting many new friendly aquatic pals, and I’m hoping to have diving pictures in a few weeks when I get good enough to hold a camera while floating without dinging the precious coral.

5 thoughts on “Government Gardens and the North Coast Trail

  1. Happy New Year! Yours more interesting than mine! Now that I’m home its great to always look for a new adventure about Saba. Its certainly an amazing place way out in the ocean! Hard to imagine its all so real and such a learning experience! Hopefully Michael will enjoy it as well. Will be on the lookout for more!!

  2. The way you write about things saves me the price of a plane ticket, because I feel like I’m already there. Big Happy New Year hugs!

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