Ah, the places I must return to. Work and cubicle dwelling has started in the big city, but it’s not irony for me to remember sometimes, at 8am on weekdays, that not long ago at this same time o’ day, I was rambling down the roller coaster Road on Saba, visiting Tricia and Michael or maybe just going down to the airport so I could time myself from Flat Point to Big Rock Market (best time: 32 minutes in my waning days on the island). When you wind around English Quarter out of Windwardside and start the short climb towards the base of Upper Hell’s Gate, you have about 10 yards where visibility down the steep cliffs to the airport is unobscured. Here it is. Good memories.
Behave, amigos, or don’t. Life is too short to be consistent 😉
Many tourists on Sint Maarten like cram themselves into a small stretch of beach across the street from the airport landing strip, where large jet planes come in over the water and land dramatically. Moreover, it’s even crazier to see them line up to align with the jet wash from planes taking off, and get blown all over the sand and into the turquoise waters like human beach balls, kinda like that scene from the movie Pushing Tin, where Billy Bob Thornton entices John Cusack’s character to get thrown into the air by jet wash.
It was a stormy, overcast Easter day when I left Saba, which is a 12-15 minute prop flight over to Sint Maarten. Since i had a few hours before my plane took off, I walked over to this a beach cafe with the Canadians Ingrid and Harry (they come to Saba to help Crocodile James maintain the trails), who were also on their way home, and we sat back and watched the fun.
As readers of my blog know, Saba has been in a drought condition for quite a while. The day I left the island, it was raining steadily on Easter Sunday, as it had the day before, some respite to the parched little Caribbean isle. I snapped my last shots from the balcony of Tricia and Michael Chammaa’s apartments in Lower Hell’s Gate, and managed to get this gorgeous and dramatic horizon.
Here’s to many more rainy days like this for my Saban friends. April showers and all that good stuff.
From Wikipedia: [Saba] airport’s risky reputation arises from the airport’s physical position: it is flanked on one side by high hills; and on the runway’s other side and both ends, cliffs drop into the sea. Additionally, the runway at the airport is extremely short (400m ); this creates the possibility that an airplane could under/overshoot the runway during landing or takeoff and end up in the sea or dashed on the rocky cliffs.
For those of you who saw the video blog a couple weeks ago with the plane taking off, the description above may amplify the concern about landing or taking off in Saba, but the airport’s had no fatalities or crashes in its 50 years of operation. This is the second or third incarnation of the airport, as the first couple terminal buildings blew down in hurricanes, most recently Hurricane Lenny in 1999. Flat Point was cleared of rocks by Saban folks in 1959 for a landing by pilot Remy F De Haenan to prove Saba could support aircraft, and it officially opened in 1963. Due to its length, it only supports a couple commercial short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft and helicopters, of course. The airport is named for Juancho E. Yrausquin, a prominent Dutch politician for the Antilles in the 1950’s.
There are normally only 4 WinAir flights a day, except during major holidays, when the students from the university fly out and they ramp it up considerably (10-12), but the net of it is, the sound of planes over Saba is generally rare, except at 7am, 10am, 1pm, and 5pm. Moreover, I can’t recall having ever heard a jet overhead. This contributes the the general peace and quiet on this isle I cherish.
Rambling down the twists and turns of Hell’s Gate to a perfect Sunday Cove Bay BBQ hosted by Tanner (chef at Shearwater Resort) and his gal Patricia, the moon swapped roles and let the clouds be the crescent over Saba’s airport, and this delightful sunset was the brief result. It only lasted maybe 30-60 seconds before the clouds broke up and hid Mister Moon. But hey, right time, right place.
Cheers to all who’ve watched the Saba video yesterday; proved to be a most popular blogpost indeed. More to come. Au revoir ’til tomorrow!
And Now For Something Completely Different (Video)
We got a cool short video clips of Saba., including the plane takeoff from the shortest commercial runway in the world. I sure hope this works, it took 45 minutes to upload (thanks Scout’s Place) Would love reader feedback and comments on this first ever video of Saba hiking I made during a couple hikes with my brother down to Spring Bay and up Mt Scenery. Those who haven’t been here yet should get a good sense of the varied terrain and scale, while those who know and love Saba will either have fond remembrances of certain trails or get their hiking feet on and get back on the trails if they’re here 😉 Keep in mind, my brother Michael and I had a little bit o’ goofin’ around doing this video.
Sorry for the late post today, I’ve been on an all morning early hike and spent this evening trying to load this vid up.
Have fun & please comment as it suits ya. We’ll return to our regular scheduled photos in the coming days. Cheers!
I saw my brother off on the plane this afternoon after an intense twelve days, rambled up Hell’s Gate in record time following beautiful girls who just happened to be walking up as well, realized I forgot today’s blogpost, attempted to meet a French scientist in The Bottom, chatted with mi amigo Michael Irish, and at long last, here I be with you, listening to the wind blow fiercely here in St John’s. C’est la vie here on Saba, friends. Small wonder I’m sharing these floaty, cloudscapes over the mountain, eh? Just that kinda mood.
In the way of all remote tropical isles, getting to Saba is a multi-connection affair. The final and only commercially scheduled flight is via the 19 seat DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otter on Windward Airways (WinAir). The more squeamish flyers might have issues with this flight–the planes, though well maintained, have duct tape on the handles, the teeny seats barely fitting my big Hawaiian self in two of them. A normal carryon for regular jets is not allowed – only what can actually fit under those seats: maybe a flat tablet or Kindle or a purse. The cockpit is fully in view, and the pilots warn the passengers not to be worried as they rev each propeller separately, then both before you take off. The good news: since flights began in 1963, WinAir has never crashed on Saba AND the flight is a hop-skip-3000 foot jump of 15 minutes from St. Maarten (the ferries are 90 min in potentially rough seas). You’re barely up
in the air when the island that served as the opening scene in the original 1939 version of King Kong looms large in the front windows of the plane, the ominous fog clinging to the top of Mt. Scenery. As you come closer and begin descending, you’re straining to see…wait, is that tiny little strip on the left the airport. Of course it is. I don’t have enough bandwidth yet to post my video of the landing, but let’s just say the plane banks in by high cliffs and descends very rapidly, the pilot reaches up and effectively stalls the plane to drop perfectly onto the front of the runway, they hit the reverse prop hard, and in moments…not even half the runway (The Twin Otter is a Short Takeoff and Landing [STOL] plane), you’re already taxiing to the tiny toy airport. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport – a grand name for this 1300 foot tarmac buttressed front and back by 50 foot cliffs. Ostensibly, they tell you that if the pilot doesn’t quite hit the front of the runway, he guns it off the cliff and comes around for round 2. Yee-ha! To be honest with you, the Saba landing is polished compared to St. Bart’s: a much scarier landing…diving between a cliff and plummeting over a beach.
Look at that teeny l’il toy airport! so perky and cute. Whatever…you’ve landed safely, you grab your bags and walk over to the building, up to a window where a Dutch customs fellow asks you how long you’re staying, passport, etc. Pretty sure he was a Johnson, a descendant of one of the two major founding Saban families, the other being Hassell.
A stamp and I’m on my way to my high island adventure.
I BE A SCUBA DIVER
The past week has been focused on me getting my Open Water scuba diving certification. After a somewhat bad first day/first dive where I had challenges equalizing the sinus pressure as I descended into a reef called Hole In the Corner, surfaced and promptly hurled all around the boat due to swallowing sea water and seasickness from the dive boat, and resolved to come back strong the next 2 days, which I did, using better living through seasickness medication (yay!) and proper equalization help from my most excellent Sea Saba diving instructors. My final 3 dives were excellente, and because the whole island is effectively a protected marine park, the diving is outstanding. Of course, no pictures yet, still need to get comfortable being a hovering floating giant of a dude. No wetsuits for Chaz; the water down here is 80-82 degrees – bathwater by my SFO standards. I’m signed up for more dives–night diving, deep diving…wahoo!
THE INCIDENT (Final Chapter)
If you read the first 3 cliffhanger pieces of this story earlier in my blogs, the unfortunate medicated soul Cisco had disappeared into the night on my first night here after knocking on my cottage door. The next day, I told my landlady pal Tricia about it; she wasn’t happy. Later that night, we were up late imbibing, Tricia more than me. As she was driving me back home to the St. John’s cottage from Windwardside, who should we come across but Mister Cisco, walking towards WW on top of the steep stone masonry wall that lines The Road in the pitch black darkness. Long story short, so as not to contradict the statement I gave to our lovely blue eyed Dutch island policewoman Susan, shown here:
Tricia wanted to have a conversation with Cisco about respecting private property and to stay away from my St. John’s cottage; they began yelling at each other, next thing I know, Tricia gets smacked back into the car, and I come around and insert myself into the middle of them. I send Cisco up the road, get Tricia back in the car, where we see the walnut size blue lump on her knuckle. Uh-oh. Tricia drops me off at the St John’s cottage, swears she’s ok, and heads down to the hospital where the police are waiting to check out her injury and take her report. Two days later, I’m in the little police station in Windwardside, making my statement in English to Susan as she types it in Dutch, then reads it back to me in English. C’est la vie. Anti-climactic, eh?
Let’s be clear – this was an exception in all respects: Saba is insanely safe by any standard, women who’ve been here for a while all told me that they have no fear or issues walking in the dark alone here. Major felonies just don’t happen here, folks. Where else can you say that about?
Which makes Saba the perfect place to set my murder mystery, the reason I’m here. I’m talking with as many people as I can, getting the stories, smells, sights, sounds down…above and below the water to figure out where exactly the body or bodies will end up. ‘Til then….see you on the flip side. Thanks SO much for the great comments….I love’em.
I’ll finish with another little morning sunrise picture under the cherry tree (people keep calling it cherry or grape….it doesn’t have any fruits on it…huh?). This island is a fantastic place to chill. Thus said, now I go forth 🙂