Flights of Fancy

Winair To Saba   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

Saba In Viewin 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.

Juancho E. Yrausquin_Airport
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport

   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: Saba Day 2012 Wahoo Tournament

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 🙂
Sunrise on the Ocean

The Flying Iguana of Saba

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Yo, Iguana Poser
My spitfire landlady is completely batty for iguanas, and stops every time we see them. She says she’s filled her camera with pictures of these lazy lizards. This guy, though, did something I’ve never seen before: after a couple seconds of stillness, he freaked and took a flying leap off the wall and into a tree, where he fell through the branches until he landed, almost Monty Python in its execution.
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The Bottom is at..errr, the bottom
Saba’s capital village is The Bottom, so named because it sits at the lowest elevation (~1000 feet) of the 4 villages on the island. I’m in St. John’s, the smallest of the 4, and every morning, I unhook the latch on my white fence and trundle around the corner and head down a 400 foot steep twisty descent on The Road, loaded with blind corners. Which is lesson #1 in Saba; I always walk the outside of the blind corners for max visibility to the island’s cars. I started out trying to face the traffic, but all those little four strokes would come buzzing around the corners and look super startled when they saw my big Hawaiian self right there in front of them. Yikes! The Road was constructed starting in 1937 spearheaded by a Dutch fellow who took a correspondence course in civil engineering. The Sabans had been told for years it couldn’t be built because of the sheer terrain and elevation gains. Anyhow, The Bottom has the governor’s house, the island council, and little cemeteries dating back to the early 1800’s when the Dutch took the island for good after wrangling with the English and French for a while. They brought along their slaves for good measure, so native Sabans are an unusual mix..you hear the lilting West Indies accent, but you also hear heavy Dutch, Irish, and Scottish mixed in there. I’m still learning to pick it up…it’s English, but heavily modified. Of course, a bunch of this island’s residents are expats..a lot of US, British, and German. They were only allowed to buy property on the island in the 1990’s, so the influx is relatively recent, and motivated by a kind of Zen and the Art of Diving lifestyle.
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I used my iPad to turn this picture of a stone church perched at the top of Zion’s Hill ( locals call it Hells Gate, but the religious folks object to that name) into a watercolor. This hill is a beast to descend on foot, so being extra careful about the knees , shuffle stepping downward.
Ex Post Facto: Police Story
Yesterday, took an hour to give my statement about the “incident” to Susan, an adorable blue eyed blonde Dutch policewoman with a very large and lethal looking sidearm. I understand the native boys on the island all wanna “git wit her” but as you might imagine, mixing it up with the locals is verboten. I’ll tell more about the incident later, but suffice to say the mildest part of it was my wild landlady kissing the wall–passenger side, HELLO!–with her banged up Corolla three times as we shopped for groceries in the afternoon in The Bottom. She’s peri-menopausal and dives into hot flashes at any particular moment…and the islanders know to direct fans, rags, napkins, and occasional ac at her immediately. They love her, though, and her hubbie is an uber calm Lebanese chef of Saba’s celebrated restaurant Brigadoon.