Ghosts of Saban Holidays Past

Golden Light on Christmas Morning in Saba, 2012
Golden Light on Christmas Morning in Saba, Dutch Caribbean 2012

It’s Christmas, 2012 – wishing you the happiest of holidays to you and yours wherever you are.  Lots of interesting pictures and mini-stories to share with you on this lovely day in Saba, Dutch Caribbean.

If you have the bandwidth, be sure and click on the smaller pictures in this post to blow them up to their full resolution selves.  I’m uploading them full sized so folks can see all the great detail on Saba.


Windwardside At The Foothills of Mt Scenery

On Christmas Eve, I did my 22 minute walk on The Road to Windwardside, the largest village on Saba, nestled roughly around 1400 feet elevation with views to the northeast to the islands of St. Maarten, and St. Barts  and to the southeast Statia, St Kitts and Nevis, and on clear days, Monsterrat.  More importantly, Windwardside is nestled in the foothills and valley below Mt Scenery, which presides above it like an intimidating parent.   Generally, Mt Scenery has its top clouded by the fog bank for which its known (and I’ve written about in prior posts), but this is the dry season, so the communication tower is clearly visible 1400 feet above the village. If you look at prior Windwardside post pics from Mt Scenery, this is a picture of Windwardside from the opposite side, from a steep road up to The Level and Booby Hill.  I had Christmas Eve dinner with a friendly Canadian gal named Susan at Shearwater Resort up on Booby Hill, and I climbed this road twice in doing so. The breezes are intermittent and cooling, with 15-20mph gusts that cool the sweat off my overheated core after dragging my sorry butt up these steep hills.  Since I wanted to dress in a little nicer shirt for dinner, I made the 30 minute jaunt from my St Johns cottage (about a 500 ft elevation gain) in my quick dry shirt, cooled down for a half hour outside the resort, changed shirts and I was good to go.  I’m a San Francisco food lover (“foodie”) and I have to say, Saba has a pretty impressive ratio of fine chefs on the island for a population of 1400 or so, all the more creative because lots of the food has to get shipped in from the other islands: St. Maarten or farther.  Christmas Eve dinner was beef tenderloin with a fine cheese wafer with both a cream sauce and a demiglace.  Not bad.

Colors and Cottages

Saban Museum
Saba History Museum
Angelican Church Below Mt Scenery
Angelican Church Below Mt Scenery

All Christmas Eve day, I wandered around Windwardside, unsure of the protocol for taking pictures and not wanting to step all over private property, although on Saba the “private” concept is somewhat relative.  I’ve been particularly cautious around cemeteries, though I’m very tempted, as the crypts are semi-above ground, and generally sealed in the fiery gray volcanic rock endemic to the island.  I decided to snap a couple pictures of the Saba History Museum (which I’ve not been to yet) and an Anglican Church located at the entrance to the village.  The reds, whites, and greens just pop on this island.  Ocean, village, or mountain views, pictures simply can’t capture the dramatic–sometimes overwhelming–beautiful views on the island.  I don’t want to get used to it.  I choose to be immersed, as this is the kind of place where nature is a spirituality unto itself. Can’t help but feel, calm, relaxed and unhurried wherever I wander.  Talk to any locals or the expats who gave it all up to come here and live, and it’s the personification of jeune c’est quoi; you can’t put your finger on how to explain Saba, you simply have to be here, as the cliche goes.  Below is a long lensed shot of Saba from The Road to The Level that provides a cool perspective of the bright red roofs, whitewashed sides, and gabled shutters that are indicative of the Saban architecture.  Not having been to Holland, I’ve not idea whether this is what Amsterdam or rural Holland must look like, but it’s consistent and beautiful here.  That’s the Catholic Church in Windwardside below.  As the son of an almost-nun, I think I sort of remember what happens in there, but I happen to be a recovering Catholic myself, so my thoughts are the usual garble of remembered dogma, community, and cool wafers and wine for kids on Sunday.


Here There Be Hurricane Ghosts

Captains Quarters
Captains Quarters Restaurant 15 Yrs After Hurricane Georges
Captains Quarters From Geroge
Captains Quarters Restaurant Looks Out On The Sea
Captains Quarters Apartments
Apartments Destroyed By Hurricane Georges

The last major hurricane to smack Saba head on with real and serious damage was 1998’s Hurricane Georges, a nasty whippersnapper that tapped 6 islands and managed  $6 billion in damage. I remembering visiting Saba in 1995 by way of s/v Polynesia, one of the fleet of Windjammer sailing ships, and I vividly recall getting chased by Hurricane Luis down in these waters, a massive green blotch that consumed most of the ship’s macro scale radar. By comparison to, say, nearby St. Kitts (which you can see in many ocean pics from this blog’s prior posts), Saba was relatively spared from the wrath of Georges.  Though there are sources that say Saba is impacted by more hurricanes than any other island in the world, as far as I know, the island has suffered no direct hurricane deaths.   But there was a one fabled structural fatality: Captain’s Quarters, which had hosted Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in its heyday.  Here’s a couple pictures of the bar/restaurant hotel, a stark black and white of the place, which appears untouched in 15 years, and the view from the damaged structure out to the sea, perched on the cliff.  The hotel itself was cleared in 2007.  The owner wasn’t insured (no small matter on Saba, I’d guess) to replace the buildings.   I’m told by islanders that a wealthy lady has purchased the property, and plans to renovate it soon.  Wandering up the steep street a little further and I came across the bones of another victim. Not sure if this is part of the CQ complex or not, but again, the undisturbed ruins, complete with overgrown foliage, makes for really fascinating visuals, even if it is relatively recent history. Half the reason I take these particular  pictures is so I have the details in front of me to describe what I’m seeing to the readers of this murder mystery I’m writing.

The Road Redux

I’ll close this long Christmas post out with more talk of things unchanged;  My Christmas Eve walk from Windwardside back to St. Johns on the rollercoaster architectural achievement that is the Road, with its stone masonry of volcanic rock that looks like it could withstand hundreds of years to come. It’s a pleasure to walk along this undulating beast, gazing out on the vast wide Caribbean from on high, down the plunging ravines, watching the multitude of goats of all colors sprint up and down its slopes, sun dropping low in the sky as the night closed out, illuminating the best cloudscapes I’ve seen yet.  I hope you agree.

Thanks again for the comments – always appreciated and welcome.  If you happen to be fact or spell checking my blog and catch a mistake, please let me know and I’ll get it corrected immediately.

Happy Holidays!


Road to St Johns
Cloudscapes On The Road to St Johns
The Road
The Road Below The Old GEBE Station

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.


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 Golden Hour

It’s been stormy for most of the past week; by Saba standards, that translates to gusty winds of 20-30 mph and cloudburst rains lasting 5-15 minutes swapping time with the sunshine through each day, all of it occurring within the temperate zone of 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. This morning, a calm, beautiful sunrise that made the colors explode on St. John’s where I live. Here’s a couple of my favorites. Be sure and click on the photos to get the full size and scope of them!

In this panoramic, morning sunbeams burst from the clouds over the islands of Statia, Nevis, and St. Kitts and illuminate the road winding down to St. John’s in front of my cottage.

The golden light of morning shines on St. John’s. Vineyard Cottage where I’m staying is visible on the far right of the photograph, with its prominent tree out front.

Another view of St. John’s, this one showing the 1200 foot drop off to the ocean below, and a good sense of the expansive views of the Caribbean that consume my field of vision.