Caribbean Day 15: Saba

Early morning wake up! My 7am flight to Saba had me getting up at 5:15. I was mostly still packed so all I needed to do was get in the shower, put everything away and hit the road. By 5:50 I was out the door and looking for the bus. It didn’t take thhhat long for one to pass by, and being so close to the airport it was a quick hop. My hotelier had recommended not going too early because you don’t need much time with them. I have a horrible habit of showing up WAY too early for flights and then sitting around forever. I’m just so afraid of missing the flight. I never have missed a flight with the exception of 1 in China because of a delay and no fault of my own. I think that kind of reinforced my fear of missing flights because we lost an entire day of travel on that trip.

There was a single checkin counter for Winair and it was run like any other, despite flying something not much bigger than a personal aircraft. No one else was in line so I breezed through. My next stop was passport control and security. I was really surprised and a bit disappointed when the officer didn’t stamp my passport. I figured there must be another passport control later on, but nope. So I now have an entrance stamp and no exit. I was a bit worried with my flight boarding in 10 minutes there was more security ahead or my gate would be a long ways away. All was well though, my gate was close, and there were only like 8 gates anyway, and no additional immigration to pass through. On top of that Winair was already running a tad late. I think showing up a bit earlier may be worth the lack of stress. If I’d woken up 15 minutes earlier I probably wouldn’t have been feeling under the gun.

As it turns out we were running late because they were training a new pilot! Oh joy, one of the most extreme landing strips in the world, and the copilot is new to it (though I’m sure he’s an excellent pilot to get this assignment). I met a woman from Holland named Alma who knows the managers of the guest house I’m staying at, El Momo Cottages. We waited on the tarmac for a while longer while the old experienced pilot went over the preflight checks with the young gun. Finally we got to board. The plane is tiny, smaller than the turbo props from LIAT and Iceland Air I’ve flown in. It’s like a bus that flies. It needs to be for the short strip. How exciting! Also on board were a dive master and his wife and a few other people I didn’t get to meet.  Alma is a dance instructor in St. Maarten, and goes to Saba several times a year. She tells me about it a little and it’s sounding all the better.

After some engine checks we take off. The flight is short, and with the size of plane the cabin is wide open. We can see the gauges and read the altimeter.  Even better, we can see out the front window as we approach Saba jutting out of the ocean. The landing strip really is tiny and we have to fly super close to the cliffs, the wing almost looks like it’s going to touch, and the pilot has to angle the plane in with the rudder. It’s one of the softest and most dramatic landings I’ve ever had, and I’ve been on quite a few flights in my life now.

The taxi driver Paddy picked me and the dive master and his wife up, dropping me off first. Along the way from the airport as we pass through Hell’s Gate (originally known as Zion’s Hill), he stops and lets us out for photos, pointing out important landmarks. As we’re there timing works out perfectly and we get to watch the plane we landed on takeoff.  Wow the video hardly does it justice, the plane is just barely in the air as it runs out of runway and goes over the cliff’s edge.  This should be fun when I leave.

El Momo is a nice little guest house that has won lots of awards and is highly regarded on Trip Advisor. It’s built on the side of a kill with many many steps labeled “El Momo Trail” up to the office and rooms. It’s currently managed by really nice dutch gay couple named DJ and Joost with great attention to detail. Alma from the plane knows them and told me to say high for her. I’m greeting with a banana smoothie and offered breakfast after dropping my bags off.

I have the whole day ahead of me and ask if I should snorkel, dive, or hike first. I get a resounding response to hike, it’s one of the few days Mt. Scenery is clear. Diving takes an arrangement a day in advance. I get directions and head towards the Mt. Scenery trail. Mt. Scenery is funny enough, the highest peak in the kingdom of the Netherlands at 877m. I explored town a little, poking around the cute neighborhoods, every house white with a red roof with immaculate gardens of green and colorful flowers. It’s really quite a lovely town, everyone waves to each other, you ask directions and you get walked half way there. There is an allure here much like with Ísafjörður. I stopped in at the dive shop and made reservations for tomorrow to do a Discovery Dive which is a lesson, a pool dive, and then a shallow ocean dive with a guide. I’ve never gone diving before despite my dad being an ex-scuba instructor.

The trail is more like a long set of stairs, but boy are they steep. It’s quite a work out. Not far into a trail a young woman runs past, puts in some ear buds and goes flying by. I can’t imagine doing that in this heat! I start the lag a bit as I get near the top. I can’t tell if it’s the heat or I’m losing my shape some. At the top the path splits and there are some muddy sections. I reached the main view point but by the time I got there a cloud had rolled over the top of the mountain. I figured hey, it’s the tropics, the weather changes fast, I’ll wait. 30 minutes later and I’m still socked in. I can hear the light bustle of Windwardside down below, people chatting, cars once in a while. I figured I’d go to the other viewpoint and maybe by the time I got there it would clear. Nope.  After a solid 45 minutes of waiting I decided it must be a morning thing and headed back down the slopes. At the part where the paths branch I ran into the jogger from before and 3 friends who I guess had a head start. We chatted for a while, but I got the feeling they mostly wanted to chat amongst themselves so I headed down after a bit. I decided to take the advice of a local hiker I met and take the Bud’s Mountain trail back down, it’s longer but less steep and easier on the knees which is important to me after hurting my knees the last 2 times I’ve been out hiking while descending, I think the first twist in St. Lucia still isn’t healed. As I reached town I looked up and by god Mt. Scenery was clear again!

The day was still early so I grabbed more water from the grocery store along with a beer and headed back to my room. A quick shower and a beer by the pool was in order. The water is so refreshing after the hard hike and how hot it was. Windwardside is very cool for the Caribbean, but all the same the sun is hot and hiking like that builds up a lot of sweat.

For dinner I went down to Scout’s place, it was close and the prices decent. I ran into two dutch guys. Funny enough they had been on the train with me, I saw them going up when I was going down, and they had been there for the perfectly clear view I missed.  They even were staying at El Momo! Peter and Remmy. After a nice chat we walked back to the hotel. They stayed to chat with DJ and Joost while I retired to my room to chat with Jen. There were tons of little bugs in my room, mini millipedes, moths, etc. Not really any mosquitoes though. I walked back down and and asked if they had a bug net and they did, problem solved.

It felt like two days crammed into one, it was a really long day with such an early start yes, but I did so much.

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