2 – 4 December 2012
Patrice would have taken me to the Saba ferry on the Dutch side of the island but he had to work early so I got a taxi to Pelican Bay arriving at 7.40am. Check-in was scheduled to 8am and departure at 9am but it's “island time” and things happen when they happen. I had a good, long conversation with Irish Stef who have lived many places around the world and is now a dive instructor in Bermuda.
In the past indigenous tribes like the Caribs, Arawaks and Siboneys have settled for periods of time but the island was uninhabited when Columbus arrived in 1493. The first permanent settlement was made by the Dutch in 1640 but over the next 200 years the island changed hands more than a dozen times so most of the people are of Irish and English heritage. Because of the topography with steep hillsides everywhere the island is impossible to farm large scale, so most men made a living out of fishing leaving the women behind – thus the name “The Island of Women”. Tourism started slowly when the airport was built in 1959 and when electricity came in 1970. Since the 1950s Saba was part of the Dutch Antilles (together with Curacao, Bonaire, Sint Marteen and Statia) until it was dissolved in 2010 and the island became a special municipality of the Netherlands – there are now close (government) bonds to the Netherlands and the citizens share the rights of all Dutch people.
From the ferry I got the first look at Saba – a rock coming vertically out of the water. And from the dock it was confirmed that this island is nothing but steep roads – typically 40-60 degrees – tough to build and tough to walk (with a big backpack). The first town I got to after walking uphill for a while was The Bottom (!?) where I did some shopping and then continued another couple of kilometres to start the North Coast Trail – of course back down at sea level! “No hiking beyond this point without a guide” - to which I in my mind added “unless you're very experienced”. The first part of the trail was steep uphill through the forest a very quickly I got a nice view of the coastline. Further up through the rainforest past old buildings and graveyards from previous times – everything overgrown. The trail was fairly easy to follow except at a big landslide where I had to find my way about 75 metres over the old trail to get above the slide - it took 5-10 minutes to find the new trail but no worries – I knew I could pick it up somewhere on the other side of the slide.... Through the forest mostly up on the narrow, slippery and sometimes overgrown paths – just what I like for a good hike... Many birds, different rodents and bugs. After some hours I got to a beautiful open viewpoint – however something didn't fit. According to my map I should stay up but the only path went downhill and after a while it disappeared... From a rock in the ocean I could tell I was about 90% of the way so I spent an hour looking for the trail to avoid going back – nothing...
Reluctantly I had to turn around and hike all the way back before it got dark. It also started raining which made me speed up – in case of heavy rains I didn't want be in the forest as it would make it practically impossible to get back on the impassable path, creek crossings etc. Two times I almost stepped on a snake on the trail – both approx. half a meter, slim and black. Back at the starting point late afternoon I looked for a place to camp but everything was steep so I ended up taking a big chance – camping in the dry riverbed (after clearing it for rocks, etc.) hoping it wouldn't rain … here or further up in the mountains! Fortunately no rain but also less sleep than usual as I had to sleep without my earplugs in case of rain...quite a lot of animals and birds roaming noisily around during the night....
Up at sunrise the next morning and then up the steep hill to The Bottom where I got a few supplies before starting the hike up to Mt Scenery – Netherlands highest point with 877 metres via many different trails: Crispeen, Bottom Mountain, Bod's Mountain and finally Mt Scenery. Very nice hike up through the different forests and good exercise with the big backpack. On the way I took some time talking to an old shepherd who was born on the island – lots of interesting history, etc. Almost at the top there was a sigh to a viewpoint – a very muddy trail where I also had to climb some slippery rocks to get to the top – and then not much of a view because it was overgrown..... it happens! When I got to the official peak it was cloudy so I had to wait 30-45 minutes before it cleared enough to take some pictures. Walking down the 1064 steps I had to be a bit careful on the slippery, moss filled rocks. Down in the main town Windwardside I bought some supplies before walking 3-4k to the airport. Check-in next morning was 6.30am so I had to be close to get there on time. From the road high above I could see there was a small green area next to the airport – presumably also somewhat flat - so I took the chance and walked all the way down – there was an area but a bit open and also an official trail. Nobody came during late afternoon so I put up the tent just as it started getting dark.....and as I got in the tent a Dutch couple passed right by...? I gathered the didn't care and stayed – nowhere really to go at this hour.
I rained a lot during the night which was less of a concern as long as it stopped by the time I had to get up at 6am... fortunately it did! Quick packing in the semi-darkness and then the short walk up the airport - just to realise that it wasn't open.. though it didn't take long. Being the only passenger on time it was no problem occupying the toilet for 15 minutes taking a thorough “camping-shower” getting rid of mud remains from yesterday. The plane was on time... well at first try but it came in too fast and had to take off again. The runway is only 400 metres and similar to an aircraft carrier – both ends stop at the cliff edge. I don't know how take off usually takes place but we got very close to the edge before lifting... quite exhilarating!