4 – 7 December 2012

Island history - The Caribs left Sint Eustatius long before Columbus came across the island in 1493. The Dutch established the first settlement in 1636 and after that the island has changed hands 22 times between The Dutch, French and British. While the French and English constantly increased colonial taxes and duties the Dutch did the opposite and made Statia a duty-free zone in 1756. Consequently, thousands of ships made the island their stopping point crossing the Atlantic and soon Statia became the main link between Europe and the Atlantic colonies. At one point 25,000 people lived on the island including 10-15,000 sailors on land for months at a time either on leave or looking for new jobs. In 1776 Statia was the first nation to recognise the American independence, which the Brits obviously didn't like – they once again attacked the island in 1781 but the downturn spiral for Statia came from huge taxes imposed by the French in 1795. In 1954 Statia became part of the Dutch Antilles together with Sint Marteen, Saba, Bonaire and Curacao; however as this was dissolved in 2010 Statia became a special municipality of the Netherlands with strong government bonds and similar rights to all inhabitants as in the Netherlands.

In Sint Marteen airport I had to leave the plane shortly for refuelling and then another short flight to Sint Eustatius or Statia as it's affectionately called. I had planned to take the ferry back to Sint Marteen but at immigration they told me the ferry service stopped more than half a year ago – not too impressed as I found the ferry information only a few days earlier...! Anyway, I bought the first available ticket back which was a day later than planned so now I had lots of time on this small island. After all the hiking in Saba I decided to take a day off and walked up to Zelandia Beach in the the North East part of the island – not much of a beach but very relaxing (only me and a few cows resting under the trees) and familiar big waves and strong undertow known from the Atlantic coast in Europe. The beach was a bit too open to camp so mid afternoon I walked a few hundred metres and found a good place close to the island dump. It sounds worse than it is – mostly construction material and lots of cows and goats finding it amusing to stomp noisily around on it. Late afternoon the shepherd came to get his animals and I was sure he would discover me but fortunately he was a modern (and lazy) shepherd blowing his truck horn to summon the animals....

The next morning I got up at sunrise and walked the 3k into the capital Oranjestad. I wanted to go to the park office to buy a trail permit but a woman in a car said it wasn't necessary and took me to a supermarket close to the trail start. The supermarket however never opened so after waiting 30 minutes I had to walk 10 minutes back to town to find another one. An hour “late” I was finally on my way to the volcano – The Quill. Despite my big backpack it was a fairly easy walk up through the forest. Two-thirds up I hid my big backpack in the bushes and continued the last part uphill to the crater rim. Climbing some rocks to get to the first viewpoint I almost grabbed a snake (brown and black - 4-5 cm times 50-60cm) – I tried to follow it down through some rocks to get a picture but too late... I got a nice view of the volcano with the vertical edges and totally overgrown. From the beach the day before I saw clouds coming in late morning so I decided to hike the crater floor first while the sun was there to penetrate the dense tree crowns. The path was a steep descent climbing on top of big rocks and with the snake, rat size rodents as well as many cobwebs in the face I started feeling like Indiana Jones – and then maybe not! My belt was broken so it must have looked quite comical (a nothing like Indiana Jones) with me holding a small bag in one hand leaning against a rock with the other while simultaneously trying to keep my pants from dropping to my ankles.... Though I could have used his whip...

Anyway, how cool is it to climb into an old volcano and walk around the bottom in total solitude? Well, almost - I ran into 10 volcano-goats... The last eruption was about 400 AD and with annual rainfall of about 2 metres there has been plenty of time for life to develop under these special circumstances – it mostly resembles rainforest. Huge rocks and tree trunks as well as lots of birds but most beautiful a clear blue-coloured bug with wings – the look and size of a cockroach. Back up at the rim I climbed the short but steep distance to the Panorama lookout from where I could see both the volcano and most of Statia – gorgeous as the weather was still very nice. Down again I walked back to town and then out to Fort de Windt at the South-west coastline. I knew the “fort” is an uninteresting 2 canon bastion but it has nice views to the huge White Cliffs created by limestone and to nearby Saint Kitts and Nevis. I had guessed it would also be a good remote area to camp – and it was. So I pitched the tent and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon – beautiful weather and nice views....

Besides being quite windy, it rained a lot during the night and a bit in the morning so I took my time to let everything dry – no need to hurry as I had the whole day to do sightseeing in Oranjestad. I packed at 8.30 and after breakfast by the canons I headed into town. It's a very cosy little place with interesting architecture – European style having adapted local habits to address the special conditions in the tropics (heat, humidity, diseases, hurricanes, etc.). Amongst other I also looked at the old Dutch Reformed Church and cemetery as well as the fully refurbished Fort Oranje with the nice view of the lower part of town and the bay. At 2pm I had seen everything in town more than once so I got a ride out to Zelandia Beach to relax and spend another night. During the afternoon I explored the destroyed houses at the end of the beach and it turned out that one of them had a nice little lawn I could camp on - the only problem was the fierce wind. I put up a piece of roof as protection in front of the tent but during the night – where I also got lots of rain – it had bent so much than it had lost all effect.

Check-in was not until noon so I spent a peaceful morning alone overlooking the beach. Around 11am I started walking towards the airport but despite it being a very remote area I quickly got a ride all the way. Outside the airport I got rid of my trash and walked 10 minutes up to a supermarket to buy some lunch but when I wanted to pay I couldn't find my my money belt! Only option was to have lost it at the garbage bins so I quickly walked back to the airport – and there it was at the curbside next to the bins.... only in Statia can you leave USD 100, 2 credit cards, etc. for half an hour in the street and return to find it. Very careless of me but a good (and free) reminder that I'm soon going to countries where I have to be more careful.

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