Saturday, September 19, 2009


I awoke at six and was ready for the guesthouse guy to call a cab at six thirty. Nobody answered at the only taxi company in town. Welcome to the Caribbean. Finally he gave up in disgust and offered to taxi me to the airport himself. Even though St Martin seemed completely overdeveloped, most of the locals had been really friendly.

I was about the only person in the big airport. American and the other big airlines appeared to have stopped flights for the rest of the month. At the far end was a little counter for WinnAir. I checked in and walked all the way to the other end and up to departures.

At eight the other two passengers and I boarded the little plane that was going over to Saba. Then the propellers started twirling and off we went over the ocean.

Within fifteen minutes, the giant five square mile rock that is Saba was no longer a lump on the horizon but real and steep. In a few seconds we had landed on the 1200 foot runway, famous as the Shortest Runway In The World.

We squeezed out of the plane and over to the tiny terminal. There it turned out that my luggage had been lost. Really. Welcome to the Caribbean.

This was interesting because I had spent quite a lot of time on my luggage problem before I had started the trip. Because this was a day excursion, and I later had an evening flight on Liat, I had asked them if I could check in for it this morning. No way. Okay, then I had asked WinnAir if they could hold my bag in St Martin for the day. Impossible. All right. So I had gotten permission for the terminal manager in Saba to bring it over there and leave it with them all day.

But now it hadn’t arrived. They called and determined that it was probably back at SXM. And they told me to have a nice day on Saba.

Hitchhiking is actually the law on Saba, a Dutch island where everyone is either Scot or Black. But now everyone from the flight had left, so my only option was to start walking. Straight up and up and up. So that I did, past many, many pink oleander bushes and looking out over cliffs and blue sea.

I got lucky in that someone was coming out of the driveway at one of the first houses that I reached. And she took me twisting and turning the two or three miles to just about the far side of the island. From there I walked down the old footpath to The Bottom, one of the only two ‘towns’ on this place of about 1500 inhabitants.
It’s of course an understatement to say that Saba is quaint. Even though I did walk past one of those ubiquitous Caribbean medical colleges with its couple of hundred students. In the town itself were a couple of old churches, a guesthouse or so, and a corner store. Everybody talked in a strange Caribbean/Dutch accent. Needless to say, it’s always warm but never hot, everybody always seems to have minor business to attend to, and no one ever even thinks of locking doors.
Even at The Bottom I was still around 600 feet above sea level. Since any kinds of roads in this vertiginous place are of very recent vintage, one wondered how it ever occurred to anyone that they could live here. And then how they went to the trouble of finding an anchorage, finding a place flat enough to squat upon, transporting all their gunk up top, etc.
I hitched back up the hill to the little restaurant that my first ride operated, and was her first customer of the day. Then I hitched another ride all the way back to the top and Windwardside, elevation around 1200, population around 400, the ’capital’ of Saba. Not a heck of a lot going on as I strolled from one end to the other.
By now I had done everything there was to do on Saba short of walking up to its 3000 foot summit. And the trail was far too steep and slippery for my old bones. So instead I decided to walk back to the airport.
There were some uphill portions, but basically it was down, down, down. Very steeply so. So steeply that my legs were soon aching. And the further down I went the hotter it became. Poor me.
But how many times does a person get to be on Saba? The greenery, the flowers, the deep blue sea, not to mention the palpable do-dee-do friendliness, all made for an extremely pleasant afternoon.
Except of course for the constant strain on the muscles of walking down, down, down.
When I reached the terminal they told me that they had confirmed that my bag was over at SXM. So all I needed to do was have a Malta or two and wait for the 5 pm flight.
When we returned to St Martin I did as I was told and asked the Control officer about my bag. He said, ‘I don’t know anything, sir. Frankly, I would not trust anything they told you.’ Hmm.
So I went through Immigration and walked all the way to the end of the airport, where I asked the WinnAir person about my bag. He went back to check, and was then gone for twenty minutes.
So I was a little nervous when he reappeared empty handed. Not to worry, though. Someone else was getting it. And, sure enough, soon it was back in my grubby little hands.
Just in time to take it over to Liat to check in for St. Kitt’s.


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