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Monday, April 2, 2012

Saba 2012

Todd and I went on vacation at the beginning of this month. Where did we go? The beautiful Caribbean island of Saba. Never heard of it? You're not alone. Over and over again, when people asked where we were going on vacation, they had to ask us to explain where Saba was. Even the customs agent when we came back to the
US had never heard of Saba. So, here you go:

Saba is in the Caribbean, and it's only 5 square miles. In comparison, our other tiny island that we like to visit, Little Cayman, is 10 square miles. So, Saba is pretty tiny.

Not sure who the original photographer of this photo is...
To me, Saba looks like Dr. Evil's secret volcano lair. It is, in fact, a volcano, although it hasn't erupted since the 17th century. It's considered dormant, but since there are hot springs on the island, there is some sort of volcanic activity going on somewhere around it. In the photo above, do you see the airport there at the bottom? That is the only flat area on the entire island. It's the shortest commercial runway in the world, which means that landing at Saba is an interesting experience. We left from Washington Dulles early in the morning on Saturday, March 3. Dulles is about a 2 hour drive from our house, so we stayed in a nearby hotel the night before and left our car at the hotel in one of those "stay one night, leave your car" packages.We flew direct to Saint Maarten, which has its own exciting airport... The airport is really close to the beach and tourists stand to watch both landings and takeoffs. From inside the airplane, it's a little less exciting. (do watch those videos, btw!) It is cool to see the people lined up at the fence when you're taxing to take off at SXM.

So, from Saint Maarten, we took a puddle jumper (Twin Otter) plane to Saba. The runway is so short, the airplane has to go into a stall in order to keep it on the runway. Todd took a video:

That alarm you hear as the plane lands is the plane stalling.

So, once we arrived, we were greeted by Eddie, who was one of four taxi drivers that we would meet on the island. There are 10 taxi drivers on Saba, and there are no car rentals. The Road (the only road on the island is simply called The Road) is incredible. The original Dutch engineers claimed that it was impossible to build a road on the island, but the Sabans would hear none of that and ended up building the road themselves over the course of 25 years. Read more about it, it's fascinating!

The view of The Bottom from our hotel room
We stayed at Queen's Garden Resort, which is located on Troy Hill. Saba has three towns - The Bottom (which is where the government buildings are located), Windwardside (which is where most of the shops/restaurants are) and Hell's Gate, which is mostly residential. Troy Hill was up the mountain from The Bottom, so our hotel room overlooked the town. We also had an awesome Jacuzzi tub in our room that overlooked the town, with the ocean in the distance.

Our reason for coming to Saba was to dive. We were diving with Saba Deep dive shop. They were truly awesome. In Saba, much of the attraction is deep water pinnacles, so each day our first dive went to one of these pinnacles. The pinnacles usually topped off in about 90 feet of water, which meant that our dives had to be short (you can only stay so long at such depths). Todd and I are used to doing 60 minute dives, but we never reached 60 minutes on any dive while we were in Saba.
Me with the turtle on top of the needle at Third Encounter

One of our favorite dive sites was Third Encounter, where there is a large pinnacle with a small, slender pinnacle (like a needle) nearby. Divemaster Gary led us to the needle, which was covered in corals with creole wrasses swimming all around. To our happy surprise, there was also a large turtle sitting on top of the needle! So pretty.

We were only doing 2 dives per day, which isn't very many compared to the 3-5 dives per day that we typically do on vacation. We were just trying to take it easy this time. In the afternoons, we either relaxed by the pool or hiked around the island. Saba is known for its hiking trails. What I learned from this is that I am not necessarily a hiker - some of the more intense stuff just wasn't for me.

Swimming at Tent Reef
The weather while we were there was no ideal - winds were gusting to 30 mph on most days, and we had some sustained winds of 15-20 mph. When we were farther from the island, the boat was seriously rocky. I hate it when the boat rocks that much.

We had some trouble starting on Wednesday - Saba Deep's boat, Jolly Mon, had its propeller shaft break while we were out on the boat. This meant that we couldn't dive with Saba Deep again during the trip and had to switch to Saba Divers. For this reason, and due to the swells, we ended up doing many of the dives more than once. One dive site, Tent Reef, we did three times. We weren't as happy with Saba Divers as we were with Saba Deep. They weren't as flexible, and made a few mistakes (such as taking us back to Third Encounter, but mis-navigating and taking us for 20 minutes into the blue while seeing nothing at all).
At Babylon

I feel like the diving at Saba is spectacular, but we weren't necessarily seeing it at its absolute best. The winds were just terrible while we were there. However, we still had a great time on our dives.

We had intended to do 5 days of diving, but we ended up doing a 6th. Normally, our trips are Saturday to Saturday and we spend Sunday relaxing before going back to work on Monday. This time, we added an extra day because we were intending to climb to the top of Mount Scenery (the highest point of the islands and the highest point of The Netherlands) on our last day. We needed the extra time because Mount Scenery is too high to climb right after diving - altitude and diving don't mix. Mount Scenery also is a cloud forest, which we were really interested in seeing. In the end, though, we thought we'd go ahead and dive the day before and not worry about the altitude. When the day came to dive Mount Scenery, though, we were too tired and ended up relaxing and shopping. It had rained the night before and the top of the mountain was likely wet, muddy and slippery. Not fun.

Todd shows off an Elephant Ear
on the Sandy Cruz trail
We did do two big hikes - one on the hiking trail called the Bottom Mountain trail, which took us from our hotel into Windwardside. We then climbed to the top of Booby Hill outside of Windwardside and ended our day watching the sunset with a beer at a hotel called the Shearwater. A perfect ending for sure.

Our second hike was on a trail called Sandy Cruz, which took us around the back of the island above the airport, through rainforest and cloud forest, and finally back to our hotel. I have to say, this was challenging. The steps and rocks were slippery. I was glad I had purchased hiking shoes from Zappos at the last minute before we left (in fact, we had to wait to leave to go to Dulles until my shoes arrived via UPS).

And then, there was the food. The meals on Saba were pretty good. Our resort was home to the restaurant known to have the best food on the island. We ate there several nights, enjoying Beef Wellington, pork tenderloin, fish and shrimp. They had lobsters, but after a bad experience eating lobster in 2002, I rarely order whole lobsters. I did have a lobster sandwich for lunch, though.
Todd relaxing in the hot tub
in our room

We also enjoyed some more casual dinners at a bar called swinging doors. It's known for its BBQ and steak night. Steak night was pretty fun, because steak is quite literally the ONLY thing on the menu - the waitress asks you how you want your steak, that's it. Another night, we went to the Ecolodge and enjoyed a spectacular shrimp dinner after watching a presentation about the environment and forests on the island. The true stand out was Eden, which is a French restaurant in Windwardside where I enjoyed my favorite food item of the week - strawberry balsamic pepper ice cream. It sounds strange, but it was phenomenal.

It was a great week. Saba is absolutely a place that I would return to, given the opportunity. We had a great time. The only downside (besides the weather) was how expensive everything was - cab fare from our hotel into Windwardside was $25, and eating in our hotel was pretty pricey. So, we ended up spending a lot more on food, etc than we expected to.

We still had a great time, and I can't wait for a chance to go back.  (Of course, I mean who wouldn't want to go back?)

I am hoping that some more of Todd's photos are coming, but he's taking his sweet time processing them. I wanted to get this posted, so I didn't wait.

Todd and me after our hike at Shearwater

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Kitzzy said...

That looks awesome! You have such great adventures.

lindsay said...

ha! i have actually heard of saba. but only b/c i went to st. kitts once, and stayed on st.maarten on my way to st. kitts. waiting to board the puddle jumper to st. kitts it seemed like EVERY flight leaving was for saba.

you definitely have the best adventures. i wish i could convince josh to go to the carib as much as you guys do! :)

James said...

You go to the most awesome places!

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