After a flight best defined by a lot of what the captain called “nuisance turbulence,” which was due to the weather system that has extended this section of the Caribbean’s rainy season by a month, we arrived in Sint Maarten Thursday afternoon full of excitement. Our honeymoon was underway, and we planned to spend the next five days on Saba, which sits 15 minutes by plane to the east of Sint Maarten.
Of course, the fact that I’m saying what we were supposed to do means that things have gone quite differently. More on that later.
We knew the weather would be bad when we arrived because we had to circle the new airport for about 20 minutes because of the storms (wind and visibility play a big role in flight operations, including for the big jets). Still, we were undeterred by the rain and standing water on the tarmac.
Going through passport control, we were able to check “Married” on our immigration forms (these are, after all, Dutch islands, which means our marriage is recognized here, too). It’s funny, because I didn’t even look to see if it was there and immediately checked “Single” – Shawn pointed it out a few minutes later before we went through the control point.
Because Princess Juliana International Airport is so new, they haven’t yet worked out the kinks for transferring to another carrier. Conflicting signs pointed us in opposite directions, while the transfer desk sat empty, save for a number of large cardboard boxes piled up behind the counter. We eventually figured out we had to leave the customs and immigration area entirely and go back to the ticket counters as if we had just arrived from the outside.
Unfortunately, because of bad weather on Sint Maarten and high winds blowing in the wrong direction at the Saba airport, WinAir cancelled our flight. We found a comfortable place to stay near the airport in Simpsonbay, had a great dinner at The Stone, where we cooked our own meals at the table on a slab of hot granite, and headed for bed.
Not-so-bright and early Friday morning, we headed back to the airport, only to learn that the winds on Saba were still blowing in the wrong direction for landing on what is the world’s shortest (and arguably most dangerous) international runway. So we made our way to the high-speed passenger ferry.
Now, if you’ve never ridden a high-speed ferry on the open sea, you need to – provided that you don’t get sea sick too easily. It was a catamaran-style boat, which means it was able to take waves that would have capsized a similarly sized single-hull ship. And, I’ll admit, there were a couple of times when I thought we might just tip over, even though the group of island residents aboard were able to actually sleep through it.
Arriving by boat to Saba is a powerful sight to behold, so much so that people who have lived here for 20-plus years sat there in awe at the view. The volcanic island comes straight out of the sea and reaches past the clouds with two terrific peaks. No beaches here – cliffs surround the island on all sides.
You would almost expect dinosaurs to roam Saba from the way it looks at a distance (think Jurassic Park), and that allure only intensifies as you get closer and see the steep, misty green cliffs. Tiny houses with signature Saba Red roofs are precariously built on the edge of precipices. Except for the town of Hell’s Gate, which is built on what must have once been a lava flow that spills down to the area of the airport, the island looks deserted from a distance.
Once the ferry made its way around to the Fort Bay Harbor, we could see signs of life. We docked and caught a taxi with two new travel mates from Staunton, Virginia (really small world, no?) to Windwardside, the tiny-yet-bustling hamlet in the middle of the island where your closest neighbor may only be a 25 feet or less away, but is likely to be above or below you.
Our cottage at Juliana’s Hotel is lifted right from a Caribbean island fantasy: a big porch overlooking the steep valley and ocean below, two lush gardens on either side of the house filled with tropical flowers and plants, and everything else we need to relax and enjoy ourselves.