08 July 2014

Exploring Saba From The Bottom, Down

This is The Bottom
Did I mention that there are only four villages on the island of Saba?  And that our hotel is located in a quaint village called The Bottom, named for its position in the volcano crater?  The highlight of our brief trip was the island tour, starting at The Bottom and working our way down.

But first, breakfast.  When I booked our rooms, Claire, the very gracious host and manager, gave us complimentary American or Dutch breakfast with our stay.  I didn't record any images for posterity, but I tried a different one each morning.  Our first morning I sampled the Dutch breakfast, with ham, gouda, one boiled egg, and toast. Here's DH at our breakfast table (incidentally, it was the last meal we could eat outdoors because once the rain began a few hours later, it basically didn't let up for the rest of our stay:
Shot from the treetop table for two

Our tour began at The Bottom. Ed Peterson, our Saba born and bred tour guide, stopped first at a small Catholic church in the village so that we could see the new mural painted behind the altar.  It took a few years to finish, but it was very vibrant.  The walls of the church are very thick, resulting in a relatively cool interior.

The entire time we were with Ed, he kept up a non-stop commentary of island history and DH and I peppered him with questions about the flora and fauna and particularly about the road and the airport.  He was also very obliging, pulling over to the side of the road (such as it is) to allow for photographs at any point along the road, save for the blind switchbacks.

The road is, without a doubt, one of the finest engineering marvels I've ever seen.  Decades ago, Sabans were told that a road couldn't be built on their island, but one enterprising fellow wasn't daunted.  He took a correspondence course in civil engineering and designed the road that connects all of the villages with each other and with the airport and the boat dock.  That's impressive enough in and of itself, but the fact that every inch of the road was cut by hand?  Phenomenal. Electricity hadn't come to the island yet, so the roads were leveled by hand.  Hand hewn through the mountain itself with sledgehammers, pickaxes and shovels.  And the cement?  All mixed, poured, and laid by hand.  I can't remember the last time I was so impressed.

They call this stretch The Great Wall of Saba
There are countless switchbacks on the road
Memorial to the undaunted man who engineered the road
The airport has the shortest commercial runway in the world, only 200 feet longer than the deck of an aircraft carrier.  This requires special aircraft and rigorous training for the pilots.  Landing there is the easy part--twin engine Otters with reverse engines can handle the landing with aplomb.  It's the takeoff that's complicated.  There's never been a fatal airplane accident on Saba, but there has been at least one incident when a plane didn't quite leave the ground in time for takeoff.  Interesting fact: pilots who are accredited to fly in and out of Saba must re-qualify every time they leave for vacation (or otherwise take a few weeks off). We saw one pilot doing just that during our tour, flying touch and go patterns.  Rather reassuring, no?
That's the Saba airstrip in the distance

As above, seen from a higher altitude
Not my photo.  Image found here
The island is full of dramatic scenery and many parts of it reminded me of my trip to the Big Island of Hawai'i a few years ago--lush and gorgeous and full of sheer drop offs.

One of the last traditional stone houses in The Bottom

While there seemed to be no shortage of goats or chickens on the island, we hadn't seen any stray dogs or cats, so we asked Ed about that. His wife runs the equivalent of Saba's ASPCA/RSPCA and they have a very active presence on the island.  No animal is allowed on the island unless it's spayed or neutered, so if you were nursing a big dream of retiring to Saba to breed Rhodesian Ridgebacks, you're gonna have to choose another dream. Or another island.

We invited Ed to join us in town for lunch. He suggested a restaurant called Verdier,  a comfortable pub-style place that was showing the World Cup.  We started off outside under the umbrellas, but the breeze was so strong as to be almost too cool for comfort.  Before too long, the fog swept through the streets and the rain was long to follow. We moved inside after that.  The food was perfectly good pub fare--I think we ordered two burgers and a fish sandwich.  Three sodas and a gratuity brought the tab for all three of us to about $40.
We ate lunch here at Verdier

Bird of Paradise in the courtyard 
Ginger lily in the courtyard
Before driving back, Ed gave DH and me a little time to walk through the village of Windwardside.  We poked around a gift shop and an art gallery, and when we saw a large dog walk through the door, we poked into a dive shop, too.  On our drive back to The Bottom and Queen's Gardens, we could see the mist encroaching on the hotel.

That's Queen's Gardens in the middle ground

And again from a different angle
Ed with DH
Back at home, we retired to our room to nap and read while the rain poured down. Thursday night is Pizza Night at the hotel, and though we all had to dine indoors, the mood seemed quite convivial.  The pizza was better than I was expecting and we treated ourselves to the passionfruit cheesecake afterwards.  The cheesecake was delicious, despite the decidedly lumpy texture.

View through the window in front of us
Our shrimp, spinach, olive, and onion pizza
Passionfruit cheesecake
Holy over exposure, Batman!
DH at dinner.  (Obvs)
Our only disappointment for the stay was our lack of working Jacuzzi.  We hadn't tried it our first night because we were so tired, and it takes one hour to heat up. We turned it on before going to dinner on our second night and had been looking forward to it the entire meal.  When we got back to the room, however, the water was still frigid.  (Far too cold to sit in comfortably.  I tried.)  I should have dashed back to the office to see if Claire could help, but I didn't want to bother her so I switched it off, waited 10 minutes, then turned the heater and pump back on again.  45 minutes later, there was no discernible change in temperature.  By that time it was past 10:00 pm and nobody was in the office. When I mentioned it upon checkout the next morning, Claire immediately adjusted our bill.

Here are some photos of the hotel grounds.  We had a little sunshine, so I wandered around after breakfast:
Our unit was the third one down from the top 
Pool seen from the dining level
Lounge area, one level above the pool
A nice place for a tete-a-tete
At the bar... 
At the bar, part deux
Large elephant ear foliage
The indoor dining area
I loved this piece--it's an Indonesian bed repurposed as a table

Treetop dining for two
Ramp up to the treetop dining
Treetop dining
Overall, we loved our short time in Saba and would absolutely go back for another visit.  It provided the relaxation and counterpoint to Anguilla that we were looking for (in spades, in fact) and everybody we met was lovely.

The Good: Queen's Gardens was great.  The staff were congenial, and down to the last person were either bi- or multi-lingual.  If you speak Dutch, English, Spanish, French, Italian, or German, they have you covered.  The location is stunning.  When we travel, we prefer the luxuries of space and privacy over the luxuries of Frette linens and Bulgari toiletries, and for this, Queen's Gardens was just about perfect. Also, Saba is the most eco-conscious island I've ever had the pleasure of visiting.  Cf: The Bizarre, below.

The Bad: Not much.  Would have been nice to have a working Jacuzzi, but it didn't ruin our stay and we were well compensated for the lack.  We even rather liked having such foggy and rainy weather.

The Bizarre: Okay, I'm putting this out there because after ALL of my hours of research for Saba in general and the various hotels in specific, I never once ran across the notice that flushing toilet paper is prohibited on the island.  I understand why--the delicate septic systems deal best with bodily waste only, and there's only so much room on such a tiny island.  But I'm telling you right now: flushing toilet paper is a deucedly difficult habit to break.  At first we thought it was just a thing at our hotel, but when we used the public restroom in Windwardside during our island tour, it was the same situation.  So if you're going to Saba, be prepared. That's all I'm saying.


  1. I loved this island. Did an overnight in 2010 with the goal to hike Mt. Scenery. The airport was the highlight. Stayed at Scout's Place but toured Queen's Gardens. Had the biggest and most $ of my life there. LOVE the blog!

    1. Thanks, Ann. When will we meet for drinks in Anguilla again?

  2. Sooo pretty.

    I don't...understand the toilet paper thing, but I take you at your word for it.

    Also RHODESIAN RIDGEBACKS. I used to call my friend one of those because she had a noticeable spine.

    1. It was a little off-putting. I mean, it's not unusual to be told not to flush anything EXCEPT toilet paper. But they were quite emphatic on this point. NO toilet paper. And housekeeping comes by a few times a day to empty the wastepaper basket from the bathroom. Because...well, you can imagine.

  3. Loved the journey, thanks for the account. I don't know about that cheesecake though. You are braver than I am. I can't wait to hear about Anguilla. Thanks again!

  4. I have been eagerly awaiting your posts from this trip - boo for your vacation being over, but yay for blogs! Saba looks so interesting and so different from Anguilla!

    1. Yes, couldn't be more polar opposite to Anguilla, but that's why we picked it. I'll be posting more about Anguilla soon.

  5. Saba looks like a fantastic place. Thanks for all the gorgeous pictures and interesting tidbits. I love the fact that a resident studied in a correspondence course to learn how to design the road. It looks like you had a wonderful trip.

    1. Sure--impossible road design via correspondence course. What could be more logical?

  6. China (or parts anyway) are the same about the toilet paper and it took awhile when I stayed with my sister to break the habit.

    Toilets aside, it looks so pretty! But those roads, man, you wouldn't catch me trying to drive roads like that ever. I'm sweating just looking at them.

    1. Would that be for rural China or do they do that with modern plumbing, too? Interesting. I mostly remembered during the day, but if I got up in the night to use the bathroom I definitely forgot about it.

    2. It was at her apartment in Shanghai, but I'm not sure if that's standard all over Shangai or just in particular buildings or parts of the city.

  7. I am always fascinated by the faraway outline of Saba from Shoal Bay West on Anguilla. Could you see Anguilla from Saba?

    1. No, we couldn't see Anguilla from Saba. I suspect that it's too low-lying to see, even in good conditions. We did see Statia, St, Maarten, and St. Barths, though.

  8. How have I never heard of Saba before?!? It looks beautiful and you make me want to add it to my "places I will probably never have the money to travel but wish I could" list!

    1. Saba is *tiny*. You pretty much have to look for it before you hear anything about it.

  9. Thanks Emily, we have thought about doing this as well, combining it with an Anguilla trip. Looking at your pictures it reminded me of staying at Ladera in the hills of St. Lucia.

    The toilet paper thing is daunting. Who could even imagine!!

    1. Yes, there were moments I was reminded of the Pitons in St. Lucia.

      these Sabans are pretty hard core when it comes to their eco-efforts!

  10. The golden bird of paradise was so unusual. Love the story of the engineer's correspondence course. Your pictures are great, as usual. Hurry with more, please.

  11. You know that someday the honeyman and I are going to be trying to decide where to vacation, and I'm going to suggest Anguilla and come and re-read ALL of these posts so I know all the coolest things to see and do. Treetop table dining is a thing that I want, dammit.

  12. Thanks for posting your experiences in Saba. We are visiting next month. Kind of reminds me of Union Island were it more "developed"! We have experienced the toilet paper "issue" on numerous visits to Costa Rica. Old style septic tanks are designed for human "waste" and do best without any type of paper products. It is not easy to get used to ;-) though not too different from boats.


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