Day 4 - October 5, 2013 - Saba
By Claire Allum, Archaeologist /Anthropologist
Co-ordinates: 17° 26’ 04” N 63° 15’ 86” W
Weather: blue sky, a few cumulous clouds and no wind
Air Temperature: 28.2 C, 82 F
After the green hills of Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands, Saba surprised me. It soared out of the deep blue sea like a giant, rocky fortress. Its steepness extended far below sea level and Silver Explorer had to drift, as she had no anchor long enough to reach the sea floor.
Even though the Expedition Team began disembarkation early, the day was 28° C (82° F) under a clear blue sky as our Zodiacs headed to shore. My guide was Gloria, a rambunctious woman whose father had been an important politician on the island and had helped build its airport (Yrausquin Airport). Since flat land is so scarce and valuable on the island, this airport has the shortest commercial runway in the world.
Gloria loaded seven of us into her van. We set off along one of the steepest and most winding roads I have ever been on, heading for the capital village of the island, The Bottom.
In total, Gloria took us to three villages on the island. All of them were clusters of whitewashed buildings with green trim and orange roofs surrounded by thick green tropical forest. They were all nestled in flattish areas and up the lower slopes of the rugged Saban peaks. Only the elementary school was perched on top of a craggy cliff with a magnificent view of the sea. I learned later that the island has a number of stringent rules that govern the appearance of houses, the upkeep of motor vehicles, and the general cleanliness of the island. The result is a dramatic, attractive landscape and villages with an almost Mediterranean feel.
On our tour, we visited some of Saba’s most important buildings and learned about life on the island. I photographed the dramatic blue mural over the altar of the Roman Catholic Church in The Bottom. The majority of students at the Saba School of Medicine, which lies between the Bottom and St. Thomas, are from Canada and the USA. From Zion’s Hill, known locally as Hell’s Gate—named by the men who built it in Saba’s hot climate—we got a magnificent view of the runway, Saba’s cliffs and the surrounding sea. My island tour ended at the Windwardside Plaza where I had a coffee and listened to a local band.
The highlight for me was the Harry L. Johnson Museum in Windwardside. It was in an old, traditional Saban house and contained artifacts that were used by early settlers. The bedroom held a chamber pot and an old-style ceramic wash basin. The bed linens were all decorated with drawn-thread embroidery (the famous Saba lace). Oil lamps lit the rooms (full-time electricity on the island was not available until 1970). In the kitchen there was what I know a, a tipiti - a long, narrow basket used to squeeze prussic acid out of grated manioc before it is processed, cooked and eaten. The Europeans would have learned the technique from the original indigenous inhabitants of the island. Unfortunately, none of their descendants remain.
Saba is a beautiful and interesting island and I hope to return one day.
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