After packing in a bit more fun at carnival and the beach, and saying sad goodbyes to dear friends, we were finally ready to pull ourselves away from St. Martin and be on the move again. Before heading too far south, we explored two nearby islands that we had missed on our previous travels: Saint-Barthélemy (aka St. Barts) and Saba.
Saint Barts is a playground for the rich and famous. The luxury stores along the waterfront in the capital of Gustavia make this abundantly clear. We tied up Lagniappe next to mega yachts with tenders larger than Pura Vida and went about strolling the streets and window shopping. Something that struck us right away was the stylish, euro-chic vibe of the locals. For the first time in our cruising life, we felt a bit under-dressed for the occasion. Easy to fix! Before our next trip to town we spruced up a bit, then with a street-side table from which to people watch, and couple of glasses of chilled rosé in our hands, we fit right in.
We wanted to see as much of the island as possible in a short time, so we rented a scooter. The scooter rental place was out of the small ones so we got the larger, more powerful one and decided to share. No problem, bigger is better, right? This was our first-ever scooter, so why not go big? We would later regret this decision.
Did I mention that St. Barts is a mountainous island with very few flat, straight roads? Off we went, zipping around hills and curves in terrified excitement. In a single afternoon, we were able to traverse most of the island and take in some spectacular views, and sample a few fancy eateries.
Everything was going great, until we met a hill that our scooter could not conquer. Up, up we went, slowing down each second despite having the throttle wide open. Traffic was building up behind us as nobody could pass on this winding road. Then, in slow motion, we came to a stop in the middle of the street surrounded by the smell of burnt clutch. As gracefully as you can imagine (not really), we got off the scooter and tried to keep it from falling. Gravity had other plans. Down she went into the rock ledge next to us, shattering the side mirror in the process. Concerned locals were getting out of their cars to offer us help, but fortunately, only our egos were bruised. We turned the scooter around and made our way straight to the rental shop; this part of the tour was over!
The next day we moved Pura Vida from the main port of Gustavia to the secluded, pristine bay of Anse Colombier. Just a couple of miles away from town, this anchorage is the antithesis of glitz. There are no shops, hotels, or even houses – except for the ruins of a hilltop mansion once owned by the Rockefellers. It’s the perfect place to relax, go hiking, lay on the beach, and enjoy snorkeling in crystal-clear waters.
Our last stop in St. Barts was the uninhabited island of Île Fourchue. We were fortunate to have this entire island and nature reserve all to ourselves. The isolation was refreshing and the diving spectacular. It seems hard to believe that such secluded sites exist just a few miles from civilization.
Our journey continued to the tiny Dutch island of Saba. Mainly a potentially active volcano, it is only five square miles and is the highest point in all the Netherlands with an elevation of 2,910 feet. There are no beaches. Almost the entire shoreline is rocky cliffs towering out of the water.
The main town is inaccurately named “The Bottom”. We felt this had to be some sort of cruel Dutch joke as our lungs and legs nearly exploded on the walk up to The Bottom from the port. It is only one mile, but it’s a climb of over 1,200 feet. Fortunately, we were rewarded at the end our hike at the stunning Queen’s Gardens Resort with a delicious lunch and a bartender who prided himself in crafting exotic gin and tonics.
After lunch, we were done walking. A cab driver took us on a tour of the rest of the island and regaled us with its history along the way. Saba has strict building regulations that require all roofs to be a specific shade of red and all houses white. While this adds to the charm of the place, it also creates a sense of artificiality and lacks the vibrant colors we have become accustomed to in the Caribbean.
Another curious aspect of Saba is that is hosts a medical school that increases the island’s population by over 50% when in session. Visiting when school is out can leave you with a ghost town feeling, and we found that we were the only patrons everywhere we stopped. At one bar, the surly old owner told us that he had no limes for our drinks because “we only get limes when the students are here”. Go figure, no limes for us!
We were eager to get back to the Caribbean we know and love, so the following day, we set sail for our ill-fated and bouncy ride to Saint Eustatius, aka Statia. But that’s a story for the next blog.