Saba, a Caribbean island northeast of Puerto Rico, is an ideal location for scuba diving. Saba is part of a volcanic chain, some of which has appeared in historical time. Seafarers brought goats and breadfruit to this island in earlier centuries.
Full Text :COPYRIGHT 1997 Kalmbach Publishing Company
With a last look at the dormant volcano that made the island of Saba, I slipped beneath the warm waves of the Eastern Caribbean with Hank and George. The last time I'd seen my diving buddies in scuba gear we were in colder surroundings: flailing in a stiff North Atlantic current 15 miles out from New York, preparing to go down to the capsized wreck of a World War I armored cruiser. The sky above was gunmetal-gray, the ocean surface was swelling about two feet up and down and beneath us lay 130 feet of cold, murky seawater.
This sunny July day five years later could not have been a greater contrast. Saba is a scuba paradise. The relatively unsullied reefs and rock pinnacles around the island are a coffee-table book of unfamiliar colors and creatures. We felt we had entered a Jacques Cousteau film, except this time we were the cameramen.
After we returned from our morning dive, my friends and I would take long, hot hikes, exploring Saba's volcanic face -- which to me, as a volcano weenie, is just as exotic as the underwater landscape. It is one of the many volcanic islands in the Caribbean. Over millions of years, they have formed at the seam between two chunks of seafloor, the Caribbean and Atlantic plates. The Atlantic Plate noses beneath the Caribbean Plate at a rate of about three-quarters of an inch per year.
The result is several arc-shaped lines of volcanic islands. Saba lies at the northern tip of the currently active arc, which stretches 375 miles from Saba to Grenada. A half-dozen of the islands have erupted in historical time, including a submarine volcano near Grenada with the charming name Kick 'em Jenny. One of these, the 1902 eruption of Mont Pelee on Martinique, killed 28,000 people.
From the air, Saba's volcanic nature is immediately obvious: The 1,312-foot runway of the tiny airport is built across a massive tongue of lava lapping the ocean at the northeast corner of the island. The tip of this flow is one of the very few flat places on the island. Take a step in any direction just about anywhere else, and you're getting a free aerobic workout.
One hot afternoon we set out for Fort Bay, a small port on the southwest side of the island. Someone had recently bulldozed a rough road along the shore from the port east to a place called Comer Point. We walked the road to Corner Point and started to ascend the slope up to Windwardside, a town 1,800 vertical feet overhead.
At first the slope was gentle and grassy but it quickly became a steep, rocky ridge bordered by two deeply incised canyons. We began to enter the kingdom of the infamous Saban goat -- an alien intruder brought here by seafarers of yore. Eroded pathways strewn with dung pellets crisscrossed the ridge, Small groups of goats lazed in the shade of the occasional tree or pile of lava boulders along the ridge.
To us, the goats were a welcome sign of life in a hot, gray, dusty landscape. To the Sabans they are an occasional nuisance and a steady source of stew meat. In the backyard of a house overlooking the slope, we saw a deer hanging from the noose of an animal snare. This served as a warning to that other cloven-hoofed offender: Forage in our gardens at your own risk.
At the top of the ridge, we stumbled across a dilapidated section of stonepaved footpath leading off into the brush. Before 1964, when the serpentine road bisecting Saba was completed, people hauled all their needs and belongings along these footpaths -- food, pianos, water, stoves, furniture, whatever.
The Sabans are resourceful and independent by necessity and are quite proud of their road. It was once declared an impossibility and still referred to as "the road that couldn't be built." But after taking a correspondence course in civil engineering, some Sabans strung their road along the sides of the volcano. It seems to hang on the slopes with only the lowest of curbs between passing cars and 1,000-foot drops into the abyss. Blind corners on the road are not for the faint of heart.
When I asked an elderly man, Mr. Lynch, what life was like before the road, he said, "People were stronger in those days."
They must have been. Day after day, he said, the settlers carried water in buckets from springs at the base of the sea cliffs for themselves and their animals, until somebody figured out that they could funnel rainwater from their shingled roofs into underground cisterns.
The only place where water isn't hard to come by lies above the towns where people actually live, in the tropical rain forest on the peak of Mount Scenery. This particular hike attracts the most tourists. The trip involves walking a steep trail that includes an incredible 1,064 stone steps. The tip-top of the island lies 2,855 feet above sea level. Here, moss wrings moisture from the trade winds, sustaining the dense vegetation. At the very top lies the Elfin Forest, a verdant cap of old-growth rain forest canopy. It is the only part of the island people have never cut or altered.
At the edge of the overgrown crater at the top of Mount Scenery, there's a rock where you can sit to catch your breath and bask in the cool trade winds. From this vantage point, gazing out over Windwardside into the blue Caribbean Sea, Saba feels very much like a small rock lost in a big ocean.
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Pendick, Daniel. "Saba: hiking a volcano in the sea." Earth Feb. 1997: 76+. Academic OneFile. Web. 17 Dec. 2009.
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