St. Maarten

Brother Riley of The Bottom

Grey and threatening, the low rolling clouds are billowing across the sky

as I get up around 8 this morning. John has, as usual, been up earlier than me, coffee had and checking email at the computer.  Yes, even here in Saba, in this remote part of the world, we have complete internet access. I mention that it looks like rain and he replies with ‘it’s been pouring since I got up…”. He his heading out for his first dive at 10:30 and I plan a rainy morning of reading and lounging…what vacation is all about.

The rainy clouds lift and I wander through occasional mistings of rain down, down into The Bottom to explore and find a quaint, red-roofed village literally ‘at the bottom’ of the craggy gorge. Lots of construction work happening, people out cleaning their walks, a solitary young woman sits writing in the church. I wander a bit, saying good morning to practically everyone in this tiny village on Saba.

Brother Riley of The Bottom 

I am stopped on my return walk by a curious local gentleman who reminds me somewhat of Gandhi. I am quickly introduced to Brother Riley, a local Bottom-ite who is now retired from various Sabian jobs over the course of his 79 years. He proceeds to ask me if I am Dutch because “I sure look Dutch”. I assure him that no, I am not Dutch but in fact Canadian. He obviously wants to tell me a story so I patiently and politely listen to this very spry old man with a quick grin and a single gold tooth flashing in the hot noon sun. Brother Riley explains to me that he ran a boat service some 50+ years ago before there was a harbour and an airport on Saba. One of his claims to fame (he appears to have several,  but ultimately infamous with island police as a drunkard and a brawler until he “found the good Lord above and He changed my life…”) was that he had the pleasure of bringing the then teen-aged Princess Juliana to shore from her ship when she was visiting the island from Holland all those years ago. “I sat right beside her.” As Queen  Juliana of the Netherlands, she returned years later to visit Saba and at her walkabout in The Bottom, Brother Riley broke through the crowd and, it appears all protocol aside, thrust his hand out at the Queen, introduced himself as her boatman of so many years ago and asked whether she remembered him? ‘Of course’, was her reply.  Whether she did, in fact, remember him is perhaps all in Brother Riley’s fading and colourful memory but it is indeed a lovely memory. And to prove his story,  he invites me into his modest home (through the front door, he insists) and shows me a picture of Queen Juliana shaking his hand in the crowd all those years later. His living room is crowded with many pictures of his children and of those of students whom he has befriended at the local Medical Univerity up the road. Some Dutch, some American and some Canadian. Amongst the many and jumbled memories are numerous open bibles and other religious paraphernalia. Brother Riley it appears has 6 or 7 bibles on the go, all apparently abandoned and left mid-verse. I thank him politely and wish him a good day and as I  attempt to move away, he shouts out to me ‘just ask anyone about Brother Riley, they will know me’ and indeed I do later in the day and that evening and yes, Brother Riley is truly infamous in The Bottom.

I grab a quick chicken sandwich and a Heineken on the front veranda of the Family Deli and Bakery, read my book and watch the noon-time comings and goings in The Bottom. Not too busy but certainly enough to keep me amused for a good hour or so before I huff and puff myself back up the very steep roadway to the hotel and a nap and to update our blog. The rain continues to mist with the occasional break of sun. John is home by 3:30 from his dive and we plan our evening and dinner at ‘Brigadoon’ in Windwardside.

A Boozy, Floozy Kind of Way

The drive is unusually foggy and misty but we feel in good hands with George the Taxi Guy. Some of the staff from the Hotel are sharing the taxi with us tonight to Brigadoon and we arrive just before 7 pm. There has been a diving presentation at 5:30 at the restaurant and 6 people from the dive boat, including the dive master Dick and his wife, are having dinner at Brigadoon(there aren’t that many places to eat on Saba). The 50 something wife-of-owner-and-front-of-house-cum-waitress, waltzes up to us, toothy grin and all, welcoming us in a boozy, floozy kind of way. I mention that the weather is appropriate for Brigadoon: All misty and foggy on the highlands…she doesn’t get it. I suspect that the evening isn’t going to go well. We order our meal and a very nice Chateauneuf du Pape, then proceed to wait over an hour and a quarter for our apps to arrive: a simple green salad for me and John the seafood chowder…how difficult is that? The mains arrive a half hour later and it is not what I thought the boozy, floozy Tricia had described to me. Of course they come around and ask how everything is and of course, I tell them. does not recommend Brigadoon on the island of Saba. 1 star for the food and less than 1 for the service and ambiance.

The evening ends exactly as it started this morning: A driving rain continues to fall from low hanging, mountain-clinging clouds, blowing and raining most of the entire night.


The Netherlands
A City Break in Amsterdam: Things to See, Do, and Eat
St. Maarten
First Day: Scuba Diving in Saba
St. Maarten
One Night in St. Maarten

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