We have arranged a wake-up call but both John, and I are up so much earlier than the annoying ‘bleep bleep’ of the hotel phone when the call finally arrives at 7 am. Our room is a ‘Garden view room’ and we have paid for a ‘view’, which is across a parking lot and bustling main road into Marigot. However, it seems that the small and large boat cranes and the early-morning crashing of broken glass into garbage dumpsters are the only ‘views’ that we have paid for. Oh well, it was only one night and quite a restless one at that. We shower and head down to a breakfast of coffee, fresh fruit, toast, scrambled eggs: a very familiar followsummer routine. We grab a table and nosh, the view an unencumbered ‘Ocean View’ across the pool and out to the moored yachts and sailboats, bobbing gently in the Sunday morning sun. We will have to wait a bit this morning for a taxi to the airport and Saba (it is Sunday), and when one finally arrives, we discover that Sunday also affects the taxi rates too. Tariffs are much higher it seems on a lazy Caribbean Sunday.
The airport is virtually deserted at 9:00 am and we join others in a short line, going to Saba, Nevis, St. Thomas or St. Kitts on the short puddle jumpers they call airplanes here. We get hand-written boarding passes and walk across the tarmac to our waiting plane and take a deep breath and hold it as we taxi out and take off for our 9-minute flight to Saba. Yikes! The plane is jammed with a total of twenty travelers AND the two pilots. Some Sabians are apparently returning home and Dutch tourists, like us, who are snapping pictures and wondering if we are going to make it or not. We bank left and head right down onto a very short runway, miraculously carved out of the rugged, volcanic mountainside. We roar right to the end of the very end and look wayyyyyyy dowwwwnnnn over the cliff into the blue Caribbean.
Welcome to Saba
We gather our luggage and hop into our waiting cab. A lovely, chatty man named George drives us to the dive shop to organize our gear for our dive this afternoon…it is only 10:00 am. As we are leaving, a cab roars up to the single-room terminal building, a frantic woman rushes out, tremendously upset about missing the flight that is now taxiing down the runway as it heads to its next destination. A call on the radio, the plane slows and turns around, and, of course, she gets on. Just like hailing the bus before it pulls away from the curb, right? And as John points out…probably a breach of the rules because the propellers just kept on going throughout.
All set for our afternoon dive, George continues the windy road towards our hotel for the next few days, The Queens Gardens. Perched high above a craggy gorge, with sweeping views toward the ocean and the tiny red-roofed village of The Bottom, we settle into our comfortable suite with an open-air Jacuzzi, four-poster bed, iPod enabled sound system and flat screen television. And of course, the view. We have an hour to explore a bit before we are being picked up and taken to the dive boat and our dive this afternoon leaving from Fort Bay. The hotel is lovely and appears to be quite quiet. An open bar terrace leads down to a swimming pool, surrounded by beautiful red-roofed and green and white shuttered spacious rooms. And again, all commanding the expansive view across the hamlet of The Bottom and towards the Caribbean. We have lunch in the hotel restaurant, quick and simple club sandwich with a Caribbean edge for me and a fresh snapper sandwich for John. The staff is all Dutch, hailing mostly from in and around Amsterdam and all share that blonde, rosy-cheeked and polite approach that only the Dutch seem to have.
A new cab driver arrives to take us to the Dive Boat and we wind our way down into Fort Bay and the only harbour (and are told, the only gas station) on the entire island, and head out for a very quick 10-minute ride to our mooring point within Saba’s Marine Park. We are a large Canadian contingent today and including divemaster and staff, we only number 9 in total. We get into our wetsuits, BCDs ready and fins on and jump in. The other four divers in my group are already in and underneath waiting for me at the mooring line. I adjust, change, adjust again, roll over on my back to kick to the mooring line to go down and PANIC. Kelly, the dive master, tells me just to ‘go down’ and not bother wasting energy and air getting to the mooring line. I attempt to submerge but am not weighted enough to let me drop. Can’t adjust my mask, people are waiting for me down below…….I bail. As I fin-kick back to the boat, my heart is beating like a drum, and I haul myself out of the water.
I sit with Fred, the boat master, who assures me that there is no shame in bailing. We talk about what brought him and his wife Kelly to the Caribbean via Tortola from Ottawa and share other dive stories from followsummer, and wait for the others to return 55 minutes later… My ego is still smarting.
We have all panicked during our individual dive histories, but this seemed to be additionally so. I decide at this point that there should be some ultimate enjoyment in this process and don’t want to stress myself out over the next few days and especially with two deep dives scheduled. I ultimately decide not to continue diving for the three days we are here in Saba. Fred has told me that ten days ago there were massive storms in the vicinity, and the swells stirred up the bottom quite significantly, and visibility continues to be murky, at best. John confirms this on surfacing and confirms my decision not to continue the diving. If we were dealing with incredible underwater scenery, full of colour and wildlife, then this certainly would have swayed my decision to continue. It is true that this island is ranked number 6 in the world as one of the great places to dive but if I am stressed and cannot see anything, what is the point?
George, the Taxi Guy, is our driver again tonight, and we witness an incredible sunset slowly sinking between Thais Hill and St. John’s Flat. (which, contrary to the name, is NOT flat – the only part of Saba that is flat is the airport runway). We wind our way into Windwardside and our dinner at‘The Scout’: a honky-tonk pub cum restaurant that caters to, coincidentally, all the diving groups that pass this way. I am disappointed about bailing on the diving but mostly at myself and continue to discuss our options over our rather ho-hum dinner. By 9:30, John is asleep, and I am finishing up a travel article on Paris, our next destination in May with our niece, Kim.
I jump in the water, heart pounding. The swell is bigger than I thought. Greg and I talked about this first dive a number of times over the last few days, and we have both seen that the other is apprehensive – our last dives were 1 year ago in Hawai’i, in perfect conditions. Today’s are not.
I panic – I can’t get my mask to fit, and it keeps filling with water. But I am sinking nicely, and the minute I get under the surface, the swells are irrelevant. I get to the bottom of the mooring line, and we wait – for Greg. After a couple of minutes, Kelly arrives, sans Greg, and I realize he must have bailed. I am disappointed, and wonder if I could have done anything to help, but know that if I had waited on the surface for him, I would have bailed too.
I put Greg out of my mind – or try to. One of the things that I really love about diving is that your life depends on being in the moment – if you think about all those things that normally occupy your thoughts, you can get into real trouble. And, to a large extent, I let myself go and relax and enjoy the dive. Good Pisces that I am.
The dive is murky, but we see some good things. Despite which, I will be very disappointed if the diving tomorrow and Tuesday is not better than today.
Other than my mask, which continues to fill with water regularly, the dive goes well. The best test of all, how long your air lasts, goes well because my air lasts at least as long as everybody else’s. The minute I am clear to rise to the surface, tho, I bolt up, because I am chilled. (I dove in a shorty wetsuit, and found the last fifteen minutes “cool”.) And through the dive, if I’ve thought of anything else, I’ve wondered what happened to Greg.
Just another Sunday in the blue Caribbean. Welcome to Saba!