Norm! (Not Norman, just Norm!)
Trip Start Apr 01, 2010
18Trip End May 06, 2010
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But first back to St. Maarten and yes, more soccer...
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 28
SIMPSON BAY, ST. MAARTEN
I spent the early part of the day at Mullet Bay (yes, that's really the name) and then at about 2:00p hopped a bus to Phillipsburg to find somewhere to watch the Barca/Inter Champions League semifinal. I ended up at the Firehouse soley because as I was walking by, the bartender was yelling at the TV and cursing the Inter manager. The place was pretty much empty with the exception of two Spanish guys but the entertainment potential from the bartender was more than enough to draw me in.
I ordered a Heineken Light but it turns out it was in the cooler at the bar on the other side of the place, so he had to walk over and miss about a minute of the game. I switched to Carib, in the near cooler, after that.
When Barca scored to pull w/in one on aggregate the bartender & the Spanish guys went nuts. Then Barca appeared to tie it up and one of the Spanish guys actually threw his chair down in celebration but it was called back for a hand ball.
The game ended 1-0 Barca but Inter advanced to the final on aggregate 3-2. Both the Spanish guys and the bartender made clear they would be rooting for Bayern in the final.
I left the Firehouse and walked along the boardwalk. This part of Phillipsburg is strange in that it seems to only exist to cater to the cruise ships. By 5:00, ships fully loaded, most of the shops along the boardwalk & Frontstreet were closing down and the bars were basically empty.
I was walking along Backstreet when I heard a bunch of marching band drums so I walked down an alley and ended up in a little courtyard to find a bunch of kids and their frazzled band leader rehearsing for Carnival. The poor guy finally got the last kid lined up and the entire first half of the group was all jumbled up again. It was hilarious. When they finally got organized they were pretty good.
After that it was back on the bus to Simpson Bay and early night before my flight to Saba the next morning.
FRIDAY, APRIL 29
Saba is unlike anyplace I've ever been or seen. It's kind of like a mix of the island from Lost (minus the crazy supernatural stuff), a small town from the 60's and Cheers. The island doesn't have a volcano, it is a volcano. A big peak out of the sea with only one area of flat land - and that's where you'll find the runway... although, it's not much of one. It's apparently the world's shortest commercial runway. And there's no leway. Each end is bordered by a sheer cliff. For as harrowing as the landing was, taking off is supposed to be even crazier. You don't so much take off, you fall off. I'll try and get a picture of it before I leave.
Winair is the only commercial airline to fly into Saba and they fly tiny planes. You can actually look through the cockpit door & front windshield the entire 12 minutes of the flight. Somewhat comforting (although, probably a little more concerning) is the fact that a fire truck is waiting to greet you on the runway.
There was a cab at the airport waiting to take me to the hotel and the ride was a rollercoaster. Up and down. Hairpin turns. Start and stop. Cars seemingly coming right at you. The first town you pass through is called Hell's Gate and it's not hard to imagine why. There's only one main road here, called "The Road" although it's also known as "The road that couldn't be built" because all the engineers thought there was no way to do it. It wasn't completed until the '60's. There are six towns in all on Saba and my hotel is in Windwardside, the capital is called The Bottom.
This place really is the land that time forgot. The population is about 1,500 and everyone knows everyone (hence the Cheers reference). Pretty much all the homes are cottages that look exactly alike - white with green shutters and orange roofs. The real rebels have reddish shutters.
Most people don't even lock their doors. When I checked in I was told that people often return their keys after a couple of days so they don't lose them. Not quite sure I can adjust that quickly. They've got a rec room with a couple of computers and a fridge with water, soda & beers and the thing is never locked. I did see a police car the other day, but I'd imagine the guy isn't very busy.
There are a few bars & restaurants in Windwardside and you have to make a reservation for dinner so they know how much food to prepare. I was talking to someone on my dive boat and they said they didn't make a reservation their first night and when they got to the restaurant they were told: "We have one risotto and one steak." Hey, at least one of them got to choose. The other catch with the restaurants is that they're only open certain nights and even if it's a night they're usually open, they sometimes randomly close anyway.
A lot of the restaurants have theme nights. My hotel has a weekly movie night at its restaurant. They grill up chicken and burgers, put up a big screen near the pool/restaurant/bar and a bunch of people (hotel guests & locals) come and watch. It's the only "movie theater" on the island. I figured with an early morning dive on Friday, I'd lay low and watch "The Tooth Fairy". Yup, living large, I know. Well, after the movie I got my indoctrination into Saba at night.
I figured I'd have a quick post-movie beer at the bar and ended up talking to a guy decked out in a UNC Rasheed Wallace jersey & a Yankees hat. He's a native Saban who went to school in the US. The bartender is also the co-owner of the hotel, so a few of his friends were around for the movie and drinks. I made the mistake of asking about the big jug with pineapple and what I thought was water, only to find out that it was vodka and quite simply the most delicious vodka drink ever. So, my new Saban buddies and I had a few shots of vodka/pineapple and a few more beers. Then someone broke out the homemade rum. You might imagine where this is heading.
An hour or so later I was ready to call it quits only to find out they were closing up the hotel bar and everyone was moving up the street (or more accurately around a few bends) to a place called Saba's Treasure. How could I pass that up? So along I went. But first we created our own walk-up window at another place called Swinging Doors and grabbed a few beers right through the window. Since Saba's treasure was only about 50 yards away, we hadn't finished our beers yet but in Saba, that doesn't matter. We walked right in with our walk-up beers and had a seat at the bar. Then Wim, my hotel's owner went back behind the bar and started mixing up some shots. The guy who owned this bar just kind of hung out. Then Yankee hat guy went back and started mixing up more shots. It's kind of a serve yourself deal, I guess.
After a couple of rounds it was off to some guy's birthday party at a place called "Midway". They aren't exactly very creative with names around here. Midway is midway between Windwardside and The Bottom. From Midway, it was off to the only good pool tables in town at a place called Lollipops. At this point Wim's main goal was apparently to make me miss my morning dive. With each round of drinks came a, "You're not diving." or "No way you're diving." and a slightly sinister laugh.
At about 1:30 we made our way back to Windwardside and I called it a night - totally dreading the early morning wake-up for my two dives. And they were tough. Diving hungover is not recommended. I did get a bit of a jolt though when this barracuda swam by.
The theme nights continued... on Friday, Swinging Doors, home of the walk up window from the night before has a chicken & ribs BBQ. Now, the catch is, that's all they serve, BBQ'd chicken &/or ribs. The owner, Eddie, handles the BBQ and his wife, Pat, bartends. While waiting for a table I had a seat at the bar and spent some time chatting with Pat. It's really interesting hearing how all these people ended up living in Saba. Then from there, most of the town heads to Scout's Place for a bizarre karaoke night. Still feeling hungover and facing an early dive again Saturday morning I didn't last too long.
The last two days have been spent diving and trekking around the town, which is exhauting. These streets are steeper than you could ever imagine. But the diving has been really good. Here's some video... You can get a good idea of some of the currents we've dealt with by watching this poor turtle. The second one is a cool stingray. Just click on the pictures and it'll open the video.
Sunday I had dinner with a couple from my dive boat and on the way out of the restaurant I ran into one of the guys from my first night. Turns out his brother owns the restaurant. I stayed for another beer and then we made our way back to the only bar that was open on Sunday night... the good ol' Swinging Doors. This time we were joined at the bar by Eddie, the owner, who was full of stories and so much fun to listen to. Although, he's a native Saban and has the strangest accent so I'm not sure I caught everything he said. But with my hungover dive day fresh in my mind, it was back to the hotel by midnight.
Hard to believe that I'm heading home in a few days. Going from Saba to NY is going to be the most ridiculous culture shock ever.
p.s... They've also got huge iguanas roaming around