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Catherine Fischer

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Saba, part I [Jun. 24th, 2004|07:01 am]
Catherine Fischer
[mood |happyhappy]

Saba June 04

Midsemester break, and I decided to go diving in Saba with the Ross Dive Club. I am so very glad I did! I’d longed to return to Saba since the first time I went, in February of last year, and this was my chance.

Friday: finish class, rush home, pack. Have some time to kill. Email, try unsuccessfully to study. Candy shows up, and I show her where I’m hiding everything she’ll need to care for my kitties over the weekend. Get a call from Terri, the Dive Club prez, who I’m supposed to be hitching a ride with to the airport – her apartment has been broken into, and I’ll need to find an alternate way there. I pay Candy to drive me in her ratty Rossmobile – she needs the cash, and I’d rather give it to her than a taxi-driver. Meet the group, almost none of whom I know, and relay the news.

Not a single 5th, 6th, or 7th semester student going (apart from myself), but Katie Dymek, my new friend this semester and my planned dive buddy (she’s in 4th) is there, as is Brent Fischer – someone I’ve always liked, but never had the time to talk with (he’s also in 4th). Megan (my friend from first-semester days) is coming, and we enthuse together about the adventure ahead of us. Nicole is there – crazy, impetuous 4th-semester whose punked-out hairdo I’ve always admired and whose fiery conversation I’ve always enjoyed. Other people I really don’t know well, but whose names I’ve since learned: Angela (delightfully pointed wit), Andrea (who brought her parents and sister – cool Father’s Day present), Dominique (who actually looks good in a local braid-job, unlike 99% of all Caucasian people), Allison (who, despite being a novice diver, had the courage to come), Tina (the girlfriend of a very cool gentleman I enjoyed talking with at Alliance Français – she has skin I would kill for), Veronica (with a sparkling, sharp sense of humor – played well off her neighbor), Brian (her neighbor – a total ham, who cracked us up all weekend), and Kat (saucy wench, and fun to flirt with). Terri skids in the door, we check in, pay our exit fees, and head for the departure lounge – the plane is ON TIME! Loading us up (a chartered flight) takes no time at all, and we’re off! As the wheels leave the runway, we all cheer – goodbye, St. Kitts!

The flight direct to Saba takes 20 minutes, perhaps – it feels like it’s over almost as soon as it starts, as we’re all talking excitedly about the weekend ahead of us. Saba looms into view, and we all lean forward in our seats in eager anticipation of landing on the world’s shortest airstrip. There are the jagged rocks…close, closer, closer, TOO CLOSE…and we’re down! Break instantly, turn right, and stop! We all cheer wildly – nothing like a little adrenalin rush from an E-ticket ride to perk up the mood! The pilots smile graciously, and we’re offloaded in just a few minutes, through the world’s cutest airport, and loaded up into two “buses” (minivans). Up the long steep winding grade of Hell’s Gate (they’re resurfacing the cement road, so only half of the road is functional – which led to a number of automotive rearrangement puzzles en route), to the narrow part traversing the rainforest-cloaked ravines, to the beautiful village of Windwardside, at 1200 feet above sea level.

Saba is all verticality, vertiginous climbs and sheer drops and a sense of space like nowhere else – the eagle’s eyrie, the top of the world. It is a steep hard rock launching straight up from the Caribbean sea, and is a breathtaking place. We turned at the world’s most wonderful Catholic church (see photos on my website), past the melancholy little cemetery, and climbed Booby Hill, turned left and climbed further up to The Level (as the name implies, one of the few places on the island that’s actually level). We were staying in Mountain Spring Villas: three 3-bedroom cottages with a phenomenal view over the edge, past the rocky barren outcrop of St. John’s, to the sea far beneath us, misty and muted. Unpacked, sorted out the logistics of rooming together, and dressed for dinner; Manny and Garvis, our taxi drivers, took us down to dinner at Brigadoon (which I remember fondly from my first visit). Just to enjoy the beauty of the evening, I and several of the others walk down rather than riding; we run into some friendly medical school students on the way, and talk for a bit. Down the steep hill, past the pockets of volcanic rock and jungly wilderness, past the forlorn backyard graves, the nodding flowers, the old stone walls and red roofs, past the goat pen ringed with goat skulls on the fence posts, into the long purple shadows of evening in Windwardside. Mrs. Marguerite Hassell, a sweet woman tiny as an apple, in her eighties, was sitting in the warm glow of her shop, which none of us could resist the lure of. Spent a few distracted moments perusing the clothing, paintings of some of Saba’s natural wonders, sampled her homemade “Saba Spice” – a fantastic concoction of rum and local spices which I became instantly addicted to on my previous visit – and found it to surpass any I’d previously tried. Promised her we’d come back to acquire provisions (which most of us did). Past the cemetery again, with its tiled graves, turned at the church, with its open door and amazingly comforting aura, a few more steps and we’ve arrived!

Dinner is boisterous, festive; the food and drink is fantastic, and Trish (waitress and one of the owners) entertained us all with her jovial banter (and a few very bad – and usually dirty – jokes). Evening descends and the group is closer-knit, and I am in love with this island all over again.

Manny and Garvis offer to take us back home, but a number of us have twisted each other’s arms to go dancing at Galaxy, the local disco – it’s a 3-minute walk. En route, I am having clothing issues; having lost so damn much weight, my pants won’t stay up! The silliness of the situation is not lost on me or the rest of the group; I end up borrowing Brent’s belt, and some VERY bad jokes ensue. I have to sit down to wait out the laughing fit, gasping for air.

Galaxy! A smoky little joint, reminiscent of a roadside rum shop roofed over, with a dance floor attached. It is somewhat less smoky on the dance floor; we all go out and get crazy! One of the lovely things about hanging out with other adults: men who dance. Both the guys are out there shaking it with the rest of us, camping it up and bumping and grinding, all of us laughing. I have a fantastic time – gods, I love dancing! It gets on toward midnight, and most of us catch a ride up to the top of the hill with Manny, who’ll be schlepping us all down to the boat at the foot of the island in the morning; Tina and Nicole have decided they’re going to spend more time in the company of the medical students they’re hanging with, and will walk up later. I talk with Katie in bed a bit (we’re sharing a bed), and fall deeply asleep.

In the morning, I am coming out of the bathroom, ready to hike down the hill to Tropics Café for breakfast, when there’s a commotion, and there are Tina and Nicole, frazzled, bloodshot and in the same clothes they were wearing the night before. “You were quiet; we didn’t hear you come in,” says Allison. “That’s because we didn’t fucking make it back until just now,” says Nicole. Apparently, neither Tina nor Nicole remembered the name of the place we were staying at, and the nice medical students drove them all over the island, looking, before giving up and letting the girls crash for a couple of hours on their sofa. (Later, Nicole let us know that the nice medical students wouldn’t let them walk around The Level in the dark, despite the absolute safety of the island, which is why they couldn’t find their way back.) In morning light, they of course found us, but they were in a state! I expressed my sympathetic condolences, and headed for brekkie.

Alone, I had the morning scenery and sounds to myself. Mountain warblers sang from the cover of the African tulip trees; bananaquits darted from the flamboyant trees into the wilderness of the kopjes. The lichens on the ancient stone walls caught the quietly unfolding light, like a mystery unraveling, an old story in the retelling. I immersed myself in the mood of the place, and reveled in it.

Halfway down the hill, I ran across a goat calling desperately by the side of the road. She looked like one of the goats we'd seen in the goat pen at the bottom of the hill, just as one enters the village - the pen that has goat skulls decorating the fence-posts all the way around. "It's down here, honey," I said. And she followed me, bleating plaintively all the way! Dashing ahead, bleating over the wall to the right, running across the road to the left and bleating into the bushes - it was hilarious. Finally, when we got close enough, I think she remembered where she was, and ran all the rest of the way, ears flopping comically, still bleating. Jumped over the rock wall and ran straight down the stone, 15 feet! Then immediately started munching greenery contentedly. I had an enormous grin on my face all morning.

Tropics Café was just as delightful as I had remembered, although it had a more diverse menu. Warm sponge-painted walls, Indian silk throw-pillows, open air and a view past the pool off the edge, where kestrels darted and doves called, and the haunted wind blew unchecked, the sea glimmering far below. I played with the orange cat in residence, had Tropics make me a sandwich for lunch, and dawdled over breakfast. Took a nap by the poolside in the sun, watching the Saban anoles basking – they’re leopard-spotted, and really striking little animals. At last, Manny picked me up, and it was time to go diving!

Down the hill, through the village of The Bottom, down the winding switchbacks to the harbor, and the calm blue sea. The boat awaits, and we climb aboard, get ourselves prepared. The boat leaves the dock, and we’re there in 10 minutes! Our crew, Lita, Bruno, and Marcel are excellent; they brief us on dive #1 with a whiteboard on which they’ve carefully rendered an image of what we’ll see, what we can expect. In the water, diving for the first time since February, I am pleased at how easily the understanding of what to do returns to my limbs; my breathing slows, and I descend slowly into the blue depths with Katie.

Man o’ war shoal. Two submerged peaks, covered with a miraculously complex and diverse interactive living community. Katie and I spiral down around it, spiral back up, peeking into crevices and under ledges. The sense of flight and freedom overwhelms me; I have missed this! The sun is mirror bright on the surface overhead, and the colors and shapes form an alien landscape straight from my childhood dreams. Starting to come up, Katie loses control of her buoyancy and pops to the surface like a cork in the 30 seconds I am looking into a deep crevice; I look around and cannot find her. Run into Terri; she parks me with her buddy and goes off in search of Katie. Returns to tell me to surface, as my buddy is on the boat. Bummer! But I do; Katie is sitting on the back of the boat, motion-sick. Poor baby! I start feeling a nasty sinus squeeze, but I try to help Katie as much as possible. Finally, when everyone’s on board and we head for our next destination, Katie asks to be returned to shore – as it’s really not far away, the boat crew obliges. When we get there, Kat is suffering from the same problem and also disembarks. Two down! I inherit Kat’s partner, Allison, for the next dive (although not for long; she has buoyancy issues and surfaces early in the dive, so I stick with Terri).

Ladder Labyrinth. Below the famous steps by which Sabans once transported all goods from the sea to their lofty villages, the dive site was a tangle of volcanic basalt, encrusted liberally with coral reef ecosystem. I am rapt in studying the microcosmos – tiny translucent shrimps shot through with neon purple which come out to clean my fingernails, blue-eyed gobies snugged into the excurrent pores of the luminous purple-over-peach sponges, the delicate serrata of the lettuce-leaf sea slugs. I play with hermit crabs, scuttling on the bottom, peer into crannies to watch the slow sleepy stirrings of the night-feeders, hiding from daylight. Too soon, it’s time to return to the surface. My breath control has come back; I’m pleased by how much air I have left at the end of the dive. At the surface, again, the sinus trouble comes back; never having experienced it before, it is disconcerting and highly unpleasant. I start diving off the side of the boat, which surprisingly helps a lot; soon, I’m able to sit down and wait for the next dive, nibble at my excellent sandwich, despite not being particularly hungry. My stomach is ACID. Ugly. Has something to do with the saltwater I swallow as part of the process of clearing regulator or snorkel…never goes away all weekend, except when I’m out of the water.

Tent Reef. A short wall with wonderful life below it; similar to Ladder Labyrinth. I get to see an enormous turtle (Hawksbill, I think), before going back to microcosmos. I spot a scorpionfish, and more colonies of antenna-waving cleaner shrimp. I am overwhelmed with the delight of being underwater, moving in three dimensions; I surface totally blissed out, when Terri tells me it’s time (I have plenty of air left).

Saturday night: SUSHI at Brigadoon! O, THE JOY! I haven’t had my favorite food in half a year! And it’s good quality fish, too! Dinner, which follows sushi, is a rare grilled tuna steak with a wasabi sauce – one of my faves, and superbly executed. This is some vacation! All throughout dinner, Brian kept interrupting the conversation to make us listen to him cracking beers, which was obnoxious, but funny…a certain amount of the Monty Python element in that it got funnier the more he did it. This is about the time I notice that Brent catches all of my obscure references (bad habit: I liberally pepper my speech with quotes from esoteric sources), and is naming them under his breath. I keep quirking an eyebrow at him, all through dinner.

But the fun doesn’t stop there; Small Axe has followed us from St. Kitts and is performing tonight, in The Bottom (the village far below Windwardside). While most of us had originally planned to go, our Adventure Girls were officially exhausted, so I ended up going with my cheerful compatriot, Brent, and Beer-Cracking Brian and Veronica. Manny, who drove us down, came in to listen to only a couple of songs before bailing, telling us we could catch a ride up with Bruno in the Sea Saba truck. (Sea Saba is the name of the dive outfit.) Bruno, Lita and Marcel are there, in fine form – I don’t think they actually get tired. So, because the music is just so damn LOUD (welcome to the Caribbean, where EVERYONE is half deaf), we end up pairing off – Brian and Veronica, and Brent and I. Conversation is great, and after further hours of Brent naming all of my references, I finally round on him and ask “OK…who the hell ARE you?” Amazingly, he’s not only my age (my own cohort), but has come a fairly similar path to my own, to arrive at Ross. Double-take! In between bouts of dancing until we drop, we agree we’re going to be dive buddies the next day. We also agree that we’re NOT going to be able to wait for Bruno to finish dancing, so we set off in search of a taxi, somewhat hopelessly (Brian is incoherent from beer by this point, and Veronica has one of the dive captains’ arm around her shoulders). We walk to the corner of the road that connects the three and a half villages of Saba, and there we wait. “Well,” I suggest, “there’s that comfy-looking park bench, there; we could nap until Bruno finishes up…” Brent laughs; just then, a kind Saban family stops and gives us a lift, not only to Windwardside, but all the way up to The Level!

More later!