Mount Scenery, Saba

Photo: Richie Diesterheft (Flickr: Cloud Winning over Saba) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Richie Diesterheft (Flickr: Cloud Winning over Saba) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Does your routine remain the same no matter what island you visit? You claim a spot in the sun and then spend the rest of your trip reading, swimming, and sipping frozen cocktails within a few yards of the same lounge chair all week. Not this time.

Saba may be in the Caribbean, but it doesn’t have the sandy beaches for which many of the surrounding islands are famous. Rocks and sheer cliffs line the coast of the five-square-mile island. The Elfin Forest, featuring dense greenery, fills the interior. While Mount Scenery, a volcano that isn’t considered dormant, looms over the island. You’re going to hike that volcano.

Mount Scenery is a stratovolcano with layers and layers of hardened lava and volcanic ash. When it last erupted, in 1640, explosions and pyroclastic flows covered much of the small island. At nearly 3,000 feet, it’s the highest point in the Netherlands—the entire country. The trail moves through grassy meadows, rainforests, and a cloud forest on its way to the summit. While species—both plants and birds—not found anywhere else, call the island home.

Photo: Richie Diesterheft from Chicago, IL, USA (Mount Scenery Hiking Trail Beginning) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Richie Diesterheft from Chicago, IL, USA (Mount Scenery Hiking Trail Beginning) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The entrance to the Mount Scenery Trail claims it’s only 1,064 steps and 90 minutes to the top, but don’t let it fool you. This is not an easy hike. It may not be an extreme hike, for which you need months of preparation, but it’s still difficult. Sturdy footwear, sun protection, and lots of water are necessary. Plus a guide—or at least someone who knows your plan—is always helpful.

From Windwardside, the island’s second-largest town, head toward the steps that mark the entrance to the trail. Scattered shrubs quickly turn into a thick forest as you climb. Sea grapes and redwood trees loom overhead. Bananaquits and common ground doves call back and forth to one another. Ferns, elephant ears, and colorful heliconias cover the ground. While the occasional prickly pear cactus makes you glad you wore lightweight pants instead of shorts. The hot sun is now hidden by dense clouds.

As you climb higher and higher, the humidity, thankfully, begins to subside. By the time you reach the cloud forest, you’re surrounded by mountain mahogany tangled with vines. Rare orchids hide among the roots. Red-billed and white-tailed tropicbirds nest high above. You keep pushing.

When you finally reach the top, you’re breathing heavy and disappointed. You can’t see anything except thick clouds and the forest immediately in front of you. Sure, the hike was an accomplishment, but the reward is missing. You take a few selfies, eat a light lunch, and drink a lot of water. Just as you’re about to head back down the trail, the clouds start to part just a little. You can suddenly see bright blue water in the distance. A few minutes later, you can see the Bottom (the capital) on one side, the airport on the other, and red roofs and lots of green hills in between. But the clouds return. You only caught a quick glimpse of the Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean. But it was enough to enchant you. Saba wins again.

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