Saba comes at you like a beast emerging from the mist. From the front row of our Twin Otter propeller plane we saw the clouds on the horizon dissolve into the Caribbean sunset. From behind them emerged a giant black rock: a volcano in the distance, daring anyone to try and land.
And that landing is nothing to mess with. On approach, our small plane skirted the cliffs along the island’s coast. We passengers watched waves crashing below as a short runway came into view, jutting out like a stick to a drowning swimmer. A gust of wind rocked the plane, right, then left, sending us slamming into the bulkheads. Just as quickly, the plane veered back toward the cliffs, then settled back on course as seagulls glided through the pink horizon. The runway, carved from a lava field at the base of the rock, looked hilariously short, too short-- wait, there’s no way we can actually land on …
THUNK. The plane touched down and the pilots jammed on the brakes as if they’d just just remembered an intersection had a red light camera. An alarm sounded. Maybe this is it, I thought. Maybe this is the one time in the 50-plus-year history of the Juancho E Yrausquin Airport something goes wrong on one of these little death boxes, and we go careening down into the lava boulders.
The plane rumbled and shook and skidded to the scariest of stops at the rear end of the runway. We turned and rolled back towards the terminal. “We’d like to be the first to welcome you to Saba,” the pilot said. All 30 of us onboard exhaled and laughed like we’d just narrowly missed stepping out in front of a bus. The adrenaline was tangible.
It was an intense introduction to a place that seems like a world unto itself, a collection of European-style villages carved into a dormant volcano, where every street corner leads to a new jaw-dropping view of mountains, jungle, and sea. Though Saba is only a 20-minute flight from St. Maarten, you’ll feel totally removed from real life. And yet, once there, you’ll be perfectly at ease.