My Birthday in the Caribbean

Mt. Scenery from Scout's Place Saba

The cloud-free summit of Mt. Scenery as seen from Scout’s Place hotel on Saba.

Two weeks ago, I landed in a snowstorm at Princess Juliana International Airport on the Antillean island of St. Martin. This wasn’t the same kind of snow I enjoyed on my recent ski outing here in Bend, Oregon—15 inches of fresh, cold Cascade fluff. No, the island locals call theirs “Caribbean snow,” when twinkling clouds of Great Southern White butterflies blanket the landscape. My Caribbean snowstorm kicked off an island-hopping adventure in the northern Dutch Caribbean that culminated on my 49th birthday. The story begins at the end.

Saba breakfast

Saltfish with a hard-boiled egg, Johnny cakes and salad; breakfast on Saba.

November 21, 2015, began on a tiny emerald-green island called Saba (pron. SAY-buh), touted by locals as the “Unspoiled Queen.” I celebrated my birthday breakfast with a Pearly-eyed Thrasher in the village of Windwardside. Saba’s two largest villages are named for their respective locations on the island; I’ll give you three guesses on the location of Windwardside. The other is called simply The Bottom; it is located at the bottom of the main road, which the locals call, “the road.”

For the first time in my 10-day tropical excursion, the air outside my room on Saba was delightfully cool, with a slight breeze and the sound of the local rain frogs whistling from the forest edge. Bananaquits and Black-faced Grassquits began squeaking from the tropical gardens well before the sun reached the small canyon below my balcony at Scout’s Place hotel.

The cool morning continued, and I took my cappuccino on the outside deck at the attached Scout’s Place restaurant. The aforementioned Thrasher jumped up onto the railing beside me, and a Green-throated Carib hummingbird chattered from the flowers over my shoulder. My saltfish breakfast—traditional Caribbean fare—was sautéed in a sweet, peppery tomato sauce, no doubt crafted from fresh veggies picked from among one of the island’s many gardens. A perfect hard-boiled egg stood in the center of the main dish, flanked by two fat Johnny cakes and a fresh green salad. My cappuccino was sprinkled with cinnamon. A European-style continental breakfast is included with the room, but I wasn’t quite done with the Caribbean.

Pearly-eyed Thrasher Saba

A Pearly-eyed Thrasher joins the author for breakfast on the island of Saba.

I’m actually not sure if it’s possible to ever be “done” with the Caribbean. After 10 days visiting the 2 sides of St. Martin (Dutch Sint Maarten and French Saint Martin) and the lovely Dutch islands of Saba and St. Eustatius, better known as Statia, I can say unequivocally that I will return to each of them. I will never forget my birthday presents: cappuccino and Pearly-eyed Thrasher on Saba and the Sea Hare and Decorator Crab I saw on St. Martin. Neither will I forget my close encounters with Red-billed Tropicbirds and Bridled Quail-Doves just days earlier on Statia. But each island has many corners to explore, and I am compelled by the wild nature of the Caribbean.

Later on my birthday morning, I returned to St. Martin via the 12-minute flight from Saba, which boasts the shortest commercial runway in the world. My friend, Mark, led me to the western reach of French St. Martin, where he introduced me to some fabulous marine creatures in the shallow pools off Baie aux Cayes. We watched Royal Terns and Brown Pelicans fishing in Baie Nettle, while we sipped champagne on the beach at Le Sand Restaurant. After an exquisite dejeuner d’anniversaire, Mark delivered me back to Princess Juliana Airport for my departing flight, but not before showing me the endemic St. Martin subspecies of the Anguilla Bank Ameiva lizard.

Sea Hare St Martin

The Sea Hare is a marine Opisthobranch gastropod (a marine mollusc) found in shallow waters, often on the undersides of large rocks.

I slept during most of the flight to Atlanta, which boasts the busiest airport in the USA. After walking a mile (seriously) from the airplane to baggage claim, riding for 20 minutes on the shuttle from the international terminal to the domestic terminal, and after waiting 30 more minutes for my hotel shuttle, I decided that I would rather be in the Caribbean.

Stay tuned, and I’ll take you back there with me very soon.

Red-billed Tropicbird Statia

Red-billed Tropicbird approaching a nest site on St Eustatius (Statia) in the Dutch Caribbean.

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      Steve Shunk

      Steve Shunk is a contributing editor for Nature Travel Network. Steve started traveling early, with family Amtrak rides, summer beach houses, and extended car-camping. After a suburban childhood in four different states, Steve forged his independence Read More

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