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Saba

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Saba (pop: 1,200) pronounced ‘Say-bah’, is the smallest of this group of islands. Only 13 kilometers square, it lies 45 kilometers south of St Maarten and 27 kilometers northwest of St Eustatius. The island is an extinct volcano which seems to shoot out of the sea, green with lush vegetation but without beaches. In fact there is only one inlet amidst the sheer cliffs where boats can come in to dock. The highest peak of this rugged island is Mount Scenery (887 meters), also known as ‘the Mountain’, and because of the difficult terrain there were no roads on Saba until 1943, only hand-carved steps in the volcanic rock.

Although the island was once inhabited by Caribs, relics of whom have been found, there is no trace of their ancestry in the local inhabitants. The population is half white (descendants of Dutch, English and Scots settlers) and half black. Their physical isolation and the difficult terrain has enabled them to develop their ingenuity for self sufficiency and to live in harmony with their environment. Originally farmers and seafarers, the construction in 1963 of the Juancho E Yrausquin Airport on the only flat part of the island, and the serpentine road which connects it tenuously to the rest of the island, brought a new and more lucrative source of income: tourism.

The island’s geographical limitations have meant that tourism has evolved in a small, intimate way. About 24,000 tourists visit each year, most of whom are day trippers. There are only 100 beds available in the 11 hotels and guest houses, as well as a few cottages to rent. Those who stay are few enough to get to know the friendliness and hospitality of their hosts, who all speak English, even though Dutch is the official language. In 1993 the Dutch Government stopped ‘driver license tourism’. Previously, driving tests taken in Saba were valid in Holland, where it is more difficult to secure a license. The system brought Saba an income of about US$300,000 a year. The only other major source of income is the US Medical School, opened in 1993, which attracts about 150 (mainly US) students from overseas. Development is small scale; the island still merits its unofficial title, ‘the Unspoiled Queen’. There is no unemployment among the workforce of 600. The island is spotlessly clean; the streets are swept by hand every day. The main road has concrete barriers, partly to prevent cars driving over the edge and partly because of landslides, which can be frequent after rain.

 

 

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