So chortled the lanky Dutchman who popped out to join us admiring the view from the top of the Quill Volcano, highest point of St Eustatius (aka Statia). And it’s a dormant one at that, since there are hot springs on its slopes where the temperatures reach 60 degrees. The whole family are of course delighted with my new found past time of Volcano bagging.
So we followed the sign saying Panorama and this is what we found:
Statia passed the Polly smell test with absolute flying colours. We arrived mid afternoon and found the Customs and Immigration office (a sea container with Customs and Immigration painted in large letters – so helpful and yet so unusual, as normally I spend at least half an hour poking my head into every nondescript unmarked building in town until I chance upon it. I’m sure its is done on purpose as an initiative test that visitors have to pass). After clearance we visited the National Parks office as Statia has both a marine and a shore park. The Parks Officer was knowledgeable and welcoming, joking away in perfect English as only the Dutch can. Omens were good.
Statia is also known as Golden Rock from its days as a duty free port in the the late 18th century when , all around the French English and Spanish were waging great battles, the Dutch declared the island a duty free port , all trade legitimate or otherwise welcome, and so it was for a brief period, the busiest port in the world. All this borne out by the amazing paintings in the town’s small but perfectly informative museum.
Nowadays, The Hidden Gem of the Caribbean struggles to make its mark. It is very small (8 square miles), permanent population 3-4000, depending on which leaflet you read. Mass tourism hasn’t caught on here (to our delight, though not perhaps the delight of the inhabitants) since there are no golden beaches, just a lovely small black sand town beach, no large dock, and a very small airport. But the diving is stupendous and the hiking extensive and well marked, making it a joy for those who do make the effort. And there are a few, mainly well heeled Americans and Dutch, from my eavesdropping ashore.
Part of the problem I’d I imagine is Statia’s other significant feature, an enormous oil depot. This means that the anchorage – and the town’s outlook – is in fact a giant floating filling station. Fuel barges are manoeuvred about by a small fleet of busy tugs who ensure that all comers can either fill up with bunkers or unload their contribution to the depot. For me they are a beautiful sight, especially at sunset but I do see it is not everyone’s cup of tea.
Statia anchorage from The Quill. You can spot us from the two masts. And those ships are mostly fuel barges (or ship equivalent of petrol pumps).
Although we do not dive, we do love a good snorkel. During its heyday the lower shore of Oranjestad was crowded with warehouses and shops. As the port’s significance declined (when the French and English took over and introduced taxes – take note!), the buildings gradually fell victims to the ravages of hurricanes and erosion, falling into the sea. This has left some intriguing homes for lots of happy fish and there are even a few loose canons down there too.
Sunset over Old Town ruins. With Saba in the background.
Ashore, the fauna is the usual mix of goats, chickens, lizards, beautiful ground nesting doves, and elusive iguanas. Flora includes our favourite gum tree, locally known as the tourist tree, because of its orange peeling skin. However, Dora has renamed it the Trump tree. For obvious reasons.
Fine specimen of the gloriously orange Trump tree.
So, apart from scrabbling around on volcanoes and snorkelling, the girls have been in the library keeping up with school. The library is the best yet,air conditioning, proper tables, those cushioned chairs you get at wedding receptions and an incredible selection of books – the young adult non finction section had titles as diverse as: An introduction to Genetic Engineering, Sea Turtles, Leopardfish (yes an entire book), Careers in Science and Living with an Alcoholic Parent. That was just the English language section.
We love this easy going place with its great sense of humour, genuine welcome and Dutch love of a party. If you ever get the chance, hop on a plane (or several) and come and see.
How can you not love an island that has a dedicated Iguana Hotline and reminders to look out for the little fellows.