To the far right of the view from my comfortable terrace here at Turtle Cottage lies a mountain peak… [totally random aside—that opening line sounded just like Barbara Stanwyck’s bogus country life column in “Christmas in Connecticut.” You may never know if I’m even really here.) Anyway, about this mountain peak; it’s there and it’s almost always shrouded in mist. No, not shrouded so much as used as a piece of exercise equipment by the constant fog. The clouds vault over the mountain the same way car commercials used to tout the aerodynamic properties of 1970s gas-guzzlers by shooting a jet of smoke over the contours of a sedan.
This is Mt. Scenery. At 2855 feet it is jokingly (and accurately) referred to as “the highest point in The Netherlands” and hiking to its summit is de rigueur for visitors to Saba. I was a slug last October when I visited the island so I didn’t even consider a climb. But now, with all summer to kill, I had no excuse. Yesterday I decided to make my assault.
The trail up the mountain is an oddity: most of it is either paved with asphalt or has steps cut into the stone, but it’s also a non-stop ascent and, because it’s a rainforest, the way can be very slick. The humidity encourages lush, oversized vegetation; the trees and rocks wear thick green moss like a gramma with her sweater pulled tight in the air-conditioning.
I had no intention of climbing to the summit in one fell swoop. Along the way there are brief detours to scenic overlooks and—the real point of my hike—a restaurant where I planned to have lunch.
The Ecolodge is just what the name implies: an environmentally-friendly guest house. They use solar power as much as possible, provide no phones or televisions and grow as much of their own produce as they can. They do have hot showers—if it’s been sunny enough to heat the water. You can get to the Ecolodge from an access road but the dramatic approach is through the forest. Following the pointer from the main trail you start to notice the flowers along the path gradually becoming more manicured and domesticated. Then you round a bend and the Ecolodge restaurant sits in front of you like a pavilion straight out of—sorry, here it is again—“Red Dust.” Wide verandas and long bands of windows with hurricane shutters propped open for shade. Inside it’s cool and dark. And nearly silent. Because there’s no music piped in the diners tend to murmur to one another rather than speak at a normal volume. Silverware clinks on china. It’s almost eerily quiet.
I felt like an adventurer in the wild striding in for some drink and conversation; slapping my crop on the bar, my pet monkey climbing down from my shoulders to grab a banana from the bunch hanging by the door; I pull the kerchief from around my neck to wipe my sweaty forehead as I order a rum. From Thomas Mitchell.
In real life I had neither a crop, a monkey nor a kerchief. Or a rum. And the bartender was played by a young blond named Dana who spoke with the same voice and cadence as Shelley Duvall. Dana is married to the son of the founder of Ecolodge and she can really put together a beautiful plate of food. For me, a grilled tuna salad. Talk about your childhood wishes—you can even eat the flowers. After killing some time with my book and an after-meal toothpick, Pogo climbed back on my shoulder as I saluted Dana with my crop and left the restaurant to resume my ascent.
The higher I got, the more lush the vegetation. Snatches of Debussy played in my head that—as I climbed further into the clouds—morphed into Max Steiner jungle drums. Although I wouldn't have been surprised to spot a poorly animated pteradactyl I wasn't expecting the speckled hen that darted across my path with a Bantam rooster in close pursuit. Huh?
The heat, humidity and the cardio workout necessitated frequent rests the further along the trail I got. A pair of hikers came out of the mist on their way down. “Did you have a view” I asked? Nope—just clouds. That’s the thing about Mt. Scenery: the clouds that make it so scenic from below tend to make a mockery of its name once you’re at the peak.
As the trail finally leveled off I came within yards of the radio tower that sits on top of the mountain. I don’t even want to think about what went into carting the materials up here to build this behemoth. And from the looks of things, it’s not even in operation. The weird orange moss growing everywhere reminded me of the photos of the Titanic at the bottom of the ocean. Corroded cable hung from the structure and huge satellite dishes lay foundering on the rocks at its base. The top of the tower was enveloped in roiling clouds and the constant wind made everything mysterious and spooky. Yes, it was altogether ooky.
I continued past the tower to the summit. There, a huge slab of rock affords a perfect spot to rest and take in the view. When there is one. Yesterday there was nothing but clouds. I stared into the abyss. It was impossible to tell what was past the end of the outcropping: it might have been more rocks or it could have been just a sheer drop to the sea. I kept my distance from the edge.
Since I had no schedule, and to rest up for the equally taxing climb down, I wedged myself into a cleft in the boulder and took out my book, the mist and the wind making it almost chilly. I got through a couple of chapters when I found myself squinting and felt my face turn warm. The sun! I bolted upright and looked out onto an amazing panorama of most of Saba. There, far below me, was El Momo. To the right, the road to The Bottom. To the left Windwardside and the way down to the airport. Just as I reached into my pack for my camera, the clouds came back and obscured the view. Brigadoon-like, the vista had disappeared into the mists.
But for a brief moment, I had a view.