My interactions with the people of Saba began before I’d ever stepped foot on the island.
The airport staff had ushered us onto the tarmac to board the “hopper” plane that would take us from St. Maarten to Saba — a flight only 12 minutes long. I’m an anxious flyer in 747s, so this tiny plane made me especially nervous.
A Saban woman saw the anxiety on three young faces — those of the two colleagues I was traveling with as well as my own — and smiled.
“Try not to scream,” she said. “But when you do, I’ll laugh.”
Her words were oddly comforting.
The hopper plane didn’t turn out to be that bad, either. In fact, it was kind of fun after I got over the initial shock of flying in such a small aircraft.
That first interaction set the tone for the rest of our four-day trip, and should have indicated what was to come on the island. Yet, as I met and talked with new people each day, I was continually surprised by the kindness, honesty, and genuine pleasure I received from the Saban people.
There was Glenn, our welcoming host who was all too happy to talk about the goings on of the island.
There was Mark, a local businessman and jewelry maker who gave us a walking tour of Windwardside and a glimpse at his family’s history on the island.
There were Bruce and Nicole, members of the tourism team who told us about what it was like to grow up in such a remote location.
There was Donna, an always-laughing and knowledgeable tour guide who drove us around the island and was more than happy to stop anywhere and everywhere for us to take photos.
There was Yvonne, who was originally from the Netherlands, but told us about how she and her family relocated to Saba and the ways in which island life is different than the culture she was raised in.
There was a friendly bartender who told me that he would soon be traveling to Los Angeles, where I live, to attend bartending school.
There was JoBean, an all-over-the-place artist who spends her days creating intricate, beautiful glass creations in her hilltop studio.
There was Abby, our calming dive instructor who walked each of us terrified swimmers through the snorkel process, from getting into the water to using our face masks.
There was Crocodile James, an adventurer who led us through the rainforest and knew something about every plant and tree we pointed out.
But the people of Saba aren’t just those who showed us around.
They are the countless residents in the Bottom and Windwardside who called out “hellos” to Donna as she drove by. They are the fellow snorkelers who were nice enough to pop above water and get my attention each time they spotted a sea turtle. They are the owner, Claire, and the pastry chef at Chez Bubba, the fellow passenger who couldn’t stop laughing at our nervous looks on the plane ride over, the kind waiter at Queen’s Gardens who didn’t blink an eye when we asked for extra fries, and the café owner who boasted about his pancakes and was more than happy to let us continue sitting by the pool long after closing.
They are the fellow travelers we ran into over and over again across the island — the kind couple whose smiles grew wide whenever they saw us, the underwater photographer whose work we were in awe of, and the eccentric 60-something solo traveler who loved to be the life of the party. And, in a way, they are my colleagues and me, too, for though we are in near-constant communication with one another throughout the week for work, this was the first time Camille, Kacie, and I had met in person.
It was the people of Saba who made my experience special.
As an introvert, I’m more of an observant traveler than a talkative one. I turn inward instead of outward when I’m experiencing new places, usually keeping my thoughts, feelings, and, unfortunately, questions to myself. That’s been especially easy in most of the places I’ve visited in the past — capitals and major cities across Europe. Those places are wonderful, but their very nature makes interacting with people an endeavor, something I have to go out of my way to do.
That’s not the case in Saba.
On this tiny island in the Dutch Caribbean, the people come to you. They welcome you with inviting smiles, a friendly wave, and wide-open arms to experience the place they happily call home.