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History buffs, hikers and divers, have I got a place for you.
By Roberta Sotonoff
In the 18th century, St. Eustatius or Statia (pronounced stay-sha), as it is called by most people, was also known as Emporium of the Western World. Today, it is a tranquil diversion from the nearby, often crowded resort destination of St. Maarten/St. Martin.
The 11.8 square-mile Statia is a playground for divers, hikers and history buffs. During the 18th century it was a hub for trade, between Europe and the Americas. Ships carrying slaves, sugar, cotton, ammunition and other commodities crowded its harbor.
After the Revolutionary War, Statia was the first country to recognize U.S. independence with an 11-gun salute to the American Brig-of-War, the “Andrew Doria,” on November 16, 1776. The Brits did not appreciate this goodwill gesture. In 1781, British Admiral Rodney looted and economically destroyed the island. It has not recovered yet. Chaos reigned between 1781 and 1816 as the Dutch, English and French vied for control. It changed hands 22 times. The Dutch finally won out, and it is still under the Dutch Crown.
Remnants of those bygone days are evident around the island. Ft. Oranje, from where the famous shots were fired, has been hanging off the same cliff since 1636. Located in Oranjestad, the island’s only village, its courtyard is the site of the original Dutch Reformed Church, built in 1776. Flanking the church is an 18th century graveyard where people were often buried atop one another.
The outside of another religious structure, Holen Dalim, is located on Synagogepad (Synagogue Path). It is one of the oldest synagogues in the Caribbean (1738). The Jews once managed the island’s commerce, but Rodney stripped them of their riches and deported them to other islands.
Rodney’s former home, Doncker House, is now The St. Eustatius Historical Foundation Museum. It chronicles Statia’s history from pre-Columbian times. The featured glass blue beads were used as salary to former slaves (It is conjectured that Manhattan was bought with 30 such beads). Tourists sometimes comb the island’s Atlantic shore hoping to find them, but their time will be better spent visiting its namesake, the Blue Bead restaurant, which features some of the tastiest food on the island.
The island’s big trek is to the top of the Quill, a 1,968-foot extinct volcano. The Statia Marine Park can arrange a private guide for the long and windy trek. Wild orchids, ferns, elephant ears and various other kinds of flowers border the trail to the perfectly formed crater. You might even spot an iguana delicatissma, a long, greenish-gray spiny lizard.
If lizards are your thing, plan to stay at the Kings Well Hotel. Owner Laura Piechutzki has created her own iguana refuge on the property. Other non-human residents include her three dogs, one of which is Jake, a lovable but drooly, Great Dane.
For an easier trek, endure a bumpy ride to the southeast side of the island. The botanical gardens affords a lovely stroll and is the perfect place to bring a picnic lunch among the lovely blooms and awesome view of nearby Nevis
But it is the island’s dive sights that lure most visitors to the island. The Atlantic side is often rough, but on the Caribbean side, stingrays, eels, turtles and barracudas live in an undersea neighborhood where giant pillar coral, giant yellow sea fans and reef fingers abound. The sea has reclaimed the walls built by the Dutch several hundred years ago. Today these underwater ruins serve as a day care center for abundant schools of juvenile fish. Other modern and archaeological dive sites include wrecks and sunken cannons. The Charles L. Brown, a cable laying boat once owned by AT&T, was sits in a crater on the south side of the island.
What adds to this charming mini-isle are the locals. They wave or beep at you in recognition. You never feel like a stranger.
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|Print article||This entry was posted by Barbara Kingstone on January 19, 2011 at 12:17 am, and is filed under The Caribbean. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.|