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Date: 19 Jan 2011 01:56:00
Title: Exploring Statia

Tuesday night

Andrea and I got straight off after breakfast today as we wanted to explore the Upper Town on Statia and do some Janeway filming while we were there. Kali dropped us off in the tender and we popped into the Port Authority office to pay them the 15 dollars we owed them for clearing in yesterday. Then over to a tiny shop belonging to the Historical Association where we chatted to an Austrian lady about life on the island. She said it was quiet and they wanted to keep it that way. Seems true and reasonable to me.

Next stop was the National Parks office to get a map of the walk up the volcano which we plan to climb tomorrow. We had to purchase an annual pass for 6 dollars each. Then a walk up the cliffs to the Upper Town. We quickly found the ruined Dutch Reformed Church with its distinctive tower. It was a huge building in its day but just the walls are left now. It was surrounded by grand graves, each like a mini-house as I suppose the ground is too hard to bury anybody. A narrow clifftop path led from the church around to the fort which dominates the harbour.

The whole fort has been painstakingly restored but it's tiny. Maybe it was impressive enough in its day but the whole thing looks like a toy with pretty wooden houses inside a wall that's only about 10 feet high. Mini-cannons poke out through half-sized battlements. No wonder the British had so little trouble capturing the port when Admiral Rodney got fed up with the Statians supplying Washington's revolutionary army with ammunition. The Brits took the island and promptly relieved the Dutch of their Gold and other portable wealth. They even kept the Dutch flag flying and confiscated all the vessels arriving to trade.

The more we talked to the guy in the fort, the more it became clear that Statia got wealthy on the back of being the primary port for the importation of slaves into the Caribbean. The Dutch remained neutral in most of the wars among the other colonial powers so were able to supply everyone with what they wanted but couldn't get from home. It was a proper Free Port with everything available. As soon as the slave trade was outlawed, the place started to collapse. In its heyday, there was a mile-long wharf along the harbour and the whole thing is now beneath the waves.

After doing some Janeway filming in the fort we went to the only ATM in town which promptly failed to give me any money. Bloody banks. The heat combined with the lack of lunch was starting to take its toll on my tolerance levels and Andrea had to sort out a place where we could get two lunches for less than the 25 dollars that we had left. Luckily, we found a nice place run by a local woman who opens her restaurant when it feels right. She couldn't say whether she'd be open in the evening or not.

While we were there, we talked to a Dutch couple. He's the chief Pilot for the oil terminal and he told me how many millions of barrels of storage they have here. It's the second most busy port in the Netherlands by gross tonnage, after Rotterdam. They don't seem to do anything with all the oil - they just pump it ashore and then pump it back to sea in another ship some time later.

Fortified with veggie-burgers, we had another go at the ATM and managed to get 100 dollars out of it so that took the immediate financial pressure off. We found the ruined Synagog, testament to how important the Jewish community was here but, like the merchants, they all left many years ago. From there, we visited the town museum which had some good pictures of how the harbour used to look with the ships and warehouses lined up where there's only fish now. The heat was getting a bit intense by this time so we did a quick shot of Janeway walking down the Old Slave Road and headed back to Saxon Blue.

It was now time for swim and I wanted to go over and have a look at the ruined dock wall near where Saxon Blue is anchored. On the way, I saw a ray swimming over the sand so that was a good start. Suddenly, there was the wall itself, the blocks tumbled a bit but clearly a man-made structure. The fish along it were amazing. Shoals of brilliant blue ones with the occasional bright red one. I was getting the hang of diving down and not struggling to stay submerged so I was able to really enjoy it. I even saw a Trigger Fish with its horns and weird square body. It didn't want to move aside for me so we had a bit of "I'm bigger than you" squaring off.

By the time I got back onboard, I was knackered so had a quick shower and then moved swiftly into dinner - home-made pizza courtesy of Kali. We're hoping for an early night as we're up early to do our walk before the day gets too hot.

Harvey

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