St Eustatius / Travel Blog

Archaeological Digs and Boven Hill Hikes on Statia!

Originally posted on the WorkingAbroad blog- see here!

So, more news from Statia!

pottery

I keep planning on writing down what I’ve been doing every night so I can keep track of everything, but it seems like a waste of time I could be doing more things so I’m hoping I have enough photos that I can track all my activities. For such a small island, there is a lot going on. The history here is fascinating, and it is still being uncovered. I wangled a day off today and went out with SECAR (St Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research) for the morning to get a tour of their archaeological dig site and help out with the excavation. The team is lovely, we’ve already been hanging out with the SECAR archaeologists and volunteers, but usually under the cover of night or baking ourselves in the sun, and almost never without alcohol! We had an ‘Under The Sea’ themed fancy dress party last weekend where we had a jellyfish girl with tentacles of polystyrene packaging, a beautiful mermaid, a cluster of plastic-bag pearls, a sea urchin made of nails, a turtle and a wave! I only had a blue silk dress and blue glitter on my arms and lips, so I went as a sea nymph.

The site was really interesting, as it is an old sugar plantation called Fairplay. At the moment they are excavating the main house where the owner would have lived, where they have found shards of expensive pottery indicating relative wealth and bottles that indicate what was drunk (we found a gin bottle today). Two of the volunteers were excavating square metre sections, digging down 10cm at a time and loading the dirt into buckets that I was taking to be screened by a big sieve hanging from a nearby tree. As we were still above the artefact layer, we only found bits of rusted metal that could be quite modern, and a tiny piece of coral that would have been used in the mortar, but they found blue beads and other old treasures once they got to the bottom.

I did a walkthrough the journey of the sugar crops as they were processed, beginning with a tumbledown windmill that had not withstood a hurricane in the eighties. Next to it there was a mill that used animal labour, but only the circular mound and a few chains remain. Stone lines indicate where the trough lay to take the run off into the boiling facility next door, which was overgrown with the smothering vine Coralita (an invasive species that threatens to pull down the ruins, and is also outcompeting plant species all over the island). Away from these buildings was the slave accommodation, for the whole operation was done by slaves, managed by an overseer and the manager. Now the slave compound is just two excavated pits separated by an old property line wall, but it used to have several houses made of woven materials and thatched palm roofs. A mock slave hut has been built behind the museum in Oranjestad, and they might do more excavation work there before I leave (a chance to look for the coveted Statia blue beads!).

Back to STENAPA, the main project that my fellow volunteers have been working on is cleaning and repainting the roof of the main building in the Botanic Gardens. Yesterday we donned rough clothes, rag armbands (for run-off), googles and rubber gloves to tackle the mildew, blasting loud music and occasionally fleeing the infamous jack o’knife wasps that came hovering around our water. Sarah, who was here a month before me and is leaving the same day as me, is really hoping we’ll have it repainted by the time we leave.

And the marine park is hoping to do a fish survey of an area that has been left for fishing so usually holds no divers, but STENAPA will be doing transects to monitor the aquatic life while we’re there. Unfortunately Sarah and I haven’t got our Advanced Open Water qualification yet, and we won’t be able to dive the site until we do, but we’ve been speaking to Scubaqua and have got our course set up for next week, so that should be exciting! We’ll be doing a deep dive, a navigation dive, a wreck dive, a night dive and we haven’t decided our fifth dive yet, but it may be a fish-ID or a drift dive. I went on my first dive with them yesterday (so they could check that I could get myself out of the water, see some fishes and get back in without drowning)(I passed!) and we saw lots of really great things. We went to Anchor Point (so named after a very large rusty anchor) and shortly after we set off we saw a huge moray eel lurking underneath a ledge, with a queen angelfish flirting with it nearby. Not long after that our divemaster found a nurse shark hidden underneath a rock, and then a reef shark swam by a few metres away! We also saw a couple of juvenile drumfish, which were very pretty black and white fish with long trailing fins, and some lumbering spiny Caribbean lobsters. But the highlight of my dive was a tiny baby spotted boxfish- smaller than the fingernail on my pinky finger, zooming around inside a little crevice like one of the old Windows screensavers! It didn’t look like a fish at all!

spiny backed orb weaver apider statia

We also had Emancipation Day this week, which celebrated the abolishment of slavery on the island, which meant a parade and a day off for us! Sarah and I got up early anyway, to hike up the Boven hill on the opposite side of the island to the Quill (according to Sarah this side also had volcanoes, but they are long since extinct and no longer have distinct craters). Our first stop was at Venus Bay, which may have been quite an attractive spot if it wasn’t for all the junk that had washed up on the shore, including an old burnt-out fridge. But when we began to climb Boven we were given much more beautiful views of the island and the sea beyond. Unfortunately the weather was quite cloudy so we couldn’t see the other islands (St Kitts and Saba) which are usually visible. But we had fun posing on the large rock formations at the top of the hill, with the view of the whole island behind us! And I got very excited about the huge spiny backed orb weaver we saw with her tiny mate, and behind her were very beautiful little silver dewdrop spiders!

By Nina Seale, WorkingAbroad Intern – more info on the Statia Conservation Project here

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