Eleuthera: A Bit of Eden
Flying toward Eleuthera, I looked down to see
the ocean far below splattered with islands black and irregular
as ink blots. Here, I thought, is where God gave his pen a shake
before designing the world.
If my thoughts were on the Beginning, it was no
wonder. After all, I was flying from Nassau to Eleuthera in the
hopes of finding Paradise --- the get-away-from-it-all bit of Eden
promised in the new Bahamian tourist publicity promoting the "Out
Islands. The Out Islands are some two dozen little-populated islands
of The Bahamas where it is said the pace is peaceful and the beaches
I knew I was on the right track when on arriving
in the early morning sunshine at Governor's Harbor airport I was
greeted by Cecil Cooper, owner of "The Sweet Dreams Taxi Service."
Cecil has driven stressed-out visitors around Eleuthera for nearly
thirty years. He is taxi driver to the stars, the royals and mere
mortals like me. A Cab-Calloway look alike in bow tie and straw
hat, Cecil Cooper won my affection right away. Sensing my apprehension
at the narrow, twisted road riddled with pot holes, he laughed,
"Don't you worry! This road is more holy than righteous but I'll
be looking for the righteous parts!" His good-natured humor set
me at ease and I soon discovered my fear unfounded, for he not only
drove extremely slowly but in the hours we toured central and southern
Eleuthera, we encountered the grand sum of two cars.
Slow driving on a slow island worked on me like
a sedative. We went so leisurely I could observe the details of
the exotic plants flowering alongside the road and as we passed
each one, Cecil explained not only what it was, but how it's used.
"See those little white flowers? Cerasee. Call
it Bahamian penicillin 'cause it's the best thing for the flu. We
make a burlup from it."
"What's a burlup?" I asked.
Cecil laughed, that means we boil it up!"
"Now that one is silk cotton ... you call it kapok.
In February when the pods drop they cover the road and the church
women come down and pick them for pillows. But silk cotton's dangerous!
You can hardly control the car with those pods on the road. They're
slipperier than banana peels."
"See that? Best plant on the island! Love vine.
Mix it with milk and it'll do the trick: make the poor feel rich
and the old feel young."
I sat back in the seat, listening to the lore and
breathing in the warm, soft-as-velvet breeze. I gazed far across
the lush green hills. Eleuthera is a long narrow island shaped like
a bent fish hook and stretching 110 miles. Yet because it's less
than three miles wide, we were always in sight of a turquoise ribbon
of sea. From Governor's Harbour we headed south toward Rock Harbour.
Soon we came to the waterfront village of Tarpum
Bay which I was told was named after the fish. "But the fish is
tarpon." I said. "Well, the answer came, "some people can't spell."
Tarpum Bay is a fishing hamlet for tarpon, grouper and conch (pronounced
conk). On the gentle bay, small colorful boats bob prettily. The
town itself is distinguished by quaint St. Columbia Anglican Church
painted in blue and white to match the sky. Knowing that I was an
art lover, Cecil Cooper drove me up the road from the church to
a tiny red and white house. On the lawn in front sat a wacky red
and white carved replica of a Spanish galleon with the inscription,
"Chris's ship." "Christopher Columbus, that is," the owner explained,
coming to greet us. This was the home and welcoming ship of Mall
Flanders one of Eleuthera's resident artists. Mall Flanders is
a Florida transplant who's lived in Tarpum Bay for more than twenty
years, but the love affair is far from over. His studio is filled
with oil paintings that are colorful, whimsical visions of Eleuthera
and its people. Mall Flanders' paintings abound with flowers making
them joyful, tropical visions. "I'm a lousy gardener," he explains
apologetically, "so painting's my way of making flowers last."
You can buy Mall Flanders' paintings in Nassau
but making the short trek to his Tarpum Bay home gives you greater
selection and is in itself a colorful journey.
Our next stop was Rock Sound, a prosperous town
of neat houses with a tropical suburban feel. Cecil pointed out
his house, a red and white rancher. "Sweet Dreams" the driftwood
sign said. At Rock Sound we stopped at a supermarket where for some
reason a loaf of bread was needed right now. Then, a mile and a
half from town, we stopped at Ocean Hole, where ocean water flows
inland and marine life can be seen in this "lake," which legend
says is bottomless. At the water's edge, hundreds of grouper swarmed
and leapt frantically for the bits of bread we threw into the water.
Turning north, we passed Windermere, the famous
resort of the royals. This was the favored destination of Lord Mountbatten.
Prince Charles has visited nine times and it was here that a pregnant,
bikini-clad Diana was photographed. Windermere is closed now, poised
to re-open next year. But if you want to taste royal Windermere
food at commoner prices, stop down the road at Sammy's Place. Sammy
Culmer was Windermere's maitre 'd, and now runs this small restaurant
serving American and Bahamian food. For five to seven dollars, you
can enjoy a plate of conch fritters, grouper fingers, cracked conch,
shrimp or crab that's sea-scent fresh. Wash it down with Junkanoo
punch, cold and sweet with a homemade punch flavor or Kalik, the
Continuing our drive, I noticed the abundance of
signs that grace Eleuthera. I'm not talking about road signs because
these are few, but wooden signs, simply written and put up almost
anywhere to inform, exhort, amuse and warn:
At the airport:
LOVE YOUR ENEMY IT WILL DRIVE HIM CRAZY AND COLD BEERS
At a newspaper stand:
WE LIGHT UP YOUR LIFE --- YOUR MONEY LIGHTS UP OURS
At a soft drink stand:
LET YOUR HEART BE AGAINST DRUGS TO SAVE THE YOUTHS!
At a boat dock:
VENGEANCE IS MINE SAITH THE LORD. I WILL REPAY!
On a souvenir stand:
DOROTHEA'S STRAW WORK IN GOD WE TRUST
On a street corner:
WHEREVER YOU GO TAKE A BOOK WITH YOU!
But the sign that stopped my heart was this one:
MY FUTURE BEGINS HERE.
These were the words, printed large on the side
of the elementary school on a hill above Rock Sound. The school,
like all the schools in The Bahamas, had an old-fashioned British
air. The children in crisp white shirts, somber navy skirts and
trousers, white socks, white shoes, hair combed back and tied. In
a low, stucco building, the classrooms were lined up one after another,
adding to the appearance of conformity, containment and regimentation.
Yet there was awesome beauty for each green classroom door was flung
wide so that in straight desk rows the pupils confronted the vastness
of an ocean stretching to Africa. I thought how much easier it must
be to imagine your future when the next stretch of land is a continent
and your daily horizon is the watery arc of the Earth.
The word "Eleuthera" has both a beautiful sound
and meaning: freedom. It's a Greek word given to the island by a
group of English Puritans who came to Eleuthera in 1648 seeking
religious freedom. Calling themselves "Eleutherian Adventurers,"
they built the first settlement in The Bahamas at Governor's Harbour,
gave the country its first written constitution and this island
its name. Over the years their number dwindled but during the American
Revolution, Eleuthera became the refuge of freedom for Loyalists
fleeing with their slaves from the colonies. Today, the population
of Eleuthera is made up of the descendants of Eleutherian Adventurers,
Loyalists and slaves. Yet, it's an underpopulated place. Less than
10, 000 people live on the island so that as we stopped at various
pristine beaches, I was astonished to find no one, absolutely no
one there. On Eleuthera, finding your private part of the world
is easy. One deserted beach we visited, hidden from the road by
tall oat grass was said to be named "My Beach" "Why is that?" I
asked, "Because it's so hidden yet everyone who discovers it says,
"This is my beach."
Rolling past these dreamy beaches made me ready
for some serious relaxation so Cecil took me to my lodging at Palmetto
Point, The Unique Inn. Before seeing the place I thought the name
unimaginative but after staying there, I know it's perfect. It is
unique for it's a tranquil retreat, simple and not "touristy." The
Unique Inn has 10 units in a two-story structure and two villas.
The rooms have white tile floors, cable TV, white wicker furniture,
fans, air-conditioning, spotless bathrooms and best of all French
doors that open onto a lawn above an aqua sea. A hammock slung between
two palm trees became my refuge for the afternoon. No radios. No
crowds. No beach vendors. Only the click of palm fronds in the warm
breeze and the shooshing of waves lapping the sand, a soft puppy-drinking
sound of peace. The beach was all mine. And its sand ---pink from
the conch shells and coral, glowed in the sunlight. As if this daytime
beauty weren't enough, at sunset, the dining room with its wrap-around
verandah fronting the sea is candlelit romance. Sip Rum Punch here
or in the bar, or best of all, wend your way down to the intimate
deck perched over the sea. The dining room serves food prepared
by a French-trained chef from Nassau. For eighteen dollars you can
enjoy succulent Bahamian lobster, grilled or prepared as Lobster
Thermidor. That's the most expensive item on the menu which specializes
in fresh local seafood.
The next morning: more surprises. The Unique Inn
gave me my first taste of a real Bahamas breakfast: Stewed Fish.
Don't let the name put you off because it's delicious: a filet of
grouper cooked in a rich brown sauce, especially delightful when
you sop up the sauce with the chef's homemade Johnny cake. If this
sounds too caloric for breakfast, try Boiled Fish, a poached grouper
filet seasoned and garnished with parsley and chopped potatoes.
Today, I was heading for Harbour Island in the
north and my driver Abraham Johnson was young and jolly. He drove
fast, whizzing me north with youthful speed and home-grown jokes.
I was enjoying myself immensely for his joking manner was a natural
tonic. However, every so often I'd let out an involuntary squeal
of fear as we rounded a narrow curve. Abraham Johnson continuously
assured me he was a cautious driver, emphasizing that there was
nothing to worry about. After all, he said, he didn't want to die
either. "We Bahamians love life so much," he boasted, "we make dying
the last thing we do!"
I arrived very alive at the curiously-named town
of Lower Bogue and took the 20-minute jet boat ride to Harbour Island,
Harbour Island, called "Briland" by the locals is only three miles
long and all prettiness --- crowned by Dunmore Town where gingerbread
clapboard cottages, overgrown with bougainvillea cluster on green
hills rising from the bay. Against the blue-pink sky, Dunmore Town
makes a quaint, old-fashioned tableau. Tiny shops, restaurants,
colonial churches and art galleries are tucked away along the prim,
narrow streets. At the newly opened Dunmore Deli, I enjoyed a fresh
crab sandwich on a balcony overlooking the town. Dunmore Town is
said to be not only the prettiest town in The Bahamas but Harbour
Island is reputed to have the loveliest beaches. So if you want
to stay on Harbour Island, there are beach hotels to suit every
taste from the elegant, antique-filled Ocean View Hotel in a restored
mansion -- to the glamorous, art-filled Pink Sands Resort -- to
simple hotels and housekeeping cottages.
Eleuthera. It's advertised as "the place you dream
of on a Monday morning." This narrow island of wide smiles is still
an unsullied bit of Eden and I long to come back and enjoy the tranquillity
before this Out Island becomes in.
The Annual Pineapple Festival at Gregory
Town in the first week of June, Tour pineapple farms, enter the
athletic "Pineathalon" buy island crafts, and sample the winners
of the pineapple recipe contest while sipping the Eleuthera specialty:
The Bahamian answer to the Wyeth Family:
Eddie Minnis, one of The Bahamas' most celebrated artists and his
two artist daughters, Roshanne and Nicole who live and work in Eleuthera,
above the picturesque town of Current. Their paintings which capture
Bahamian life can be found in galleries in Dunmore Town.
The Glass Window at the narrowest point
of the island. Here a little bridge abruptly divides the turbulent
blue Atlantic from the teal, clear-as-glass waters of the Sound.
The Cave near Gregory Town where pirates
once hid. Massive chambers and narrow passageways lead you through
spectacular underground cathedrals.
The island of Spanish Wells, only 15 minutes
by ferry boat from Harbour Island. Inhabited by descendants of the
Eleutherian Adventurers, Spanish Wells is a prosperous fishing community
and the place to try your luck at big-game fishing.
Tasting the Bahamian specialty: conch
salad In Dunmore Town, just head to the man in the bright flowered
shirt along the wharf. That's Billy Sawyer. His stand is no bigger
than a card table but for four dollars, he'll make you the tastiest
of conch salads, marinated in lime and seasoned with the island's
bright red "bird pepper."
Taking a walking tour of Dunmore Town.
You'll pass colorful Cape Cod cottages with ornately carved shutters
and verandahs. You'll see the oldest churches in The Bahamas, and
on Bay Street, you'll discover the delightfully colonial Loyalists
Cottage dating to 1790.
The Unique Village is located at North Palmetto
Point and is easily reached from the Governor's Harbour Airport
on Eleuthera. The resort offers European Plan (without meals). Summer
room rates range from $80.00 for a superior room to $150.00 for
a two bedroom villa. Winter rates range from $110.00 to $180.00.
A Modified American Plan is available at $35.00 per day per person
plus a 15% gratuity. The Unique Village has nearby boating, fishing,
golf and tennis. For reservations and information about The Unique
Village call 1-800-688-4752.
Sammy's Place (tel. 809- 334-2121) is
located on Albury's Lane in Rock Sound. No credit cards are accepted.
Mal Flander's Art Studio (tel. 809-334-4187)
Cecil Cooper's Sweet Dreams Taxi Service:
PO Box 101, Governor's Harbour, Eleuthera, The Bahamas, (tel. 809-
332-1575) One-half day tour rates are approximately $150.00. Full
day tours are $200.00. Cecil Cooper can also provide rental cars,
mini vans as well as bone fishing, deep sea fishing, spear fishing
and duck hunting trips.
Abraham Johnson Taxi Service and Car Rental:
Lower Bogue, Eleuthera, The Bahamas, (tel. 809- 335-1071). The tour
rate is $25.00 per hour. Bahamasair (tel. 800-222-4262) offers daily
flights from Nassau to Governor's Harbour.
American Eagle (tel. (800- 443-7300) offers
daily flights to Governor's Harbour from Miami. US Air Express (tel.
800-622-1015) and Island Express (tel.800-767-0380) fly daily to
Governor's Harbour from Ft Lauderdale.
Gulfstream Airlines (tel.800-992-8532)
has daily flights to Eleuthera from Miami.
You can also reach Eleuthera
by taking one of several mailboats that leave from Nassau's Potter's
Cay. For schedule information, contact the Dock Master's office
(tel. 809- 393-1064.)
For further information
about visiting Eleuthera or the other Bahamian out-islands, telephone
1-800- OUT ISLANDS (1-800-6884752.)
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