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Maxine Schur

Caribbean Connection
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 dreamlike.

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 Bahamian beer.

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:

At a newspaper stand:

At a soft drink stand:

At a boat dock:

On a souvenir stand:

On a street corner:

But the sign that stopped my heart was this one:

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: pineapple rum.

• 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.

Additional Information
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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Articles from the Caribbean
  Dionisio Blanco
  Candido Bido
  Sharon Wilson
  Dennis Valentine
  Don Dahlke
  Maria Henle
  Amos Ferguson
  Paradise on Earth
  Cristina Emmanuel
  Omeilia Marshall
  Giving the Devil His Due
  Euphoria in Eleuthera


Tarpum Bay by Mal Flanders




Photos: St. Columbian Anglican Church in Tarpum Bay
Hhammock at the Unique Inn
Signpost in Eleuthera
"My Beach" in Eleuthera



©Maxine Rose Schur 2015. Reproducing or copying photos and articles is strictly prohibited unless expressly granted by the owner. All photos are by the author unless specified.



Maxine Rose Schur  :    Author, Writer, Speaker, Actress

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