Passing Windermere Island...
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 Eleuthera 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:
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.”
The next oday, I headed for Harbor 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 pink sand beaches. So if you want to stay on Harbour Island, there are beach hotels to suit every taste from the eclectic Runaway Hill to the glamorous, art-filled Dunmore -- 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.
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