A Bit of Eden - Eleuthera by Maxine Rose Schur
©2001 Maxine Rose Schur. Reproduction prohibited unless expressly granted by owner.
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 Eleuthera beaches dreamlike.
I knew I was on the right track when on arriving in the early morning sunshine at Governors Harbour Eleuthera Airport (GHB) , 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 Sounds.
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.
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