Boys and Girls at Play

Relatively poor and undeveloped Eleuthera was lively after dark. The bar at Cambridge Villas was home to a friendly group of locals and tourists who drank until late in the night almost every night. And there were at least three other watering holes in Gregory Town where visitors could mingle with Eleutherans.

On the way back to Cambridge Villas we passed a man and woman riding bicycles. “Steve and Sarah,” Paul said. “They'll be at Cush's tonight.” Cush's was a disco no larger than a rich man's living room a couple of miles south of Gregory Town. When we arrived, the place was rocking.

At first we were the only white people there. But at Cush's, as everywhere on the island, I felt no racial tension, not even when a large Bahamian woman I danced with turned her back to me and ground her hips into my crotch, though her boyfriend was sitting at the bar.

A well-preserved heiress to a chocolate fortune came in, then two German teenagers followed by Steve and Sarah, who had filed for divorce and come straight to Eleuthera. Steve, a ball-bearing salesman, was a devoted surfer and Eleuthera offered some of the best waves in the world. His estranged wife was an attractive legal assistant who found surfers tiresome. Once I saw Sarah and Paul talking at a corner table, cupping their ears to hear each other over the blasting chords of the house band.

The Beluga of the Bahamas

The next morning Steve went surfing, and Sarah came with us to Marvin Gardens. We parked on Whale Point Road and were soon at the top of the cliff, staring down into the surf exploding into the wall. Paul and Conrad roamed north and south, hammering off chunks of rock and peering at them though miniature magnifying glasses. I photographed the curious bonsai trees clinging to life on the rock hill behind the wall. Twenty feet back down the hill I could hear the surf pounding.

The sky was brilliant and the sun already seemed deadly. The experience was again vivid -- sun, rock, cliffs -- and I started to feel anxious. At any minute, it seemed, I might ambush a scorpion or fall and impale myself on the blades and pikes that time and weather had sculpted in the limestone underfoot. You could have heat stroke here, or tumble from the cliff top and die in the angry maw of the ocean.

I looked around to find the others on the cliff top but couldn't see Conrad. I set off to find him, climbing up and down one ridge and to the top of the next. My heart was pounding when I reached the crest and looked down into a deep ravine. Below me Conrad Neumann, The Father of Bahamian Geology, was floating in a natural pool 25 yards wide. It had been formed in the ravine where the cliff dipped to a mere ten feet above the ocean.

Over centuries, the action of waves breaching the cliff and flooding the pool had caused large stones to mill out chest-deep chambers within it. Conrad, naked except for his floppy white hat and red bandana tied rakishly around his neck, was grinning at me from one of these chambers, his own private bath. “Do I remind you of anything?” he shouted. “The beluga of the Bahamas?” Just then a breaker rose over the wall and clipped him from behind. I saw his buttocks and feet roll out of the foam and disappear. He came up laughing and sputtering as his hat surfed toward the head of the pool.

The scene was both comic and idyllic. I stripped to my underwear and topsiders, and walked gingerly into the pool. “Say, you ever been naked before?” Conrad asked incredulously. “You do that like a man who's never taken his clothes off.” “Isn't this illegal?” I asked. Conrad guffawed. “Yeah, you wait for de cops. Deh comen, mon.” I shed my jockey shorts. By the time Sarah and Paul topped the ridge, I was relaxing in my own chamber.

Eye-level with the still surface of the pool I gazed out on the strange perspective created by the rolling ocean beyond it. Soon the four of us were lounging naked in our own chambers. We seemed to have stumbled into a time before the Fall. Free and serene, we moved about in the clear green water spell-bound underneath the high sun and cobalt sky. Many thousands of years old, this rough-hewn Eden had perhaps never been seen by anyone. We named it Neumann's Pool at Marvin Gardens.

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