Going South on Eleuthera...

The next day we drove south toward Governor's Harbour. The beauty of the drive -- at points we could see the blue Atlantic and green Caribbean in the same vista -- was tarnished by enormous amounts of trash that littered the highway. There were washing machines, engine blocks and entire cars rusting in the bush and along Eleuthera's beautiful beaches. Much of this heavy refuse was strewn by Hurricane Andrew, but much of it had been dumped by Eleutherans. Though signs in every village urged people to “Join the Cleanup,” it was not easy to be tidy on Eleuthera since all garbage had to be shipped off the island.

But there was another dimension to this trash. We passed kitchen utensils piled into a cairn which seemed to have some religious meaning and, frequently, tin cans stuck onto the ends of tree branches--location markers, or merely decorations. “Bahamians like their trash so much they line the roads with it,” Paul said.

North of Governor's Harbour, we turned toward the Atlantic on a winding road that took us to another hilltop. Where the road had been cut through the ridge, we studied 15 vertical feet of rock strata. A perfectly fossilized crab claw and the forms of trees and palm fronds imbedded in the rock were more evidence of ancient catastrophic weather events. In the distance I could see coconut palms and the ocean. The palm grove belonged to an elderly American woman whose estate backed up to a cove protected by a small cay and an offshore reef. We drove down to the pure white beach and pale green water. There was no one but us in sight.

Paul and Sarah walked north to spend the afternoon alone while Conrad and I walked a circle around Two-Pine Cay, chipping off sections of fossilized coral. Farther south we came to the northern reach of Eleuthera's Club Med beach, an arching mile of spectacular pink-white sand and emerald water. Conrad snorkeled out to the reef and returned shaking his head. “It's dead. The entire reef is dead. Covered with fleshy algae.” I asked what had killed it. “It's difficult to say for sure, because so many factors conspire to destroy reefs. Nitrogen run-off from sewage, higher summer temperatures. Who knows. The pressure is enormous. Change the ecological balance even slightly and soft algae take over. Reefs either keep up, catch up or give up. This one's given up. The last time I was here, it was thriving.” I wondered how many patrons of Club Med knew that their beautiful beach was guarded by a dead reef.

Governor's Harbour was large enough to need a convenience shop, police station, and a stoplight. Eleuthera vacation rentals are plentiful on the Atlantic side from Governor's Harbour down to Palmetto Point. It was Whit Monday, and the town was celebrating with a festival in the market square. Crowds milled about. Kids played stickball on a roughed-out diamond. A band played Jimmy Buffett numbers in the gazebo. Methodists from churches across the island were grilling chickens at one end of the square. We stopped for a drink at Ronnie's Hi-D-Way Satellite and Disco Lounge on Cupid's Cay, a seedy but friendly place far ahead of other Eleutheran bars in its appeal to foreigners. A banner stretched wall to wall above the dance floor read, “Welcome Club Med Members.” Ronnie's was dark and air-conditioned, and advertised island oddities such as pizza and steak sandwiches. Oprah was on the TV. Behind the bar was a price list in bold caps: “Cigars $2.75, Lighters $1.00, Alka Seltzer $.75, Condoms $1.00.” Lanocane-laced “Stud 100s” were a whopping $10.00 each.

It was after 5 o'clock when we came out of the darkness of Ronnie's, and Governor's Harbour still blazed in a white heat. We stopped by the Methodist stalls and bought take-out dinners of chicken and conch salad, drove out to the beach to pick up Sarah and Paul, then cruised north toward Gregory Town. Breezing up the Queen's Highway, it was cool and our mood was friendly and comfortable. We seemed to have gotten to know each other all at once. Near Hatchet Bay we ate our dinners under Casaurina pines on a low ledge overhanging the lagoon. Afterward we went snorkeling. The sun was low, the water still, clear, tepid and so buoyant that it was hard to dive without flippers. Underwater the feeling was euphoric. There were purple sea fans, fire coral the color of mustard, trigger fish, parrot fish and sergeant-majors. A mottled grouper lurked under a ledge, rolling its bug eyes and gulping water.

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