Lynn, my partner in the Great Bahamian Home Ownership Adventure, has been here for a week. And while we’re different in many ways, and we’re good at respecting each other’s differences, we also have many adventures together. Both of us enjoy our Bahamian friends, and we’re both very much in love with this island and its culture. Lynn’s a lot more outgoing than I, so as a result our house is often full of people and I learn more about people and events because she doesn’t hesitate to jump out of the car and ask what’s going on.
Today, for instance, we set out early on our way to the Island Garden Store. Clyde, the Bahamian who owns it, welcomed us warmly: two years ago he’d rescued us from an over-heated engine car disaster, and remembered who we were immediately. (Says something about the level of excitement on Eleuthera: all we had was a steamy radiator!). Anyway, here came the Steamer Ladies, hot after the fresh-baked rolls and bread which is available on Tuesdays and Fridays at Clyde’s place. The bread is wonderful: I bought a long. crispy baguette filled with a tomato-olive paste. It was still warm from the oven, and we went happily down the road, tearing off large chunks of the fragrant, hot loaf.
Lynn wanted to visit this beautiful stretch of beach right next to a little resort: we hadn’t been back to that beach since our visit last time, and it is a breathtakingly beautiful site. But as we pulled down the lane to the pink sandy shoreline, which is usually deserted, we saw two large trucks parked right in the middle of the road. “Oh,” said Lynn, “those look like camera dollies. They are filming something!” And she hopped out of the car.
“Sure enough,” a friendly guy told her. “We’re filming commercials for a major line of cosmetics. This is their sun block commercial.” Turns out the photographer is a major-league player from Miami, and was happy to talk about filming commercials, his home in Eastern Europe, and how beautiful it was in Northern Michigan, where we live. “Did you want to drive past us down this road?” he finally asked. “I’ll be glad to move the trucks.”
No, we said. We are on our way to another beach. But the beach where we wanted to go was windy and a little cool. We read in the sun for a while, and then moved on, heading north through Governor’s Harbour, the capital of Eleuthera, past the airport, to an appliance store named “Lord Byron’s”.
Lord Byron’s Appliances and Home Improvement. God rest my MFA in literature! The store was a fairly large concrete block warehouse with a lumberyard behind it, and sat baking in the noonday sun under the blue and gold of the national flag. Three young Bahamians were inside watching TV—it was a slow morning at Lord Byron’s. Surprisingly,though, we found what we wanted, and for a good price. However, checking out was a little on the slow side—the Bahamian television show seemed too interesting to be interrupted. Suddenly, one of the tv characters screamed, “Release your inner pimp!!!”
“WHAT?” said Lynn. “Release my inner pimp? You gotta be kidding.” All five of us collapsed in laughter.
Leaving Lord Byron’s Appliances (having released our inner pimp), we continued north—passed Surfer’s Beach and Preacher’s Cave and into Gregory Town, home of Lenny Kravitz. We passed Elvina’s, where Lenny and friends jam on Tuesday night, and found a couple of shops and a take-away restaurant named Mona’s. Mona’s is just a little shack, equipped with a griddle and a deep fat fryer and a cooler full of Kalik beer—but the cheeseburgers were good (for $3.50) and the conch fritters (5 for $1) were wonderful, if artery clogging. We ate outside on the picnic table, having first discovered where Lenny lives (“Ain’t no secrets on THIS island, girl!) from Mona, and that he was indeed on the island and hanging out at Elvina’s.
Heading home, we picked up a hitch hiker, who turned out to be an interesting tour guide. He was a former banker who left his job at Chase Manhattan to come to Eleuthera where he met his wife. He’d been in over 30 countries in his banking days, and was now a construction foreman working on the Glass Window Bridge repair work. This is a highly dangerous job, he told us. And having been to the Bridge, I could imagine: the Bridge is a man-made bridge formed over a 200 yard wide strip of land where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean meet underneath. The current bridge replaced the natural arch which was painted by Winslow Homer and subsequently destroyed by the waves. Still, it’s a breath-taking place, though the bridge itself is often unsafe: there are no reefs to protect it on the ocean side, and sudden rogue waves, called ‘rages’ by Eleutherans, have been known to sweep people (and vehicles) off its surface. Our passenger told us that the rages, often 100 feet high, can hit the bridge for several days at a time, and the one-lane bridge is shut down entirely during that period. The bridge is again being repaired, but as our guest told us, “it will never be safe.”
North Eleuthera was, at one time, a highly productive agricultural area as well. As we drove through the fields, we saw the remains of a dozen or so concrete silos where grain crops were stored. Pineapples, too, were a staple, until the US ceased to become a market as it developed the Hawaiian islands in the 1960’s. Add to that, our rider told us, the devastating effect of the drug trade on the Eleutheran people. Many people had lots of money, and corruption and money-laundering activities were everywhere. The Bahamian government was young and inexperienced, he said, and unable to deal with the many problems that arose. In many instances, the government over-reacted to these trends and banking became difficult, foreigners were unwelcome, and the Eleutherans themselves lost the ability to become self-sustaining because money was so abundant.
“But I wouldn’t,” he said, “ever leave Eleuthera again. I’ve traveled all over the world, and lived in Nassau and New York. This island is the best place I’ve ever found.”
Thirty miles later, we dropped him off at his immaculate bungalow not far from our own cottage, happy to have spent time with this interesting man and his wealth of information and insight about the history and culture of this island.