“I be there! 8 AM sharp. Miss Lynn, Miss Judith, you be ready!” Kervin cautions, his Thursday parting words.
Of course, 8 AM came and went on Friday, and finally — about 9:30– we were off, dressed for a trip to North Eleuthera. Water bottles, comfortable shoes, cameras — and plenty of money.
Now North Eleuthera is not many miles away from Tarpum Bay, maybe 70 or so, I’d guess. But by car on the single highway that traverses our 110 mile island, it’s well over 2 hours, maybe more. Then you come to the end of Eleuthera island and located off its tip are two small island which are settlements in themselves: the upscale Harbour Island, and the quirky settlement of Spanish Wells. It was Spanish Wells that was our destination.
Spanish Wells is approximately two miles long and a half mile wide. The geography of Spanish Wells is extended, however, by a bridge that links it to neighboring Russell Island, which is just over three miles long and has become an integral part of the community. The island is known for its lobster fishing. But perhaps most interesting is its history: this old island village got its name from sixteenth-century Spanish galleons filling their water casks before sailing back to Spain. Most of the people indeed are European – true blond-haired, blue-eyed descendants of the original Eleutheran settlers. Some later residents arrived as British refugees fleeing the American revolution. Today, the island is one of the most prosperous of all the Bahamian islands outside New Providence because of modern commercial fishing fleet specializing in Bahamian lobster for shipment to restaurants in Florida, Nassau, and Freeport. The Red Lobster chain is one of their biggest customers.
I’d always heard stories that the residents were almost all white, very aloof, and inbred. In fact many island residents do have an extra little finger on one hand, but we found most people very friendly and welcoming.
Getting there is half the fun. The highway north from Tarpum Bay takes you along the edge of the island, through several small towns and through some undeveloped “developments”. The latter are a hallmark of the island: large glossy signs pointing the way down wide stone roads which quickly narrow into rocky two-tracks which meander to the sea. Chances are you won’t find a single structure under construction, nor will you see an electric line or fire hydrant. But these are a developer’s fantasy— and a property owner’s money pit.
The settlements are small, usually with some brightly painted small concrete houses, several churches, and a couple of ‘take-away’ restaurants which feature the same menu: hamburgers, ribs, baked- macaroni, and the ubiquitous ‘beans and rice’. Now and then there will be a vegetable stand or a small ‘art’ shop, usually closed.
Kervin is a madman behind the wheel. He’s driving our somewhat questionable rental car and I’m sitting in the passenger’s seat because Lynn has insisted she get the back. She misses a lot of the scenery because her head is buried in a beach blanket, her screams of “Kervin, SLOW DOWN” muffled by the fabric. But Kervin knows this road well, having driven it for most of his 47 years, and living in many of the settlements. He delights in pointing out houses he built, places he lived, restaurants where he ate, and the beach where he got his first kiss. “She was beautiful, Miss Judith,” he says. “But she was bossy. I don’t want no bossy woman in my life.”
We make a quick stop at The Island Farm: Tuesdays and Fridays are the days for fresh bread and rolls, and most of the white part-time residents and tourists show up early in the morning. The “good stuff” is usually gone by noon, but we’re there in time to get some cinnamon buns and small loaves of ‘cheesy bread’, and we much happily as we head north. Kervin’s not a frosting lover, but I am, and this mid-morning snack is just perfect!
When we reach the end of the island, we climb aboard a small ferry boat to Spanish Wells. We’re there in about 10 minutes, and the captain doesn’t take our money. We can pay him on the return trip: how else are we going to get out of there? We hire a golf cart, which is the main mode of island transportation and we set off on a tour of the brightly colored houses and immaculate yards. As we have traveled north on Eleuthera the vegetation has become greener and it’s clear why Eleuthera was once called “The Garden Island”. Abandoned stone grain elevators and old pineapple fields appear on the North Eleuthera landscape. Banana bushes and orange trees are in everyone’s yard. Here on Spanish Wells, there’s grass, too — not just the stone outcroppings we find in Tarpum Bay.
Spanish Wells has some beautiful beaches and parks, as well and almost every house is immaculate and freshly painted. Most seem to sport murals of sea turtles, fish, and other tropical subjects as well as lush plantings of bright grasses and flowering shrubs.
Kervin knows everybody, it seems. “Hey, Belly!” is a shout that frequently hails us, and he’s busy shouting back, waving, and occasionally stopping the cart and shaking hands with someone lounging against a shipping crate or a street sign. Lynn and I haven’t been fooled, of course, by his willingness to take the day off and squire us on this trip: Kervin has a little ‘boat talk’ with a variety of men down at the dock. I explain to him that in the US this is called ‘kicking tires’, and is a favorite activity of many real estate and automobile shoppers. “Well,” he says. “Everybody knows you don’t buy a boat on an island if you want a good deal. You can buy something in Miami for three times less.”
Our other highlight is lunch: we find a restaurant and go inside, Kervin leaving the golf cart keys and his cell phone in the open vehicle. The restaurant is small (4 tables) and the menu predictable. Kervin and Lynn spot some really delectable baked goods and both order a piece of “Coconut Lane Cake”, which they devour before their sandwiches arrive. It’s a truly sumptuous dessert, a cross between a cake and a coconut cream pie, but when we ask, the cook refuses to share the recipe. Kervin understands: “Miss Lynn! Why should she? It’s how she makes her livin’!”
A little more tire kickin’ and we are ready to head home. The ferryboat captain remembers us and collects $8 each. We find our car, Lynn crouches down in the back seat and buries her face in the blanket, and we are flying south to Tarpum Bay.