“Now you be careful,” Miss Brenda tells me. “That car don’t got windshield wipers. They be broke.”
“And,” offers Kervin, “Y’all check the oil and water each time you gets gas.”
“OK,” I promise, and Ken and I drive one block to the gas station, get gas, and the attendant fills up the car with a couple of jugs of water. (Gas station attendants do that here in the Bahamas. “That’s their JOB,” sniffs Miss Brenda. Of course, for $5.50 a gallon, they ought to do something….)
My visitor Ken and I are headed for the Glass Window Bridge, the one site in Eleuthera that Ken wants to see. On this two mile-wide island, ‘The Bridge’ is at the narrowest part: underneath its arch, the indigo Atlantic Ocean and the turquoise Caribbean meet. On calm days, it’s a beautiful and strange experience to see; on stormy days the bridge is closed because the waves will sweep away cars and pedestrians. The Bahamians call these ruthless waves “The Rage”–and while I’ve never seen the oceans like this, being on The Bridge even in the most calm times is a fearsome experience.
Now the sixty or so miles from Tarpum Bay to The Bridge ought not to be a major trip, were we on the mainland. In Eleuthera, however, a two lane road is often 1.5 lanes wide, and the word ‘shoulder’ is not in the roadbuilder’s vocabulary: there’s usually a sharp drop-off, sometimes into cypress swamp or rocky shoreline. There’s one road going north and south, and most of the locals have traveled it all their lives: they know every curve and pothole. Intersections are marked not by signs, but by crosses adorned by dusty garlands of plastic flowers. And the traffic often consists of large diesel trucks, a few tractors, and lots of old pickup trucks carrying several passengers in the back bed.
Ken asks, “Are there speed limits on this island?”
“Do you see any signs?” I answer. “Or any law enforcement?”
And so we’re ready: plenty of gas, oil, water, soft drinks, snacks, and money. We pass through Palmetto Point, Governors Harbour, and points north—one small, colorful town after another. We drive along the ocean’s rocky shore and smooth sand beaches, marveling at the lack of people and cars. Ken practices pot-cake spotting and rooster sighting opportunities: stray brown dogs and iridescent birds populate every village.
We don’t stop until we reach Gregory Town: there is a charming gift shop there, and then we have lunch at Monica’s Dis and Dat Carry Out and Grocery Store. Monica remembers me from last year and asks after Miss Lynn. Vegetarian Ken does a little hiking around the village while I eat a gloriously sloppy Bahamian hamburger and sip some Goombay Punch.
Then, on to The Bridge.
The Bridge is one narrow lane. It is in a constant state of repair, due to the endlessly beating waves—but today it is quiet. Ken hikes up to the top of the ridge and takes the awesome photo in this blog, and we head south again, thinking to find a tranquil sunbathing beach on our way home.
The car, however, has another notion: it seems to understand that its job was to get us to The Bridge, but not home again. Its red temperature warning light flashes on, and it gets to the gas station in Gregory Town and then abruptly stops—three feet short of the gas pump.
Fuel is not the problem. “Bad news,” says a local mechanic who appears from the house next door. “Engine’s blown. She ain’t gonna go further.”
He explains that he could fix it, but it will need an engine from Nassau. He estimates an astronomical price and a couple of weeks wait. When I call her, Brenda advises, “You all just come home. We worry about it later.”
The mechanic proposes a solution: he will find a wrecker who will take us (and the car) back to Rock Sound. “Wrecker?” I say. “In North Eleuthera?”
“Sure,” he says, wiping his oily hands in his tee shirt. “There be TWO wreckers on this island—one in the Nord and one in the Sout.” And an hour later, we meet Big Chuck.
Big Chuck, it turns out, is a Nassau native who has been to ‘Ford School’ in Detroit, and so he knows Michigan—and is a good mechanic as well. Big Chuck, Ken and I (who are, by contrast, little people) squeeze into the cab of the huge, spotlessly maintained wrecker, and head for Tarpum Bay at a speed which would put even Kervins driving to shame. We roar through villages and pass moving cars and trucks as if they were parked. Big Chuck waves at everyone, talks on his cell phone, and gives us his thoughts on Eleuthera business and banking, tourism, and the current government.
“We just gotta get WID it,” he says of Eleuthera businessmen. “We gotta get to the twenty foist century, make it com-for-table (four syllables) for the tourists.
In about half the time it took us to get to The Bridge, we arrive home. Big Chuck expertly backs the car into Kervin’s parking place.
“How much?” I ask.
“It’s a long way from Gregory Town,” he replies, gazing into the clear blue sky. “A real long way.”
Yep, it is that. About $7.00 a mile, it would seem. And a dead car. And a day’s adventure in the Bahamas.