Abaco Island – Going Down To Der Islands!
…By M. G. Phanon
Pick up a magazine about the Caribbean and you think to yourself, “nice”. But if you live here, after a while you realize that they writing about a place that exists in their imaginations. Perhaps it’s part of the magic of the word, to transform and remake.
We, who live here, work here, know here as no one does. So lets begin in the far north with The Bahamas. The Bahamas, like the Caribbean, is archipelagic with each member of the archipelago having its own peculiar qualities.
But The Bahamas, despite a common colonial history with its Anglophone neighbours to the South, is not quite Caribbean in the way its neighbours are considered Caribbean.
Perhaps Caribbean is a state of mind, an idea, a certain ineffable “something” that sees millions of curiosity-seekers, return year after year to this emerald bejeweled basin. Whatever it is however, those of us who have been born into this idea have an entirely different view of “going down to der islands”.
Long before Flagler began bringing people to The Bahamas and Aronson made “getting there” the whole point of the journey, we were getting about on sail boats; listening to the gurgling, delicately foamed blue-green water swish around the portly hull of an Abaconian two-master. Sitting in the shade of taut, gently curving canvas.
The captain’s weather-beaten face, his rough hand closed around the smooth tiller, telegraphing every motion to his seasoned soul. His eyes move between the souls and cargo under his care without missing the slightest shift in either wind speed or direction, or those telltale signs – a change in the birds’ flight; that growing bank of dark clouds; the way the waves roll; the wind’s weight blowing in his face. Making good time and having a good time with the passengers; barking orders to crew to trim here, let out there, check the cargo – again!
This is how those of us born into this ineffable something called The Bahamas have been travelling from Grand Bahama, Abaco, Bimini, Andros, New Providence, Eleuthera, The Exumas, Long Island, San Salvador, Cat Island, Acklins and Crooked Island to Inauga and points south.
That era is now only a memory. Today, in props and jets, we criss-cross the “Isles of June” in the same time it would have taken a two-master to get on its way. From those heights that blue-green, ruffled surface locks its charm away from those who fly high above and even those on diesel powered craft, insensitive to the nuances of sailing, immune to all but the fiercest storms. Such are the marvels of technology.
Long sleek jets disgorge their fare. Mammoth floating hotels, with names like Fantasy, Ecstasy etc, offer an added bonus by depositing their crowds for a brief respite upon our shores.
They are all trying to find that something, capture that fantasy they read about in a glossy magazine, or recalled from a jingled 60-second. And some think and even believe they have.
Of course not everyone is interested in that “ineffable something”. Instinctively, they know it is beyond them. So they take in a tour along the streets that run through the nicer residential areas, hermetically sealed off from our lives and looking like occupants of a rolling zoo as they twist and turn to catch this or that detail mentioned by their guide.
I write so intimately of the experience for it is one that I have had. Not until you have watched a guided tour rolling along do you understand the sadness that you caught in a fleeting moment in the eyes of a “native” as they watched you drive by.
Or perhaps they have decided to pass the brief time divided between the beach and the casino, with a side trip to the market to get local souvenirs made in Taiwan or The Philippines for friends and family back home. None of this can really be called a holiday, maybe a vacation package, as if one were a product.
Such is the nature of the travel business where one no longer goes on a holiday but is packed off on a vacation package where everything is decided for the traveller. And yet deep down everyone who steps on a plane for these beautiful islands longs for something that really re-creates for them a sense of being and feeling well as opposed to harried.
Even though one can no longer afford more than seven days, with the 3 days 2 nights the norm, yet there are things one can do to transform a vacation pack-age into a holiday.
Instead of hurrying off to Nassau in New Providence, one can fly directly to Abaco’s Treasure Cay, or Marsh Harbour – don’t you just love those names? – and stay at any of the many pleasant hotels and inns.
So what’s so good about Abaco? Well for one you can rent you own run about, pack a picnic basket and without the bother of a guide, simply cruise along some of the most picturesque cays (pronounced “keys”) anywhere in the world.
If you are staying in Marsh Harbour you can go across to Hope Town with its world-famous candy striped light house, walk along quaint streets with clapboard houses, have a drink at one of the friendly bars while you exchange pleasantries with the people. Walk across to the eastern shore and listen to the Atlantic. You just might decide to stay for dinner and return later to your hotel on the “mainland”.
That’s day one.
Day two you might decide on an early start and zip up to Treasure Cay which is minutes away from Treasure Island and Guana Cay of now forgotten Visa fame. Walk about on long stretches of empty beach or hike across from the tranquil side to the roaring Atlantic side of the island,
And through all of this, no guide, no feeling like a resident in a rolling zoo, just you, family and friends stopping when you wish where you wish. That alcove over there, exploring Treasure Cay’s myriad canals with their stands of Australian pines, locally known as causarinas.
No need to mention all the water sports you could indulge; why mention the obvious. Though the best water sport is just lying on the deck of a drifting 30-footer in turquoise waters so clear you can see the sandy bottom a mere twenty feet from the gentle surface.
So that’s the second day and the first night. Perhaps you will have dinner on Green Turtle Cay. But you will want to putter about its estuary-like shelters with its miles of mangroves.
And even if you are not one of those armed with camcorder, digital point and shoot or 35mm, Green Turtle Cay will make you wish you did bring the camera along. Its tiny “streets” lined with New England-styled homes, hark back to a memory the early Loyalist settlers had of their former homes.
For Green Turtle Cay was the first home of some of those who felt more at home under the rule of George III than in some new fangled arrangement called The Republic, and brought about by a war of independence. For their stand they were kicked out of the new republic and given solace and a home by George III. You’ll agree, they haven’t done too badly, thank you.
Such are the beginnings of a holiday. And that was just Abaco. We leave the remaining islands for your leisurely discovery. Yes there are 700 pieces of dry land ranging from Andros to mere specks of green ringed with white sand…
Special to Bahamas Gateway – By M. G. Phanon