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THE BAHAMAS
INDEPENDENT TRAVELING IN THE OUT ISLAND BAHAMAS
 
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We left Mexico aiming to explore the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos in a month-long Caribbean odyssey free to stay in one place for a while or leave right away if we didn't like it. We were on a hunt for a new home thinking warm and ocean after having lived in spring-like and mountain. We left Taxco on November 14th and were back in a week. Does that tell you anything?

The Bahamas is a large group of small islands not far off the coast of Miami. Many of them are long, very long, and narrow. That means you end up driving a long way in one direction and then back again to your starting point if you want to get a feel for the place. Because the islands are flat and relatively dry, the scenery remains pretty much the same the whole way, although here and there you'll find something to pique your interest. Fodor's describes some of these islands as "lush." If you think of sand and bramble bushes as lush, maybe you'd agree. We found the vegetation uninteresting and wished for a tall tree or two.

Leaving Miami, we flew first into Eleuthera. Landing at the tiny airport, we lined up with the other passengers outside a small building housing the immigration desk. Everyone there was wonderful, all out doing one another with kind offerings of hotel suggestions. We hopped in a taxi and set off for one of the recommended places. The first place we were shown, a small bungalow style hotel, had seen better days and there was nothing available with a water view which was why we were in the islands in the first place.

Taxi drivers are always our best sources of local information and this one knew a woman in the next town who had rooms to rent. If they had a view of the water, he didn't know. On we went to Gregorytown where we settled into a very modest duplex cottage facing the ocean just across the road. The town was small and because tourism hadn't picked up, none of the usual places to get a bite were open. We ended up at the grocery shop, buying peanut butter and jelly and some bread for about US $20.00. Those with big appetites will definitely need big bucks in the Bahamas.

Next day we rented a local's car and set off exploring. The long road offered few surprises. Governor's Harbor was a pretty spot with old colonial homes and a church or two. We didn't find anything spectacular though we gave it a good shot driving until late evening. With good books and more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we were in for the night. We asked locals about Cat Island which we thought would be great and the answer we got from everyone was, "It's quiet." That should have told us something, but it didn't. Next day we flew to Nassau and back toward Cat Island.

We landed and caught a ride with Pat Rolle, manager of a small hotel with a family style restaurant all owned by an absent Californian. It was close to the airport, right in the island's small population center called Arthur's Town. Luckily, Pat was at the airport picking up a guest coming to Cat to repair recent hurricane damage to newly installed communications equipment. Pat talked fast and furiously about everything and we got to see his place while he got his guest settled in. He had agreed to take us from the airport to the car rental office and we were soon on our way.

Driving through depressing Arthur Town we stopped at a tiny, ramshackle green house where four cars were parked. Pat knocked loudly on the door and woke up the owner, a very tall man named Grey Brown. Grey told Pat of his troubles with the government and they commiserated on the hardships of doing business in the Bahamas and then Grey turned to us saying there were no cars for rent because he had no paperwork. Undaunted, Stassi said surely Grey had a car of his own that we could rent and a deal was struck -- cash money, $78.00 a day with a $50 deposit.

Despite our protestations and willingness to pay him, Pat went on his way graciously saying he would see us again and we could pay him later for helping us find Grey. We drove off heading south on the only road. Having just been to Eleuthera where we drove from one end to the other, we were not thrilled to be once again seeing Fodor's "lush" scrub growth, though of course the occasional vista of turquoise waters helped. The drive to the other end of the island is about 40 miles or so, though it seemed much longer. We found one small resort along the way managed by a jolly older woman from New York who'd been on Cat for about 12 years. The resort was small, maybe 20 or so rooms, and service was very personal. Bikes were there for guests and there were tubs of pretzels and an honor bar. The beach was a blaze of light from the soft white sand and the wind blew at near hurricane force. We didn't stay, though if you wanted a peel while on vacation the wind on this beach would certainly do the job.

Further on we found a curious hotel with an airstrip and small yacht docking facility down a long dirt road in the middle of no where. A young woman managing the hotel with her husband showed us one of their comfortable rooms. We asked why they had chosen Cat and she said she and her husband were hoping to save money for a couple of years and then leave with a nest egg. Looking around at the room I saw two brand new huge insecticide bomb cans and two large insect repellent cans on the dresser. I asked about bugs and got a predictable answer. Yes, they are a problem. Snakes also are a problem -- a small boa constrictor finds this swampy island a perfect home. We didn't stay.

Driving back up the road, we tried to figure out how to get the car back to Grey and ourselves to the southern airport for a flight out next day. Flights alternate from the northern and southern airports each day. Of course where we were going to stay the night was still an unknown. We figured we'd have to get the car back, but bring someone with us so we'd have a ride either to a hotel that night or to the airport in the morning. We also figured there had to be some other place to stay a night that wouldn't be a fortune, but might have some laid-back charm.

Darkness came as we arrived back toward Arthur's Town. There was no sign of Grey. His tiny house was locked with a padlock. We saw something that looked like it might be a hotel above some shops. It was all dark, but Stassi pulled in and hopped out. He got himself over the fence and was running around the building to see if he could find someone when he thought of the snakes and high tailed it back to the car, but not before running into someone who said the owner lived two houses away. We pulled out, turned around, and quickly pulled into the shabby yard of a small house. Undaunted, Stassi jumped out and approached the house calling out "Hello?" as he went. He was ushered into the house by a disembodied voice and found a very, very fat man in an old barca-lounger, the owner of the hotel. He was unwilling to rent a room (which was probably just as well), but gave us the names of two more places up the road that we could try.

Back in the car we noticed that everyone driving was holding a beer, it being Friday night. Almost everyone not driving was dressed up and heading for church. Up the road and through the woods we came to a small market, shut up tight. Above it were doors that looked like hotel rooms, but the darkness and oncoming creepiness kept us in the car and on the road. We soon passed the other hotel, a motel sort of building that had seen better days years ago, though there were signs of life. We went on a ways on the dirt road by the sea and then turned around thinking something closer to town was perhaps the better option. We ended up at Pat Rolle's place, where we had earlier thought we could surely find something better.

In our day's absence, Pat had fixed up the room he had shown us earlier. The bed was made with nice sheets and new pillows. There was a new bar of soap in the bathroom and best of all he would make us some food. We settled in, had a couple of stiff drinks and made our way to the dining room. Pat doesn't bring meals to the rooms which was understandable given the size of the cockroaches that had strolled by when he was showing us around. We ate and listened to Pat's stories and then retired. Oddly, our room had large, very high quality sliding glass doors in three of its four walls. The room was right on the water -- the breeze was wonderful, our bellies were full, and we'd had enough to drink so that it all seemed almost romantic. We left the Bahamas the next day.

What we saw of these island's better hotels look to be perfect one week getaways, if you are stressed and in need of pampering. Check into a resort and never leave. If you are more of a traveler who looks for a bit of rustic romantic adventure this is not the place, unless of course you like snakes and swarming mosquitoes, then Cat Island will be your dream escape. There are three or four very small resorts on this long flat island, a block or two dotted with charming old cottages now in ruins and sitting right by the turquoise sea. It has the overall feeling of the Louisiana bayou country, but then Louisiana is much cheaper and closer and the snakes and mosquitoes are just as plentiful.
Copyright©K O'Donnell 2002

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