Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bahamas Day 1: Back Where it Began

The palm tree out the window of a church in Harbour Island kicked off the divine adventures recounted in my book.  Now my client there needs a new website, so it's time again to return.  Here's a report of day one.

Andy on the cargo ship SeaLink


The look on the ticket taker's face told me we were in for an adventure. Our  friends on both the big island and the little island had warned us against taking the ferry between islands on a Tuesday. Every other day of the week it's "The Fast  Ferry" packed with tourists who want to see the small island and locals visiting  family or conducting business. But on Tuesday, the same line runs a cargo boat  that makes several stops. We were the only ones in line to buy tickets. "You do  realize you'll be on the Sealink, not the Bo Hengy?" said the gal at the ticket  window. "It makes several stops, and the order of stops is at the discretion of  the captain. It could be much longer than the usual three hours. Much longer."

Strains of Gilligan’s Island rang in my head.
A three hour tour
A three hour tour

Just getting to the ferry had been an adventure. Normally Andy and I fly directly  to the small island, Eleuthera, which is just a five minute boat taxi from our  final destination, Harbour Island. But this time I decided to fly us from BWI to  Nassau, capital city of the Bahamas on the big island.  A new airport in Nassau makes possible a direct flight of only two and a half hours.

 It has been six years since we've been to our Shangri la at Harbour Island, but over 20 years since we've been to Nassau. Driving into downtown Nassau from the gleaming, ultra modern airport, ours jaws dropped at the changes. Massive development on pristine roadways flanked by wide stretches of imported tropical flora created a world class look -- Monaco or exclusive parts of Hollywood or Coral Gables. Private homes on mangrove-rimmed lakes and the massive, half finished Bahia-Mar resort which will challenge the storied Atlantis as the destination resort. Tucked among them we passed the Chinese embassy, engine of much of the growth.

Mind you, this kind of development is not our thing. Although I admired the world-class design, my heart beat faster as we entered the colorful jumble of old downtown with its pedestrian-clogged narrow streets. Off to our left was the  small “Paradise Island” that hosts Atlantis, its jutting coral towers piercing the skyline. The casinos and time share condos around Atlantis form most peoples’ impressions of Nassau. But we passed beyond the high causeway connecting to Paradise Island  and pushed on to our little hotel, the Red Carpet Inn.

There was no red carpet at the Red Carpet Inn. Also no windows. Try to imagine a hotel without windows. There was a nice enough little courtyard with a few potted palms. But the advertised pool behind the complex was closed and off limits “for maintenance.” We had to press a buzzer for entrance to the lobby, and the front desk was barred and glass-enclosed like a liquor store in a red light district.

No matter though. We were happy. The reason we had come through Nassau was to visit our friend, Henry Sawyer, and this hotel was close to him.  I had tried to book us in a wonderful looking and cheap little place even closer to Henry, The Orchard Garden. But it was full by the time I made up my mind to go on this last-minute trip. I was tempted to think my amazing hotel karma had finally failed me. But then I realized it was probably God’s way of telling me we should get our little butts over to Harbour Island as quickly as possible.  And so we planned to spend just one night on Nassau, having dinner with Henry, and then be on our way the next morning.

Except the next morning was Tuesday—the day of the slow boat. Henry picked us up and drove us to the boat at dawn.  We wended our way to the docks UNDER the arching causeway to Paradise Island. The sense was of being in the bowels of the city.  High over our heads, limos carried pale-faced tourists to their pristine destinations. Bellow, a rabbit warren of colorful wooden shacks sold fried fish and booze.  They were mostly closed now, though a few men gathered around some of them, the scent of marijuana wafting through.  Gulls dive-bombed overflowing trash dumpsters. “This is a wild place in the nighttime,” Henry said.
Overhead, bridge to Paradise Island and Atlantis Resort. 

We boarded our boat, climbing stairs to the passenger compartment above the deck packed with crates, tires, and baby palms.  Instead of a restaurant and lounge, a snack stand sold fruit salads, sandwiches, beer, and instant coffee. With only one other passenger, we were able to get one of the tables that would allow us to write these reports on our laptops.  We settled in. What more could a person want?

Indeed, the sunny day and mild winds permitted us to finish the trip up on the observation deck, counting the dozen shades of turquoise in the sea. The captain made only one stop, at the quirky island of Spanish Wells, a former pirate abode. We were delighted by the glimpse we caught of its tidy pastel colored cottages.
Nassau resident Henry sawyer sees us off at the boat
Observation deck all to ourselves
snack bar
The dock at Spanish Wells

But the best part of the trip was the approach into Harbour Island.  Ever since I created a website about the island in 2001 for my client and dear friend Robert Arthur, I’ve wanted a photo of the village taken from the water.  The water taxis we normally take are too fast, too bumpy, and too low to get a good shot on approach.  But now conditions were perfect. I took about 50 shots. You’ll have to wait for the final Website to see the winner, but here’s an old shot to give you the idea.