Freedom Isle - Eleuthera
Eleuthera Pt. 1 – From Governor’s to the North
With lockdown measures across The Bahamas slowly easing, what are you going to do with your new-found freedom? YOU ARE GOING TO ISLAND HOP.
It’s time to explore ELEUTHERA, the island of Freedom.
Arguably, Eleuthera is one of the most important and influential islands in The Bahamas. Much of history is deposited and preserved here; from the Arawak’s who knew this alluring isle as “Cigatoo” to the British Loyalists who contributed much to the architectural façade of the island it’s easy to recognize that a lot of Eleuthera’s development was exported to other islands of The Bahamas.
Getting there is a breeze. There are regular flights in and out Governor’s Harbour, Rocksound and North Eleuthera airports on BahamasAir, Pineapple Air, and outside of the commercial carriers there are numerous charter companies making regular trips in and out. I always prefer to travel the islands by boat where possible, so I would recommend a run on Bahamas Fast Ferries and take in the full experience. Choose Governor’s Harbour for arrival, since it is the most central airport and the easiest to find transportation.
Eleuthera has a number of settlements along it’s 110-mile expanse of narrow land and you can (and should) drive to them all. Each settlement is different in some way, and you’ll find great charm in the Eleutherian accent. I have always found it funny when Eleuthera natives say Hatchet Bay, it’s like the H becomes silent and the word mutates and becomes ‘atchet Bay. You’ll have to hear it to understand, trust me it’s hilarious.
I spent many summers in Eleuthera as a little boy, as my Grandparents have a home in Palmetto Point, and much of their history as children is rooted in Eleuthera. It’s always a cerebral experience walking through time, as not much has changed since my first trip there when I was just 8 years old.
I learned the traditional methods of pot-hole farming, slash and burn cultivation and my Grandfather being a vault of knowledge always made it a point to teach me a little about the history of the island. I loved walking out into the shallow waters in front of their house. I still do.
Driving the island is a must and the best way to manage this mission is to split it up and take the North one day, and the South on another. It’s best to set off after breakfast at The Buccaneer Club in Governor’s Harbour, a charming eatery set on a hill near the waterfront. Go for the stewed fish, and if you want to engage your inner aristocrat go ahead and have a mimosa with that. There are a lot of cats at the restaurant so if you like feline’s then that’s the perfect place to play with a pussy. #Pause
Remember this island is very long and the settlements are separated by expanses of bush and nothingness. Pack some water, a cooler with some cold beers and some snacks for the drive, and then get to it. The Northern drive will take you through James Cistern, Alice Town and Gregory Town. It’s worth making a pit stop in Gregory Town if you fancy some pineapples – I’m going to come back to pineapples in a bit, this is a very important part of this islands culture and history - and a scenic view. Gregory Town also has cliffs along the western side of the settlement if you feel so inclined to take a plunge into the cerulean seas.
Hatchet Bay (Remember, the H is silent) has a cave system that runs underground, when you the see the old grain silos, remnants of the cattle and dairy industry of years past, there is a dirt road and some signage that will lead you there. Best not to drive there in a low vehicle as the bushes can get overgrown. Try and respect the cave, the graffiti inside (some of it) is centuries old, along with charcoal and stone carvings that line the cave. Bruce Wayne may make an appearance if you disturb our native bats. They are relatively used to people, but sudden noises and bright flashlights will awaken them and then everyone on the island will hear you hollering as you flee from these harmless creatures. You wouldn’t like it if someone woke you up, right?
Now, let me take a minute to talk about Eleuthera pineapples aka The Sugar Loaf. I had the pleasure of a chat with Chef Simeon Hall Jr. who imparted an interesting titbit of knowledge on me, and I am going to restate it in a much less sophisticated fashion *clears throat* - ELEUTHERA PINEAPPLES ARE WHERE YOU ALL GOT YOUR PINEAPPLES FROM. I said, what I said.
From Hawaii, to Puerto Rico…the world wanted our pineapples. They have so much sugar they can almost ferment in the rind and you can taste the alcohol if you let them sit long enough. Ask anyone in Eleuthera where to get you a sugar loaf and they’ll sort you out. If the juice isn’t dripping down your hand, arm and face then did you really eat the…pineapple properly?
The narrowness of the island becomes more evident as you continue North and come to the Glass Window Bridge.
Everyone has heard of the seven wonders of the world; this is one of the seven wonders of The Bahamas. A thin strip of concrete that sits in gap that would otherwise be impassable. If the weather is bad, I do not advise making this crossing. The people of Eleuthera can tell you about the rage, when the waves from the turbulent Atlantic bash against the Eastern side of the bridge and thunder over and under the bridge to the other side. There is enough power in the waves to take a vehicle over the perilous edge and you’ll certainly meet injury or death as has happened before. Otherwise, if it is a calm day feel free to slow your pace on the bridge and take in the vivid monochromatic seascape.
The Queen’s Bath is nearby alongside the adjacent cliff and has a cluster of naturally formed pools in the limestone rock. The water temperature in the pools is balanced by the absorption of the suns heat into the rocks, and a refreshing refill of cool seawater. If nothing else, you’ll get some good Instagram content out of the experience. Now, get back in the car, dry off and let’s keep moving.
Beyond the Glass Window Bridge, you’ll find North Eleuthera. For me, there’s never been much to do there however the remnants of a once thriving citrus industry in the form of large mango and orange orchards still exist and if the season is right, it’s usually okay to grab a bit of fresh fruit and venture down the trails through the groves which lead to isolated beaches and caves. Preacher’s Cave was the place of refuge for William Sayle when he was shipwrecked along with the other Eleutheran Adventurers.
It’s on the way and is an eerie cave that imparts a strong sense of piousness and a feeling of refuge from weather, and persecution I suppose.
It’s worth mentioning that the Sapphire Blue Hole is very near to Preacher’s Cave, but to explain how to find it is a task. There is a wooden sign along the path to Preacher’s Cave, provided that the wind or some mischievous traveller of the past hasn’t tampered with it, it should lead you there. You can jump in for a swim, never mind the local folk tales of monsters and sharks in the blue hole. No one really knows what the hell is at the bottom of these tubular cave structures filled with sea water. Just go for a dip, nothing to fear there.
Alright, back to the car.
Three Island Dock is a short drive from Preacher’s Cave. From here you can hop on a Water Taxi and (for $5) they will shuttle you across to Harbour Island. Now, Briland, as we Bahamians call it, is a land unto itself so I’m going to canvass that separately in another blog. It’s worth mentioning that although it is a quaint little island, it’s been heavily commercialized, and the influx of wealth has in my view had something of an adverse impact on Harbour Island. It feels more like an expensive tourist trap than anything, but it is still worth visiting.
There is also Spanish Wells; the Narnia of The Bahamas. As a young boy, a relative who is much fairer skinned than I, once told me not to go to Spanish Wells if I didn’t go with him. I was too young to understand this at the time – the blessing of childhood innocence – but later in life I understood. Spanish Wells people are very clannish and protective, but things change. It seems that Spanish Wells has now opened up its shrouded and closed island life to the world, and Wrecker’s is quite a cool bar to pull up to for cocktails and some downtime. They are also the most skilled fisherman and fresh red snappers, lobster, grouper and all the gems of our seas are available there – still live and kickin’.
That about takes care of the North. This piece really does it not justice, you have to go out and hop a boat, hop a flight and see it for yourself. Exploring the Bahamas can be an intimidating thought, especially if you’re unsure where to go, what to do when you get there, or don’t have a means of booking accommodations or experiences without any local knowledge. Explorethebahamas.com is the first and best local booking platform in The Bahamas, I recommend checking them out.
Thanks for reading. Part 2 is on the way as we trod down to Cape Eleuthera and the Island School, Rocksound and Bannerman Town for the second half of the Eleutheran adventure.
Shout out to my bro Andrew Bell for the awesome drone shots.
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