Just down the road from the little village where we live on Eleuthera, there’s a small “island” called Princess Cay, where cruise ship passengers from the Princess Cruise line disembark for a day during their voyages. We’re not big cruise fans. Not that they’re intrinsically bad- they’re just not for everyone. And the fact that they’re not for us is highlighted every time a new set of folks arrive on tenders from their behemoth ship, and set foot on the white sand (brought in from another nearby beach) of what they think is Eleuthera.
What does it take to really know a place? Are these vacationers getting a good feel for life on a Caribbean island by renting a beach umbrella for $25 for a few hours and visiting the little kiosks set up just for them, buying straw hats, indulging in a Bahama Mama and some peas ‘n rice, riding around a little bay on those big-wheel water vehicles? Do they “know” Eleuthera when they lease a dune buggy and go tearing around Lighthouse Beach for their maximum 2 hours? Can they say they “talked with some locals” after briefly meeting the Bahamian school kids visiting the setup for their tourism project?
We’re not saying this is a typical experience for all cruise passengers, or that it’s wrong or silly. But most travelers I know want to, you know, KNOW a place. Really find out how it ticks. See the good stuff. Eat and hear and smell and feel all that the place and people are.
“How long does that take?” is an age-old question travelers have struggled with. Add to that questions about where one should stay or eat, whether or not one should work or volunteer, what off-the-beaten-path sights one should see, or what methods of travel to use, and we travelers can get mighty confused about the definition of an “authentic” experience.
I don’t know the answers to those questions. Maybe others do. Maybe we all wrestle with them at some time or another, even when we think we’ve got them down pat. But I do know that these several months on Eleuthera have given us some beautiful gifts of “knowing” a place and a people.
Here are some:
The sunsets in front of our house are different. Every night. Every single one.
At the grocery store in Greencastle, peanut butter is less expensive than in Rock Sound.
Wemyss Bight beach is easy to get to but usually empty, and usually calm. Northside Beach is the best one for finding treasures. Stop and see Rose, the owner of Northside Inn, and her huge, friendly dog Teddy.
They’ve filled the biggest potholes on Queen’s Highway just out of Waterford on the way to Deep Creek. The holes will form again soon, but for now, there’s no need to weave around them.
Friendly Bob can always give you a ride, wherever you need to go. You can most often find him at the Rock Sound airport.
Swimming in the cut at the marina in late fall is not advisable. The bull sharks love the fishermen’s leftovers.
No house has a real address on the island. You might be able to get something mailed to you at “the yellow house in Deep Creek,” if that’s where you live. Or you might not, even if that’s where you live. Dingle Motors can hang on to any mail for you, though.
The “back road” is a sketchy place. Try not to walk there at night, or the mean potcake gang (stray dogs) might deliver a nasty bite. They’ve had six victims in the past few months.
Wave at people and say hello as you walk or drive. Everyone does.
You can get great ice cream now at the little brown house on the road. Just look for the door to be open with a sign saying, “Ice Cream, Water, Drink.” If it’s not open, walk a little further and ask around for the owner.
Mr. Henry makes “cups” you can get for just $1. Stop at his house and ask, then go inside to his freezer and pull out a couple. Pay him on your way out, but take some time to chat. He’s one of the nicest people in town. Cups are frozen sugar water and fruit.
If you want to camp out, Navy Beach is supposed to be great. I’m not so sure I could hack it myself, as the abandoned buildings on the site are covered with Voodoo drawings. Scares me a bit.
Bush medicine is a real thing.
The Toyota Surf is the most versatile vehicle you can buy, and it gets you to all the greatest, hard-to-reach beaches.
The Island School/Cape Eleuthera Institute is a pretty cool place, totally sustainable and full of activity- high school students, brainy-but-fun-loving researchers, sharks and lionfish in tanks, and hydroponic vegetables abound.
Al Curry runs a great dive shop in Davis Harbour. Visit Ocean Fox Cotton Bay if you want to dive with the best.
Charlie, our “Straw Man“ who creates many of the beautiful items you see here on our site, doesn’t have a car, and doesn’t always answer his phone. If you need to get ahold of him, drive past his house and see if the front door is open.
Did I mention the sunsets?
As Scott and I travel more in the future, I’m sure we’ll spend time thinking and talking about this concept of “knowing” a place and a people. I’m sure we’ll visit places where all we do is see the usual tourist sights, and in other venues we might settle down for a while or intentionally try to know more. To me, travel is about so much more than relaxation, getting away from the stress of everyday life, or trying to get a tan in 4 days. As Steve Zikman says in The Power of Travel, (one of my favorite books):
“We scurry up a massive learning curve… We strive to make sense of all that’s out there. As much as we can, we struggle to participate in what’s before us. We act and react. We ask and listen. We learn about the people we meet and the places we visit. Ultimately, we learn about ourselves.”
Ultimately, we learn about ourselves. Isn’t that ironic? We think we’re getting to know a place, but we’re also getting to know us. We question and challenge, look in the mirror, study our beliefs. In the end, it’s all an inner journey.