Let's hope this July is better than last.
03.07.2009 - 06.07.2009
Friday, July 3rd
The Bahamian’s call it Kerpunkle Up. To be drunk or intoxicated. I hadn’t been drinking, but you could say I was intoxicated. Drunk on excitement, on the salty scent of the air, on the promise of sunny days to come. I had arrived on Elbow Cay for the 4th of July weekend and I was high as a kite on a windy day in March.
Arriving in the islands always fills me with a sense of excitement. Today was no exception. It was around noon on Friday when we landed the Seneca at the Marsh Harbor airport, breezed through customs at Cherokee Air, and hopped on a taxi bound for the Hopetown ferry. It was 12:05. The next ferries were the 12:15 or the 2:00. We asked the taxi driver if we could make it. She called the ferry and asked them to wait. They did.
That’s what I love about the out islands of the Bahamas. It’s not just the exquisite beauty of the beaches or the clear perfection of the water, it’s not the palm trees waving in the breeze or the sugary soft sand, it’s the people. The people are what keep me coming back again and again. They are exceptional, friendly, beautiful people.
We discovered the Abacos a few years ago when trying to find an island destination that we felt comfortable flying to in our own plane. The glitz and development of Nassau didn’t appeal to us. I happened upon a description of the Abacos, a string of islands in the northern Bahamas that is less visited than many of the other Bahamian out-islands. It seemed ideal…and it was. This was our 5th visit to this little paradise, a place we are always eager to come back to. There's not a lot to do on the islands but between snacks of conch fritters and key lime pie, cocktails on the beach, and golf cart rides to secluded beaches, we are never bored.
On our previous visits to the Abacos, we always stayed on Guana Cay, but since we were only here 2 days, we decided to try something different: Hopetown on Elbow Cay. South of Guana Cay, Elbow is a 4 mile long barrier island located in the northeastern Bahamas off the larger islands known as the Abacos. Difficult enough to get to from the States to discourage most visitors, yet still easily accessible if you have your own plane, the island offers privacy without isolation. Hopetown is the largest settlement, with a year-round population of a few hundred people. Elbow Cay has 4 grocery stores, 3 liquor stores, 8 restaurants, and magnificent beaches.
A few thousand British loyalists fleeing America during the Revolutionary War populated Abaco and its cays beginning in 1783. Wyannie Malone, a South Carolina widow with her children, founded Hope Town in 1785. You can still find one of her descendants, Vernon Malone, whipping up fresh-baked bread and Key lime pies at his Hopetown grocery on any given afternoon. Hopetown itself is a sleepy village filled with twisty little streets running like a labyrinth, sandwiched between a harbor littered with sailboats and a curling crescent of white sand beach. Pastel-painted wooden cottages with brightly colored shutters and white picket fences remind you of a tidy New England town until the lush flamboyant blooms and porches littered with conch shells draw you back to the islands. No motorized transport is allowed past the post office, leaving curly-tailed lizards free reign in the narrow streets.
Soon we could see the red-and-white-striped lighthouse that is Elbow Cay's most famous landmark before us. Our ferry pulled into Hopetown just before 1:00.
Within moments, someone had carried our luggage to our oceanfront cottage at the Hopetown Harbor Lodge and delivered our golf cart, the preferred method of transportation on the cays.
The first order of business was food. You’ll notice a theme on my vacations. Food is important. Very important. My days go something like this: Get up. Eat. Lay on the beach. Eat. Take a walk. Eat. Do some shopping. Eat. Have a few drinks. Eat…. It was time to EAT.
A brief rain shower chose that moment to pour down on us and we quickly ran to the first place we came to…and what a great choice it was: Harbor’s Edge restaurant. Just as the name says, it’s right on the harbor, where we could watch the boats come and go as we ordered up cold rum punches and icy Kaliks (Bahamian beer). I saw something on the menu that I had to try. You see it all over the Bahamas and I had to know: “Chicken in a bag.” Turned out to be crispy fried chicken on top of French fries, topped with ketchup and hot sauce. It was so freakin’ good I nearly licked the bag.
Before heading back to the lodge, I wanted to visit Vernon’s Grocery. I had heard of his legendary key lime pies and wanted one. When we arrived, I wandered through the aisles…looking for the pie. No pie. I did see notes scribbled with hundreds of sayings lining his walls, his shelves, his ceiling. I saw fresh baked Bahamian bread and pineapples. Still…no pie. Finally I wandered through an exit door and there stood Vernon himself, baking fresh key lime pies.
“Come back in about 30 minutes,” he said. You can bet I did. During that time, we decided to head toward the “other end” of the island a bit. Apparently, we got the loser golf cart. I mean the loser of all losers. We got lapped by a bicycle. It was pretty funny, though. Whenever someone would pass us, they’d make racing sounds, or act like they were whipping a horse, or they’d do a Fred Flintstone run on the ground….very funny, guys, VERY FUNNY. It was an easy way to kill a half hour (and a good clue to get a new cart, which we did).
Thirty minutes later we were headed back to the cottage, me with a warm key lime pie box on my lap.
With my hunger finally sated, we ran back to the cottage to suit up and hit the beach for the afternoon. Cocktail in hand, toes in the sand, and sitting by my man….I was a happy girl.
Maybe too happy, because this was about the time I decided I could climb a palm tree. I had seen it done on the Travel Channel…and well….the rum made me do it. I managed to hoist myself up and proceeded to get stuck. I couldn’t go up and farther, because, well…I can’t climb a stupid palm tree, okay? But I couldn’t go back down either. I was too far up to just drop, leaving the only choice to sliiiiiide back down. Yes it hurt.
This is reason #3,458 why Vicki is an idiot.
We headed back to our rooms and everyone was pretty beat, even though it was only about 6 o’clock. I was the only person who had gotten any sleep the night before. So, as the others drifted off to an early sleep, I ate half a key lime pie for dinner and spent my evening with a good book and a peek at the stars from the beach at Hopetown.
Saturday, July 4th
The sun rose over the ocean and ungraciously peeked it’s way into our cottage. It’s happy little rays were poking at my eyelids saying, “Wake up! Wake up! You don’t want to miss a minute!” Am I the only person who always wakes up at dawn on vacation?
Hopetown Harbor Lodge proved to be a great place to stay. We opted for an oceanfront cottage. For $240, we had an extremely spacious free standing cottage just above the sand looking at the crashing waves. It had a king sized bed with wonderful linens, was beautifully decorated, had a kitchenette and a large bathroom with double vanity and a shower. There was also a porch overlooking the ocean with chairs and lounges. Brandon and Liz opted for a lodge room. For $99, they had a big room with a king bed, beautiful island décor, nice bathroom, and a mini-fridge. It also had a balcony on each side of the room, one with an ocean view and the other with a harbor view. Perfection.
As I stepped out our back door to walk over for a free cup of coffee at the oceanfront Reef Bar, a blue shar-pei, aptly named “Blu” as I was to later find out, came bounding toward me. He turned out to belong to the manager who let him run around until 7:00 a.m. So, that’s how Blu and I became morning buddies. No one else was awake.
Once he was fully awake, Matt and I decided to take an early morning walk through the Hopetown settlement while Brandon and Liz got breakfast. The settlement is picturesque, with the red and white striped lighthouse on one side, a sandy beachfront cemetery on the other, and a smattering of candy colored cottages in between. We wandered the streets, paid homage to the king of Abaco, the curly tailed lizard, and headed back for the beach.
By 10:00 a.m., I had a frozen mango madness in my hand and had my butt parked in a brightly colored beach chair listening to the waves. With a little Bob Marley on the iPod, we kicked it into low gear. Liz asked what we were going to do that day. “I don’t know,” I said. “Little of this, little of that, maybe nothing? We’ll play it by ear.” That’s when she looked at me and said, “What have you done with my cousin? Vicki plans everything.”
That’s the beauty of the islands. It can soothe even my anal-retentive, list making, uber planning soul.
We snorkeled the reef in front of the hotel, we lounged, we drank frozen cocktails. When we were sufficiently toasted, both by sun and drink, we staggered up to the Reef Bar for some lunch. Gary, one of my favorite bartenders of all time and a regular smiling face at the oceanfront Reef Bar, was ON. He whipped up fresh drinks and brought out iced spicy shrimp, hot and crispy conch fritters, and for me, a side of Bahamian mac-n-cheese…my favorite!
Full and happy, we decided to take the cart to the “other end” of Elbow Cay to Tahiti Beach. We stopped for ice cream and powered on. Eventually, our very challenged cart got us to Tahiti Beach. Tahiti Beach is a wide swath of white sand bordered by palm trees and the shallow waters of Abaco Sound. If you walk far enough around the bend in the beach, you can see the breaking waves of the ocean meet the calm of the bay. When the tide is low the beach elongates into one huge sand bar, revealing shells and sand dollars plentiful enough for even the casual scavenger.
We found sea stars (that we left right there in the ocean, thankyouverymuch), sand dollars, and shells. We looked at them, but left them where they were.
Lots of boats were gathered and families splashed about in the water. This little guy stole my heart. He’d swim in circles out in the water and then come in to roll around in the sand, then he’d climb up on his float and drift awhile. He was one limin’ dog.
For reasons I can’t explain, I decided to do a martial arts demonstration at this point. No, I don’t know martial arts. I don’t actually think that’s what I was doing. In my head I looked very “Charlie’s Angels.” In reality, it was more “Charlie Brown.” What are you gonna’ do?
Reason ##3,459 why Vicki is an idiot.
After my stunning physical display, we piled back up in the cart and headed to the Abaco Inn for drinks. We asked, “What’s the best thing you’ve got?” and they delivered the Conch Pearl….a glass of frozen goodness that was heaven on earth. The top was some creamy, dreamy frozen concoction and the bottom was a berrylicious swirl.
We were all getting pretty snoozy at this point, so naps and showers were in order. We all piled back into our cool, air conditioned rooms for a little down time.
We had seen signs for “Wine Down, Sip, Sip,” a new wine bar that had opened in Hopetown. “Sip, Sip” is a Bahamian term for gossip, so I thought the name was pretty clever. Since it was the 4th of July (for us statesiders, anyway) they were featuring $1.00 Jello shots. Like I have said before, there is always room for Jello. The place was great. Very cute, very comfy and trays of colorful little wiggles of Jello. They also had free snacks. What’s not to love? A dozen Jello shots later, we stumbled out feeling very patriotic. I mean, they had flags on them after all.
In need of food….fast….we headed to Cap’n Jacks. Like the Harbor’s Edge, Cap’n Jacks sits right on the harbor. We grabbed a great seat outside and ordered up. The sun was setting beyond the lighthouse. It was a beautiful night.
For me, dinner was a goombay smash (yes, another drink…whatever), a seafood plate (fried shrimp, fried conch, fried fish…fried, fried, fried…just how I like it), and half of Matt’s coconut pie.
After dinner, we headed over to Harbor’s Edge for some live music and a last round of drinks, like we needed more. As the moon rose, we finally gave in to our tired eyes and called it a day.
Happy Birthday, America. Good-night.
Sunday, July 5th
We all woke up early because today was “boat day.” Half the fun of the Abacos is renting a boat to visit secluded beaches on isolated cays, pop in at cool beach bars, or snorkel some of the barrier reef, the 3rd largest in the world. We decided to head north for the day to our “usual haunt,” Guana Cay.
Our first stop was Fowl Cay Reef for snorkeling. This is an amazing and extensive section of reef, the coral coming right up to the surface in most places and incredible water clarity. It requires some careful navigation over to the ocean side of the islands. After finding a mooring ball, we tied off and hit the water. After a long snorkel, we lounged on the boat for a while with drinks and snacks.
Next stop: Guana Cay for the Sunday Pig Roast at Nippers. Yes, I know many of you are wondering WHY I would go back after last July’s debacle at Nipper’s. I’ll tell you why: the mac-n-cheese. I had to have it. And I never got to eat my food last time, remember?
We boated into the harbor on Guana. Groups of people were headed toward Nippers. It was like a migration…Nippers being a magnetic force that was drawing everyone to it. And how could you not go? All signs point to Nippers.
It was a beautiful day and we had a great lunch. I stuck to one Nipper, as did the others, heeding our warnings from the last trip. I didn’t want this lunch date to end with black eyes, puked on hats, lunches in laps, and passed out men.
The buffet came out and it was as good as I remembered. For $20 there was BBQ pork, chicken, mac-n-cheese, beans, peas-n-rice, potato salad, cabbage, and sweet Bahamian bread.
As the afternoon progressed, more and more people showed up. The beach was alive with splashing kids and volleyball games and the bar was dancing to the music that came blaring out of the speakers. It was starting to get really hot, so we headed back to the boat.
Our final stop was intended to be the beach just around the northernmost tip of Guana. It is pristine, secluded, and stunningly beautiful. The color of the water takes your breath away. However, it wasn’t meant to be. Just as we arrived, it started to rain…and thunder…and lightning. Holy Crap!
We had no choice but to wait it out…and wait it out we did…for AN HOUR. It was relentless, soaking everything we had until we finally cried “Uncle” and jumped in the water. It was warmer and we were soaked anyway! We laughed it off and eventually the rain slacked off. We made our way back to Hopetown, where the skies were clear and beautiful.
After a little down time, we cleaned up and headed back to Harbor’s Edge for dinner. Dinner transforms what is a lively bar and grill by day into elegant candlelit dining by night. I tried the lobster salad and it was delicious. By the time we had eaten, we were thoroughly exhausted and everyone headed back to crawl into bed.
Monday, July 6th
I couldn’t believe it was already time to go. We needed to catch the 8:30 ferry so we all got up early and headed out. Half asleep on the ferry, we pulled away from Hopetown and headed back toward Marsh Harbor. As we motored toward our exit, I realized there were so many things I still wanted to do. I didn’t make it to Cracker P’s full moon party, or Pete’s Pub in Little Harbor. I wanted to see the beach at Tilloo Cay and stop at the secluded, deserted beach on Johnny’s Cay. I needed to snorkel Sandy Cay. There was still so much to do…..
I guess that’s why I flew above Marsh Harbor, headed back toward home, with a secret smile on my face. We’ll be back. Don’t you worry about that. As the Bahamians say…
I happy. You happy. We all happy.