Sitting in the diner with our travel buddies, mulling over my greasy plate of fried eggs, fried sandwich ham and toasted white bread, ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ blaring from the overhead TV with bells and whistles and Americans in Halloween dress up running down the aisles, I pondered that I could be in any small town North America.
But I wasn’t. I was in a roadside café called Swamp Thing on Long Island, Bahamas. You can’t make this stuff up.
We hired our rental car and headed out on our island discovery tour, to discover there is literally one road on Long Island. It’s called The Queens Highway, but its really a one lane barely tarred road in most places. However as there are less than 3000 inhabitants on an 80 mile long island, you don’t often pass another vehicle. There are no traffic jams, not a single traffic light in fact.
There are also not many restaurants serving breakfast, so we discovered. But at the tiny 2 room museum we were told that at Swamp Thing we could rustle some up. We nearly drove by the place as there was no sign – damn, no Swamp Thing sign…. Went in to ask for directions to it, only to be told we’d reached it.
I have to admit, there was nothing ominous about the place, no swamp nearby, nothing in fact to warrant such a name. Just some locals enjoying bowls of boiled chicken in broth (called chicken souse), and bad American game shows that mesmerized the staff.
|Inside SWAMP THING|
After brekky we continued the unguided tour, and found church after church after church. We tiptoed around the oldest one on the island, Spanish built and in complete disrepair and found three mysterious grave stones. Then passed the Palestine Baptist Church, a Macedonian Baptist Church and down in Clarence Town we visited the pretty catholic church with the modern art Jesus…
|Modern Art Jesus|
|The Catholic Church|
|An abandoned church|
Deadman’s is the largest settlement on the island yet we didn’t see a soul. Passing the sign for the ‘Deadman’s Health Clinic’, the irony wasn’t lost on us, we had a great chuckle.
The gem of Long Island though, has to be Dean’s Blue Hole. No idea who Dean is or was, but the hole is a natural phenomena – a frighteningly deep abyss just off the beach in a beautiful bay. We met William Trubridge, the world record free diver who practices here daily, diving down over 100 metres (or 3oo ft) with no gear – no fins, no air… Amazing, but quite scary as well. Hanging over the breathtaking site, a memorial to 3 women who died here on one day in 2008, drowned in the indigo hole…
|The blue hole from above - William on the platform|
|The memorial site at the blue hole|
Back along the road what we noticed was what wasn’t there. The place was missing people. Houses upon houses, clinics, churches, abandoned, decaying. And we knew why. Down in ‘Hard Bargain’ (again, can’t make these names up!), there used to be the Diamond Crystal Salt Mines, a huge business that employed so many, allowing the community to flourish with schools and parks and clinics and shops. And then sadly, after just over a decade, the plant closed to due financial troubles at the head office in the states. And in an instant, the prosperity of the island was crippled. The population dropped from near 11,000 to under 3,000. People packed up and left the island, looking for opportunities elsewhere. And what is left is a core group of survivors. Friendly, helpful families whose names are few and recognizable on signs and businesses all along the Queen’s Highway.
Apparently this place is quite lively during cruising season, with a crescendo at regatta time in April before everyone heads back up to the relative safety of the north for hurricane season.
A few expats do remain. Mike at Long Island Breeze Resortand Yacht club, our adopted host was one of them. We latched on to this pretty place, swimming pool, laundry, showers and yummy food were secondary to Mike’s hospitality, piling us into his pick up truck to and from the shops and the farmer’s market, and supplying us with all the inside info about the island.
The only disappointment was Chez Pierre – a French Canadian run, Italian beach side restaurant and chalets that had been recommended on Active Captain. Excitedly we drove down a winding maze of a sandy dirt road to find it, only to be literally dismissed by the owner on arrival. “Hello! Are you open?”
Grunt, sigh (obvious annoyance and disdain) “Yes, but if you have no reservation I can do nothing for you.” And with that he disappeared back through the mosquito screen protected veranda into the bowels of his never-to-be-known establishment.
And that was that. A bitter end to great adventure on a little known out island.
Despite Pierre, we liked Long Island. We languished in Mike’s pool and licked our fingers after the Philly cheese steak subs at the Long Island breeze on our final night. We dreamt of building little beach huts down in the south where the sand and scenery were unmatched, and we tried to forget our difficult sail halfway through, pounding into 25 knots of wind to get from the south up to Salt Pond.
|Chillin' in the Long Island Breeze pool|
|Ah, the south where the colours are indescribable|
The next stop is the Exuma chain, we’re heading into much more chartered territory now, the touristy side of the Bahamas. But we won’t soon forget the quiet charm of these farther places, nor take for granted how lucky we’ve been to visit.
|Visiting the Atlantic side at the top of Long Island|