Friday, January 9, 2009

On My Way to Abaco

After 16 months away I am flying back to Abaco today. I have a picture of what life could be for the next few months, but I can only speculate. I anticipate the rush I always feel as we approach CasaMar and see the ocean. The front seat from our rusting pick up always has the power to relax my mind and body. It only takes a few days to lose track of time. I hope to find focus not boredom in the abyss of time. Luckily there is always an endless list of projects to be completed. The chemical power of salt still surprises me. I expect everything crucial or trivial to break, corrode, and rot in the sea spray.

I'm off to the side terminal under the highway. To get on an 8 seater puddle jumper with one bag and my dog. The first leg of our trip is over. 16 hours in the EuroVan with Dad, Tom, Norval, and Tillie. A whirlwind trip to Miami and the Solar store will hopefully be my last bout with the rat race for awhile. I could turn my headache in the 6 lanes of trafic battling it out at 80 miles an hour into a metaphor but I'll resist. Just know I am safe this morning and on my way to my favorite place in the world. The moon is nearly full so you can picturing me watching it
rise over the ocean like a floating orb reflecting on the sea.

Amanda Mar
Fort Lauderdale, FL


** The following is an excerpt from an unfinished project that discribes my family traveling to CasaMar years ago. I thought it would be appropriate to post it today as I take the trip as an adult.

Escape to Punishment Bay

My mom has taken to calling us the Swiss Family Rissler as we prepare for our grand departure from the Midwest and America. We are returning to our small island community in Abaco, Bahamas. In his heyday of the 70’s, my dad, Captain Buck, sailed into Little Harbour. Like so many before and after him Buck fell in love with the protected anchorage, alternative people, and unmatched waters of Abaco. Over the years my family has made a home in this out island community. We moved aboard our sailboat, Cacique, when I was six months old. In 1997 hurricanes and family crisis anchored us in Southern Indiana for nearly four years, and we only returned to the island for quick vacations. It was time for an escape. Our adventure turned into a year learning to live simply on the island away from the speed of American life.

The aging brown full size Dodge Van contains everything we need for a year on the rock: two children’s bicycles, 3rd and 5th grade text books and curriculum, a desktop computer loaded with Windows 3.0, boxes of cloths, cases of garlic, stainless steel anchor chain, golf cart batteries for the solar system, random boat engine parts, spices, cookbooks, and our cat, Crystal, who disappeared among the cargo on the first day of the trip and didn’t surface until we arrived in Stuart, Florida two days later. Our lives fit in the few cubic feet of the vans near rusting frame. There is only room for the four of us to slip in and hunker down for the eighteen-hour car ride.

After two days of driving and a stay over in the Dolphin Motel in Valdosta we arrive at Uncle Rollie’s house in Stuart Florida. Rollie is not my uncle, but my Dad’s best friend and our neighbor on the island. The casual observer might be fooled by Rollie’s intimidating height, frame, and handle bar mustache. He wears leather, drives a Harley, and paints everything he owns Raider gray. In reality Rolando is the gentlest character in my life and today would do anything to protect or support me.

We have a few days to do our final shopping and put the van and all our belongings on to the Duke of topsail, the island’s only freighter. We also adopt a Dog, Gator. We affectionately refer to him as our Jack Russell terrorist. He lives up to the breed’s reputation by neurotically running circles (always to the right) and baring his teeth as you scratch his ears. Gator completes our eccentric family package- two kids, a growling dog, cat, and two hundred pounds of luggage. We are ready for our adventure.

We are exhausted and tired of traveling when we make it to the last leg of our trip; a short plane ride from West Palm Beach to Marsh Harbour. Cardboard boxes holding televisions, stereos, and other luxuries that are difficult and expansive to find on the rock are scattered around the check-in desk. We wait in line behind yachtsman in crisp blue fishing shirts, families with beach bags, and black Bahamian women sporting new hairstyles after weekend shopping trips to Florida.

Cody and I are impatient as we sit on top of our eight huge checked bags and backpacks whose seams threaten to break at any moment. Dad artfully packs our luggage in an array of duffle bags, dog and cat crates, and 1970’s style hard shell suitcases. We are ‘rag-baggers’ standing next to tidy sport fisherman with reel cases and compact rolling bags. Our bags are filled with food and boat parts stealthily raped in t-shirts to avoid the notice of apathetic customs officers. My backpack contains few personal items; instead it holds a six-pond leg of lamb (Christmas dinner). We bring very few cloths to the island that only requires bathing suits and t-shirts.

We wait anxiously for the Cessna to land. If it is more then an hour late our flight will be canceled due to sunset. There are no lights on the runway in Marsh Harbour. Luckily, AirSunshine does not disappoint us on this trip. Just months later AirSunshine would be grounded by the FFA indefinitely after fatally crashing two planes in two months. It was notably the discount airline for a reason.

My family and three black Bahamian women line up on the tarmac for the pilot to assess our weight. He strategically assigns us to the eight sets. Cody, my younger brother, scores the copilot seat. Even at age eight Cody jumped at the opportunity to be close to all those buttons (Cody is currently in his second year of flight school at Purdue University). My Dad’s six foot two frame ducks into the tight puddle jumper and squeezes in behind Cody. Mom sits beside Dad and I am put in the single seat in the back of the plane surrounded by carry-ons, fishing rods, boxes of mail and the crates containing Crystal and Gator who we sedate for the trip.
The pilot is young, flying for log hours and little pay. He cracks a few jokes before giving his obligatory “in case I crash us into the ocean there is a life jacket under your seat” speech. The prop comes to life with a charging sound and blur of black blades. The plane is hot and my legs stick to the beige pleather seats. I look out the window and wait for the grand release of takeoff. We are finally in the air and the humming engine quickly lulls me to sleep. I wake up forty minuets later from some turbulence. I look out the window and catch the first view of the water as we pass over Freeport. My heart jumps –I am finally on my way home.

As we approach Abaco we pass over a mile of marshland littered with crashed airplanes (legacies of 80s drug traffickers). Some plane skeletons are simply bulldozed to the side of the runway to make way for other flights to try their luck navigating the short, potholed Marsh Harbour International Airport. We touch down safely and all the passengers take a collective sigh of relief and applaud our young bush pilot. The pilot opens the door and the humidity hits me like a blow to the face. My heart jumps a little more.

We collect our backpacks and move towards the small customs office. Docile ceiling fans creek more then they move the air above us. As a family we wait patiently behind the torn yellow piece of tape on the tiled floor. We approach the bulging immigration officer; her fat black face looks slightly intimidating in the blue polyester uniform. No smile, but Dad lays on the charm as he explains we are finally back to stay in our home in Little Harbour. Most Bahamians consider anyone choosing to live in Little Harbour insane, and you have to seriously bribe a taxi driver to even bare the road to get there. Her eyes leave our passports for only a moment before she slams her stamp of authority and waves us through to customs.

We retrieve our bags from a rickety cart sitting under a makeshift roof. When it’s our time to approach customs our twelve bags take up the entire counter. The uniformed officer surveys our load, makes us take the sedated animals out of their cages, opens the top duffle my dad has strategically placed in the middle. He sees the bathing suits, sunscreen, and our white face. We are waved through the tinted doors. We line up our bags on the cracked sidewalk while Dad goes over to the taxi stand in search of “my man Aubry” our loyal taxi driver. Mom puts Gator on a leash and he wobbles out of sedation and into a new world of fascinating smells. Aubry loads up our bags, takes us to the Golden Harvest, the only food store on the island, to pick up some staples. He drops us off at Boat Harbour Marina.

For years only a primitive logging road cut through the bush to Little Harbour, but after an Abaconian became Prime Minister the island got a paved roadway. The van won’t arrive for a few more days so we us Mario, our runabout motorboat, to get to Little Harbour. We use an aluminum dock cart to ferry the endless stream of bags and groceries. When everything is stowed Dad starts the engine and we are finally on our way back to Little Harbour. We cut through the sound for thirty minuets before reaching the mouth of the harbour. Dad hikes up the road to get the four-wheeler and a converted trailer that looks like a white plywood wagon. We load all our bags into the wagon and Cody and I climb in on top. The wagon bumps along the harbour road and up the hill. At the peak we get our first view of the ocean and my heart leaps.

After long days of traveling Cody and I are itching to be set free. One final push is required to ferry all our gear from the trailer into the pitch-black kitchen. It is our first trip of the season and the entire house is boarded up with shutters for hurricanes. Solar panels and deck furniture consume the living room. Sheets cover everything in a futile attempt to protect furniture and electronics from the salt. Dad gets to work taking the shutters off the main bedroom before it gets dark. All of us will sleep in the front room with only candlelight until we can adjust the battery system in the morning. Some of my best sleep comes from a mattress on the floor with the sea breeze shooting through the sliding glass door. That first night even in the disarray of moving in I feel instantly at home. The journey from Southern Indiana to Little Harbour takes five days and when we finally fall asleep at CasaMar it feels like we’ve arrived at the end of the earth. In some ways we have.

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