Friday, March 6, 2009

Drink Water Plantation

Two weeks ago I went with a group of friends on a camping trip to the Northern most tip of Abaco. I’d never been to this part of the island and was excited for an escape from Little Harbour. We drove as far as the road took us and down a side-logging road to the coast. It was about an hour and a half drive from Little Harbour – this is a huge road trip on the tiny island. We hiked another two miles north along the rocky coast to a sight that a friend marked for us that morning with orange streamers. With long pants and heavy packs we entered the bush. Luckily recent fires made the undergrowth manageable, but I could barely judge the footing of the steps in front of me. When I wasn’t looking at my ankles I was dogging poisonwood and snapping branches. I’ve been spoiled by well-kept North American trails. I haven’t bushed waked for years and never to this degree. However, as far as Abaco camping goes it was perfect. No bugs, bearable temperatures, and cleared under brush.

I was simply along for the ride on this trip and had no idea where we were going. Greg and Heather asked me the night before if I wanted to go camping and I jumped at the chance to see some place new. After the rocky coast and another half mile into the bush I was not expecting a blue hole the size of a small lake. When we finally came to trails end we were at the ruins of an old road that was once part of Drink Water Plantation, a 1850s loyalist plantation. The inland blue hole is + feet across with a depth that sunk hundreds of feet down. It was surrounded with lush vegetation and tall seemingly ancient trees by Abaco standards. The rest of the island was logged out in the 1960s, but these trees were spared. The brackish water in the blue hole and the obvious fresh water deposits around it lend every living thing the water needed to thrive. The rest of the island is browning in the dry season, but here among tall Abaco pines life thrives. We met up with Adam and Todd who cut the trail and planed the original trip. This was the first time I met these two formidable characters. They were not who I expected to come across at the end of the bush whack. For some reason I was expecting to find some burly old school Bahamians sweating and drinking out of a canteen. Nope. Adam and Todd wore white fishing shirts and light weight khakis scratched with black streaks from the burnt underbrush. The thirty-somethings drank out of camelbacks and carried a sharp well-kept machete in a rubber sheath around Todd belt. Adam wore gortext hiking boots and carried around one of those new impact and water poof digital cameras and a GPS that could pick up satellite radio and play through a set of portable speakers.

Surprised and delighted by these new friends we set off to explore the stone structures and wells left by the former settlers. Each step of the way we envisioned what this place must have looked like during its heyday. White loyalist English settlers fleeing after the American Revolution. Once spoiled by the deep black soil of the new world, these colonists where sent here to bare the salt, rocky ground and hurricanes to grow cycill. Surely aided by and army of slave labor and the will toe make the earth grow these settlers obeyed the crown and set up and extensive plantation and infrastructure surrounding the blue hole. What remains are two standing stone buildings, several wells, retaining walls, some citrus trees, and shards of glass, pottery, and shrapnel. Trees grow straight our of the foundation and grip the walls of the old structures. Walls made from limestone and conch shell lye mortar are a foot wide and stand sturdily after a century and a half. We hiked around the first sight finding lots of pieces of glass but only one small whole bottle. Unstamped old rum bottles are a prize around the islands. We headed back up the hill and decided that it was best to camp on the coast because it would be impossible to safely building a fire among all the dry underbrush.

After the hike out we set up camp along the rocky shore. The off shore wind and half moon shaped inlet provided flat calm water and little wind. Todd, Adam, and I pitched are hammocks in some caesarian saplings and a decaying sea grape tree. Heather and Greg set up their tent on a flat piece of rock. I waded into the water but I only lasted a half hour– yes I am a wimp with a very low tolerance for cold water. The water here isn’t even cold by any reasonable standards but I am spoiled by the 85-degree water and 90 degree air of Abaco summers. The boys thought they could go spear fishing, but the hunters waded out for a half a mile and it was only sand and waste deep. We started to assess our food options. No fish, so we waded along the coast and collected whelcks from the rocks. Whelks are a snail like shellfish that live along the high tide line and live within their black and white shells. We collected a big bag full of them and went back to camp to makeshift a dinner. There had been some miss communication about who was responsible for a cooking pot. Adam had found a small pot earlier discarded by a backpaker or bug hunter years before. We cleaned it up and used it to cook rice. We put the whelks lcks straight onto the coals in their shells and let them steam in their own juice. Adam and Greg were champs as they shoveled all the creatures out of the fire and plucked them from their shells with leatherman pliers and cleaned them up. In between cleaning and building the fire they split a bottle of scotch between them. I cut up tomatoes, garlic, onions, salt and lime. Heather cooked a bacon appetizer by slinging the strips over a green branch and letting them crisp up and stoke the fire with drops of pork fat. Delicious. Undoubtedly the best bacon I’ve ever eaten. We mixed are creation together with the rice and whelcks and passed it around out of the bottom of a gallon jug. I don’t know if it was the tribulations in putting it together or the fact that we were sitting on these rocks in front of the moon, ocean, and good people, or weather those silly whelcks were just damn good. Our meal was filling, satisfying, and beautiful. We laughed and took in the rarity and beauty of that moment. Eventually everyone went to bed and for half hours sat in peace next to a fire along the water before retreating to my cotton hammock in the trees.

The night was cold, but my light sleeping bag kept me comfortable. My only distractions were the snores and rumblings of my treemates. In the morning Todd and Adam hiked back to their cars to get more water. Like rookies and we didn’t have enough water to split between us. A few hours later with three gallons of water and fueled with more fire roasted bacon and granola bars we were off back into the bush. We made are way through the bush to the edge of the blue hole. The water was chilly but the depth seemed to call to you. I feel like this around most blue holes. At first it feels like it is a black hole leading to the pit of the earth that could vacuum you in and take you forever. But then you find a calm in the darkness and accept these ominous holes for what they are, geological wonders. We snorkeled around the perimeter of the blue hole taking free dives into the blackness along the walls. The limestone was vertical and smooth for as far as you could dive. We saw few fish and the most interesting thing to look at were the intricate mango roots floating and diving into the brackish top layer of water. By the end I was cold and bored and swam quickly to complete my circumnavigation of the drink water hole.

We regrouped and headed off in the other direction in search of another ruined stone structure. Where we found massive tress growing out of the foundation and sour orange trees that sprang from the ground upwards towards the canopy. The cross bread orange was the shape of a lemon but was bright orange. We went through more speculation of what the structure was used for and how it was positioned. We did more poking around with spears and looking for clues and treasures. Adam and Todd decided it was worth a trip back to do more excavating. I enjoyed the novelty of the place but don’t identify with its shared history. I do admire the British ingenuity it took to build such structures at the end of the skinny island and the bravery of the loyalist who left comfortable lives and soft soil in the name of queen and country. However, it is a living ruin of colonialism and I couldn’t help attaching some stigma over slaver and the way that such epic colonization changed the coarse of development and history of the entire globe.

The hike out was harder then I expected. It might have been my imagination but I pictured the iron shore to be far less treacherous on the way into the plantation. The hike was hard and we were all glad to see the cars after an hour navigating the sharp deadly rocks. We raced down the paved roads back to Marsh Harbour and gorged at Snappas still in our charred and smelly cloths. An excellent and unexpected adventure in Abaco to be sure.

Me sitting on a rock above the blue hole

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