Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pictures posted on Facebook

Things are good in Abaco. Sun is shinning and I've been lounging and reading away the day. I've also posted some pictures on Facebook from around Little Harbour. The internet connection is so slow they are the first I've uploaded in weeks. My favorites are of the moon coming up in front of the house. Check them out HERE

Amanda Mar
Little Harbour, Abaco Bahamas

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sandy Point

In the off shore wind Nancy’s Sea Food sits along the water and opens out into a becalmed bay of ocean. Sandy Point is the southwest end of the island of Abaco. The homes and business sit riskily just feet above sea level. I try to visit this settlement once a season and each time it gives me a glimpse of the other Bahamas operating outside of gimmicky gift stores and hotel rooms. It is a good reminder that Abaco is not completely filled with tourist dollar economies and toned down culture. Most of the residents are black Bahamians who rely on seasonal fishing to support their families. Docks piled with fishing traps line the shore and many of the men will go out on lobster and crabbing boats for weeks at a time. Others cater to fly fisherman and run bonefish camps with skiffs that venture out into the flats in search of the allusive game fish. These families manage. The houses may be crumbling around the edges, but all of them have concrete foundations and shingled roofs. These people are poor by the standards of Abaconians and Americans who come for the sunrise and a stake dinner. But they live proudly and with commendable autonomy. Nancy’s is the one and only reliably stocked and open restaurant. They will cook anything they’ve got any way you want it. But it’s best to call first because at times all they have is fried chicken. Chickens that were probably squawking that very morning in the yard.

Yesterday (March 19) I joined my neighbors and two stray sailor boys for a pilgrimage to the end of Abaco. We piled into the Pierce’s Navigator. The two boys and me were content to snicker and sit on a cushion in the back. An hour later we were in Sandy Point and the sun shone brightly over the flat calm water. A local boy skillfully skipped rocks across the glassy bay. Fisherman cleaned conch and a flock of gulls hovered over the heap of discarded shells. We got the expected stares as we entered from people on the street. We were after all six East coasters and a Hoosier in a Lincoln Navigator. With rum punch in hand I fell into conversation with good people in a perfect setting. We watched the sun kiss the ocean before its nightly hibernation. Funny music videos of Bahamian hip hop songs played from a small grainy television in the corner. The restaurant is well kept with waxed wood walls and neat linen covered tables. Long tables of other white folks gorging on stakes and lobster joined us in the neat restaurant. Bare light bulbs cast stray light onto our plates. Another moment where life is good and the people surrounding you sharing a meal only made it better. I picked the bones clean on my pan-fried snapper, but avoided the eyeballs.

A small but beautiful excursion away from Little Harbour. Sandy Point is a place that the world could too easily forget, but in just hours there the hospitality and need for conversation and friendship was made apparent. Playing pool with locals and talking jive with fisherman. Life is good. Sandy Point is no doubt a more raw Bahamas that lives isolated but willing to share life with you.

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

Just an update for you lovely people

Still in Abaco and have been living at the house alone for over three weeks now. In this time I have experience and felt the spectrum of emotions. I have dealt with loneliness and found contentment in my own brain and in making CasaMar more comfortable, more like the home I remember from my childhood. My days meld together more and more. My neighbors will attest I am covered in paint 85 percent of the time. Even after I take my nightly shower at five o’clock I still have little specs of the stuff around my anckles, in my hair, under my fingernails. It’s not that I am an incredibly messy painter per say. Its simply because every surface of literally everything needs to be wiped with paint. Island maintenance is unending, but the work is satisfying. More and more I’m learning out of necessity to use tools and solve problems – while the may be small – out of what ever materials are available. I’ve also become pretty handy with a cutlass – which makes me officially armed and dangerous.

It’s been so long since I posted. It’s not for lack of time or lack of love and need for connection with everyone who checks in on me here. It’s simply that I’ve been working hard and playing hard. To be honest the world I listen to on the radio every morning and the one that bombards my googlenews is scary. Filled with unknowns and chaos. My degrees of separation from this world are a privilege. Life here is a word, good. I can’t remember the last time my body and mind felt so healthy and at home. I’m sleeping better and waking with a purpose. All these things assure me and give me confidence that I can jump into that other world at full speed when the time comes. Okay that was a little bit of an abstraction. A product of my solitude and self-contemplation. But I want to assure all of you that living alone in this somewhat secluded surroundings is not driving me crazy. It brings clarity.

I’ll catch you up on all the good in my life in the following posts.

Amanda Mar