During last year's Shark Week, I was fortunate to vacation a little north of Tarpum Bay, Eleuthera. Coincidentally, the bay our rental house was on was a nursery for baby sharks, which we saw daily.
Yesterday was a lazy, hot, Sunday afternoon and I was missing my dad. In our big old green Chrysler, he taught me the value in a Sunday drive with windows rolled down, destination unknown (at least to me), and it felt great.
A Sunday drive can be had every day while on vacation and is one of my favorite things to do when we travel. I love the wind in my face and not knowing what lies ahead. Sometimes, it's an incredible beach, sometimes serendipitous ice cream at a roadside bar, sometimes it's just some good music and a zenful drive.
Getting there is half the fun, especially when I don't know where "there" is.
We love Eleuthera. Sadly, after FINALLY getting everyone we know to pronounce it correctly, we decided it was time to try another island. Our heart will always be there, for me that's especially true of Tarpum Bay. However, we witnessed in the few short years of our visits, careless attention to development taking a toll. Disney's purchase of the landmark Lighthouse Beach was the final straw.
Truth be told, it is good to try new things.
Long Island is a couple hundred miles south of Eleuthera, falling southeast of The Exumas, with the Tropic of Cancer cutting through the top third of the long, narrow island. It has the reputation as being the most beautiful of The Out Islands and is known for agricultural crops, including mutton farming (in this case goats, not sheep).
Bummer, but I could not get inbound flights to Nassau match outbound flights to Long Island, so we had to stay a night in Nassau. We tried BahaSea Backpackers and shared an ocean side king room with our daughter, who had a twin bed. They also have shared rooms in the form of a hostel on the premises, which we wanted our young adult daughter to see. The property is beautiful and nearby restaurants. However, the hotel is separated from businesses by an incredibly busy four-lane street and overall, way too hectic for us. Next time, we'll go back to our standby, Orange Hill.
Where We Stayed: Sun Living Apartment above Under the Sun
Luckily, it only took a few miles after we turned the wrong way on the Queen's Highway for me to realize the problem. Hahaha! One main road and I still messed it up. It didn't take long for us to find our apartment for the week, above It's Under the Sun Department Store in Mangrove Bush. Initially, I picked this for the incredibly affordable rate, and the flexibility in how many people can sleep there.
We're already booked for another stay this Christmas because it was all that, but also homey and incredibly convenient to both ends of the island. Here's a link to their rental website. Under the Sun serves up some delicious food, too. Here is a link to a blogger's review.
We enjoyed our stay so much that I made a video tour of the apartment:
We stock up on basics when we first arrive with things like eggs, bread, sliced ham, cheese, soda, cookies, peppers, tomatoes and onions. Typically, I'll make a breakfast with eggs and we'll eat one other meal at the rental, usually sandwiches. This helps with the finances, and still keeps kitchen work to a minimum. We like to eat out one time a day, usually a late lunch.
Tiny's Hurricane Hole: Great expat party vibe that includes delicious food and thoughtfully crafted cocktails.
Max's Conch Bar: Perfect island scene with a great menu. The mosquitos were bad during our visit, but nothing a quick spray of Off couldn't handle. I'm sad we were too full for dessert.
LLoyd's: Good if you need to catch a game but average food and grumpy service.
Erica's Bakery: This place in Clarence Town should not be missed. Go early in your trip so you can stock up and I promise you'll want to return before the end of your trip. Everything about this bakery is on point. It seems to be a favorite spot for Sunday afternoon sweets.
Rowdy Boys: In a lifetime of eating out, the young man that waited on us was one of the kindest and most thoughtful service professionals I've ever experienced. Food was good.
Chez Pierre: Hands down, by any standards this is excellent and beautiful food. Add to that, the thoughtful menu, an absolutely beautiful location and this is a place not to be missed. Chez Pierre also has small, rustic cabins with meals included in the price. We're already planning five nights here on our next trip.
Pit Bull's First and Last Drop: After spending a few hours at Gordon's Beach (which BTW is so beautiful, I was left speechless), stop here for a cold Kalik and great stories from Pit Bull. His conch salad has an usual ingredient that makes it especially delicious. Enjoying this little bit of paradise that Ernest created is exactly the kind of day that makes us love The Out Islands.
Note about bringing your own food:
If you read Bahamas travel forums, you will notice many threads about people packing coolers of food to bring on their Bahamas vacation. It's true, food is expensive on an island. It's also true that you may not find everything you are used to buying in the states. Unless you have some extreme dietary restrictions, I promise you will find everything you need. Those giant chest freezers in each market are filled with meat, pizzas, seafood, and countless other treats. Take a peek inside and see what you find. I also promise you will not save enough money to make much of a difference in your travel budget. Save yourself the hassle of lugging frozen food and buy locally.
No matter what island you visit, the local economy benefits from your dollars. Trust me, the local residents need your business. Don't complain about Disney and other foreign investors ruining the charm of your favorite islands if you are not willing to support them yourself. Buy groceries locally, stop in at restaurants - even if just for a Kalik and a snack. It's a win-win-win. You support local people in a destination you love, you buy a bit of convenience when you are on vacation, and you have the opportunity to meet some incredibly wonderful people.
End of rant.
We love beautiful beaches, but are not so much hang out all day at the beach types. We like to swim, snorkel, walk, look for shells, eat a snack and then repeat the cycle. These were some of our favorites:
Columbus Point: I'm not sure if this is a beach, a creek, a little bay... whatever, it was beautiful and we loved the snorkeling. The sand is powdery and white and the water gin-clear. Amazing.
Guana Cay: The beach itself was a bit more coarse sand (clearly a sign of being spoiled), but we had fun snorkeling here. We did make it out to the cay, but didn't have the best shoes for navigating the sharp coral rocks.
Dean's Blue Hole: We were repeat visitors here. It's one of the rare places where you might see more than a few people. It's a thrill to snorkel over the blue hole, but south east of there, by the break is amazing snorkeling. There is always a cliff jump, or two, and this is a good walking beach. Being on the east side, there is plenty of washed up trash to collect, so bring some extra bags.
Lochabar Point Blue Hole: My husband swam with a fever of rays here. Enough said.
Galloway Beach: Beautiful white sand, great shell hunting, shady trees, calm swimmable water. Surprisingly, we didn't snorkel, so we'll have to save that for next time.
Santa Maria Beach: At this point in our trip, we weren't really paying attention to what beach we were on. We were shooting for Galliot, or Santa Maria and I have no idea if we were on either, or if we were even on a public beach. We drove north, behind Santa Maria Resort until the road ended and started snorkeling. We had a great time and found pin cushion stars, and a whole lot of big fish in the deep water near the entrance to the creek/bay (seen as the dark blue stripe below) . This location was incredibly beautiful.
Gordon's Beach: This is by far the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. The blue color is extraordinary. The large crescent shaped white sand beach is idyllic. Coral heads not far from shore made this exceptional.
Beaches only accessible by boat: Luckily, we ended up on a half day tour with Francis Darville of Sun Boat Rentals and Tours. He shared stories of growing up on Long Island and vast knowledge of the area. We had some great snorkeling and spent time on some incredible sand bars. We had such a great day that I made this video to share it:
Our Week on Long Island
It's hard for me to sum up a week like we had in Long Island. Both internally and externally, the beauty of this island runs deep. Water is so blue that it reflects on the bottom of clouds. The variety of shades of blue and the intensity was nothing like we've seen before. Beaches included chunky sand with little cays offshore, white sand beaches with the clearest cyan water, blue holes right on the beach, all with some of the best off shore snorkeling we've encountered. We did lots and we did nothing. We met wonderful people, discovered amazing natural beauty, snorkeled all over the island, saw some interesting critters, and found ourselves relaxed and centered again.
We love a beautiful beach, and Long Island has them. We still have a lot of exploring to do, but from our first trip, I'd say Long Island has a greater variety of different beach types, and many more options for shore side snorkeling. Eleuthera has overall more wide, soft sandy beaches but fewer options for good snorkeling without hiring a boat.
Thank goodness I waited two months to write this report. With seven days on our visit, it would take a book to describe the details of all our fun. Every day was met with beautiful vistas, meeting genuinely kind people, easily accessible snorkeling, and a wonderful low key island vibe.
One such day included a leisurely drive down to Gordon's Beach on the very southern tip of Long Island. The water was such a pure, clean hue of cyan, framed by a beautiful powdery white sand that I was left gobsmacked. We enjoyed walking, napping and snorkeling a surprising good patch of coral heads not far from shore.
After a few hours, we decided to find a cold Kalik and stopped at Pit Bull's First and Last Drop. We had such a great visit, listening to Earnest's stories of growing up, finding adventure in Nassau, and then returning to Long Island. One top of that, he made us some of the very best conch salad we've ever had.
On our way northbound, we decided to get some pastry treats in Clarence Town, but stopped for a quick snorkel at the blue hole on the south end of Lochabar Beach first. My husband got in before me, just as a fever of rays passed by. Lucky him for perfect timing and an incredible experience. We didn't see a lot of fish, but we're a wee bit concerned about a barracuda that was a little more curious than we liked.
On our way back to the car, we stopped and chatted with two couples, each of the four carrying buckets and baskets. They were incredibly friendly and shared that were collecting grasses for weaving. Headed back to the Queen's Highway, a wild boar stepped out of the brush and stopped to take a look at us before crossing into the brush on the other side. A surprise ending to an absolutely perfect day!
By Keith Edkins at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4027491
What many of us love about the Out Islands is the slower pace, and the quiet, natural beauty. There are not a lot of people, and it does not feel touristy. Booking flights to the Out Islands explains part of the reason there are not a lot of tourists. It can take some work to get there, but trust me, the payoff is huge.
Tickets to Paradise
Some Helpful Links:
Welcome to Paradise! Photo Credit: Dan Lynn
I will never forget the very first time driving into Tarpum Bay. We were coming from Gregory Town, on our way through to visit Spider Caves and Ocean Hole in Rock Sound. As we approached, glimpses of pure turquoise water glowed from between the trees, giving hints of the beautiful water at the roadside beach, just around the bend.
Arrival into Tarpum Bay, with its bright yellow school on the right, and beautiful clear, cyan water behind, catches my breath every time. The whimsical homes, worn with age and sea air, give this settlement a mysterious sense of history that makes me wonder about the stories of people who live here. Some are little cottages, while others reveal their colonial influences with full length balconies, dormer windows and weathered shutters. All are a temporary safe haven to their inhabitants as each slowly concedes a return to nature.
Tarpum Bay, Eleuthera Bahamas:
Sometimes Landmark Markers are a Bit Understated:
Since I have a hard time hiding my obsession for Eleuthera, I am asked often about how to set up a similar vacation in this island paradise. I have to admit, this is tricky because I don’t want anyone to be disappointed. My husband and I love, love, love it there. However, at the risk of offending, it is not the best vacation destination for everyone.
If you love:
However, if you are looking for:
Most settlements have a fish dock with freshly caught snapper, grouper, conch, and lobster available for sale, depending on the season.
Renting a car for our first trip to Eleuthera was the first indication that island life is different. The vacation rental owner gave us the name and email of a car rental guy, Stanton Cooper. I promptly emailed Mr. Cooper with the dates we needed and he responded a few days later with a simple “ok.”
Clearly, this was not Avis. With a few more emails, I learned that our rental would be $60 a day, we could pay with credit, and that all we needed to do was ask for “Stanton Cooper” when we walked out of the door of the airport.
Sure enough, we found Mr. Cooper very quickly. He walked us out the the parking lot where he had a random collection of cars, eyed us, then chose a burgundy Impala as our ride for the week. He filled out a carbon copy sales receipt with our credit card number and name, then instructed us to put the copy in the glove compartment. We dutifully placed ours on top of a pile of receipts, filled with names and credit card numbers from people all over the world.
Our Impala was a well-loved beauty. Multiple warning lights flashed unheeded reminders from the dash, the empty c.d. player refused to turn off, and there were no working seat belts. We loved this car. With the windows rolled down and scratchy tunes from the A.M. radio, we had found instant summer, circa 1980.
The week that followed was unbridled, family-island adventure. Stanton Cooper’s Impala took us past the most beautiful turquoise water in the world. I wonder if the island-wide 45 mph speed limit is imposed knowing that drivers are distracted with the stark beauty of this place.
That Impala took us to the most amazing, and nearly empty white sand beaches.
Of course, those beaches are the reward after taking some back roads better suited for SUVs. Nonetheless, our Impala persevered. To prevent very bad things from happening to the transmission, we did get out every now and then to provide a bit more clearance. In all our adventures, she only lost a bit of side mirror.
It’s true that the residents of Eleuthera are as beautiful as the water. In fact, headed back home, we dropped the car off with Stanton Cooper in the airport parking lot. We were settling down to wait for our flight when I realized I had left our passports back in the vacation rental, 20 miles away. Holy crap.
I ran back out to Stanton, who was busy with a bucket and rags, washing returned rental cars. I was panicked and told him what happened. He’s a robust man, with a kind face and so genuinely replied, “Well, you’d better get back in that car and get them.”
Nevermind the 45 mph speed limit. I flew. Smartly, I counted the James Cistern speed bumps on the route north so I could maximize my speed on my return. In a mad panic, I arrived, passports in hand, to the airport parking lot. I could see the plane, still parked (it was the only jet that morning) and exclaimed to Stanton that I was so relieved that it hadn’t yet left. His reply? “Honey, they weren’t going to leave without you!” Actually, there’s a chance that’s true. Island life really is different and we love it.
The moment before panic ensued:
It’s true, we made a pretty dramatic change. For most people. including close friends, family, and underwriters at the bank, it was hard to understand. Honestly, from an outsider’s perspective, I totally see the confusion. We had achieved the American dream. We had two children, a beautiful home, wooded acreage, were close to the Lake Michigan shore, and our jobs. It was truly wonderful.
A big house and property is an investment in more than just money. For me, the housekeeping, alone, was daunting, and then came the annual West Michigan snowfall. Maintenance of an especially long (but beautiful) driveway, and roof that needed regular raking and shoveling of snow, left us feeling hardy, but exhausted.
This was all on my mind when, three things happened: First, I went on a home tour of second floor apartments over the adorable and vibrant downtown, in nearby Holland, Michigan. The apartments were small, but close to cool stuff like restaurants and micro breweries that we love. There were no yards to mow, or roofs to rake. By living in town, we could walk to meet friends and enjoy all these fun places.
Second, we took a much needed family vacation to the beautiful island of Eleuthera. It was the catalyst to the change we needed. Usually, when visiting a place we love, we’ll check out real estate listings, just for fun. Holy smokes. There were homes here, much more affordable than similar homes in Michigan. Owning waterfront property was not out of the question.
Third, we visited my husband’s sister and her husband in Harlem, New York. They gave up a beautiful Hastings, New York home with woods, and great neighbors for the convenience and excitement of city living. Walking everywhere, and for everything was awesome. Witnessing the payoff of giving up stuff you love for a life you love, was inspiring.
Within a week from returning from Harlem, over a beer at a favorite brewery, I had my husband on board for selling our house, and moving to a smaller, less expensive place in town. This would allow us walk to shops and restaurants, be part of a community, and (hopefully) the financial independence to own a small home on the island of our dreams.
Within months of this conversation, we were moving into a new (to us) home in town and readying our home of 15 years, the only home we had ever purchased, for the market. Our new home was more than half the living space of our previous place, and down to one bathroom, a drastic reduction from the three we had before.
Even more of a surprise to everyone, including us, is that we purchased an owner occupied rental. So, along with adjusting to town life, and living in a smaller space, we were learning how to be property managers. While this is not what we set out to do, keeping our minds open to this may have lead us to the very component of this move that will help make our dream a reality.
For many reasons, having a person we like and trust in the flat upstairs, has been one of the best parts of our move. Not only is it a financial help, we now have someone around when we travel. We love new experiences, and meeting new people, so this was the unexpected twist that might prove to be the best decision of all, no matter what path our future plans take.
We love our new neighborhood:
In Michigan, it's very common for people with the financial means to take a break from the long winter for a sunnier, warmer place each spring. The steady stream of cars headed to Florida the first week of every April causes traffic jams around Atlanta and gives snowbirds incentive to drive all night long, checking Facebook posts for traffic reports from friends further down the road.
We had never been those people. Our children had never been to Disney, Sea World, or any of the sandy beaches of the Southern U.S. After the urging of a friend, we finally planned a trip to San Francisco. It was so fun that we decided to combine everyone’s birthday and Christmas gifts the next year to finance a trip to Costa Rica.
We were hooked. The third year, while looking for affordable flights, I was taunted by a great deal to Nassau. Our daughter, Hana, had always wanted to swim in clear, turquoise water and our son, Jesse, had taken surfing lessons in Costa Rica, so this was a perfect plan.
It WAS a perfect plan…except that conditions on Nassau are not good for surfing. With extra research, I learned the place for surfing in the Bahamas is on the Family Island (or Out Island) of Eleuthera. The connecting flight would be an extra $600 for all four of us, but I found a 3 bedroom vacation rental in Gregory Town for only $112 a night, making the trip affordable. We didn’t know exactly what was ahead, but were excited to find out.
Making the connection in Nassau, we were thrilled to walk out onto the runway to board a propeller plane for our flight to Governor’s Harbor. The plane was older, but felt nostalgic, like boarding an old school bus. A group of school children were on the same flight, adding to the realization that we were in a totally new kind of place.
Our first week in Eleuthera was amazing! The worries of not knowing how we were going to find our rental car contact, and then our house, fell away as we learned that life is quiet, slow, and personal here. As directed, we asked for “Stanton Cooper” upon walking out the airport. He appeared immediately and walked us out to our burgundy Impala. He filled out the receipt with our credit card number on it, we stuck it in the glove compartment as instructed, adding it to the pile of previous receipts. With instructions to keep on the left hand side, a dash board of warning lights blinking, and no working seat belts, we were off.
The week that followed was epic. We snorkeled in the harbor in front of our apartment, and were stopped mid-swim when a resident hollered that a shark was nearby. When we got back to the edge of the water, she followed up with “Please swim any of our beautiful beaches, just not here today.”
We drove up and down the Queen’s highway, and sandy two tracks, with the windows wide open, and static-filled tunes from the A.M. radio. We discovered where we could get groceries, found beautiful and completely empty beaches, discovered a love for conch and grouper fingers. Hana and I, watching people file into church for Easter services, put on the best clothes we had and joined in at the last minute. Walking in town, days later, a gentleman brought it to our attention with a smile, that he had seen us in church.
Except for camping in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we had never experienced so much time without the clutter of traffic, advertisements, and other aspects of mass-consumerism. It was a magical week of the simple life I remembered from growing up in rural Michigan. People in Eleuthera still wave when you drive by. When the water plant is down, waiting for a part, neighbors help neighbors, and share what they have. Everyone was friendly, even to us outsiders. It’s the kind of thing that never left my heart from childhood and, here, I can share the same with my children.