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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Where Wild Ponies Roam On Pink Sands

We had arrived in Nassau on 26 June, on a US$29 flight from Fort Lauderdale, with little idea of what there was to do in the Bahamas. Since the next cheap flight to San Juan (Puerto Rico, via Fort Lauderdale again) was in 9 days time, we were set to stay on the island for 8 nights.

As Nassau is a small town on one of the smallest islands of the Bahamas (New Providence), we realised early in the day that unless we were content to eat fish fry and lie on Cable Beach every day for a week, our visit to the Bahamas wasn't going to be very eventful. So we decided to make a side trip to the long skinny island of Eleuthera and its tiny but uber-famous sidekick - Harbour Island, a small 3-mile wide outcrop sitting on the northern end of Eleuthera. Imagine the letter 'i' - Eleuthera would be the body, and Harbour Island the tiny head that forms the dot.

The cheapest way to travel between Nassau and the Out Islands, as its remote neighbours are collectively called, is by mailboat. Mailboats traverse the Caribbean Sea bringing people and produce to the Out Islands. Depending on the distance between destinations, a mailboat can take anything from 5 hours to 2 days to arrive at one of the Out Islands. Tickets cost US$30-$40 per person per way, which still isn't exactly cheap. As we were due to depart Nassau on 4 July for San Juan, we couldn't find a mailboat that could bring us to an island and back within 5 days, and yet leave us enough time on land instead of cruising the Bahamas non-stop while we sat wedged between crates of bananas and chickens.

The only option was to take the fast ferry that offered daily return trips to and from Harbour Island at a whopping price of US$125 per person. We figured that since it would probably be a long long time before we ever set foot in the Bahamas again, it was worth a try. That, and the temptation to see Harbour Island's famous pink sand beaches for ourselves.

We woke at 6.30am the following Monday to catch a bus to Potters Cay, where our ferry was docked, all set to depart at 8am. We left with 2 other guests from Mignon whom Mary had matchmade us with the day before. Julie and Nicolai are from Belgium and are on a 7-month round-the-world trip. 5 months of travel since February has brought them to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Easter Island, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Florida and now the Bahamas. When asked if they were tired of constantly being on the move yet, they laughingly said no, and that they didn't want to go home at the end of the 7 months, which was fast approaching. Yeah, I know that feeling.

Like us, they too have been blogging about their travels. Check out their blog - if you can read French. I try to grasp the context with the little bit of French I understand (or rather, think I understand.)

Onboard the ferry to Harbour Island with our new friends, Nicolai and Julie.

After almost 3 hours at sea, we pulled into the first port of call - Spanish Wells, a pretty little island, named by Spanish explorers for its source of fresh drinking water. After a brief exchange of passengers and luggage, it was off to the next stop - Harbour Island.

The shallow harbour of Spanish Wells

The transportation system on Harbour Island is nothing like anything I've seen before. Everyone zips around on, get this, golf carts. The irony: there isn't a single golf course on the island. There are a few privately-owned cars too but judging from the narrow streets, golf buggies are the preferred form of transport. And for the more hardworking visitors - bicycles. So on this tiny island, in the midst of the vast Caribbean, the most dominant sound that fills the air is the constant drawn-out monotone "beeeeeeeeeeep" when golf carts all over the island take turns to engage their reverse gears.

The going rental rate for a cart is US$40 per day, unlimited usage - until the gas runs out. Unlike a rental car, there is no need to top up the gas tank upon returning the cart. Thankfully so, because gas (we've taken to saying 'gas' instead of 'petrol' after almost 3 months in the US) costs almost US$4 per gallon. On a good sunny day, if we had been able to deposit our bags at a hotel (which we couldn't, cos we were staying at Eleuthera, not Harbour Island), we might have considered walking across the island from the dock, all the way to the beach. But with a big haversack, 2 backpacks, 2 laptop bags, Dan's not-too-good knee, the island's hilly terrain and a big fat raincloud hanging over the island, we pretty much had no choice but to settle for the cart. The boy overseeing the rental understood that we were on a tight budget and apologised for not being able to reduce the price (cos he wasn't Da Boss.) He helpfully secured our bags onto the cart and gave us directions to the nicest pink sand beach - and reminded us to stay on the LEFT side of the road. The last instruction screwed with our brains a little, cos driving on the left, with a left-hand drive, is really kinda weird for us.

We strayed over the right side of the road to take this picture. And were promptly reminded by the locals to keep left.

Welcome to Toy Land, where everyone puts around in buggies instead of full-sized cars

As pricey as Harbour Island set out to be (this was only the beginning - I haven't gotten to Expensive Land aka Eleuthera yet. That's for another blog entry), I think the amazement and wonder of seeing and touching the GORGEOUS pink sand was well worth the money spent. I haven't seen anything like it before. The wonderful beaches were truly tinted a beautiful glowing shade of unmistakable pink. And the texture of the sand - the absolutely softest I've touched. I know it sounds awfully cliche (bad travel writing in magazines has spoilt it all for us) and I don't mean to gush, but it was incredibly fine, powdery soft and cool to touch. This is the best I can do to describe it. And even if this makes me come across as a bad writer, I have to say that the texture of the sand cannot be described in words.

Unmistakably pink sands. Unmistakably grey skies. Bah humbug.

Strawberries & Cream, Peaches & Cream, call it whatever pretty name you want! The pink hue is fron the conch shells that are so abundant in the Caribbean.

And to turn an already amazing experience into an out-of-this-world day in my life, along comes a WILD HORSE galloping and hurrumphing down the beach, right in front of my very eyes. I almost tripped over myself and all the bags while grabbing my camera to snap a quick pic.

I almost choked in surprise when Lone Star came galloping by.

All that excitement of pink sands and wild horses can make one very hungry. Having shared just one donut on the ferry that morning and wet to the bone from the on-again-off-again rain (the raingods were in a flippant mood that day), we were looking foward to a warm meal in the shelter of a cafe. Exorbitant prices drove us instead to grocery stores around the island in search for a cheaper meal. We settled for a loaf of bread (US$3) and tinned cocktail sausages (US$2). Even the usually-pesky seagulls thought themselves above this poor man's meal and steered clear, preferring instead to hound the locals lunching on the pier.

Eating food out of a can? So poor thing!

Ah well. It's the price one pays to witness nature's undescribable beauty.


liming said...

Oh no! your parents need to come join you guys again soon...at least to pay for meals!

Yi Lin said...

Sad huh, that we still need mummy and daddy to give us pocket money at this age. Well, starving a bit is good for our physiques. We were a pair of well-fed larvae when the folks were around. I feel trimmer already!

Yeepster said...

And I thought my peanut butter n sardine sandwich was sad enough... at least I get to scoop it out of can and onto piece of delicious french or italian bread. Heehee... Reminds me of the time, during first Europe trip, my friend bought what he thought was canned sausages only to find out in dismay it was mini carrots...look of joyful anticipation suddenly turned into shocked anguish...

Yi Lin said...

OMG, carrots instead of sausages? I would have CRIED on the spot. Yeah, at least in Europe you had fresh bread. The loaf we had... it's probably weeks old, given the time it takes for produce to travel on the mailboat in the Bahamas. It tasted ok, but was probably laced in preservatives.

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