Growing up in the late 1960’s, 70’s and early 80’s, through some prescient vision of my stepdad’s, I was fortunate enough to spend time during my summers on the out islands of the Bahamas. One island in particular garnered our affection–the island of Eleuthera, the Greek word for freedom. Eleuthera is a 100-mile-long very skinny island located due east from Nassau. Our first house didn’t have electricity…we had a generator…but it was perched on coral rocks that surrounded the lovely Ten Bay. My brother and I played on the pristine pink beach, snorkeled around the bay, played with the fish, and didn’t care about electricity or the rest of the modern world.
Over time we graduated to more spacious houses with more conveniences, but visiting Eleuthera was always an exercise in patience and relearning how to relax. We rented old American cars from a wonderful fellow named Wilfred, who not only brought us the automobile, but would pack the back seat with pineapples, tomatoes and watermelons from his garden. My family and I would drive his car up and down the one road that ran the length of the island, the Queen’s Highway. That road was riddled with all sorts of obstacles including a myriad of potholes and goats. We always made it, but we spent a lot of time changing tires and searching for assistance from the always good natured Bahamians.
Our holy grail of a trip was to a place on the very southern tip of Eleuthera, Lighthouse Beach. Our Bahamian friends told us stories of the glory there–powder white and pink sand, sheer white cliffs, an old lighthouse balanced on top, and glass fishing balls everywhere. I literally would dream of the day I could visit. The problem was, it was quite remote, with only a dirt road leading there. We tried several times, only to get stuck and turn around. Finally, after maybe ten years of dreaming, we mustered our courage and made it down the road. Lighthouse Beach truly was everything we’d heard. It was drop dead gorgeous and magical. One thing that impressed me was that I could see another island if I stood by the lighthouse. I didn’t know there was another island out there.
When we got back to the house I found a map of the Bahamas and realized that the island I saw was called Little San Salvador. I couldn’t find much more about it other than the name, but it didn’t seem that anyone lived there. I didn’t really know all this when I was 17, but the Bahamas are an archipelago of over 700 cays, most of which are uninhabited. I had a new dream now. I wanted to visit Little San Salvador.
A decade later my parents bought a boat, a Grand Banks trawler, and they began to cruise the Bahamas. I would join them whenever I could. Of course we would go to Eleuthera and from Eleuthera south it turned out that a logical waypoint to anchor was Little San Salvador. The first time we rounded the southern tip of Eleuthera and set our sights for Little San Salvador, I gazed through the binoculars up to the old lighthouse on Eleuthera’s point, and thought about my dream of visiting the island on the horizon.
Little San Salvador did not disappoint. It is an amazing island. A beautiful beach forms a crescent around a deep bay. We would snorkel around the rocks on the point and the boys spearfished grouper and hog snapper and crawfish that we feasted on at night. One particularly memorable day, we took our dinghy around the perimeter of the island to explore. We found a salt water stream, a long inlet I guess, that allowed us to dinghy into the interior of the island. About halfway up I looked down and there were literally hundreds of baby nurse sharks. After overcoming the initial jolt from seeing that many sharks all at once, we killed the engine and drifted, admiring the silver glint of so many sharks under the searing Bahamian sun.
My parents ultimately sold their boat and our Bahamas travels changed as the world changed and as we changed. Someone told me they’d heard that Little San Salvador had been sold to a cruise ship company. There were all sorts of rumors about the Bahamas–there still are–someone always has a magnificent plan to capitalize on the idyllic Bahamian vistas. I looked it up at some point and it did seem that the Holland America cruise line bought it, renamed it Half Moon Cay, and turned it into a waystop in the Bahamas, ironically how we had used it as well.
A friend and I are considering taking a cruise next week. Big cruises aren’t really my thing, but this one is a week long writer’s workshop, so it holds a certain allure. Most of the time is spent at sea, I suppose to give us time to write or learn or whatever one does during a week long writer’s workshop on a cruise ship. Interestingly, the last stop is at a place called Half Moon Cay.