FOR THE REAL BAHAMAS, VISIT THE OUT-ISLANDS
By Lauren Kramer
From the air, its 700-odd islands of the Bahamas appear to be scattered randomly into the turquoise waters of the Atlantic, with total disregard for order. Spread over 100,000 miles, these isles and cays shelter some of the world's most beautiful beaches, and preserve a way of life that's long been lost to those of us who reside in North America.
Out-Islands deliver serenity, freedom & beauty of true island living
To experience true island life, untarnished by neon lights, massive resorts and the lure of commercialism, you have to take the road less traveled. One such road leads to Eleuthera, an unassuming isle that witnessed the first recorded settlement in the Bahamas.
Back in 1648, seventy Bermudans in search of religious freedom found themselves shipwrecked, and sought shelter in a limestone cave. They called themselves the Eleutherian Adventurers, and made their home on the 106-mile-long island named Eleuthera, which is the Greek word for the freedom they sought.
They left a lasting legacy, for Eleuthera today is imbued with a spirit of liberation, one that's fiercely protected by the 11,000 residents that make their homes in the small settlements dotting the island's western shores.
Every day feels like a sleepy Sunday on this island, where life is charmingly unpretentious. Women greet the day by leaning over their balconies and gazing at the ocean, and locals slow down and wave as they drive by. There's a single road that winds across the island's six-mile diameter. Cars are few and far between and traffic jams are unheard of.
The island bustled in the 19th century as a center for pineapple growth and export, but its commerce has long since died down. In its place, is a sense of community together with a remarkable generosity of spirit.
For example, I met a farmer on Eleuthera whose property was demarcated by a single chain at the entrance. To get inside, all you had to do was release the chain from its hook, but the farmer was unconcerned. "I don't mind if passers-by help themselves to a watermelon, or a few bananas," he said. "They're welcome to it. It's only if they tried to fill up their car with my produce that I'd get upset." But petty theft like that is a non-issue on the island. "Where would a thief go?" he laughed.
Eleuthera is a great destination for a certain kind of traveler. If you're seeking respite from crowds, untamed natural beauty and homely accommodations reminiscent of grandma's house, this is your kind of place. There are no artificial attractions on the isle, the shops offer only basic necessities and a typical dinner is takeout from the corner store, lovingly prepared with the freshest ingredients, and often involving a 45-minute wait. No-one seems to mind, though, because it gives them a chance to catch up with friends, or to make new ones. Here, time is something to be enjoyed and lived languorously. Spend enough time on this island and with the backdrop of an exquisitely blue ocean, you regain sight of the things that count most: relationships with those closest to you, and the fact that who you are is defined not by what you wear or what you do.
That's one of the reasons Eleuthera and its neighbor, Harbour Island, are popular destinations for celebrities, among them British royalty. Those in the public spotlight crave anonymity, and where better to find it than in a small island where nobody cares how rich you are, or whether or not they get your autograph.
Rumour has it that several years ago Bill Gates spent some time on Harbour Island, and finding himself enticed by its quiet, dignified character, he called a real estate agent to find out about available property. In what's possibly the biggest business blunder ever, she made the error of judging a man by his appearance alone - in this case, a pair of cut-off jeans and t-shirt. "I don't think you could afford this," she told the richest man in the world. Who later purchased property on a different island.
There's everything and nothing to do on Eleuthera. The island's only adventure tour company, Bahamas Out-Island Adventures, has the answers for those who like to keep busy, with activities like kayaking through channels lined with mangrove trees, boogie-boarding in the island's best coves, snorkeling and fishing. You don't have to look far to find magnificent, secluded beaches where's there's no competition for the best spot to lay your towel. A leisurely drive along Eleuthera's only thoroughfare will take you through the settlements, where locals are happy to give you the time of day.
Visit Eleuthera and you leave with a taste of freedom, wondering if you have it in you to discard the materialism of the life you know and become an islander. It's a haunting question, because with any departure from the island comes the sense that real living happens here.
IF YOU GO:
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PHOTO CREDITS: Bahamas Out-Island Tourism:
1. In the absence of traffic, crowds and technology, a cyclist rides past a whitewashed chapel.
- For general information on the islands of the Bahamas, visit www.bahamas.com or call (800) BAHAMAS
- For outdoor activities and water sports in Eleuthera and Harbour Island, visit www.bahamasadventures.com or call (242) 551-9635.
2. Governor's Harbour, on the northwestern part of Eleuthera, has many well-preserved, gracious, 1850s-style homes.
3. Eleuthera's residents welcome visitors with honest smiles and an earnest hope they'll love the island for its simple charm