The next day we walked to the ocean side of the island with snorkel, fishing equipment, and lunch. Hurricane Andrew destroyed part of the road along the jetty so, in places, we were wading along the coral. The wind was calm, the water cool, and the sun hot. Only small brim-size fish were biting. Bob tried out his spear and stabbed a fish which blew up like a volleyball covered with one-inch long spines, a porcupine or puffer fish! Jerry caught a cowfish, flat on the bottom with a triangular-shaped body and a hard surface like a lobster yet a regular fish tail. Very strange creatures and not edible. Both fish were thrown back. An interesting note…while on Harbor Island, we saw a porcupine fish blown up and dried in that condition. The woman selling it said you could put a light bulb in it and use it for a lamp. We have since learned that the fish can be eaten if prepared properly; if not properly prepared, it is poisonous. The cowfish is edible and prized for its enlarged liver. A picture of this fish is in the Margarita section of the web site.
Another day at Royal and then we headed to Spanish Wells, about 5 miles away. Legend is that the name came from the Spanish who filled their barrels with the sweet water from the local wells. On this prosperous island, 75% of the Bahamian lobster was processed along with much fish. There were many cars (way too many), newly painted houses, and beautifully cultivated gardens, unlike many of the other Bahamian islands where the lackadaisical attitude was, "No problem, mon." In Spanish Wells, the lifestyle was very traditional with men fishing and women running the houses, very sexist but utilitarian. There were no liquor stores and little drinking. The men were very industrious, always working on something.
Late one afternoon, Bob and I were doing several loads of laundry in one washer and one dryer located in an unlocked alcove behind a little store. In between the cycles, we walked along the beach and came to an all-age school, i.e., twelve grades in one building. Although it was about 4:00 p.m., a woman was still there. Bob went up and started talking to her. Her name was Phillipa. Her mother had been born on Spanish Wells but Phillipa was born in the West Indies. She had taught in Nassau and Harbor Island and this school year returned to Spanish Wells where her mother lived. She taught third grade and was very bright and enthusiastic. She told us about Harbor Island and showed us the maps her students had made of Eleuthera. We invited her to the boat the next afternoon for cocktails. We also invited Rainbow's End and Epiphany, a delightful visit. Phillipa and a friend had just bought a sailboat and she was intrigued by our adventures. She shared with us information about Harbor Island and certain areas in the Exumas.
We also met the principal of the school, a native of Eleuthera. We asked if she knew where we could get e-mail and she offered her home computer. A couple of days later, Bob and I walked to her house at her lunch break. The school at Spanish Wells closed from noon to 1:00 p.m. as did most of the town. People went home for lunch then returned to work or school.
The next day we hired a guide and headed to Harbor Island. Our guidebook and also Phillipa said you should not attempt the Devil's Backbone without a guide. The two-hour trip took us around many reefs, often very close to shore and the breaking waves, other times out close to the reefs. When clouds passed overhead, the water looked dark and you couldn't tell whether the dark area was due to clouds or a reef. Even when we arrived at the Harbor Island entrance, there were expansive shallow areas. It was a much more enjoyable and less stressful trip with a guide.
Before airplanes, Harbor Island was a very exclusive spot, available as a vacation destination for only the very rich. Now, common folk can get there by way of the Eleuthera airport, a taxi, and then a ferry or water taxi. Harbor Island exists for tourism without other product or service. Here, there are people with lots of money and people with next to nothing, a very clear contrast. On Saturday night, the lower economic class began drinking early and singing hymns. Quite a combination. They also played music so loudly that we could hear them from our anchorage about ½ mile out in the harbor. Sound travels amazingly well over water.
As we approached the anchorage, we looked for one of the large marinas described in the guidebook. We saw a lot of pilings in the water as if it were a marina, but no boats. We also smelled creosote, like burning tar. Charred pieces of wood were floating in the water along with traces of oil. Valentine's Marina had caught fire in the wee hours of the morning and the walkway to the docks and the harbormaster's office had burned and were still smoking. Three days later, the remnants were still smoldering.
Sunday we took our snorkel gear to the beach but the tide was in and the reefs were too far out. We walked along the beach and then ate lunch. The beach here was undoubtedly the most beautiful beach we've seen. The water was crystal clear and a light aquamarine color just behind the breakers and out to the reefs. The texture of the sand was so fine that it was is almost like powder. It had a pinkish tinge due to tiny flecks of red coral. The sky was blue with a few white puffy clouds and the sun bright and warm. Another beautiful day in paradise.