|The Dinghy Beach at Cape Santa Maria Resort|
But today is going to irritate him a little bit…
We met up with Margie and Peck from Uno Mas. We sort of fell in as buddy boats on the way over from Georgetown and figured why not split a rental car and enjoy Long Island together… The Cape Santa Maria Resort is very accommodating to cruisers and all us to beach the dinghies on their property. Of course they want us to use their restaurant as well… but first, the rental car. It was an easy thing for about $80 we got a nice sized vehicle for the day including the insurance.
We took off in the rental car with Peck at the wheel. After Bruce’s experience in Nassau with driving on the opposite side of the road, we were pleased when Peck offered to drive. Today wasn’t as hair-raising as Nassau however… there is basically one long road down the island with small side roads, many of caliche. Even the paved ones are full of deep pot holes making the ride an adventure. Strangely it was kind of like driving down highway 10 back in the States. There were trees and brush right up to the shoulder of the narrow road that kept the view hidden for much of the way. Every now and then we popped out of the brush and got a glimpse of a stunning bay.
|The new Prison|
There are dozens of small settlements along the way all named after people. Millerton, Bain’s Bluff, Stella Maris, McKanns… Clarence Town. It seems like all of the towns in the Bahamas have people names. I guess with so few to name, there’s no need to get creative. We sped through most but stopped for a few when things looked interesting.
|The OLD Prison?|
There wasn’t a lot of traffic until one spot where we were actually stopped waiting for a sudden crowd (about six vehicles) of cars to get around a truck that was stopped on the side… oh the stress was terrible!
Finally we reached Clarence Town. It’s one of (if not the only) big towns on Long Island, and one we can’t reach by boat without going around to the east side of the island. There isn’t much protection from the prevailing easterlies over on that side so for this trip, sailing there is not in our plans.
Everything is old on these islands. There are some new buildings going up, but it seems that even those look old… Building materials are simple with brick and mortar. Brightly colored pastel paint keeps the island theme going… But the churches are often stark white. And there are a LOT of churches. I’ve noticed also that the churches in these small settlements are much nicer and more grand than the homes of the people. They live in brick huts but attend church in these beautiful and often very old churches. This surely reveals where their priorities lie…
|The cemetery in an old churchyard|
|Looks like what you would see in the old wild west|
Peck brought us to this gorgeous old place with the intention of taking us up into one of the towers to enjoy the best view in the islands. Unfortunately, time has taken it’s toll and the public is no longer allowed to climb the tower steps due to safety precautions and to preserve what is left of them.
We walked through the quiet hush and could almost hear hundreds of years of voices singing praise to God… Leaving the church, we found that the view from the entry steps wasn’t half bad.
|The view from the front door wasn't bad|
|The Restaurant looks kind of like an old church too.|
Our stomachs were beginning to urge us to find food so we quickly found Rowdy Boys for lunch. This place was recommended to us by several and we were surprised to find that we were the only people here… just in time for mid day happy hour! I’m not sure what this building was previously… maybe a church? Or more likely a grand home.
|Looking out the back door|
There was a pool with an awesome view of the eastern coast. We took a look around and then ordered a nice lunch of delicious mahi mahi burgers and rum punches. (except for Peck). We split burgers so as not to get too full… and still left the place with bursting tummies.
|A "nice" marina. Small but popular with the big sport fishers|
After lunch we drove around the remainder of Clarence Town, checked out the marina, took a stroll on the docks. This place is frequented by big sport fishers and evidently they regularly feed the sharks the scraps. There were sharks everywhere!!!
So what’s with all of this bla bla bla you ask? What happened to the awesomeness??? Well, it’s coming, hang in there a little bit longer…
Our next stop is the reason I came to this island. We backtracked and turned off the main road towards Dean’s Blue Hole. We had to bounce along a sand and caliche road down to the coast and finally arrived. There were a couple of other vehicles there and we were surprised again that there was no crowd or line, or even a ranger’s station for that matter. Only a sign.
The sign advised us that this is the deepest blue hole in the world, plunging to 663 feet, and that there is no lifeguard on duty… It gave us pause, but we quickly got over it as we walked down the beach and took our first look at the hole.
There is a platform in the center with a crane-like structure on board. There were four divers out there practicing for a free diving competition. They were all dressed in thick wetsuits and had a strange uni-fin to help them plunge quickly to depth. Very soon they came ashore and began to pack their gear. We spoke to them and found that this cute little girl could dive to a depth of 124 feet. Her friend went to a depth of 150 feet. These people hold their breath and plunge downward into the murky depths, squeezing their bodies under the pressure of the water… then shoot back up to the surface… in under two minutes. They practice holding their breath and train to condition their bodies to withstand the depths… why??? To try and beat a world record. The current world record holder, Herbert Nitsch was here training today but we didn’t get to talk to him as he left just as we arrived…
All but one of the divers packed up their gear and left while we were getting ready to go into the water. One guy was left lying on the deck. I guess there is a bit of meditation involved in this sport…
We donned our snorkeling gear and slipped into the cool water. There was a bit of a current running up out of the hole and across the broad expanse of shallows. I put my face into the water and glided away from the water’s edge. The white sand slopes quickly to a rocky ledge where fish swim nonchalantly around going about their business as if there isn’t an abyss just over there… I swam along the rocky ledge peering into the murky depths trying to make any recognizable form take shape. But there was nothing but the dive rope disappearing into the dark blue and the shafts of light dancing like spotlights at a concert, going down down down.
There were bigger fish hanging beneath the ledge before the hole fell to darkness. There were smaller fish darting in and out of the colorful coral and rocks around the perimeter. I swam around the entire circle keeping close to the edge where I could keep an eye on the deeper water to my left, ever vigilant… although I’m not sure what I would have done if something huge loomed out of the abyss… (I can say that. It WAS an abyss) Better not to think that one through… I saw small fish that I’ve never seen before outside of an aquarium. Another pin shell entered my world. I peered down into his shell and saw his body before he snapped the door shut.
|These guys didn't seem to know which way was UP!|
|Colors where the sun touched, blue in the shadows|
|Pin Shell - It's ALIVE!|
|Popped my head up to find I was beneath the ledge... CREEPY!|
|My baby Spotfin Butterflyfish|
|A small hole inside a BIG hole.|
It’s amazing how the sunlight brings the colors to life and they fade gradually into a dull blue monotone in a very short distance down…
I continued on around the hole and suddenly saw where there were two small avalanches spilling sand into the hole like sands in an hourglass. A small sand slide, most likely caused by the fish blowing the sand in search of food, was spilling ever growing volumes of sand into the hole. I wonder why it isn’t being filled in if this goes on all the time. But then I guess 663 feet is a LOT of hole to fill!!!!
I watched the sand slide down the slope and disappear into the hole in fascination… then as I swam over the top of the landslide, my fascination changed to awe as the shafts of light entered the water above me and created a private laser light show just for me as the beams danced wildly around my head as they reached to dispel the blue darkness below me without success. It was a stunning moment and I looked around for Bruce but didn’t find anyone. I was alone in this moment of Sublime Awesomeness… It defies adequate description.
|Dancing laser lights|
I popped my head up to see that I was the only one still in the water. Margie and Peck had disappeared around the corner and Bruce sat on the beach waiting for me. I neared the waters edge at his feet and just couldn’t get out yet… I watched the little fishes swim around me on the slope as if they hadn’t a care in the world. They swam as if the bottom slope were level, even though it was probably better than a 45° angle… Their world is just different from ours…
Finally, I reluctantly climbed out of the water and joined the others on the beach. We dried off for a bit gazing out at the gorgeous view. I just can not believe that this place is practically deserted. America must just not know about it, and you know what? That’s just grand! We spoke to that last free diver for a bit. He snuck into the water and did his dive after I got out. Man I would have loved to have snapped a pic or two of him diving! But he was a nice young Irish boy who told us about the upcoming competition and a bit about training. Pretty neat stuff. Pretty scary!!!
|Not easy climbing out of that hole|
Leaving Dean’s Blue Hole, we realized that we had worked up a thirst… We had passed several small and interesting looking drinking establishments on our way here… we decided to stop and check one out.
How we managed to choose what must be the COOLEST little stop on this whole LONG Island, I can not tell you. We must be on a roll. I won’t say it topped Dean’s Blue Hole, but it surely kept the awesomeness going…
|Margie and Peck from S/V Uno Mas|
This place is just a blip on the road. An old hippy car and a cool and inviting palapa hut lured us in and we found a quirky island oasis. Four barstools waited just for us around this bar plastered with a wild assortment of… junk! Candy, our bartender was quite a character. She entertained us with stories wild and mundane while she worked her magic which ultimately ended in us ordering our first conch salad ever.
|Breadfruit tree. We had fresh breadfruit chips from THIS tree!|
|Thousands of conch shells creating a fence and borders for landscaping|
|The start of a delicious conch salad...|
We watched as it was made of a growing pile of fruits and veggies and citrus juices… and of course conch. There are piles of thousands of conch shells out back to prove the success of Max’s boasting the world’s best conch salad. Unfortunately they have set the bar high for which all other conch salads will be judged. We may search the world over and never find a match. The secret is the breadfruit chips made from fresh picked breadfruit here on the property. The were amazing and made the perfect shovel for the delicious conch salad… MMMMMmmmm the BEST!
|Fruits and veggies|
|Adding the conch|
|Fresh squeezed citrus juices "cook" the conch|
|Served up with fresh breadfruit chips|
We finished our one drink and our snack, then got back on the road. The sun was beginning it’s downward slide and we still had a few more stops. First, a grocery run. We stopped briefly here at the Hillside Grocery where the prices made my head spin. I looked longingly at the small bag of leftover Easter candy that could be all mine for $14.95… nope, I didn’t buy it. We settled for a loaf of white bread and a glimpse of their ridiculous view, then carried on.
|The view from the grocery store|
We were searching for the Stella Maris Resort. Peck was interested in checking it out for some reason. We darted to the right when we saw the sign we had missed coming out this morning and were rewarded with a drive down possibly the world’s most pothole riddled road. We were happy that we had purchased the rental car insurance as these holes must surely be doing some damage no matter how slowly we drove.
We parked at the resort and took a little stroll… not much. The Cape Santa Maria is MUCH better if you’re in the market for a quiet beach getaway… Skip Stella Maris. On we went to our final stop for the day. We hoped to make it before sunset, and when we left the main road to follow this hilly and rocky road out to the northernmost point on Long Island, we hoped that we would be OUT of here before the sun set!
|It reminds me a lot of the Texas Hill Country|
The road was rocky and in many places, steep. Peck didn’t tell us until we were out that he had actually been a bit scared… but he did a great job of getting us through the narrow clutches of brush that threatened to absorb us before we finally arrived at our destination.
We climbed the steep rock that took us to the Columbus Monument. It sits atop a hill commanding an all-around stunning view. After all the heat I took for the approach being so bad… I think we were all glad we had stuck it out and achieved our final goal for the day.
We were spurred onward by the setting sun. Back down the hill we went and somehow, retracing our path through the off-road-heaven that brought us here, it seemed so much shorter and less treacherous coming out… We parked our rental car back at the Cape Santa Maria resort just in time for a sunset pick and a couple of plates of free conch fritters to go with our happy hour drinks… even though happy hour had ended, the resort took pity upon us and gave us the happy hour deal anyway.
What a fabulous day it was. We enjoyed our drinks and fritters and shared laughs and memories of our day with our new friends. I’m so glad we came here. Dean’s Blue hole turned out to be one of those lifetime experiences that will be remembered as a treasure for years to come. It is all the more special because I know that so few people ever get to experience it. The Bahamas is that kind of place. In the Bahamas, you just can’t keep the Awesomeness down!