My trip to Eleuthera last weekend was long overdue, as I was awaiting the easing of travel restrictions to make the trip a bit more palatable. Several days before traveling, I had to take what ended up being my fifth COVID-19 test since the beginning of this global pandemic that has drastically changed our lives.
On the day of travel, armed with my test results and travel visa (which I must admit that one of my agents Tonya kindly went online and got me approved me for), I proceeded to the Bahamasair counter. At the desk, the Bahamasair agent asked for my health and travel visa and I felt like an FBI agent flashing my badge when I showed her my cellphone with all the details.
The checking in process after that was very quick, except for being stopped by the COVID-19 authorities and again having to “ flash” my cell phone with my travel and health visa. I passed through this section with flying colors.
Social distancing at this point was being adhered to – either that or everybody was staying clear of me. I got on the plane and fortunately for me it was not a full flight, as there were several empty seats between all the passengers. Most Bahamians and residents know that traveling to the out islands has always been an expensive proposition. Due to the pandemic, it seems as if those costs have gotten significantly higher, especially when you factor in your COVID-19 test.
I finally arrived in beautiful Rock Sound, but before I could retrieve my luggage, I had to fill out a form with my telephone contact and the location of where I was staying. This time I did not have to present my COVID-19 documents and I was free to pick up my rental car and head over to my bed and breakfast in Tarpum Bay. Yes, it is Tarpum and not Tarpun. It is a long story as to why there is an “m” and not a “n”.
Normally when I am dining at any restaurant, I do not check the bill and only ask if the gratuity is included. I have never really been a fan of the 15 percent gratuity, as I feel at times it does not give the server the initiative to provide excellent customer service. On this particular day, while dining in Eleuthera, my eagle-eyed friend that was with me spotted an 18 percent gratuity charge on my receipt. At this point I thought I was having a “senior moment” or missed the memo that says the gratuity rate had gone up from 15 percent to 18 percent. Apparently in Eleuthera, that rate is the norm for restaurants.
Essentially adding a VAT charge on top of that my regular bill had increased by almost 30 percent. However, the good news is that all restaurants have indoor dining, which could be a reason why they are charging 18 percent.
Another surprise I encountered was at the local food store in Tarpum Bay. There was a shortage of bread in addition to running out of limes while they were awaiting the mailboat to come in with the fresh batch of supplies the next day. I would have thought that on Eleuthera, with its farming history, limes would have been in abundance and the island would not have to depend on Nassau for the already imported limes from Florida and Mexico. Eleuthera makes great homemade bread and again was surprised that I could not find any, but I was grateful that my landlord worked his magic and was able to get me a few loaves from his source.
My next adventure was going to the dock to get some fresh fish, but several times I either missed the times when the fisherman came in, or another time the fish was in short supply or promised to someone else. I had no choice but to settle for two large jacks because it was all they had. So that evening my friends and I dined on fresh fried jacks and homemade bread and it reminded me of the story in the Bible when our Lord fed 5,000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread. Similarly, I somehow managed to scrape and feed the three of us present on two jacks and two loaves of bread! I found it amazing, how difficult it is to find fish on an island where sea food is in abundance and yet with what had transpired that day, you would think we lived in an area that was landlocked with no oceans and no fish. My speculation is that either the locals do not fish or there is no market, but certainly the local restaurants at the very least should have fish to serve to their customers.
Despite the lack of fresh fish, we soldiered on and toured the rest of the island, passing through Governor’s Harbour, where we stopped at a bar and grill on the outskirts. There we dined on burgers and a few libations with the panoramic views of the beach staring at us. I had to inspect some properties for a client which were located on top of a hill and the views of the Atlantic Ocean on this hill were something to behold. The blue, diamond-like water wrapped around the hill in an almost 360-degree angle, as the sun glistened on the sea. It was truly a magnificent sight to see!
The ride to James Cistern was relatively smooth as the roads were paved, however, while we were driving south of Governor’s Harbour, we had to be extra careful as there were some large craters on the road. If we were not paying attention, we would have been in serious jeopardy had we fallen into one of them.
We managed to spend a few hours in Harbour Island, which appeared to be buzzing with activity. There were lots of tourists moving around, golf carts crowding the streets and individuals traversing up and down the road. Might I also mention that there is no curfew on any of the settlements north of the Glass Window Bridge, including Harbour Island and Spanish Wells. This made me curious as to why these settlements have no curfew, while residents in the rest of the settlements south of the Glass Window Bridge on Eleuthera must be inside at 10 p.m. like us here in Nassau.
I guess, as one resident puts it, “The COVID-19 monster probably comes out at 10 p.m. south of the Glass Window Bridge,” which may explain why the lockdown happens at 10 p.m.
Coming back into Nassau, our flight left Rock Sound and picked up passengers in Exuma. This time the flight was nearly full and unlike when we were coming in there was a serious lack of social distancing. We were all basically shoulder to shoulder, which was a bit scary. With the number of persons on board, I thought that disembarking would have been more controlled, having passengers remain in their seats, leave in one single file and one row at a time. Nevertheless, we were all disorganized and “jammed up”, trying to get off the plane.
Overall, even with the few mishaps, I thoroughly enjoyed my time on Eleuthera and plan on returning as soon as possible!
• William Wong is a two-term president of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation, two-term president of the Bahamas Real Estate Association and a partner at Darville-Wong Realty. He is also a former president of the Rotary Club of South East Nassau and is currently a member of the Rotary Club of West Nassau. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.