Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Acklins Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SE-S 10 knots

Our adventures ashore have been one of the best parts of our trip so far, and today was no exception. We decided to go ashore to see the island today, taking a long sandy walk along the curve of powdered sand, and then deciding to venture further along an abandoned road that led out from the harbor. We had seen it on our electronic Explorer chart, a little road that dead-ends at the water, with a little icon marked “ruins” right beside it. We found the road and a little abandoned cottage, and began walking. We had been warned that civilization was a good three miles from the anchorage by our Bahamian friends we met on Samana, but we are good walkers, after all. We brought our good hiking shoes, plenty of water, and the leftover protein bars we still have from our hiking adventures.

Six miles is a long walk, but both of us were anxious to stretch our legs. It felt really good to be walking again, using our bodies in a different way than they’re ever used on the boat. I was told when I finished the Appalachian Trail by a fellow ex-hiker that she felt, even now, that she could jaunt off into the woods for a twenty-mile day whenever she felt like it. At the time, I couldn’t imagine ever feeling that way, but now I do. Six miles is a quarter of a trail day--nothing to break a sweat over.

It ended up being a fantastic walk. A mysterious-looking “blue hole” was also marked along our route, and we found a little side trail leading off to a vast and empty cave. It was low tide when we came through, so there was no water in it, but we could see giant land crabs skittering around in the darkness and hear the bats sleeping deep in the cave’s recesses. We found a couple of other side trails to explore as we walked too, a handful that led off to beautiful Bahamian beaches off lagoons that we could never bring Secret into.

It couldn’t have been more than a mile and a half before we started seeing buildings. We didn’t know where we were going--the chart only said “road to Chester’s.” We had no idea what Chester’s was: a resort, restaurant, store, bar, or even someone’s house? We didn’t have a clue. All we knew is we were going to Chester’s to see what we could find there. The buildings looked fairly fancy, and we were expecting a remote Bahamian village, so we began to be a little worried that Chester’s might be an exclusive resort with celebrities sunbathing all over the place.

Eventually we came to the main road, and discovered that the fancy buildings were still being built, part of the epidemic of construction that seems to be going on in the Bahamas right now. We asked the first lady we saw for directions to Chester’s, and she said, “you’re here!” It turns out Chester’s is the name of a town--a possibility that had not occurred to us. It boasted a little store and watering hole, and we ended up playing dominoes with the locals all afternoon, in one of our most fun excursions yet. The first person we saw was Gator, one of our fisherman friends from Samana, and two or three others drifted in and out through the course of the afternoon. Helen, the proprietress, prevailed upon us to leave our mark in marker on the wall, one of about ten crews who’ve made it that far out in the last ten years. Not to be egotistical, but I ended up cleaning up pretty well at dominoes (it may have had something to do with the inebriated condition of one of my competitors), and Helen inscribed by my name on the wall, “Dominoes champ!” I’m rather proud of that--dominoes champ is not something to be taken lightly in the Bahamas.

When Helen found out we were hungry, she made us some ramen noodles and sausage, even though she didn’t serve food, and wouldn’t take any money for the food. It felt just like home. There was a gospel concert going on that night, the beginning of the Acklins Island homecoming festivities, and Cox, one of our other friends from Samana, invited us to stay and offered to give us a ride back to the harbor, but we decided we were tired and to head back to the boat. The walk back, talking in the dark, with the full moon glowing up above and dragonflies buzzing along the road, keeping the mosquitoes away, was maybe the best part of the day. Back on the Appalachian Trail, as you’ll know if you’ve read any of my journals from those faraway days, I used to complain incessantly about night-hiking. Now, though, it’s another of those difficult past experiences that makes the present more enjoyable. I have no fear of walking any trail, especially not a clear, well-marked road, at any hour. In fact, it reminds me of those far-off good old days when I was miserable.

I practiced my rowing as we headed the mile back to the boat against the wind, annoying Karl with my zigzag route, but enjoying the pull of the muscles in my back and arms. I always wonder why I don’t row more often when I do--I do like it, and there’s no reason to make Karl do it all the time. It’s just about making an effort, I suppose.

Tonight is another of those calm, dark nights on the water, alone at anchor, with the yellow moon glowing through the portholes at the end of a full day. On nights like these, my heart fills up like the moon. It seems too much for life to be this good, to be this content, this much at peace.

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