Before exploring Gun Bluff today we decided to have another go at crossing over the salt pond and finally exploring the old ruins on the other side. Since the first go was a bust, we headed to the little village and asked an expert how to get there.

“So, you go to the big anchor. You know where the big anchor is?” Walter nodded. “Okay. Across from the anchor will be a little ramp. Go straight across the water and you’ll see the path.”

“Okay, and if we want to go to Gun Bluff how do we get there?” The local guy explained this, too, but it made no sense to me. Go this way, then turn here and go over the hill and you’ll see this red thing and then that but just keep going, blah blah. I hoped Walter got something from it. Sometimes guy-speak directions are so foreign to me, I wonder if they even understand what the other is saying, or if they just nod and fake it.

We got back in the truck and made it to the big anchor. The ramp was really just a pile of rocks, and we could have launched the rubber blow-up boat there. Except that it was absolutely all-out howling at about 25-30 kts with the wind blowing at an angle that would have had us instantly a half-mile away before we knew what had happened. We ditched that idea, at least for the day. On to Gun Bluff.

We bumbled along in our borrowed blue truck along sand trails, through pot holes, and over rocks. Walter turned this way, then that. I had no idea where we were or how he knew where to go. There were no road signs anywhere. It was hard for me to grasp that he actually had gleaned anything from what I heard as rather vague directional guidance. I would have been hopelessly lost.

Walter made another decisive turn down an even narrower sand trail.

“How do you even know where we’re going? Did you really understand and remember all that?” I mimicked the guide, “Yah, so you just go on down past the airport and follow the road. Just go on, and then on some more, turn left at the pile of rock and right at the brown twig on the side of the road. Then just follow the bumble bee to the house.” Jason laughed out loud and Walter snorted.

View of Gun Bluff

The covered deck overlook at Gun Bluff is beautiful.

Walter slowed the truck down as we carefully traversed a steep hill over some big rocks, and then we were at the top. The home on Gun Bluff was in ruins. Hurricane Joaquin devastated many homes here two years ago. It was the worst storm to hit this coast since 1866. The once magnificent home on Gun Bluff was now abandoned and in need of repair. We poked around a bit and then found some steps carved out of the rock, so we made our way down the towering rock bluff and onto the beach.

Debris likely from the El Faro which sank at sea.

The remains of a refrigerated container probably from the El Faro, which sank near here in 2015.

The pink sands beach lead down to the ocean against the impressive backdrop of a huge grayish/black rock bluff covered in rocky spikes carved out over time by the sea. The beach was strewn with unopened liquor bottles – the liquid now long since evaporated – seaweed, plastic debris, and the remains of a container that most likely came off the El Faro. This container ship sank in 15,000 ft. during Hurricane Joaquin just off the beach where we were. Sadly, all 33 onboard died in the horrific storm. Their bodies were never found.

Joaquin was the worst storm to hit here since 1866.

Hurricane Joaquin was the worst storm to hit this coast since 1866.

Walter, Jason, and myself climbed over the huge stone bluffs. The rough surface of the rock made it easier to grab hold with our hands and feet, although, with a misstep, the fall would likely result in serious injury. We hiked down a ways and Walter decided he wanted to hike much further down to the bat caves, about an hour and a half hike roundtrip. The sun was scorching at noonday and there was no shade available so I decided to turn back to the house on Gun Bluff and wait for them.

Spiky tall bluffs on the beach.

These spiky bluffs were fun to climb.

The bluffs came down in places right to the water’s edge. I began climbing while very carefully and strategically considered the placement of my hands and feet as I was alone and didn’t want to get injured. Instead of walking along the beach, I chose to challenge myself by scaling the bluffs. I didn’t have anyone to help me if I fell, so I had to be extra careful. It was actually fun planning the climbs, choosing the right way to get up and then back down. But the climbing was strenuous and exhausting in the 90 degree heat. I wore a long-sleeved shirt to protect me from the sun, which made me even hotter. I quickly became thirsty. After all the climbing I was in a full sweat and needed a break. My chest hurt and I had a hard time catching my breath. I guess I had overdone it.

I looked around but there was not a bit of shade in sight. I located the house at Gun Bluff but the access to the stone stairs I’d seen before were hidden from view. I wish I had taken note of the access point earlier. I scoured the bluff but just could not see how to get up there. And I was too exhausted and overheated to attempt it at the moment.

Tow line on the beach.

Tow line found on the beach, possibly from the El Faro.

I walked a bit further beyond the house, but I really needed to rest. I finally found a small curve carved out of the 60-80 ft high bluff. I tucked myself into it to take advantage of the shade. I waited for Walter but never saw him heading back with Jason, as I had to go past the house a bit to find this one bit of shade. The beach was deserted so I took off my long-sleeved shirt, which helped me cool off a bit. I backed up against the spiky stone bluff and sat down to try to cool off while poking my head out every once in a while to look for them.

The sun began to peak over my protected area and now I would soon have nowhere to get out of the blazing heat. An hour or more had passed. I was parched. Walter had all the water in his backpack and neither of us thought of that when I turned back towards Gun Bluff.

Many homes were destroyed during Joaquin.

Many homes, including this very early home, were destroyed during the storm.

I walked back to the area where I could see the house high up on the cliff, but I still could not see how to access it. Now I was scared. Where were they? How far had they gone? Had something happened to them? I thought of the tall jagged rocks I’d just scaled and worried. I went back to my spot against the bluff and backed up as far as I could into the pocket carved into the stone base to get the bit of shade that was left. I became concerned when I saw the sun now aggressively cresting over the bluff.

Jason walks with his new bamboo walking stick.

Jason with his beach-salvaged bamboo walking stick.

Unbeknownst to me, Walter had returned with Jason and they had begun searching for me. They looked all through the house and the property and in the truck. And then they got worried. Walter told me when he didn’t find me in the truck he said, “Oh, no. What has happened to her?”

About that time they heard me calling and ran down to me. I was teary-eyed when I saw them coming. Jason held my hand and Walter held my elbow, though I didn’t need help. We were just happy to be together again. I sat under the covered deck on the cliff’s edge with a bottle of water and drank it down gratefully. All was well.

Bird Cay Lighthouse

Gun Bluff provides wonderful views of Bird Cay Lighthouse.

We enjoyed traipsing around on the beach and scaling the towering rock bluff, but next time we’ll stay together. And I will never hike again under the fierce southern Bahamian sun without carrying my own water.

***

Gun Bluff, and many other once-grand homes on Crooked Island are in ruins. I would have loved to have seen the island in her grandeur before Hurricane Joaquin. It must have been quite beautiful. I wish the locals well in the continuing work of restoring their beautiful island to her former glory.

 

 

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