Saturday morning had us up bright and early as Walter was very excited to finally explore the island where he’d been shipwrecked years ago. We were up at 5:45 a.m. so we could catch the ferry at 8:30 a.m., which was only about an hour away and we were already packed. Truth is, I was very excited, too, even though he had Jason and me up almost two hours before time to go.
We piled all our dive gear and bags into the back of the truck and Walter sped along the partly paved and partly gravel roads, swerving when necessary to avoid the ubiquitous potholes. We finally arrived at the ferry dock about an hour before the ferry operator, Ed, arrived.
The day was gorgeous with a perfect cerulean sky studded with white puffy clouds and a breeze that kept us from sweating too much. The road was a dirt rut with an old worn down yellow building close by, an old sideways tilting cement dock, and not a soul in sight. There are no port-a-potties or signs posted along a manicured highway pointing the way to a rest area. This is the reality in the Bahamas out islands. You go when you need to wherever you are. I ducked around a cropping of boulders and sat on a conveniently located rock on a beautiful and tiny sandy beach to relieve myself as I stared far across the cut at Acklins Island. There’s literally no one around to disturb such moments in these sparsely populated islands.
Ed, a tall slim man with broad shoulders and a happy smile, headed over to the ferry boat and readied her for our ride across. I knew we were taking a ferry and in my mind yesterday, I conjured up an image of a large flat barge type vessel on which we would load our truck, although I had not seen such a barge when we first arrived. Instead, I noted the tiny boat anchored off the dock and wondered whose it was. But Ed answered that question when he pulled the anchor of the small boat and ran it into the sand on the little beach so we could load and board.
The only time you can cross between Crooked and Acklins is at high tide, so the ferry only runs twice a day – once in the morning and once in the afternoon. We tossed all our gear on the bow of the boat and sat on a wooden bench in the back as we motored across at a moderate rate of speed.
Walter had called ahead to IVel’s Bed & Breakfast and they sent a driver to pick us up and take us to the B&B. Donald, our driver, had been on the mailboat with us and we had a lot of fun talking to him on the ride over. He is a big man with a big heart and the laugh to go with it. We found it impossible not to grin as we listened to him.
Finally, after an hour’s drive, we arrived at Ivel’s – a B&B I discovered online while back in Miami. IVel’s exceeded my expectations. It is better than any B&B I’ve visited in the States. We were welcomed like long lost family.
Our luggage was delivered to our room while we were served a plate of artfully arranged fruit. Chef Peter, a handsome and unassuming man about 6’3” tall, had a voice like velvet – deep and smooth – when he asked us what we’d like to have for breakfast. We told him and he prepared eggs, bacon, and grits for us, along with a much needed cup of coffee. Velma, the owner, came in right away to greet us and give us a warm welcome before we settled into our room. We were now free to explore the island.
Walter wanted to ride back down to the dock for a brief visit with Nay. This was where the mail boat had first dropped us off a week earlier. We drove to the ship dock but before we could even make it over to Nay, Mr. Darling came running up to us and wanted to buy us a soda each. He walked us to a pavilion and sat us down. He began to propose we invest in building a tennis court and golf course on Acklins. There’s no real infrastructure to support these things that I could see – at least not at this point in time – and we don’t have the money for investing in such things, anyway, which Walter explained to him. I don’t think he understood we really didn’t have the capital for such an endeavor. But he was pleasant and friendly, nonetheless.
After we parted Mr. Darling’s company, Walter reiterated to me that this was not the Mr. Darling that he had met in 1983. Back at IVel’s we brought this up to Velma and asked her about the constable who had lived on Acklins back in 1983, and then described the man we saw at the dock. She asked Chef Peter about it and then they said, “Ohhhh! That man is Mr. Garling! Mr. Darling returned to Nassau many years ago.” That explained things! Mr. Darling was about 6’5” but Mr. Garling was about 5’8”. Now we had it straight, but what are the chances we’d find a Garling AND a Darling?
We only planned to stay three nights on Acklins so we headed back out to explore some more. Walter was told Salinas Point would be near where he had washed ashore. So we started to head out there.
A new fancy road was being built out to Salinas point we were told. We turned at the red pitcher pump as instructed. When we reached the end of the fresh blacktop road we asked a construction worker at that point how much farther it would be to Salinas Point. The remainder of the road was back to gravel here and we weren’t certain what we were getting ourselves into. The construction worker told us it would take about 1.5 hours more to arrive at Salinas point. We turned around to head back, quite puzzled and disappointed to learn it could possibly be that far. The island was just not that wide.
“We need to talk to Velma and find out what’s going on here and maybe try again tomorrow.” Walter proposed.
“Well, where do you want to go next?” I asked, a bit disappointed.
“Let’s just go back to the main road and head south and see what we find.” So we drove south until the road ended and then turned left to the east coast of Acklins. As we did so, we noticed a large rectangular area covered in fresh white rock. There was a sign posted on this site in handwritten letters that read, “Tennis Court.”
“Could this be Mr. Garlings tennis court?” we asked each other. It was quite an ambitious project and we hoped he could bring it to fruition. We worried if it were his project that he may have placed it too far away as we’d heard a larger development was occurring on the east coast at Salinas Point.
We kept walking on down to the water edge and took a few photos to remember the day. And it was a hot one. Jason made it fun by goofing off and making silly faces for the camera.
“I’m thirsty.” Walter announced. “Let’s head back to that beer shack we passed earlier and get something to drink.”
“I don’t drink beer!” Jason reminded us.
“You can have a ginger beer!” Walter smiled back at him.
We returned back up the long, empty stretch of road until we reached the small unassuming wooden building plastered with a couple of plastic beer advertisements and located just off the beautiful Bight of Acklins on a lovely beach. We three walked into the small, dimly lit building which had only one propped open door, and a small window with a view of the ocean. Walter asked for two beers and a ginger beer from an older man named Jeffrey. The old man turned and slowly pulled the beer and soda out of his cooler as we proceeded to occupy three of the four stools at his bar. The cold amber liquid slid down our throats while Jason enjoyed his ginger beer. It was a hot day and we breathed out a long “Ahhhhh,” and smiled as the cold liquid settled in. We chatted with Jeffrey and looked out behind him at the expanse of turquoise water before we said our goodbyes. We asked where we could find Club Rolex and then left to follow his directions to this bar that supposedly served food as well as drinks.
“Club Rolex?” I asked doubtfully. “What sort of place is this? Sounds risqué.”
Walter was right. As it turns out, it was just a big open room with a few people – mostly men, although there were some women – ordering food and drinks. I realized how jaded I’ve become by the big city of Miami and all it’s negative influences. What would it be like to be on this peaceful happy island without such intrusions? If I pondered that for very long, I might decide to move to Acklins.
“What have you got to eat?” Walter asked the guy behind the counter.
“Well, the power is out right now so you’ll have to wait for it to come back on. What can I get you to drink?”
Power outages are not uncommon in the Bahamas. We waited and drank Kalik Gold to keep cool. Turns out the man serving us lived in Miramar, FL, although he was from Acklins originally, and in town for Reunion Weekend. His name was Wallace and he asked, as many had before him, if we had flown in to Acklins. We told the small group at the bar that we’d arrived on the mail boat. Their eyes shot wide open, as did their mouths. No one could believe these white folks would tackle something as crazy as the mail boat on Reunion Weekend. They were eager to hear what our experience was like.
Jason was quick to jump in, “The toilet was always full and I had to wait to go at night. Then the toilet exploded and it went everywhere, even into our room! I lost a sock! It was so gross!!”
About then one of the girls who’d been on the mail boat with us walked in with her boyfriend and ran up to give me a big hug. She had slept at the kitchen table one night and in a bunk on the second night. Everyone on that boat shared a common experience that bonded us. It was cool. I flashed a smile every time someone asked us if we’d flown to Acklins. “No, we took the mail boat.” Those words never failed to drop jaws.
That first wonderful day on Acklins ended with new friends, lots of laughter, cold Kalik Gold, and – once the power came back on – fried grouper, fried chicken, and fried cracked conch. That’s a meal that’s hard to beat.
We drove back home feeling sated and happy. Jason climbed onto his sofa bed to watch cartoons while Walter and I headed upstairs to our perfectly chilly room with a posh wooden bed piled high with a glorious plush mattress and soft blankets. We were down for the count in nothing flat.