Eleuthera: New Years Escape
After a few days back in the USA for Christmas, we decided to escape the Disney crowds in Orlando by flying to the Bahamas out-islands to celebrate the new year. It marked our first visit back in the States after moving to Lux 2 years ago. We joined up with Avery and Cindy in Orlando and then drove on Florida's road-rage highways to Miami before our flight the following morning. We planned to have a chic night in South Beach but switched to a more low key afternoon enjoying acai bowls on the beach, followed by dinner at Nobu, and a restless night in a hotel shared with Erin's mom and sister.
Day 1: Miami to Eleuthera
We woke up super early the following morning and drove to the atrocious Miami airport, where American Airlines was attempting to implement a new computer check-in system - all travelers (including seniors and non-English speakers) had to use a variety of barely-functioning kiosks to print their own baggage tags before entering another line to check bags. We finally made it through the never-ending lines and ran down to our gate (with breakfast bagels in hand) all the way at the end of the terminal, where small planes fly to nearby islands.
We boarded our tiny American Eagle jet, with only about 15 rows of seats (3 across) and took off for a gorgeous, 38-minute flight to Eleuthera. Because we flew so low, the views were outstanding. We saw the clouds reflecting on the turquoise water and had a perfect view for our approach to land on the very short paved strip making up Northern Eleuthera airport. Upon landing, we lined up at the one-room terminal and passed through customs.
In Eleuthera, there aren't rental car companies. For the most part, there are people who run rental car businesses by loaning out their own and their friends' personal cars. We arranged to rent a Jeep via email, but when we arrived, the locals all laughed when we asked about our car. Soon after, a man pulled up in a sedan and let us know that our car was broken, but that he would drive us to our hotel and that the car would be dropped off later. Giddy from the flight, we all said no problem and hopped in the car with a man who claimed to be the friend of the man we arranged our rental car with. We made the 75-minute drive from the north to the middle of the island on the main, one-lane road, past Lenny Kravitz's estate, a few very small villages (punctuated with speed bumps) and various dirt-road turnoffs leading to beaches, vacation rentals, small hotels and beach bars.
We arrived at our villas near Governor's Harbor and stopped at the local beach restaurant Tippy's for lunch. We enjoyed local beers and fresh-caught fish, went for a dip in the ocean, and then headed across the street to our villas to rest and prep for dinner. We headed about 5 minutes into town, checked out the little village, and then enjoyed a fancy dinner of fish, pasta, salad and wine at the French Leave resort while watching yachts moored in the bay ferry their occupants in on dinghys for dinner.
Day 2: Boat Day
We chartered a speedboat for our first day on the island to check out off-island sandbars, snorkel spots and a tiny island inhabited only by pigs. We started by making the long drive back to the north side of the island (with our rental car, finally delivered the morning before, with an interesting dance hall CD we would listen to the rest of the trip). We parked at the docks near where the ferry leaves for neighboring Spanish Wells and met the captain of our boat. We first headed about 15 minutes away to a giant sandbar that is only accessible during low tide. We all hopped off the boat and spent time walking along the temporary island and taking in the scene - we were the only people in sight, which was a welcome change of pace after the crowds in Miami the morning before.
After hanging out on the sand bar (Erin's mom would have preferred to stay there all day with a 6-pack, beach chair and a book), we headed further out to a snorkel spot. While Erin and Avery took in the tropical fish in the perfectly clear water, Dave tried his hand at spear-fishing, using a spring-loaded spear. He was completely in his element stalking the fish, diving down and releasing at just the right time. He caught 3 fish in only a few minutes of trying. Erin gave it a try, but, not shockingly, wasn't as stealthy as Dave. While heading to our next spot, we spotted a few sea turtles, and our captain followed behind them as we watched them escape through the crystal-clear water.
We stopped at a few more snorkel spots before cruising to the pig island, where more than a dozen pigs of all sizes reside. When they saw our boat coming in, the biggest two pigs (Cookie and Blackie) swam out go greet us - they knew we had food, so they were doing all they could to climb up on the boat to eat. They were so big they pushed and rocked the boat, and our captain had to re-anchor. After feeding the big guys a few hot dogs, we jumped in and swam toward the beach, where the smaller pigs swam out to greet us. We spent the next 30 minutes playing with the piglets.
Our last stop was at the rusting bridge that connected Eleuthera to Spanish Wells. Erin and Avery jumped off the bottom of the bridge (with Erin forcing Avery to make the leap, almost against her will) and Dave back-flipped off the top. Dave also helped a teenager who was scared to jump, prompting his little brother to say that Dave's coaching was "the sweetest thing I ever heard - I will never forget this". We headed back to the dock, exhausted from the long day at sea.
On our way home, we stopped at Queen's bath, a series of grottoes and rock holes that fill up with sea water, creating natural hot tubs. We freaked out Cindy, who was worried we would all be swept away by a rogue wave, as we climbed down the iron shore to the small pools. We swam for a bit and then headed to a beach bar for some delicious fish tacos, and devoured those while the sand fleas devoured Dave's legs. We took an afternoon nap and then checked out the Buccaneer Club for dinner, followed by some not-so-competitive rounds of gin rummy back at our villa (Cindy dominated).
Day 3: French Leave Beach
On day 3, we decided to keep it simple and local at the beach just down the street from our place. In 1994, Cindy and Erin stayed at a Club Med resort on the very same beach. The resort was wiped out by a hurricane in 1995, but Erin had strong memories of the place, so our first activity for the day was to walk down the powdery, white-sand beach to the ruins of the resort to explore. The hurricane and passage of time had nearly wiped all the resort buildings away, but Erin recognized the kids' club area where she tried a trapeze and was part of a group called "The Garfields." We climbed through overgrown greenery and found the old pool, which seemed to have shrunk with the passage of time. After the nostalgic exploration, we walked back down the beach and spent the next few hours swimming in the waves and chilling.
We explored the opposite direction down the beach, past a section of iron shore, and found one of the best stretches of beach we have ever seen. For as far as we could see, there were no people - just white sand and swimming-pool like sparkling waters. We floated around for a bit and then made plans to come back to this untouched area later in the trip.
For lunch, we attempted to go to Pascal's, only to endure a very weird 2 hours that ended with our waitress quitting and no food for us. We eventually gave up and paid for our drinks, heading to the gas station/grocery store in Governor's Harbor for supplies.
Since there are so few restaurants on Eleuthera, reservations are required for any special dinners. For New Years Eve, everything was booked. Because NYE happened to be on a Sunday, retail sales of alcohol were prohibited. So, to close out 2017, we celebrated the healthy way by taking a sunset/moonlight swim and then having a home-cooked dinner of rice, beans and hot sauce.
Day 4: Harbour Island and Sapphire Hole Fails
We continued our very fun and scenic parade of errors the following day, when we headed out early to spend a day on neighboring Harbour Island. Harbour Island is known for having many yachts, classic chic resorts and beautiful English-style homes painted in pastel colors. Everyone on the island drives around in golf carts, and we thought the trip to the fancier island would be a nice change of pace from rugged (though beautiful) Eleuthera. We made it to the dock after a couple of wrong turns, paid the small speed boat driver $5 each and then took the 10-minute speedy ride across the bay.
We hopped off the boat and walked down the pier to the golf cart rental shop, only to find out (i) the shop was closed for New Years Day and (ii) all golf carts on the island were sold out. We decided to walk around a bit, and spent a good hour walking along the main streets of town, amongst the perfectly painted preppy houses, before stopping at Bahamas Coffee Roasters for breakfast. We had planned to have an early lunch at the legendary Sip Sip, which was also closed for the holiday, and then planned to lounge a bit at the famous pink sand beach before exploring the yacht club. However, since we didn't have any transportation and everything was closed, we decided to walk down to the street along the bay to observe the holiday Junkanoo parade at noon, only to find out it didn't take place until 6. At that point, we decided to cut our losses and head back to Eleuthera to find the sapphire hole, an inland, neon-blue cenote filled with crystal clear waters and rope swings.
We took the boat back to our island, and during our ride a local child rested her hand on Avery's leg on the trip, to Avery's clear discomfort. We hopped in the car and headed down an unpaved road toward our destination - we only had a pin on Google Maps, but thought we found it when we drove down a gravel side road. The road came to an abrupt halt at a fence, and we didn't see anything around. Dave even sent up the drone to look for it to no avail. So we high-tailed it back to the perfect beach we found the day before, and spent the afternoon snorkeling in the off-shore reefs. Avery got a good handle on snorkeling and we pushed further out to sea, spotting huge schools of fish and brightly colored coral.
Again without dinner reservations, we went for round 2 on the rice, beans and gin rummy, and Erin cooked a high-class spaghetti and garlic bread dinner for Avery and Cindy.
Day 5-6: Beaches, Dinner Reservations and the Sapphire Hole
We spent the last part of our trip snorkeling, teaching Avery to stand-up paddleboard in the bay, lounging on the perfect part of French Leave beach and finally, on our last night, scoring a dinner reservation to Tippy's. We walked past framed pictures of George Clooney, Matthey McConaughey and other celebs and sat down at the famous beach shack. We enjoyed the break from beans and rice and feasted on a Mediterranean platter, cesar salads, local grouper, lobster spring rolls and wood-fired pizza, all under a full moon and with the waves crashing ashore just a few meters away.
On our last morning, we drove over the famous Glass Window Bridge (where the glassy teal bay is separated from the raging blue ocean), dropped Cindy and Avery off at the airport and tried to find the elusive Sapphire Hole one last time. This time, we took extra care to study the satellite images. It turned out that the dead-end road where we turned around was the exact right spot, we just couldn't see it through the vegetation. Because it was early morning, the sun wasn't yet shining in to the deep swimming hole, making it more like a scary black hole than an inviting blue one, but Dave eagerly shimmied down the rope ladder to investigate the deep caverns beneath. Because there were no other people, exploring the silent cave was spooky. Once Dave performed a depth check on the icy water, he throw some tricks off the gravelly ledge into the blackness.
After one last dip in Eleuthera's perfect waters, we made it back to the airport just in time to pick up a couple of famous pancakes from the tiny restaurant across the street. Then we hopped on to the tiny plane for a scenic ride to Miami, and by noon our trip to Eleuthera was complete. Despite the inconveniences and things not going to plan, we had a great time - the beaches and lack of crowds in Eleuthera made up for it all. Next up, after a quick stop in Naples, we head to Iceland, for a complete change of scenery.
Check out our Bahamas video edit
The adventure continues to Iceland
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