Where else but in the islands would a sign actually say "This Way and That Way?" Do we bike down to a secluded cove? Or do we sit under the coconut tree and snorkel for a while? I grew up on Abaco Island in the Bahamas and go back home just to make those kind of important decisions.
This year we visited Elbow Cay, a four-mile-long island about a 20-minute ferry ride from Marsh Harbor, with its small international airport on the mainland of Abaco. We stayed in Hope Town, the main village on Elbow Cay, settled several hundred years ago by British loyalists fleeing the American Revolution. Many of the original cottages have been bought as second homes and, though they retain their
original charm with pastel wooden shutters, front porches with comfy chairs and views, and cascading bouganvilla to screen the midday sun, most of them have up-to-date kitchens (with central AC to boot).
We rented ours from Hope Town Hideaways. It was not only cheaper than an all-inclusive resort, but plunked us right down across from the harbor and in the thick of local life — turtles poked their heads up to watch the sunset every night, little boys in starched shorts skipped past on their way to school, and locals glided past on beach cruising bikes. It was easy to tell the bike-renting tourists from the locals; the former pumped faster, while the locals never broke a sweat and took the time to greet every passerby.
After settling in, we set off to walk down the concrete Back Street. No cars are allowed in the village so the pace is easy and we admired the local churches, felt the powder-soft sand of the beaches just up over the hill, watched a ray jumping out in the harbor, and spotted the purple shadow of a reef just offshore in the transparent waters. In the mornings we brewed coffee, black and thick, and scrambled local eggs, as yellow as the sun, and sliced up a native tomato which, despite its lackluster looks, was sweet and firm. I sliced up a plantain and sautéed it until it was as creamy and black as molasses.
The butter was the same that I ate as a child, imported from New Zealand in big blocks and with a cheesy tart flavor. Tasting it made me crave macaroni and cheese, a local favorite served like a wedge of lasagna in every restaurant we went to. Our first day, we discovered On Da Beach where we ate grilled jerk chicken, spicy and juicy, and sluiced down with Kalik (Bahamian Beer). The bartender was the prep cook and also the nephew of an old school friend of mine. He gave me the recipe for his cole slaw: tart with lime juice, black pepper, finely chopped red onion, cabbage, and sweet peppers.
On the table was a bottle of “Old Sour,” a homemade lime and pepper vinegar, best if made with sour orange juice if it’s in season. “Old Sour” kicks everything up a notch. At the Harbour Lodge, just steps from our cottage, I enjoyed coconut encrusted grouper for dinner, both crispy and succulent. My husband kept going back for the seared tuna, black on the edges and purple-pink in the middle.
The next night, at Harbour’s Edge, just steps t’other way, the Key lime pie had a meringue crust that melted like snow in my mouth, leaving a lingering taste of caramel over the sharp custard. One way to the Harbour Lodge , t’other to On Da Beach. Dis way or dat, days passing good.
(All photos courtesy of Lucretia Bingham)