Off to the East
07 April 2008 | New Bight, Cat Island
A whole parade of boats left Georgetown on Sunday morning (April 6) and we were part of it. One cruiser reported 37 boats heading out Conch Cay Cut. Most of us had been waiting for weather to leave and from the cut we were off in all different directions. The majority headed north - Little Farmers, Black Point, and onward to Nassau or up the Exuma chain while five of us headed for Cat Island. As we neared the coast, we were astounded to see Cygnus approaching from Long Island. It seemed amazing that we had each left different islands and converged on the same waypoint at the same time. The others went straight to New Bight while Jim and I opted to tuck in on the Bight side of Hawks Nest Point for the evening. Other than the Marina and Resort with its own landing strip, there is not much there. We took a short walk around, obeyed the sign telling us to stop to look both ways for traffic as we crossed the runway, and spent a restful although somewhat rolly night.
Next morning, we traveled the last 10 miles to New Bight - a lovely wide bay with Cygnus, Pickles, Shadowfax, Mermaid and Shandal (?) already there - and joined Mary Lou and Bob (Cygnus) for a walk up to Father Jerome's Hermitage at the top of Mount Alvernia.
Father Jerome was an interesting man. The short history is that he started out as an architect, became an Anglican priest, combined his talents to build several hurricane-proof churches in the Bahamas, became enamoured of the Roman Catholic church and went off to Rome to receive training to become a priest. Upon his return to this part of the world, he continued to design and build churches and eventually, while in his 60's, built his own hermitage in a place he had long admired - on top of Mount Como (also called Mount Alvernia) at 206 ft above sea level, the highest hill in all of the Bahamas.
As we began the climb, we passed by the Stations of the Cross, wound around piles of rocks, stepped carefully up the narrow stone steps carved into the rock, and reached the summit. It truly was a climb worth making. It was steep but short, with a breathtaking view out over the water and songbirds singing merrily from bushes on all sides. The architecture of the hermitage brings together elements from a number of cathedrals and although containing several connecting rooms, a bell tower, arches, nooks and crannies, the whole thing is sized for one person. There really seemed to be a feeling of deep stillness here - an imprint left by a deeply devout and caring person, or perhaps it was there to start with and that is what drew Father Jerome to the place. The hermitage was austere and spartan, the path steep and rough, the words carved into the rocks were all about weeping and hardship and endurance - traditional words, and certainly appropriate ones for Father Jerome's people. Above and around and below and in the centre of it, the natural beauty of the place evoked - in me at least - feelings of wonder and hope, renewal and survival, love and glory - perhaps also appropriate for the people who live here and those who visit.
We eventually made our way back down to the road, passing several patches where the land had been burned to allow new growth, and past the ruins of the Henry Hawkins Armbrister great house - one of many Loyalist ruins to be found on the Island. Next stop was the Bluebird Restaurant where we munched on the most delicious conch fritters we've had yet, downed icy cold Kalik beers and chatted with Pam and Don (Shadowfax). Because we didn't really feel ready for the hearty Bahamian meal being served here, we headed out to the fish fry huts in search of a chunk of grouper. No luck - they were all closed up, but as we walked by Lula's we found her grating coconut under the casurina trees and told her what we were after. Next thing we knew, we were piling into Cardinal's car and he had instructions to take us to the Bridge Inn up the road a ways.
This led straight into a whole new adventure - not so much of the eating kind, but of the meeting local people kind. Marguerite wasn't really cooking that day I don't think, but in the spirit of helpfulness that pervades this place, she said "Oh yes, I can get sandwiches for you." As we asked what kind she had, we discovered that sandwiches meant hamburgers or cheeseburgers. With an order for 4 cheeseburgers (scratch the fish - here we were a couple of miles from town with no other choices and our drive not expected back for an hour) she headed off to the kitchen. I'm not sure where those burger patties came from but they were plenty chewy and it was close to an hour later before they arrived at the table, accompanied by home made fries which I'm sure were still round spuds when we got there. It is my suspicion that she had to fire up the grill, take the patties from the freezer and heat the frying oil before she could start our meal. It was so typical of the hospitality we found.
As we chewed, Marguerite's son Bradley and his son, Delinn ( I don't know if I have that right or not) engaged in lively conversation with us, ranging from American politics to the value of school uniforms to the renovations and improvements they were making at the Inn.
Because our driver didn't arrive to take us back, Bradley piled us all into his truck and took us to town, stopping on the way so we could pick up a few things at his brother's convenience store. (We discovered later that Cardinal had returned half an hour after he dropped us off and found us still inside so he left again, assuming someone else would drive us back - and he was right!) We loved young Delinn - all dressed up in his school uniform - pale blue shirt and navy pants. He certainly had fine social skills and a great interest in showing us around. Answers to all our questions were accompanied by Sir or Ma'am, and Jim laughed aloud when he told his initially shy cousin, "It's all right, Tray. They's just white folks - you can talk to them!"
I'm pretty sure we would have eaten better at the Blue Bird, but we ended up with a really neat experience and that counted for a lot. Back on board Madcap, I cooked up a spicy beef stew in the pressure cooker and we ate at about 9 o'clock under the stars.