Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Island School, Eleuthera

The reason we originally rented a car on Eleuthera was to visit The Island School. John and Wendy, cruisers we met at Staniel Cay, had highly recommended a tour of the school. Wendy’s two sons had done a semester here, and at least one also interned there later. So off we went.

Merle, the young woman who headed the Visiting Program and Research section and who had interned here, spent all morning giving us a private tour of the school and facilities. The school’s principal focus is a semester-long program for high school students. They cover all the subjects, but in a marine-related and pratical manner. For example, math classes aren’t just learning geometry or calculus, but learning celestial navigation, which involves lots of mathematical theory and skill. How cool is that! Students also conduct research in areas such as patch reef ecology, sharks, energy, and aquaculture, to name a few. The aquaponics research was fascinating, and quite productive. The basics: breed tilapia; raise the young in tanks (top photo on left); filter the tank water (which is highly fertilized with fish feces) and use the nutrient-rich water to grow lettuce without soil (bottom photo on left). They now harvest six pounds of lettuce per day—that’s a lot of lettuce. They’re currently feeding the tilapia with commercial fish food, but hope to produce their own food in the future. Also, they don’t yet harvest and eat the tilapia, but that’s in the works for the future. The students we met were high energy and enthusiastic. What a great way to get a jump on actually doing research: thinking of the questions, designing the experiments, and seeing the results. Of course, we’re biased, having spent our professional lives conducting research ourselves, but even so, what a terrific place to spend a semester. And the kids were quite enthusiastic. We were invited to stay for lunch, which was served buffet-style and included that wonderful fish-poop lettuce (just joking, it was delicious, and besides, natural fertilizer beats chemical fertilizer any day). These kids didn’t laze around; they came in, ate, and took off to their next task. They also were quite personable, some sitting down at our table just to talk with us about what they were doing. The facility tries to produce no trash—everything is recycled or reused in some way. Food scraps are composted or fed to the pigs; at semester’s end, they have a pig roast to show the kids where their food comes from. They also raise ducks for their eggs, plant and harvest their own herbs, fruiting trees and shrubs, etc. And the entire place is energy self-sufficient using a wind turbine and many many solar panels (see the array atop the dorm building below). Besides the full-semester program, they also are associated with a middle school in the nearby Deep Creek settlement, offer internships, provide a base for visiting researchers (along with helpful hands), and host school groups. All in all, an informative and fun visit.

Renting a Car in the Bahamas

For those of you who have gone through the hassle of renting a car, and that’s probably most of you, you need to rent a car in the Bahamas. And not at one of the airports or major cities, but from an independent agency or person. It can’t be beat. Most of the islands we’ve visited have been relatively small, and we’ve been able to walk everywhere (on some islands, we’ve walked every road in less than an hour), or we’ve gotten ride from local drivers. Eleuthera Island is over 100 miles long, so we splurged and rented a car for a couple of days. This is how we did it. We called the local we-do-everything shop in Rock Sound on the VHF radio. They didn’t have a car available, so they found someone at the nearby airport with one. This kind gentleman—Buffalo to his friends—brought the car to us Friday morning at 7 am and handed us the keys. No paperwork, no need to see a license, no credit card to go on file, no insurance. Actually, I think it may have been his own car. When we asked what time it needed to be back on Sunday, he said “What time do you want to bring it back?”—no extra charge. He also said “If you have any problems, call me and I’ll find you.” And finally, to my question of how much gas we should leave it with: “Whatever you want.” Altogether, a delightful experience, and it allowed us to see some attractions we couldn’t have gotten to by boat or on foot (see my next couple of blogs). It was the same procedure (or lack thereof) our friends had when we all rented a car on Long Island (Bahamas) for a day. I highly recommend it.

The picture above has nothing to do with actually renting the car per se, but a blog without pictures is boring. We saw this ramshackle house while we were in the rental car, if that counts. The Bahamas is filled with such ruins (and on the charts, they’re sometimes labeled as ruins)—broken-down houses (we saw a similar church on Cat Island) being reclaimed by the undergrowth. Actually, I quite like them. They give an area a bit of a haunted feel.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Hermitage and New Bight, Cat Island

Father Jerome is kind of a legend in these parts. He was an Anglican priest turned Catholic priest, who designed and had built the two churches in Clarence Town, Long Island (see previous blog). Well, that must have tired him out, because he retired on Cat Island, and boy, did he pick the spot! He built his retirement home, called the Hermitage, atop the highest point in the Bahamas. OK, at 206 feet elevation it’s not a mountain, but the views can’t be beat. To the east is the Atlantic Ocean, to the west is Exuma Sound; the green of the island extends north and south. You reach the Hermitage by walking along a deserted road, then up a rocky dirt path through the woods, alongside of which are stone carvings or statuary of the Stations of the Cross (you Catholics out there know what these are). The building is quite striking, as you can see from the picture above. It’s a series of small, and I mean small, rooms built of stone – three or four rooms total, including a chapel with a pew built for one. Doesn’t Chris look particularly holy with the light filtering around him in the chapel in the picture to the left? The bedroom was just that – a room large enough for a wooden bed (see picture at right); apparently he did allow himself a pillow, according to the fact sheet there. There were some decorative arches and Latin sayings carved into some of the walls, but mostly it was quite basic. Five or ten minutes down another trail there’s a cave, even more basic (see below) – perhaps he vacationed there when the house got to be too much for him.

The Hermitage is located just above the New Bight settlement, which has a beautiful waterfront with Australian pines to provide shade (except they’re an exotic species) and pretty stone benches (at left). Down the beach was the sailing/social center, with brightly colored huts set between the road and the beach (below). Each cut offered food or drink, and there was a stand and speakers set up for bands to play. Once again, the people really made the place. We wanted to pick up some fresh produce at the government packing house, so we hitchhiked there and back. We had no problem getting rides, and the people who picked us up were so friendly. We also had a nice chat with Captain John, a gentleman from Nassau who is retired, but will take jobs captaining ships here and there when the job is right. He was picnicking in the shade outside the packing house while he waited to pick up fuel for his small ship, which was anchored just off the harbor, to complete his journey to Haiti, where he was taking medical supplies. We had heard him on the radio the previous day requesting information on harbor depths. They told him that there was 15 feet of water at the entrance, but it certainly didn’t look like that to us (more like five feet with a sand bar), so he was smart to hold off and wait for the mail boat to deliver the fuel to him.