This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

March 10th, 2003

Snippets from the South Andros Trip

Flying south from Florida it is always a surprise. I know the colors are intense and glorious, but it always results in an audible gasp of delight from me. We live on the West Coast and Hood Canal, part of the Pacific Ocean, is just out my window. Trust me, there are no colors which look anything like the turquoise, aqua-marine, azure and emerald colors of the waters surrounding the Bahamas. Not only that, but the water is so clear! You can spot rocks, fish, sea fans in deep water - clearly.

One of the places we fished was just south of the Congo Town small boat harbor, a US Navy installation on a tiny island called "The Rats Nest." There is a deep harbor, blasted out to accommodate large Navy ships. We fished it because on the tide change, bonefish come from deep water to feed in shallow water. One could literally walk off the shallow and drop who knows how deep into the harbor. JC was on deck to cast, and I sat fascinated as a large sea turtle came from the deep and swam by. Really neat! I know we have at least one Navy FAOL reader on Andros, and if you are on the Rats Nest, I did wave!

I mentioned walking the beach in a storm in my column last week, but didn't quite tell the whole story. It was raining and blowing sideways. Since I wear glasses (and wouldn't dare go out without them) it took less than twenty feet for my vision to be pretty much wiped out. I had worn a windbreaker jacket, suplex shorts and I was soaked to the skin in short order. But hey, it was warm and I'm not going to melt, so I walked looking for anything which might have been stranded in a tidal pool and did find a few neat shells and some coral.

We've brought home a little piece of coral from each Bahama trip, and this time it was some very fine pieces of branch coral. I saw several large, head-sized lumps of brain coral on the beach as well. There is one mystery piece we brought home - it looks like a petrified rib bone from a whale. I guess I don't really want to know what it is, more fun to imagine.

On one of the wind days, we were sitting on the veranda having coffee when JC saw a small shell moving down the walkway. When he approached it, it stopped of course.
He grabbed the digital camera, picked the shell up carefully and placed it where he could get a photo. I guess we need a second digital camera, because the mental picture I have of him sitting on the walk, camera ready was almost as good as the real photo of the critter - a hermit crab. After the photo I took it down to the beach where it could find dinner. Watching the little crab was very neat. It would hide under the shell, and after some time elapsed, one eye (on a stalk) would appear. Then the second one, and the claws and legs.

The Bahamas has some neat little, non-threatening critters. The curly and straight tail lizards. We didn't see the curly tails on this trip, but there were some of the little straight tails around, the largest was about 6 inches long. They are amazing with their speed and ability to change color. (There aren't any poisonous snakes either.)

There are a large variety and number of orchids on South Andros, and it was an awful temptation on the walking tour to pluck off a couple of the large seed pods. Those orchids were healthier than I ones I manage to kill at home. I do love the flowers, but I just don't seem to get it right. So I left them where they where and wondered when the blooming time is. Should be spectacular.

One of the workmen had a box of black land crabs (dinner) sitting in the shade. I inquired and was told there are two varieties, the white ones (in last week's article) and the smaller black ones. Some of the locals make a living hunting and selling them. Not so different from the folks up here who 'fish' for our Dungeness crab. The prices seemed to be about equal as well.

JC had conch fritters, conch chowder, and even a wonderful conch salad one night. I love the taste, but it's one of those things my system doesn't tolerate (along with oysters, clams, calamari) so I'm stuck with drooling while he enjoys it.

We saw a couple of guys on one of the fishing days who were collecting conch. One fellow was managing the boat and removing the conch from the long stick with a hook the conch fisherman found. Conch is sometimes collected and kept in net pens where there is enough current to keep them healthy. There is a big market for them.

On the days we fished, we saw maybe one or two boats the whole day. Only one of them was another bonefisher with a guide. Just not the pressure on the flats there - but considering the size of the flats, one could probably put 50 boats out on one day and still not see each other. Very cool.

Having grown up around boats of various sizes on Lakes Huron and Michigan, the pure joy of skimming across that turquoise water is still as wonderful as it was when I was a kid. We got a bit wet running back across some open water one afternoon, and were absolutely dry by the time we got back to the dock. Good for the soul. Water was 82, air was 90.

Oh, and I don't want to forget this; the civility and courtesy of the Bahamians is outstanding. You don't hear the 'slang' so prevalent in the U.S., nor any swearing. They say 'please' and 'thank you.' We came back to the dock one afternoon and it was hot. JC was a bit weary and there was some shade at a little building right by the dock. I asked the gentlemen standing and sitting there if we could share their shade. Two stood up, wiped off their white plastic lawn chairs and gave us a place to sit in the shade while we took our rods apart and waited for our ride back to the lodge. Courtesy is not dead in the is alive and very well thank you. We love the Bahamian people, most are hardworking, (and it's not an easy place to make a living in the 'out islands') very friendly and most of all happy. Of course it might be difficult to be miserable living in Paradise, but they sing, and hum. And smile a lot. It is who they are and I admire it a great deal.

Confession time. I did catch a very small bonefish. It wasn't what I was aiming for, but heck, what can I say. This little guy was less than twelve inches, and spooled me once! On an 8 wt! Bonefish are incredibly strong fish. I have a sneaky thought. One could take a light rod, say a 4 wt, and fish to schools of little bonefish all day. I think you would have all the fishing you would want. Fortunately there are big fish, but wouldn't that be a fun way to get an introduction to bonefishing?

Never assume anything - especially in a foreign country. One might expect that things with the same name would be similar, right? Well, not. Sharon who took us on the walking tour of the inland blue holes mentioned she filled in at the bakery at the Bluffs (local town). Since we were flying out a day later, she asked if she could bring us anything. I said that would be neat, I'd love a couple of cinnamon rolls since we would be leaving before breakfast. She mentioned the best seller at the bakery was their coconut tarts. I gave that a little thought and decided it would be a nice dessert treat for the folks at the lodge and ordered some. By late evening it appeared the tarts weren't going to show up, so I didn't say anything about them. We were in bed with the television on, and about 11:30 p.m. there was a knock at the door. I got up and Jodi, the night security man was there with a brown paper bag. He handed me the bag and said Sharon had dropped this off for us. I thanked him and took the bag inside. There were two very nice cinnamon rolls, individually wrapped in saran wrap. And...well, it's hard to describe. Two individually wrapped things, round, about eight inches long, and maybe two inches across. I didn't have a clue. At the airport the next morning I explained it to Anders who came by to see us off, and discovered the strange things were - coconut tarts. The locals break them in half and eat them like a donut. They were filled in the middle with coconut, brown sugar and a little cinnamon. Interesting to say the least. The next time I think I know what something is, I might even ask anyway. It sure was a lovely thing for Sharon to do even if I didn't know what I was doing. They passed through Customs with a yellow inspection sticker on the bag and we had them with coffee for our breakfast. I never even had a chance to pay her for them.

While I'm on the topic of food, we did see something else I thought was interesting. Sunday morning many of the workers were having soup for breakfast. Chicken soup, but not as we had seen before. This was chopped up chunks of chicken in broth, with the bones and potato. There probably were more ingredients, but I know that much for sure. Brendan, the Manager of the Ritz Beach Resort at South Andros, later explained it is a very common Bahamian breakfast, and is also done with mutton and I think pigs feet. They call it 'sous,' not soup. Very hearty he said, so you really didn't need anything else until dinner.

I must also admit that sometimes I am very dense. There is cable television in the lodge rooms, and the main channel is the WB Network. It took me a few days to 'discover' that programs featuring black people might be very popular in a country which has mostly blacks. Duh. The problem really is I don't equate Bahamians with being black. It's certainly a different culture than what we see in the U.S. as black. One of the other channels carried the International News. It was interesting to see some of the reporting of events, and I thought I noticed a bias against the U.S. After seeing it a couple of times I looked for a credit as to where it originated. It was Canada. Even world opinion is managed.

Our red eye flight from Seattle all the way to South Andros did include one 'meal.' Breakfast. Fair warning if you fly Continental, breakfast consisted of a muffin. Period. Until we had dinner that night we had no other food...and the plane changes, customs, immigration in the Bahamas did not allow time for a search of the airports for chow. We won't make that mistake again. But knowing that, and seeing 'dinner' listed on the return flight from Houston to Seattle, we found a Chili's at the Houston airport and ate heartily. Having a pastrami and cheese sandwich wasn't such a shock as 'dinner.' Unfortunately, we're old enough to remember when flights actually served food. This is not progress. It also was not 'dinner.'

On the nature walk with Sharon, she pointed out an unusual tree. It was similar to our paper birch in appearance, except it was red. She confided the locals call it the 'tourist tree' since it is red and peeling. I looked like a tourist tree after forgetting the Bull Frog Sun-Screen on my forehead and chin one morning.

Wind and storms may be more prevalent at one time of the year, but we really didn't make any 'wind-day' plans. When my girls were children we carried a box, the 'rainy-day box' which was just for stuck-indoor purposes. Next trip I'll do a better job and take a bird book appropriate for the region and a shell book too! In fact, I used to make a living as a watercolor artist and a good watercolor pad, some paints and brushes take up almost no room at all. If I actually take them it is almost insurance that it won't rain or blow.

We haven't encountered many bugs of the biting variety on Andros, but there are some tiny little black sand flies which come out at twilight. They do bite. We took some of the Ultrathon cream with us and it works like a charm. Our host Brendan had not seen it, so we left it with him and he will carry it in their Gift Shop with some necessary items for fly fishers. We have heard about the 'doctor flies' of summer, supposed to be very nasty, and since the Ultrathon works so well it may be the solution for those as well. It was created for the US Army.

We really traveled light, all the fly fishing gear in one bag, two small bags on wheels which also contained our down pillows (yes I know, but I sleep better) and clothes. Next time more shorts for day time for both of us, an extra pair of long pants for me (I didn't take any other than my suplex fishing pants). I did take a couple of loose skirts and dresses and that worked fine.

One of the pictures which keeps playing on my mental tape is flying in the small (10 passenger) plane to South Andros with the sea, sky and clouds playing back and forth in sun and shadow. At some point I could not distinguish the horizon from the sky or sea. Passing from the world I live in to one of warm breezes, beautiful turquoise water, glorious blooming flowers and those gentle and kind people who inhabit South Andros. Did I mention the bonefish? They look like they are smiling too.

I'll be back. ~ The LadyFisher

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