Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rake N' Scrape at Elvina's

An essential outing in Eleuthera is a visit to Elvina's bar and restaurant.  A laidback surfer's hangout run by  Eleuthera native Elvina and her Lousiana-bred husband, Chicken Ed,  Elvina's draws local and tourists for a taste of Eleuthera nightlife. Tuesday and Friday nights are when the bar hops with live music, often lead by Eleuthera resident Lenny Karavitz.  I stopped by Elvina's late one Saturday night with my journalist crew. Chicken Ed sat outside at the door, nodding to regulars while gaggles of locals sip Kalik and eye newcomers.

The band was led by a blond American singing "Lay Down Sally." Not exactly what I had expected to hear.  He continued with weak renditions of blues classics and I started to believe that I wouldn't be hearing anything authentic, when Blue took the stage.  Covered in shades and a cowboy hat, Blue dug into rake n' scrape tunes filled with scratchy rhythms from the  carpenter's saw, goombay drum and concertina.  Popular on the Bahamas out islands, rake n' scape traditionally accompanied the Bahamian quadrille and heel and toe polka dances.  This folk music dates back to the 1800s and mirrors the sounds of West African tunes featuring the wood block guiro instrument.  The crowd danced nonstop to the festive rake n'scrape tunes as long as Blue kept playing.

Elvina's walls are covered with bumper stickers and license plates, while the ceiling is lined with surf boards stowed by surfer regulars. If you crave a sampling of warm Bahamian hospitality and culture, head to Elvina's.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cautious Climbing at Eleuthera's Queen's Baths

Baths are my favorite method of relaxation, sitting in warm water always soothes away stress and fatigue.  Climbing through the craggy hills and coves to reach Eleuthera's Queen's Baths , I felt both of these sentiments without so much soothing.

The Queens Baths are small, natural, tidal pools surrounded by miles of uneven coral and oolitic limestone. Yes, I had an informal geology lesson while scaling the formations. Oolitic limestone is composed of calcium carbonate "oolites", which are small spheres formed by the precipitation of calcium carbonate on sand grains or shell fragments.  In other words, deep grooves covered the formations as you can see above. In order to make it to the Baths, you need steady feet, good balance and sturdy- soled shoes. Of course, I had none of these.  Fortunately, I made it by walking slowly and carefully.

I wasn't about to climb down the curvy rocks that lead into the pools in my sandals but the water rippled enticingly.  The pools are only about two feet deep and are replenished by water from the Atlantic which is warmed by the sun to about 85 degrees.

A large cavern cut by centuries of waves washing over it, sits behind the Baths.  The Queens Baths deliver fantastic views and the surrounding limestone formations expand in a glorious stretch for hundreds of feet. Just don't expect the kind of relaxation you get from your usual bath.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winter Dreams

Long, cold winters are a Chicago hallmark.  I know it's only February but technically, there're three more freezing months to go. It doesn't really start to warm up consistently until June. So this is the time that I start my winter dreams of tropical escapes.  Cachoeira, a charming, small colonial town in Bahia, Brazil is where I long to be. Perched on the banks of Rio Paraguacu, Cachoeira is filled with cobblestone streets and warm people. Cachoeira means waterfall in Portuguese and the whole time I was there, soft sprinkles of intermittent raindrops fell. I thought the rain added to the languorous, mystical feel of the place. Of course, the fact that I visited a candomble house high in the hills of Cachoeira, might have contributed to that feeling.  I took the postcard perfect photo above while I was standing on top of a hill, gazing down at the lush beauty.  I wish I could be surrounded by all that 
lavish greenery now. What are your winter dreams?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

In Tribute to Clyde Bertrand and Airline Service that Excels

Yesterday, I finally talked to the man who changed my mind about airline service. With all the nickle and diming, security hassles and overall disreguard for customers, airline flights have become something I want to get through as quickly as possible.  Forget smiling attendants and helpful ticket agents, I'm just happy  to make it through security and in a seat.  So when I flew into Fort Lauderdale for my connecting flight to Eleuthera, I was aiming to get  out of there as quickly as possible.  I had no idea that my experience would not be close to quick and that I might not make it out of Florida at all.

You see, I didn't book my ticket. The PR agency that organized my press trip did.  It seems that they only left 20 minutes to connect to my flight. Apparently, that's an illegal procedure because you're required to allow at least an hour.  Especially in Fort Lauderdale. If you've never been to Fort Lauderdale Airport, let me explain. It is an outdoor airport. That means that you get to walk outside to every terminal, under the unrelenting Florida sunshine.  The agent at Continental explained that I had missed my flight an hour ago and I'd have to go back to American Airlines to see if they would issue me another ticket. That required me to go outside and walk about five blocks. Ordinarily, walking is not a problem for me but it's winter in Chicago. I wore three light layers of a shirt, a sweater and a leather jacket, with ankle boots. It was 90 degrees in Florida.  But I walked to American, only to have them send me back to Continental. Needless to say, I was soaked in sweat and weighed down with my suitcase and jacket.

After about an hour of going between the two airlines, a Continental agent pitied me and said she could get me to Governor's Harbour.  How close is that to Eleuthera? She didn't know but at least I'd be closer than Florida. So I ran to the terminal, afraid I'd miss the flight which would leave in 10 minutes.  Dripping wet and exhausted from my marathon terminal running, I made it to the ticket desk.  The agent (Clyde) smiled and assured me that the plane had not left.  I got in line to board the tiny vessel and just as the doors were opened, I heard my name called over the airport intercom.  I turned reluctantly back to find Clyde explaining that the plane was over capacity and since I was the last to grab a ticket, I was the first to be pushed off.  Okay.  I'd catch the next flight. "There are no other flights today, "Clyde informed me.  I felt my eyes tear up. "This isn't your fault, we will put you up in a hotel," Clyde said, trying to comfort me and not realizing that I found no comfort in the prospect of staying at a Fort Lauderdale airport hotel.

I pleaded with him, surely there was some other flight?  "Let me see what I can do."  Said Clyde. I sat down and heard him call a host of people, asking about flight capacity.  At this point, I had been in this airport for eight hours. I had eaten an apple and drank some orange juice. I fely woozy.  I  knew that I could not stand staying in that airport for much longer.  Clyde called me over. He could get me on a flight to Nassau but I would have only 20 minutes to connect to a flight to Eleuthera.  He didn't even have time to print a boarding pass but  Clyde told me,"if you have any problems and I'm sure you won't, you call me." He wrote his name and number down and rushed me onto the flight.

To say that I was overjoyed to be on that plane to Nassau is an understatement. I really doubted that  I would make it to Eleuthera that day but thanks to Clyde, I was on my way.  Getting off the plane and walking toward customs, I suddenly remembered something. Nassau doesn't have a tiny little airport, it's quite big and it might take longer than 20 minutes to traverse customs, security and find my terminal. Before I had time to sink totally into panic, an airport clerk ran up to me and asked, "are you going to Eleuthera?" Now how would he know that? When I told him I was, he revealed that Clyde had sent him to escort me to through the airport.  I couldn't believe it, Clyde had calculated every detail of my airport journey.

Cauly, my escort, guided me through customs and security in minutes. When we got to the ticket desk,  the agent asked for my boarding pass. Before I could explain, Cauly offered  "Clyde sent her." That was all that I needed and I was ushered through.  Cauly walked me to the gate, which was boarding in two minutes. I would never had made it without him and certainly not without Clyde.  When I finally arrived on Eleuthera, Silvana from the Bahamas Tourism Ministry was waiting. She had been waiting for me all day. So I thought she was delirious when she told me that my luggage had not made the trip with me.  It seemed that it was still tagged for Governor's Harbour from my aborted first attempt to get to Eleuthera and that's where they sent it. I figured I was doomed to spend my trip without my clothes so I immediately went to the airport souvenir shop to buy some.  The next morning, Silvana delivered my suitcase to me.  The clerk at the Eleuthera Airport personally retrieved my suitcase, took it home and put it on the first morning ferry so that I could have it by 9AM.

That's the kind of unbelievable service that you rarely experience these days and I will never forget it. I didn't have Clyde's full name but I was determined that he be recognized for his excellence. I called the number he gave me for two months. He was out sick for most of December and January and I worried that such a wonderful person would suffer from an illness for so long.  Yesterday, I finally talked to him. Such is his inclination to help customers that he didn't even remember doing everything he did but I refreshed his memory. I will be sending a letter to his boss next week to commend him. I'll never think about another flight the same negative way again. Clyde has prove that not all airlines have forgotten about their customers. It's convinced me that there are instances of great service out there, we just have to be open to them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snowflakes and Earthquakes

Last night,  rumbling walls woke me up.  As I watched the perfume bottles on my dresser pop up and down, I realized what was happening. Another earthquake hit Chicago.  I went back to sleep.  You see, natural disasters are pretty common here.  I've lived through blizzards, floods, tornadoes and this counts as the third earthquake I can remember. It was only a mild 3.8 on the richter scale.  Those tremors were nothing compared to the 12.6 inches of snow that clobbered Chi-town yesterday.  The snowfall broke the record for the most daily snow in 125 years.  Top that off with blowing and drifting snow and 7-12 below wind chills and you've got a typical Chicago winter. How do I deal? Lots of coats, sweaters, boots and a highly developed appreciation for the whims of nature.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Happy Birthday Bob Marley

Febuary 6 marks what would be Bob Marley's 65th birthday. Bob is celebrated around the world for his music but I believe that he represents much more.  Freedom fighter and revolutionary are overused labels but Bob truly personified the terms. It disturbs me when Bob Marley is held up as a symbol for marijuana lovers, like that's all he represents. Bob Marley gave a voice to the poor and oppressed.  He documented the injustices, urged them to fight against the system. For this, he was persecuted and attacked. Because of stupid media portayals, many don't realize that Rastafarians throughout the Caribbean were regularly beaten and jailed until very recently.  The spotlight that Bob's music unveiled on the unjust Jamaican political system reaped scorn from the elite and adoration from people in developing countries, struggling for freedom all over the world. I 've visited Bob's hometown of Nine Mile, Jamaica, a tiny fishing village perched in the mountains of Jamaica. His peaceful aura seems to embrace the entire area.  Bob is best remembered for his peaceful nature and his revolutionary spirit.

Below is a video for his song, "Time Will Tell," from his Kaya album. He wrote it after he survived an assasination attempt in 1976, right before tumultuous Jamaican elections.  He examines the reality of society and the hidden power struggles. "Jah would never give the power to a baldhead/run come crucify the Dread/ Time alone will tell/ think you're in heaven when you're living in hell."  Baldheads represent the close-shaven, powerful elite, who often attacked Rastafarians for their opposition of political systems. The murky reality of societies driven by materialism and class hierarchies can indeed fool you into thinking you're living in heaven with all the material comforts but it really is hell as long as others suffer.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Glass Window Gallery Opening or How I scandalized Lenny Kravitz

I love Caribbean art. So when I heard about a gallery opening on Eleuthera, I raced there with my press group.  Eleuthera is a tiny island and everyone turns out for any kind of festive event. Everybody means families with children, teens and Lenny Kravitz, who was on the island celebrating his daughter Zoe's birthday.  I was enthralled by the vibrant images popping off the gallery's walls, like the striking painting above, called "Junkanoo Lionfish."

And this one, fashioned from old car parts to create a vivid turtle shell. I was interviewing the owner, Ann, who was supposed to have been my masseuse on the beach that afternoon but her opening forced her to cancel, when I glimpsed Lenny in a plaid shirt out of the corner of my eye.  I was still busy taking photos when one of my journalist buddies grabbed me. The whole group was expecting me to be the one to get the scoop on where Lenny was playing.  He was standing near the door and I was eyeing some whimsical nude drawings nearby. When he came to look at them, I said, "so you like the naked ladies don't you?" Lenny looked shocked and taken aback. So was I.  In my defense, I had just come from scuba diving on the rough Atlantic side of the island and had been knocked against a boulder by a huge wave.  I was not in my right mind.

Lennie looked at me with an expression that said "you must be a crazy stalker" and muttered "what?" Then he  quickly left. I cannot explain what prompted me (besides the scuba accident) to make such a presumptuous statement to somebody I had never met before. All I can say is that a very hypnotic vibe floats around Eleuthera and you might find yourself doing things you've never done before.