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Watching Political Drama Unfold in Spanish Wells

May 1, 2017

Spanish Wells is a tiny town of about 1,500 on St. George’s Cay. With its colorful little clapboard homes and fishing boats lining the docks, the town resembles a New England fishing village with an island twist. Spanish Wells is known as the fishing capitol of the Bahamas and supplies something like 90 percent of the lobster for Red Lobster in the States. It’s also a predominantly white settlement, which is pretty unusual in the Bahamas. If you google Spanish Wells, there’s a lot of talk about how everyone here is related and speculation about whether there might have been some inbreeding. There sure are a lot of people here who share the surname Pinder, but who am I to say? The accent here is very different than in Nassau or the Exumas. Imagine a Southern drawl mashed up with a New England accent and I think you’ll have a close approximation. I also noticed a few Bahamians having trouble understanding us. Funny how we all think everyone but us has an accent!

Pink houses abound here. I love how this one used a matching pink board to cover the attic window before the last hurricane.

The wild profusion of colors you see here might not play so well in New York, but it works perfectly here.

Spanish Wells is only about 2 miles long by half a mile wide, but hopping over to Russell Island was an interesting side trip that adds another 3 miles to explore. A lot of it is walkable, but we rented a golf cart (or what the locals here call a “buggy”) and had a lot of fun zipping around. On Russell Island we passed an older gentleman hard at work harvesting some kind of fruit that we’d never seen before, so we stopped to ask him what it was. The man, a Haitian who was very dapper in his vest and jacket, told us it was sapodillas, or dillies, as the locals call them. Our new friend generously offered us a sapodilla to try. When he saw our faces as we prepared to bite into what looked a lot like a potato he said, “Go on now. It won’t hurt you!” I guess we must’ve looked pretty scared, but we soldiered on and it was an interesting flavor that I wouldn’t necessarily say no to trying again. Texturally, the soft gushiness of the fruit combined with a bit of a gritty texture not unlike granulated sugar was a harder sell. He mentioned that it made really great juice, which I filed away as a potentially better way of consuming the fruit next time.

They drive on the left here. We (mostly) remembered that as we zoomed around Spanish Wells and neighboring Russell Island.

Adorable goats we passed on Russell Island. Aside from chickens (and tons of iguanas), we haven’t seen a lot of animals in the Bahamas.

We stopped by Sandbar Beach Bar and Grill, a charming little spot right on the beach with hammocks and beach chairs and some tasty food and drink (my love affair with Sands Pink Radler continues). One thing that was odd was that the server brought out a Sterno container to “keep the flies away.” There seems to be a real problem with flies on the island because we’ve since noticed they do this at all the restaurants, and with varying levels of success.

Unfortunately, it was way too windy to swim at Sandbar. Fortunately, the wind helped keep the flies at bay.

Later we stopped at a park on the northwest side of Spanish Wells where it wasn’t so windy to check out the nice beach, only to find a group of people setting up for an FNM (or Free National Movement party) rally. (Is it just me, or are the party names here inordinately long? The other big party is the PLP, or Progressive LiberalParty. All I know is the FNM party supporters are the ones in the red shirts!) From the looks of it, the FNM is the prevailing party in Spanish Wells, though we did see a few PLP outliers in their yellow shirts and hats around town. I kind of wanted to hang out for the rally, but didn’t want to intrude (and frankly wasn’t sure what we were in for) so we headed off to the beach. A man on the microphone was practicing his crowd warmup and, man, was he animated! We zoomed away in our cart as he really got going, sounding like a fire and brimstone preacher giving a sermon for the ages. Later that evening we watched as boat after boat pulled up to the waterfront to drop off large groups of people clad in red shirts, no doubt headed to the big rally.

Definitely crazy times in the Bahamas these days as the election draws near. We’ve been trying to wrap our heads around the political situation here, but the short version is that it’s the same as everywhere else in the world right now: Times are tough and a lot of people are pissed off and ready for change. Just about everyone we talked to says they’ve had it with the current regime and the corruption (or as they call it here, tiefin’, possibly my favorite Bahamian word, closely followed by tingum…you know that thingamajig you can’t remember the name of? That’s a tingum). In the last few years the VAT, or value added tax, has gone up to 7.5 percent and there’s been nothing to show for it. And it’s about to go up another 7.5 percent to a whopping 15. Believe me when I say the people here can’t afford it. WE can’t afford it! It’s incredibly expensive here already between all the imported goods and the duty that’s slapped on top of that, so imagine trying to stay afloat here when practically everything here costs roughly twice (or more) what we pay in the States. It’ll certainly be interesting to see the outcome of the election on May 10.

The view of bustling Spanish Wells harbor waterfront from our mooring ball

A Mennonite man runs a car ferry service on the island.

We loved this cute homemade tugboat and watching these Mennonite teens having a ball zipping around the harbor on it.

Spanish Wells has a marine railway (a precursor to the Travelift) that’s still in use for hauling out boats.

I’ll say one thing about Spanish Wells: It felt very safe. Pretty much everyone we passed in the cart gave us a friendly nod or wave. Spanish Wells was a dry town until not too long ago, so I’m sure there are still some residents who aren’t too happy that bars and liquor stores are starting to crop up. We had a nice chat with the owner of Budda’s Snack Shack, a funky little bar and restaurant that runs its kitchen out of an old school bus. He told us about his previous life as a lobster fisherman and how he opened the liquor store adjoining his restaurant a few years ago in spite of the town denying his license (after they’d initially granted it). He wasn’t taking no for an answer and eventually the town relented, but it didn’t happen overnight. We admired Budda’s rebel spirit. He also seems like a really nice guy. When we left he shook our hands and said that if we needed anything at all to let him know. We both got the feeling he genuinely meant it.