When we initially planned “Bella’s Bahamian Adventure”, our hope was to fly our little Bella across five states, over the ocean for the first time, and then on to the Bahamian Cays to do a little island hopping. We had no idea that Mother Nature would have entirely different plans for us. Unfortunately, our hotels were already booked, so there was absolutely no turning back. The weather was not perfect due to the unseasonably strong winds, so our plans to island hop were dashed. Luckily, we turned the clouds into sunshine and had a fabulous time. Bella carried us a total of 3,100 miles and we visited four Islands; Spanish Wells, Eleuthera Island, Harbor Island and Bimini. Along the way we encountered many wonderful people who added flavor and interest to our trip, we partook in lots of fabulous food and we explored the beautiful Bahamian culture.
Let me first introduce you to our mode of transport for this great adventure, her name is Bella. Bella, is a single engine Bellanca Super Viking born in 1989, but Air Traffic Control simply refers to her as November2677Sierra. She flies a top speed of 240 mph, but prefers to stay at speeds around 200 mph. On our easterly flight we had an 8 mph tailwind and Bella flew consistently around 200-210 mph. However, on the trip home we had a very strong headwind, around 18 mph, which kept our speed closer to 160-165 mph. Bella performed fabulously on this trip and I could not be prouder of her!
Our journey took wings in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, January 6th. We awoke at 3:45am to make our scheduled “wheels up” time of 5:30am. We flew for two hours through the night and while somewhere over Louisiana, we witnessed the most beautiful sunrise at about 9500ft above the earth (see my website and click “my earth quests” for pictures). Our first stop to refuel was at Defuniak Springs Municipal Airport, which is in Walton County, Florida. Why Defuniak Springs you may ask? It simply had the lowest fuel prices around. After refueling and a short break to speak with Bob, the manager and his cohort, we were off again on our journey. Next stop, Ft. Lauderdale to check in with customs and file our flight plan to the Bahamas. If you ever land at Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport (FXE), please be sure and check out the great people of Banyan Air Service. They can supply you with information regarding customs and supply life jackets or boats for rent for your flight over the ocean. Flying out of FXE was a bit precarious, because of the wall of clouds that lined the coast and the busy airport traffic. For those flying visual flight rating or VFR, you are restricted from entering clouds, so we had to keep climbing to get over the clouds. It wasn’t too long before we spotted the island of Nassau below and the beautiful, crystal blue waters of the Bahamas. There are so many varying colors of blue and green water, that it was simply breathtaking. It took us about an hour and 20 minutes to fly from Ft. Lauderdale to our destination on North Eleuthera Island (ELH). After a crazy high winded, cross wind landing, we made it safely to the ground and checked in with the Bahamian customs. Much to our surprise our hosts from Spanish Wells sent a car to meet us and take us to the ferry, which, in turn, would take us to the island of Spanish Wells where we were staying for three nights.
Our little oasis by the sea was called Ocean Dreams and it is owned by Jody and Tara Pinder, who are locals on the island of Spanish Wells. We got in very late on Saturday night, but our hosts were right there harbor side to meet us and make sure we arrived safely. To make things even better, Tara had a homemade coconut pie waiting for us in our house! Now, that is hospitality at its finest! Our cottage sat on a private beach facing the northwest side of the island and it was the perfect spot. We stayed here from Saturday night until Tuesday morning. Our favorite restaurant on the island was called “Wreckers” and it was located on Leo Pinder St. It had the perfect setting with outdoor dining facing the pier. Another cute spot was Budda’s, located on 12th street at a local's home turned restaurant and bar. A visit to Budda's is a must, where the food is created in the food truck parked on the property and Virginia, the bartender, will mix up a great cocktail. Anchor Snack Bar is a breakfast and lunch spot where the locals hang out and The Shipyard is a hip, trendy spot, both located on the harbor side. The island of Spanish Wells is only 2 miles long by .5 miles wide, so everyone putters around on golf carts. The locals here are very proud of the little village they have built, so be sure and visit the museum to get the full story of their unique history.
On Tuesday, we are back on the ferry headed to our second destination, Harbor Island. Just remember a ferry ride or a taxi ride will cost you $5.00 per person, so bring plenty of cash. Harbour Island is a dichotomy of rich and poor, of locals and prosperous immigrants. If it weren’t for the beautiful beaches, the dilapidated shanties might not seem so quaint. That being said, the people all over the island are amazing. Harbour Island is also famous for its beautiful pink sand beaches. We stayed at a hotel right on the beach called, Coral Sands, which has about 3 different levels with the final one leading down to the beach. The first level, closer to the road had the main hotel and the pool, second level had a restaurant and bar which overlooked the beach and the third level was the beach itself. We had most of our meals at the hotel, which were delicious, but a bit pricey. Another place you must eat while there on the island is the famous Rock House restaurant, located on Bay St. They have wonderful seafood along with a great view, but be sure and book a reservation, as they fill up quickly. You must rent a golf cart and explore the island or just relax and enjoy the beautiful pink sand beaches.
The weather was rainy and the skies were gray on Wednesday, so we opted to rent a car from “Fine Threads”, a local businessman, and headed out on a driving tour of Eleuthera Island. We visited, the Glass Window, the narrowest part of the island, which happens to be the width of a one-way bridge. We stopped in at the Hatchet Bay Cave which was really cool but, we did not have the lights needed to explore the cave fully. Farther south we ran into “The Cliffs”, which was on the eastern side of the island and over the years the waves had beat the rocks into little caves and inlets. What was truly amazing is that on the east side of Eleuthera Island the ocean is rough and choppy with many cliffs lining the coast, but on the west side, the island is calm, serene and boasts the beautiful, multi-colored Bahamian water. Our final stop was in Governor’s Harbor, where we fueled up and talked to the owner of the store for a bit before returning.
One of my favorite things to do while in a tropical location is to rise early and run barefoot on the beach. There is something about feeling the soft sand between your toes and breathing the incredibly fresh salt air that is so exhilarating. On this particular beach run, I was racing the clock because I could see a wall of rain approaching from the south and believe me a wall of rain can be very motivating! Back at the hotel we dressed, ate breakfast and toured the island in our golf cart. A favorite tourist spot to visit is a place called "the flats". The flats is a sandbar that is uncovered when the tide is out and there is a dead tree right in the center that is a great backdrop for photos. I am not sure why this was so funny to me, but as we were exploring the flats, a sea of Asian tourists poured out of 3 golf carts and swarmed the beach. Guess you had to be there! Little did they know there are huge fines for driving the golf carts on the flats, so we kindly notified them, so they would not get busted for breaking the law.
On Friday the clouds cleared, for a time, and we decided this was our lucky break to fly the cays. We headed to the airport early and got Bella ready to fly. We flew south over Eleuthera Island and followed the Exuma chain over Norman's Cay and down as far as Staniel Cay. Words can not describe the beauty seen from the air. Multiple colors of blue ocean, lagoons and sandbars. We flew over the yachts, sailboats and cruise ships and passed over several airports that were begging us to land. However, landing on one of the islands was not in the cards for us because we were in a race against time and the temperamental Mother Nature. After our flight tour of the cays, we decided to head back to the mainland and spend the night there before we headed back to Texas. Unfortunately, a front had appeared on the coast of Florida from way up north all the way south to Miami and we could not make it under or over this wall of clouds. After a nerve wracking 45 minutes or so of flying over the Devil's Triangle trying to decide what to do, we finally turned and headed back to the island of Bimini to stay for the night. We had no cell service to cancel our flight plans and customs was waiting for us, so we got word that ATC was sending out a search party! Oh boy, that is not what you want to hear. We finally got a hold of a friend in the states and had him call and cancel our flight plan and tell customs that we were fine.
Lost in the Bermuda Triangle….
Finally, with our feet on the ground in Bimini we searched for a place to hang for the night. The island is split in two so we opted for a resort called the Bimini Sands and Resort Club close to the airport on the south side of the island. We were told that all the action happens in the north side, but for us, we just needed a place to stay for the night. The next day we headed back to the airport on the bus where we met a local fisherman named George, who had a backpack full of fresh Waahoo fish, which he had caught that day. Unfortunately, George missed his flight back to Ft. Lauderdale and we graciously gave him a ride (flight) back to the mainland. Please tell me, who gets in a single engine plane, with a pilot you've never meet and you trust him to fly you safely over 60 miles across the ocean? A 70 something National Geographic photographer, that's who! Yes, George had been All over the world and little did he know, he helped end our trip on a high note. Thank you George, wherever you are!
What a delightful time we had on Bella's Bahamian Adventure! This was truly an adventure in every sense of the word. I don't know how we will top this one, but until next time, may you find your own EarthQuest.
Ocean Dreams Cottage
Coral Sands Hotel
Rockhouse Restaurant/Harbor Island
Bimini Sands Resort