When you fly over Andros Island, you can see deep into its clear blue waters; healing waters, which is why most people go.
A hundred miles of mangroves, white empty beaches, birds and whispering pines, Andros is a setting out of Robinson Crusoe.
“You’re going to remember this day for the rest of your life,” the captain and dive master says as the boat we were in speeds along the shores of Andros. The reef is coming up fast and dive master, Federico Martin, slows down. The Caribbean Sea is a playground of blue holes, bright coral, creatures and the tongue of the ocean, 6,000 feet down.
The Bahamas is a spray of 700 islands floating in turquoise waters. People come here to catch fish and dive the third largest barrier reef in the world.
Federico drops the anchor, and says: “I know it sounds corny, but there is something about this place that is magical.” Which is does, and which it is.
We flip backwards into the sea and the reef wall is before us. The “Church Window” is a small cave 220 feet down that opens up to heaven. Give an “OK” with your gloved hand and fly down the precipice, arms and legs extended as black coral and long yellow sponges pass by.
“Feddy” is a deep diver from Argentina. After two years on Andros, he’s learned to navigate the tongue of the ocean.
“You were doing backflips and blowing me kisses down there!” he says, back on board, an hour later, high off the deep waters.
On the Island’s mainland, naturalists seek out Andros for its protected parks teeming with birds. Our neighbors on the beach are Hugh Miles, Royal Geographic member and filmmaker, and his wife Sue.
“Did you go diving today?” Hugh asks from the deck. His khaki socks are pulled up tight after a morning spent with Polish binoculars. “How was it?”
“Silver fish as big as your torso. A whole school of them.”
That day Hugh spotted a wild long-haired cat. Earlier in the week he found wild boar tracks.
Mornings, when the sun is rising over the undulating ocean, you meet Hugh and Sue on the deck. “I take a photo of the sunrise every morning,” Hugh says. “Just happy snaps.”
Bone fishing is popular and people come to capture the long silver fish with flies or live lures. Hugh is out to catch the One that Got Away. “I’m changing my strategy,” he says from the deck, his hands working a hook.
You can cycle to pick up groceries at Love Hill and hang around for local talk over at Lionel’s little store.
“Money is the root of all evil,” says the elderly man at Lionel’s counter.
On Sundays, you hear the voices fervent from the wooden churches. Fried or ceviche conch is served at the conch stand in Fresh Creek and it’s open most days.
Outside Gator’s, the largest grocery store in Fresh Creek, children in blue school uniforms hold hands and walk home.
“I like white people,” chirps the little girl, looking up. “I’m nine and I haven’t been anywhere.” Her long dark braids dance.
Everyone waves on the street. Stay a week and you’ll be waving. It’s addictive.
The interior of the island is relatively underdeveloped. Derelict houses, like rotten teeth, mar Andros. Hurricane season is from August to November and it can ravage the landscape on bad days, leaving homes abandoned. A mere 8,000 people live on Andros, the largest yet least populated of the Bahamian islands.
At Small Hope Bay resort, people from all over the world converge to take in waters here. “My psychic told me to come to an island called Andros,” says an Italian divorcee, perky small breasts playing peek-a-boo unapologetically through white shirt. “It is real. There is something special about this place.” She has traveled from Italy for its “magic.” (Of course, the psychic might have meant the more nearby Greek island of Andros, in the Cyclades, but let’s not spoil it for her!)
You will often find yourself alone on the beaches, empty, long strips of sand where delicate pines and mangroves grow. The Seminole Indians, runaway slaves, have a myth about the chickcharnies: green and red creatures who hang from the pines by their tails. The pink sky blankets the island at sunset. Lie down and make love under the whispering pines as the waves caress the beach; the magic is real.
“People keep coming back here,” says Federico on another dive out. “I see the same people year after year.” The sun is shining bright on the water and the boat is speeding up again. Hands tight around the wheel, he says, “Ok let’s go fast now.”
He’s right. On Andros there are days you will remember for the rest of your life.
Rent a car The biking is fun but, be warned, there are wild dogs on Andros that will chase you!
Bring your own coffee Groceries are limited.
Where to stay Small Hope Bay Lodge (approx. $500/night/all inclusive: www.smallhope.com). It’s absolutely worth it, a wonderful hotel with all beachfront rooms/villas.
Renting a house means you get to know local people and your neighbours, which is a beautiful thing. (From around $200 a night to over a $1000 for a spectacular villa with its own pool. Try www.VBRO.com)
WHEN TO GO:
Between November – March, the air is a comfortable 70-82 degrees and the winds ward off the “no-seeums”, tiny biting insects who live in the sand. April, hurricane season begins. ‘Nuff said.