Over the course of the five-day Down Island Trip, we were given lots of time to explore various sites around the island of Eleuthera. Each settlement or natural landmark brought different experiences and great memories. My favorite spot that we visited was the Hatchet Bay Caves. The caves extended 1100 feet down into the earth and was made up of innumerable tunnel systems of all different sizes. The main passageway, which we ventured quite far into, varied from a massive thirty-foot in diameter tunnel to a small crawl space we had to sneak through to reach the next cavern. Toward the end of the main tunnel, just before it descended into the third chamber, we sat in complete darkness and silence for about a minute. It was remarkable how the complete silence felt loud in your ears. The cave was filled with stalactites, and without Jenna’s amazing knowledge of every passageway, or the use of string, we easily would have gotten lost. At the end of our small tour, we had about twenty minutes to explore the initial chamber very near the surface, and it was amazing how many small passageways we were able to find from the one cavern. It was a remarkable experience and has sparked a new interest for me, as I had never been caving before. The cave was just one of many stunning locations we explored throughout the trip and I was amazed by the plethora of memorable landmarks found on the small island of Eleuthera.
Asha DelCogliano: Power of the Waves
On our second day of DIT, we headed to Queens Baths after packing up camp. Queens Baths is north of Gregorytown, right before the Glass Window Bridge when heading north. Going into the site, I had no idea what to expect. As we walked toward the rocks that outline the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, I caught a glimpse of jagged cliffs and billowing waves. As we got to the rocks, my breath was taken away. It’s something that cannot be done proper justice through words. Eleuthera is a unique island in that you can see both the Atlantic side and the Caribbean side at the same time. I had never experienced the Atlantic side. Seeing the immense waves crash against the rock filled me with the feeling of wonder and power. As I ran across the rock, jumping at each puddle, I felt free. The waves came and went; they splashed me if I got too close. At one point I was standing up on one of the high points of the rock, the wind blowing in my hair, and salty water drenching my skin. This moment and the feeling that came with it is something I will never forget. I got the feeling of being one hundred percent free.
After a few weeks of academics, I was so excited to start a nine-day kayak expedition with my group of fourteen “Whiptail Rays” and our three faculty members. After debriefing about the trip and packing up our kayaks, we set out on our nine-day journey. Paddling over the beautiful blue ocean, under clear skies, made the pain that my shoulders and arms were feeling all worth it. We started off in a local settlement and traveled approximately fifteen miles around the Cape and up to Lighthouse Beach. As we approached the beach, we had to carefully paddle through some rougher water. We unloaded our kayaks, and the fourteen of us embarked on our 48-hour solo journey. This period was one of the most rewarding experiences for me as I was able to reflect on all of the amazing things that I have done so far during my Island School semester and throughout my life.
Over the course of nine days, we traveled over thirty miles; although this may seem like a daunting task, the conversations and laughs that we all shared out on the water passed the time in the best way possible. My favorite part of the trip was getting to know each individual in my group better, strengthening my friendships here.
Southern Ray Expedition Team just came back from our Down Island Trip, where we observed, interviewed, and examined how tourism shapes a place. We collectively studied hundreds of people’s perspectives, and got the chance to learn both about tourism’s ugly side, through its subtle effects on the populations of its host country, as well as its positive side. Overall, our idea of the tourism industry was broadened throughout our Down Island Trip. For me, one of the most formative experiences was on Harbour Island, where I assumed a role in a tourist-heavy community that I’ve never taken before.
Harbour Island is an island in the north of Eleuthera, and is Eleuthera’s most popular tourist destination. The settlement has shaped itself around that role. Big piers with massive yachts cover the port of entry. Restaurants, watersport rental booths, and dive centers line the waterfront. Boutique coffee shops, golf cart rental buildings, and gift shops punctuate the hilly streets. I’ve been to places like this before on vacation with my family, where we’ve sought relaxation, nice weather, fun beaches, and an escape from home. Harbour Island seemed like a place that would fit what we would have wanted from a tourist destination. It reminded me and many others of Nantucket, and that familiarity made the island that much more alluring. However, as I got off the water taxi with a binder, my Island School uniform, and math and humanities assignments, I realized how different it felt not being a tourist at a tourist destination.
As a student, I was not on Harbour Island with the goal of relaxation or indulgence (although dinner was, by all means, relaxing and indulging). I was there to conduct interviews and observe how tourism shapes the island’s history and culture. Because of this, I had very different interactions with locals that distanced me from the tourists on the island. As a result, I got the opportunity to observe tourist-local interactions from a removed viewpoint. For example, I was conducting an interview with a woman running a watersports rental stand, when a tourist interrupted the conversation and asked for a faster stand-up paddleboard. When my interviewee informed him that they didn’t have outrigger stand-up boards, the tourist stormed off with a curt “Thanks.” While this was the harshest conversation I saw, I was able to assess the feasibility of what tourists were asking for through an Eleutheran lens. Knowing the difficulty of obtaining certain resources here, I realized how many tourists don’t know the actual struggles of the places they visit. I also saw how tourism has shaped Harbour Island hospitality workers, where the inability to serve any item on the menu, or provide any type of paddleboard, or show any TV channel requires an apology as if some mistake was made. While many tourists likely mean well, by being oblivious to the strengths and weaknesses of their destinations, they are unintentionally creating further distance between locals and tourists.
What I’ve learned Down Island has shaped how I want to live here on Eleuthera, and how I want to act as a tourist in the future. Understanding the situation of the location I live in or visit goes hand-in-hand with developing a sense of place. Down Island has taught me to allow this sense of place to guide my behavior and interactions wherever I am. Through this, I aim to be the best tourist or inhabitant I possibly can.