©2012 PerryJoseph.com

2.18.2010

My friend Henry from Eleuthera

Haitian Henry from EleutheraThis is a story I've been wanting to tell for some time. It's about a man I met while poking around Bahamas North Eleuthera looking for Ridley Head Beach. This man's name is Henry and he's from Haiti. He lives in the little Haitian village not far from the James Bay ferry dock that provides travel to Spanish Wells. Here's the story:

Back in the Spring of '08, I spent some time poking around some of the settlements in North Eleuthera -- Current Settlement, Lower Bogue, and The Bluff to name a few. By far, my favorite expedition was exploring the beaches of North Eleuthera -- Ridley Head being the most difficult to access.

Most of my journeys start with Google Earth. I had noted the beaches on the Northwest tip of Eleuthera a few years prior and had spent time around Preacher's Cave and the beach that runs along Devil's Backbone. But aside from Preacher's Cave, there aren't any signs showing the way to these various Eleuthera beaches. Using a combination of Google Earth and a handheld GPS coupled with some intuition and a couple of AA batteries will find you many of these beaches. Sure, you can buy a guide and cheat, but doing it on your own provides a real sense of the Eleutheran Adventurer's experience.

As I bumped my way along the most obvious road off of Queen's Highway to Ridley Head (N25.54 / W76.72) , I encounter a "Private - Do Not Enter" sign rather immediately. I have to marvel at some of these signs because you're never quite sure if they really mean it or not, but this one looked sincere so I opted to poke around for other routes. Thankfully, I was driving an old beat-down pickup truck so it didn't matter if I traveled the narrower dirt, rock, pot holed riddled roads in my quest to add more pix to my treasure of Eleuthera beach photos.

In many cases, these roads in Eleuthera look like moonscape -- some that are so bad, even a Humvee would have to take its time navigating. One dirt road crosses another, loops back around and dead ends abruptly. All you can do is watch the GPS unit as you travel and hope you find a road or path that gets you in the vicinity of your final destination. And even when you get within 50 yards, the jungle gets in your way.

So I'm driving around and around -- getting out in some spots and hiking along trails trying every which way I can to go north to the ocean that I can hear in the distance -- and I'm not making much progress. I don't mind much as long as the Nano still has a charge and there's some Pat Metheny left to listen to. I figure there has to be another road that gets me near Ridley Head so I can hike the rest of the way to the beach. And then I meet my friend Henry from Eleuthera.

I'm more or less in the middle of what seems to be nowhere; an east / west back road that taps into the road leading to Eleuthera's Ben Bay Beach, and I see this lone guy hacking away at some brush with a machete. Nothing really there; just some scrub and some trees -- and nothing. So I stop and ask the most important question you can ask in the Bahamas: "Which way to the beach?"

It became immediately apparent from the accent this gentleman was from Haiti. We trade pleasantries and I communicate what I am looking for. He kindly points me in the direction of the "Do Not Enter" road and tells me to just go ahead up there -- everyone else does.

So I can't resist and I ask him what he's doing. Turns out he's trying to clear the area so he can claim the property; something the Bahamian government provides for its people. You clear the land in certain areas and you can apply for ownership -- just like homesteading in the Wild West. You gotta love it. We use Caterpillars back home and Henry uses a good ole Machete. This guy has heart.

I exit the truck and note Henry isn't carrying any water so I offer him an ice cold one; diet Pepsi. Popped the top and instant friendship! Would have made a good Pepsi commercial. I begin to survey the area a bit and discover why Henry is carving out this little niche of the planet -- it's sitting in front of this nice little salt pond surrounded by some trees. Time for some photos of Henry and his pond which he agrees to.

So I chat with Henry a bit more and I tell him my name, where I'm from and that I'm something of a regular on Eleuthera. I tell Henry "I'll be back next Spring and will see if I can stop by and drop off a few prints of you and your new digs." I can tell by the look in his eyes he's keen on that proposition and he immediately gives me explicit instructions on where I can find his "purple and white house on the right side of the road."

A revisit with Henry strikes me as a cool thing to do so I make sure I have good instructions for hooking up with him in '09. I whip out my micro-recorder, a gadget Henry marvels at, and I make a short recording of Henry telling me how to find him verbatim:

"Before you get to James Bay... so... that's how you turn on this side, so that's where I livin', you ask for Henry? Anybody you ask for Henry? And they show you where I livin'." And I thank Henry and he replies "All right, sir."

Ridley Head Beach EleutheraWell you pretty much can guess what comes next. I find my way to Ridley Head (another story in of itself) and I return home. I go through all my photos and see the photos of Henry. I'm always making notes for next year and "make prints for Henry" goes on the list. And I do that. And I make the trek back to Eleuthera in the Spring of '09 to visit Henry and check out his purple and white house.

As I drive up the road immediately off of Queen's Highway toward the Haitian village, I can't resist testing Henry's instructions and I ask the first guy I see on the side of the road "I'm looking for Henry? He lives in a purple and white house?" I get an immediate answer, but it's more Haitian than English, so I say "I don't understand," and I get "I go with, I go with," and the guy jumps in the car and starts pointing down the road.

Down the road we go, maybe a block or so, and I see a purple and white house that has to be Henry's. My anxious guide pokes his finger at the house multiple times and I stop while he jumps out of the car and runs up to the house yelling "Henry! Henry!" All the while, I'm wondering how I'm going to explain myself to Henry. I'm thinking he's not going to remember our brief 10 minute encounter a year ago and going to ask who the heck am I and what do I want?

I see the familiar face come out the door and Henry immediately yells out "PERRY!!!" I can't believe it! The guy remembers my name! (And nobody gets my first name right, anyway! Terry, Jerry, Gary, etc.) He greets me like I'm family and shakes my hand. We smile at each other and then I give him the photos I promised. You'd thought I was giving him a slice of the moon. By now, there are a dozen or more people around us and he's showing off his photos to them all creating yet another Kodak moment. So I oblige and share the instant results on the back of my happy snapper much to everyone's delight. And I ask someone to take a photo of me and my friend Henry.

I've been in the company of Senators, billionaires, rock stars and otherwise famous and important people, or at least they thought they were, but encounters with people like Henry are what I remember most in life. Folks like Henry are the salt of the Earth and have no problems or pretense when it comes to showing the love. Henry reminded me that being alive is what life is all about... and all that matters.

Thanks for the love, Henry! Love you too.

pj

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