Friday, March 22, 2013

Conch Salad on Harbour Island c/o Conch Queen

Monday was a sunnier and warmer day all around so I decided to check 'visit Harbour Island' off my to-do list (because when you have six unstructured days all your own, it's best to have at least some small goals even if they are mainly to lie down or swim). To get to Harbour Island you have to drive north on Queen's Highway, a two-lane highway with no shoulder or dotted line that runs the length of the island. You drive past the N. Eleuthera airport and go a couple more miles to a dock that is the launch point for ferries to Harbour Island. The construction work they had been doing has moved forward since my last visit. What was a gravel parking lot is now paved and lined. The little bench area where we sat before getting on the ferry was gone. I remember getting a lot of bug bites by that bench. There's a definite unpredictability to just when the ferries are going to go across. These are really just what seems to be maybe two to four boats that can fit about 10-12 folks at a time, so I think they don't want to waste the gas unless the majority of the spots are filled. The folks using the ferry are a mix of tourists like me who are taking a day trip to the far more expensive and fancy island, and Eleuthera locals who are commuting to the island for work.  On my way over I probably sat on the boat for 10 or 20 minutes until more people showed up. On the way back there was already a critical mass so I felt like I 'just made it,' though really another ferry probably would have come along in 20 or 30 minutes. Probably. The ride itself is probably 5-10 minutes. Nothing epic. The wind will whip your hair, and there aren't a lot of things to hold on to to keep your balance when things get a little bumpy, which resulted in my putting my camera away soon after leaving the dock...I would have been pretty bummed if I or my camera went overboard.
I did have a pretty set idea of what I wanted to do with my afternoon on the island and it began with getting conch salad at Queen Conch, which was on the bay-side of the island just maybe a quarter plus of a mile walk along Bay Street. I got there at 11:45 and while the kitchen was open, the conch salad was made by a different set of folks who hadn't yet come in. The lady at the counter said they'd probably arrive around noon, so I took a beer that I had bought at the beer store across the way and sat down on their deck to pass the time. It was windy and a bit brisk, but the sun was staying put and I didn't mind...not with a beer in hand and mystery novel to read.
There was some rigamarole when it came to the salad. Just in terms of more and more folks started showing up also asking for the salad. Noon came and went and the conch salad preparers still hadn't arrived but more and more people were appearing. I began to get a little territorial and edgy since I had been the first to arrive. The system - it turned out - is you write your name down and what level of spiciness you want your salad and they go down the list, making the salad in front of you. Once they arrived I did have to get a little aggressive about making sure it was determined that I would get served earlier since I had been there before any of the others had arrived. Perhaps this pushiness led to my not getting the salad made in front of me, but that was fine since I had a fine view nonetheless. I ordered the exotic conch salad, which included mango and green apple and perhaps one other fruit. I liked it very much. I asked for it medium but it definitely had a kick that I enjoyed. Made the Kalik beer taste faintly of bananas but good other than that.At $12 it was a pretty good deal, especially for the islands where everything is just crazy expensive. Everything was so fresh. The conch were tender and not too chewy. The fruit tempered some of the spiciness of the jalepeno and whatever special sauce they use. Just so good. In retrospect I should have made a point of having more salad throughout my trip.
So one funny thing that happened was that I noticed this couple at Queen Conch also ordering the conch salad, and my main thought was simply that I wanted to make sure I got mine before they did because they came after me. Selfish, I know. And that is what happened. We were sitting on opposite sides of the counter so we didn't really interact. Then I paid my bill and began walking toward the Atlantic side of the island in order to enjoy the view, get some sun and have a fancy cocktail or two. The main area of Harbour Island is Dunmore Town, and it doesn't seem very big, yet its streets aren't entirely intuitive so while I thought I knew how to get to the Pink Sands Resort, I found myself slightly turned around at one point. This was generally fine by me, it was a sunny day and there are plenty of very cute houses to covet. But at that same point this couple came around a corner and since I think they recognized me from the Queen Conch experience/just took pity on the poor girl walking around a little lost, they offered me a ride. Harbour Island's main mode of transportation is golf carts, so this was a ride in a golf cart. I was happy to take them up on it and so we sped off, the husband mentioning he just needed to make one stop before dropping me off, which was of course totally a-ok with me. As we put put putted down a small lane, passing multiple roosters as well as a school with plenty of kids outside playing, we had the usual conversation folks have on vacation. You know, exchanging home locations, asking how their trip has been thus far etc. Well, in our case it took about three steps in this standard conversational gambit to realize that their sons went to George School...the same high school that I also attended! It's not a big school and most of us who went there generally recall it fondly, so it was quite a funny coincidence. Their kids were younger than me, so we hadn't overlapped but it was still fun to exchange impressions of the school and how it has changed over the years. I was so tickled I asked if I could take a photograph of them in front of my destination, which they didn't find too odd thankfully.
Pink Sands is where L. and I ended up going to lunch last year during our Harbour Island day. My plan was to just have a cocktail or two and then spend a little time on the beach before going on to Sip Sip for an additional snack. Pink Sands' grounds are extensive and slightly maze-like. I should have snooped more, but I felt like it would be better simply to make my way to their Blue Bar.
I so enjoyed the lemon daquiri from the previous year that I didn't even consult a menu when I went up to the bar to place my order. Very quickly, this beauty was in front of me and I was sitting and just looking out on the Atlantic. Shabby it was not.
After a bit of cocktail time (drinks cost more than my conch salad), I took to the beach.
And after a bit of beach time, I walked my way to Sip Sip. I had heard about it when L. and I were planning our trip last year, but we decided not to check it out though I don't recall why exactly. I ended up sitting at the bar and ordering their gazpacho and a pineapple chili margarita.
This was definitely a hip and happening spot. The woman next to me and I started a conversation and she had a few recommendations about the food, one of which was the lobster quesadillas. They sounded amazing but at $48 a plate, a little too rich for my blood. The gazpacho was solid, I especially liked the more roughly chopped bits of cucumber and tomato that at first settled to the bottom of the cup before I stirred it up a bit. The drink was also quite good, the pineapple and spice elements in a good balance.
After lunch I strolled back towards the docks, enjoying the sunny ambiance and cacophonous sound of roosters crowing.
Roosters in these parts were very very protective of their lady chickens. I envied them the attentions. Ha.

Once back on Eleuthera I had a very simple plan: buy a beer and go drink it before snorkeling at Gaulding's Key. Don't worry while it seems like I'm a total lush, I was in fact pacing myself. Gaulding's Key is, compared to some of the beaches on the island, a breeze to get to. There's a sandy not-too-terribly-bumpy road you go down that doesn't have as many twists and turns as others, but you still end up on a beautiful strip of beach with very few others. This first visit found two young Polish couples and one slightly older couple from Maine. I decided to wait on the beer and first go into the water to see some fishes. One of the Polish dudes suggested I go to the far back side because that's where the hippest and most happening of fish could be found.
So that little island is where I was headed. The majority of the way out there was made up of sandy bottomed walking; it stays shallow for quite some time before dropping off. I stayed on the left side/closest to the beach of the island because I suddenly realized that while there were other folks on the beach, they weren't paying attention to me/wouldn't notice if I went around the back-end and never came back. Maybe they would have noticed eventually, but not for a while. And this is a strange fear. Sensible, but limiting. I'm a good swimmer, the waters were extremely peaceful and while yes, there is always the possibility of a shark or some such beast to be in the waters, the statistical chances of actually being attacked are pretty low. So if I wasn't prone to drowning, and I wasn't actively afraid of sharks, why would it bother me if no one was there to notice me disappear...when I wasn't going to disappear? It's a circular line of thought I went through multiple times throughout the trip when I'd want to do something and I'd start to do it but then I'd start to worry about myself. Self-preservation without real threat. It was kind of weird. All to say that because I didn't go to the far side of the island I didn't see that large a selection of fish. It was still a good swim, and I definitely saw a bunch of very small little fish, but I knew that with a little more gusto I could have seen more. No matter. It was all still very delightful on the whole. I took some photographs with an underwater camera at multiple spots...all of which turned out pretty poorly at least in their printed forms, but I'm wondering if I can perk them up with photoshop.
When I first arrived at Tamarind Cottage Kimy, the Proprietress, asked me if I wanted any of the foodstuffs that her sister had left behind during her visit. This was a mix of stuff, including preseasoned and frozen ground beef. I figured that couldn't hurt, especially since I had also bought a small jar of tomato sauce. Additionally, Terry had pointed out all the 'volunteer' cherry tomato plants that grew all over the property thanks to wild chickens eating tomatoes in one spot and depositing their digested seeds elsewhere. And there were also some impressive potted basil plants at the back of the cottage, so I decided my dinner on this particular evening would be spaghetti with the beef from Kimy's sister mixed with a bit of tomato sauce and made even more special with the addition of freshly chopped cherry tomatoes and basil.
A very nice way to end the first of my sunnier days on Eleuthera.

1 comment:

nc catherine said...

It is all so spectacular! Quite the lovely day!