I like to travel to places that push my boundaries.
Places like Guatemala and Haiti and Bolivia, places that wreak havoc on my gut biome and force me to reevaluate what I think it means to be physically exhausted. And then, once I’m good and wrecked, those places present me with cultural norms, daily lives, and realities so entirely different than my own, forcing my perspective to not so much shift as much as change entirely. I am a student, and a weary one.
It’s formative challenge. Important challenge.
Spanish Wells does not challenge me.
The sleepy Bahamian fishing village has a handful of restaurants and a handful of last names. Everyone speaks English with a warm smile. There are no hotels, no casinos, no instagram influencers, no tourist outposts where one might find a tchotchke. There is decent wifi and drinkable water (it’s salty and tastes terrible, but it won’t give you TD) and beautifully equipped homes for rent. The tallest building is a modest cottage on top of the hill. And there’s just the one hill.
Spanish Wells is modern, but nostalgically so — a perfect place for a slower pace in sun-soaked paradise. Decidedly pleasant and always comfortable, if not exactly luxe.
Everyone knows everyone, travelers and locals alike. When you pass someone on the street, you wave, perhaps even stop to chat. Most of the people you pass are Bahamian, and if you return to the island, they’ll remember your name. If you encounter a fellow vacationer, he’s probably returning to the island for the millionth time, almost a part-time local himself.
The few who are newcomers fall in love within hours, promising ourselves we’ll return. Those of us who uphold that promise enjoy part-time community with people like Johnny, the ever-grinning man who counts his cottage-rental-customers among his friends, and Nancy, whose daughter paints coconut shells to turn them into works of art, and Miss Kathie, who makes a sourdough that gives my grandmother’s a run for her money, and Budda.
Budda owns Budda’s Snack Shack, one of the few restaurants in town. Budda’s is also a bar, and the town’s liquor store. I’m not sure if Budda is his actual first name, and he must have a last name, but nobody refers to Budda by anything but Budda.
Last year, during my inaugural trip to Spanish Wells, I was making chili with my mom when we realized we forgot to buy cheese and sour cream. The hamlet’s one grocery store was closed for the evening, so we hopped in our golf cart to see if Budda would sell us the missing ingredients. He ushered us into the Snack Shack’s kitchen — a converted school bus painted in beachy pastels — his arms hooked in ours. Give these ladies some cheese, Budda said in his Bahamian lilt. The cooks armed us with shredded cheddar and an entire tub of Daisy and refused to take our money.
No, Kahhhh-ren, don’t be silly, we’re friends, Budda laughed at my mom, who was brandishing a $10 bill with a determined look on her face. Just come and eat with us again; we’ll be square.
Free Cheese Day was the day I fell in love with Spanish Wells. I’d already been wooed by the turquoise water that’s shallow enough to wade for what feels like miles offshore, the friendly locals who all seem to know my mom and by extension me, the soft sand and warm sunshine, the nightly ritual of piling into the golf cart to see what flavors of soft serve Papa Scoops was serving that night, and the fresh fish.
Ohhhh, the fish! There’s nothing quite like a meal of mahi-mahi or wahoo or grouper caught hours prior. I don’t like deepwater fishing, but my family does, and I love it when they return from a day on Tweedie’s boat with a bounty from the sea.
On Free Cheese Day, I knew I’d be back again and again. That I’d want to introduce this little island to friends, crossing my fingers they’d understand how special it was. Hoping they wouldn’t be put off by its smallness, its low-key vibe, its lack of typical tourist attractions. Hoping they’d revel in the knowledge that the only things to do here involve the sea and the sun and the enjoyment of other people.
Spanish Wells does not challenge me. And that’s okay.