Hope Town Harbour and lighthouse seen from the water

Hope Town Harbour, Elbow Cay, Abacos

Don’t worry, be happy

Hope Town family vacation

I thought it would be a treat to start the new year by taking my family to the Bahamas. Little did I know that our trip would closely resemble a Chevy Chase “Vacation” movie.

I began planning our trip in July 2007. I booked the last available house on Elbow Cay in the Abacos, secured a golf cart to get around the island and reserved a boat rental.

We awoke at 0300 for a 0555 flight on 1 Jan. As we surrendered four of our bags, we had the feeling that we had seen them for the last time.

With 10 inches of fresh snow on the ground and more forecast, our flight was delayed 55 minutes. The airplane’s “shore power” connection had blown a breaker, causing the aircraft to chill down during the bitter 12-degree New Hampshire night. This delay would cause us to miss our connecting flight in Cincinnati to West Palm Beach, Fla., but fortunately we had time during the flight to come up with an alternate plan.

The airline representatives in Cincinnati were understanding and helpful. A later flight to West Palm Beach would not connect with the single daily flight to Marsh Harbour, so we changed airlines and flew to Fort Lauderdale, where there were more flights to Marsh Harbour. The flight to Fort Lauderdale included a one-and-a-half hour layover in Atlanta, free of charge.

After our arrival in Fort Lauderdale, the ticket agent advised us that our tickets were issued by the former airline, and a release was needed before the tickets to Marsh Harbour could be issued.

Back to the main terminal. Get the release. Back to the international terminal. Agent needs passports. We all dig into our pockets. Five people, four passports. Our son had lost his somewhere between Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale. We made reservations for the 1610 flight to Marsh Harbour the next day and headed to a motel to plot our next move.

On the second day of our adventure, we awoke at 0600 and made our way through peak rush-hour traffic to the federal building in Miami to apply for a replacement passport. Two hours and one steep financial penalty later, my son had his new passport in hand, and we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying “Old Florida.”

We arrived at the airport an hour and a half early for our flight to Marsh Harbour, only to find out it was delayed an hour. The hour passed, and we heard yet another announcement: The flight was delayed until 1930 because the aircraft needed maintenance.

The last ferry from Marsh Harbour to Elbow Cay left at 1745. As we were discussing options with the gate agent, an incoming pilot informed the agent that the plane didn’t need maintenance and would leave at 1800. As I rounded up the troops, I wondered if we really wanted to ride in a plane that for some reason didn’t need maintenance anymore. But then I figured, what the hay? We were in the tropics and could use a dip in the ocean. Off we went.

We arrived in Marsh Harbour at 1910. I searched both rooms of the airport for our bags with no success. Meanwhile, 11 of the 19 people on the flight had to take the ferry to Hope Town, and only one taxi was still running. So 11 people, countless bags and the driver all crammed into a tiny passenger van for the five-mile ride.

The last ferry had departed at 1745, and it was already 2000. We convinced the cabbie to stay on his VHF until he reached someone who could ferry us to Hope Town. Thirty minutes later, he still had had no luck, but two people who identified themselves as a captain and a deckhand came roaring down the road in a pickup truck.

Aboard the ferry, we rounded the break wall and were met with constant waves from the north as we crossed the Sea of Abaco. The winds gusted at 40 mph, and the captain buried the throttle and took every wave broadside or over the bow. Every true boater stood up the entire trip.

We were expected in Hope Town on 1 Jan., but it was already the second. We had been advised to have the ferry captain radio our caretaker. After numerous failed attempts, we received word as we pulled into the Lighthouse Marina docks that our caretaker would meet us at the Hope Town Harbour Lodge dock.

By 2100 we had arrived at our rental house. I immediately started calling hotels to see if we could get a sandwich in lieu of supper, but all the kitchens were closed. We searched our own kitchen and found one package of popcorn, a can of grapefruit juice and half a bottle of rum. Need I say more?

At 0800 on day three, I answered the door to find a delightful lady delivering the golf cart we had reserved. My son and I climbed into the cart and headed to a grocery store we had passed the night before. The “store” was a converted detached garage in someone’s front yard. We bought a dozen eggs for $6.69, a loaf of white bread for $6.99, a pound of bacon for $6.79, a gallon of milk for $7 and a pound of real butter imported from Ireland for $1.15.

After breakfast the family piled on the golf cart and went exploring. I stayed behind and made what seemed like 800 phone calls trying to locate our luggage.

Representatives from airline A said our bags had traveled the original flight path and airline B now had them in Marsh Harbour. Airline B verified that they not only did not have them but also had no idea who we were. I checked back with airline A, who declared they had given our bags to airline C the preceding afternoon, and our bags should be with airline C at the Marsh Harbour airport. When I called airline C at Marsh Harbour, they told me they didn’t have our bags. They did, however, say they would look for them and call me back.

Around 1745 I was taking a shower, dreading putting on the same clothes for the third day in a row, when my son announced that the airline had just called to say our bags were on the 1810 ferry from Marsh Harbour.

It was dark, but at precisely 1810 the ferry bumped the dock. We had our bags. Let the vacation begin!

We picked up our boat from the rental company on Parrot Cay, a collection of islands between Marsh Harbour and Hope Town. We had brought both the USPS ensign and Lakes Region Sail & Power Squadron burgee to fly our colors. We explored Marsh Harbour and took a 40-minute ride back to Hope Town.

That Sunday turned out to be the most relaxing day of the trip. We took a trip over to Lubbers Quarters and Cracker P’s Bar & Grill for lunch. While taking in the scenery overlooking the Sea of Abaco and Tahiti Beach, I asked the owner of Cracker P’s about his collection of burgees over the bar. He expressed an interest in an addition, and I presented him with the Lakes Region Squadron burgee in exchange for a beer “on the house.” Any USPS members who make it to the Abacos can swap a squadron burgee for a local brew at Cracker P’s.

The next two days included boat trips where we saw starfish, bottlenose dolphins, large conch and land crabs. We visited the famous Hope Town Lighthouse and toured the town.

On one of our tours, we stopped by the post office to mail a few postcards to our friends who were freezing back home in New Hampshire. The post office was on the second floor of a blue building overlooking the main town docks. I asked the soft-spoken postal clerk why she was on the second floor. She advised that there was no room downstairs because the police used the first floor.

I then asked her why both doors downstairs were padlocked.

“Because the police are not here,” she answered.

“Oh?” I asked. “Where are they?”

As if she had answered the question a thousand times before, she patiently educated me. “The police come to Hope Town from Marsh Harbour on the ferry every Tuesday with the clerk and manager of the bank. You see, the bank is only open from 10 to 2 every Tuesday. So if there is any legal business it is also taken care of on Tuesdays.”

With this explanation, I gently drifted into a state of euphoria. So far removed from the high-stress lifestyle I’d become accustomed to in the United States, I suddenly understood the island saying, “Don’t worry, be happy.” We had all finally reached that point of total relaxation.

Our time on Elbow Cay passed all too rapidly. At 0730 on the last day, we piled into the golf cart and headed for town to catch the 0800 ferry to Marsh Harbour. As we rounded the corner down the last road to town, we noticed a few golf carts in front of us slowing to pick up an occasional person walking the same way. Taking in the memorable last sights, I realized that perhaps our hardships in getting to the island had allowed us to fully appreciate the joys of slowing down.