Flamingos and fishing lure boaters to Inagua
By CHERYL BLACKERBY
Special to the Daily News
GREAT INAGUA, Bahamas —
Most of the flamingos stood on one leg, 4 and 5 feet tall, in the milky salt ponds.
A half-dozen of the big birds suddenly took off, their gangly pink legs hopping across the surface of the water as they flapped crimson-pink black-tipped wings in slow-motion flight. Their long necks stretched out, pink and black bills pointed into the wind.
More than 70,000 West Indian flamingos, the Bahamas’ national bird, nest in Inagua. Inagua National Park Warden Henry Nixon and I watched hundreds of the pink birds from the bank of a pond in the shade of mangroves. Soon, I was rewarded with an even more spectacular sight — a flock of roseate spoonbills flying with flamingos, all pretty pink.
The sight of the flamingos was even more stunning considering they have made a rebound since the early 1950s when their numbers declined to about 5,000 in the Bahamas. The birds were hunted for their meat, particularly their tongues, and their brilliant feathers.
The Bahamas government created the 287-square-mile Inagua National Park in 1963 and today the flamingos flock into the salt ponds of the park and the rest of the island to eat their favorite food, brine shrimp, which gives the birds their brilliant deep pink color.
The exuberant honking of the birds seemed to underline the birds’ resurgence.
There’s another reason knowledgeable travelers come to Inagua: to bonefish with renowned bonefish and sport-fishing guide Ezzard Cartwright, who has been featured on The Spanish Fly TV fishing show and in fishing magazines. He’s represented by the international fishing travel company Angling Destinations.
I spent an afternoon with the crusty, barrel-chested Bahamian sitting at one of the picnic tables in front of his apartments overlooking the ocean. “Yeah, we fish for bonefish, tarpon, permit, snook,” he said, his sun-reddened face sporting gray stubble and a fisherman’s squint.
And deep-sea fishing? “Oh yeah, marlin, tuna, wahoo.” His loyal customers come from the United States, United Kingdomand Germany to stay in his modest apartments and do nothing but fish.
And watch the sun sink into the ocean at the end of the day. As we admired the sunset, I saw a green flash at the moment the sun disappeared. “A good omen,” I told Cartwright. He nodded, considering the possibility, probably thinking about the next day’s fishing trip.
Inagua, 55 miles long and 19 miles wide, is not easy to get to. The country’s third largest island is the end of the line; the southernmost island in the 700-mile long Bahamas archipelago; the jumping-off point to the Caribbean. It’s about 55 miles northeast of Cuba and 60 miles north of Haiti.
Yachts often make a stop here for supplies. If the yachts are big, which they often are, they have to anchor offshore. On my last trip here, the island’s marina was filled to capacity with confiscated drug boats.
Only three flights a week come in from Nassau. Two mail boats, the Lady Matilda and the Rosalind, also make the trip from Nassau, but the journey is 36 hours and few people want to travel with chickens, refrigerators and cars.
Those looking for luxurious lodging need to stay on their yachts, although I can recommend two inns for basic comfort and gregarious company: Enrika’s Inn, a complex of three Bahamian-style houses with porches, and the Main House, owned by Morton Salt Co. and a good bet for breakfast and lunch.
At night, the beam of the Inagua Lighthouse sweeps the reefs offshore and the southern end of the island as it has since 1870. One morning, I walked a mile or so from my room at Enrika’s to the lighthouse. I asked the lighthouse keeper next door to open the locked lighthouse door, and he seemed happy someone wanted to see it. The last 10 feet to the top were on a ladder, but the view of the craggy coastline was worth the effort.
I could see the big swells that rolled over the Inaguan reefs, known for wrecking ships, including the treasure-filled Spanish galleons Santa Rosa, lost in 1599, and the Infanta, wrecked in 1788.
A herd of goats, supposedly descendants of those introduced by the French, kept me company almost all the way back to town. Wild donkeys roamed the sandy roads.
Back in Matthew Town, I watched a Junkanoo parade celebrating the Homecoming Festival in August. Junkanoo also is held at Christmas. And I chatted with the town’s mayor at the After Work Bar, and bought tasty cracked conch at the Fish Fry.
There aren’t many businesses in the small community. The majority of the 1,000 islanders work at Morton Salt Co., which produces 1 million tons of salt a year at its Matthew Town factory. They offer tours of the factory, but visitors generally don’t come here to learn about salt.
They want to see the flamingos and fish with Ezzard.
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