"On the ocean side of Harbour Island is the finest beach I have seen, of very fine, delicate pinkish sand, hard as a floor, a glorious galloping ground for the half dozen ponies in the place."
Nice stuff. Wish I had written it. Actually, I copied it from a page of Harper's New Monthly Magazine that was framed on the wall of Sip-Sip, a popular restaurant painted in snow-cone-green island colors.
The author's name was missing. But the date was there. November 1874.
"Isn't that great - 'the rush and giddy world of the 19th Century'," said Julie Lightbourn, the restaurant's owner. "But the thing is - and this is what I try to tell people - Harbour Island hasn't changed."
Indeed, the article listed the island's population as 2,500, and it has grown by maybe a couple of hundred people since then. But the three-mile-long, pink-sand beach - often rated the top beach in the world - still spread unspoiled below as I ate a lobster quesadilla on Sip-Sip's back porch.
And an islander galloped through the surf on a black horse that just might be a descendant of those half-dozen ponies of yesteryear.
Harbour Island, also known as “Briland”, is one of the Out Islands of the Bahamas, situated off the Florida coast on the western edge of the Atlantic Ocean. More than 700 islands make up the archipelago, about 30 of them populated and several home to Bahamas boutique hotels perfect for visitors who want something quieter than Nassau and Freeport. Exuma, the Abacos, Eleuthera, Andros, San Salvador and Bimini, where Hemingway hung out, are among the best known and most visited.
There also are lesser-known outposts such as Crooked Island and Great Inagua, where the ratio of flamingos to people is said to be 61-1.
Harbour Island is just three miles long and a half-mile wide. If you walked into the water off the island's beach and swam east, the first land you'd reach would be Africa.
Christopher Columbus and Ponce de Leon landed in the islands, but many were settled by British loyalists who fled America, bringing along their slaves. Thus, after landing at the North Eleuthera airport and taking a $4 water-taxi ride a mile northeast to Harbour Island, I was surprised to find - New England.
A walk down the dock led to Dunmore Town, the only town on the island, and Bay Street, which was lined with colonial homes fronted by white picket fences draped in bougainvillea and hibiscus blooms. The gingerbread homes and tropical flowers came in an array of colors, some not found on any decorator's chart. As I roamed narrow streets meant for carriages, every islander I passed offered a greeting in English better than my neighbors' back home.
Dunmore Town, founded in the late 1600s, was the original capital of the Bahamas, before Nassau took over that designation.