“Gern to Cat Island!” – Education in Motion By Nicolette Archer

I recently came across the following article about Cat Island in a copy of Bahamasair’s inflight magazine, Up and Away, and was absolutely mesmerised by the descriptions of the island. In my 7 years of living in the Bahamas, I have visited four of the 700 islands and cays that make up this archipelago but I hope to visit so many others!

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As most of you know this blog was meant to be the motivational factor for me to get out there and visit new and exciting (well even the not so exciting) places. This article has done the same for me- it just has me itching to see what this serene, laid back island is like. With Nicolette’s permission, I’m sharing her account of a visit to Cat Island with you, in the hopes that you too, are enticed into visiting this  breath-taking island in central Bahamas. Happy reading!

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Nicolette Archer

FIELD TRIP! Just a mention of the possibility and students are bursting with anticipation. School field trips are exciting, engaging and motivating. They provide breaks from routines and give opportunities for meaningful educational experiences.

Mr. Makia Gibson, Deputy Director of the Anglican Central Education Authority with responsibility for Curriculum says, “One of our mandates as a School System is to ‘educate the whole child’ by ensuring strong academic foundations as well as an awareness of the world around them.  As an archipelagic nation, our Family Island field trip program ensures that students in our primary grades are exposed to the unique economies, industries and cultures of our Family Islands through the curriculum as well as through personal experiences.”

Early on Monday March 16, 2015, thirty four exuberant representatives of St. Anne’s School’s Blue Waves surged through the doors of the Lynden Pindling International Airport’s Domestic Terminal ready for Cat Island.

Once landed at New Bight International Airport, we refreshed ourselves with ice cold drinks and the obligatory Flour Cakes – must haves when one visits Cat Island – from the snack vendor in the cozy one room terminal while we awaited our bus. The wait was not long; it gave the students and their chaperones, most of whom were all visiting Cat Island for the very first time, a chance to stretch their legs, have a quick peek at the welcome/souvenir kiosk and the opportunity to marvel at the airport’s Honour System Library – “Take a book; leave a book.”

Within minutes, the big yellow school bus pulled up signaling the arrival of Reverend Harrison King. It is unlikely that anybody would ever visit Cat Island without encountering Reverend King. You see, not only is he a Minister of the Cloth, a farmer, a hotel and restaurant owner, the island’s greatest tour guide and Ambassador, but he is also the island’s school bus driver! A real live jack of all trades!

A short three miles away from the airport, we stopped at Gilbert’s Inn, where Mrs. Gilbert welcomed us with keys and a friendly smile. Once we unloaded our luggage and identified our rooms, we were back on the bus and ready to begin Day One!

Armed with booklets created by class teachers to ensure that we took notes and remained focused on the educational aspect of the trip, we headed north! Our first stop was in the settlement of Knowles’ where we stopped to see an authentic rock oven – a free standing, mound-shaped outdoor oven, about four feet high, made of stones and cement; wood is burned in it until it becomes very hot, and then removed so food can be placed inside, after which the door is covered with wet burlap bags for insulation while the food bakes. Although considered a thing of the past, many Family Islanders still swear by these ovens for the best breads and cakes.

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Our next stop was Industrious Hill. Students excitedly, but with trepidation pulled out flashlights for we were going toooo…..THE BAT CAVE! Nooooo…….not as in Batman and Robin! Bats! As in the mammals! The bats, not pleased at having their daytime slumber disturbed, flew around in attempts to escape the light. This movement only added to the nervous delight of the students and their chaperones!

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As we traversed through the northern settlements, Reverend King gave us running commentary on the various places of interest. Chaperones enjoyed his storytelling while students, with brows furrowed, tried to determine what to believe and what to chalk up to folklore. We passed through Tea Bay, birthplace of the late singer Tony McKay known as Exuma, The Obeah Man, and Arthur’s Town, the birthplace of Oscar award winning Sir Sidney Poitier and also site of the park and monument in honour of the late Sir Roland Symonette, former politician, premier and one of the wealthiest men in Bahamian history. We were also hosted to a quick visit at the Dumfries Primary School.

Furious scribbling during the course of the drive acknowledged when students had heard the answers for some of the trivia in their workbooks while oohs, aahs and affirming comments from the adults signaled that they were enjoying being away from the hustle and bustle of Nassau and were thoroughly appreciating this peek into island life.

We returned to our hotel to have a lunch of flour cakes and sandwiches made with newly baked island bread, of course, and accessorized by the reddest and most delicious tomatoes ever.  Freshly squeezed island “Switcha” (the local term for lemon or limeade) washed it all down.

Our afternoon tour took us to Como Hill. One of the first facts students learn about the geography of The Bahamas is that we are flat! However, we have one hill, on Cat Island, which boasts on being the highest point in the whole country. For a Bahamian to climb it and stand at its zenith is almost akin to visiting one of the Seven Wonders of the World! We were ready! At the top of 206 feet Como Hill is Mt. Alvernia Hermitage, a small stone monastery hand built in 1939 by the architect hermit, Father Jerome. The trek is steep and not easy. Rock carvings of The Stations of the Cross depicting Jesus’ last hours on earth adorn the path and serve as a somewhat spiritual urging to make it to the top. Once there, all of us were all in awe at the spectacular 360˚ panoramic view, and students were all tickled to stand on the X which marked the spot of the absolute highest point in the entire Bahamaland. Indeed, student, Erald Thompson III says he felt, at that point, as if he were the king of the world!

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We dined on peas-n-rice, cole slaw, savoury steamed chicken and spicy steamed fish at Reverend King’s Lakeview Motel.

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After dinner, it was Crabbin’ time! Along the street and through the bush we hiked in search of the land crabs used in Bahamian dishes such as crab-n-rice, baked crab and crab soup. Thanks again to Reverend King, some crabs appeared making for a boisterous night-time adventure. On our return to the hotel, students treated us to a parade of fashions ranging from pyjamas to cocktail dresses before we headed to bed.

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On Day two, we headed south. The “Healing Pond” in Step Well and the most beautiful and peaceful Blue Hole in Bain Town were in store. Assuring us that we were approaching the time of day when the mermaid should be sunning herself at the Blue Hole, Reverend King urged us to approach quietly. Alas, we did not see her, although some students were convinced they heard a splash and saw her form swim away.

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In Port Howe, we stopped to view the remains of the plantation owned by Colonel Andrew Deveaux, a loyalist colonel of the South Carolina Militia who was instrumental in capturing Fort Nassau in New Providence from the Spanish in 1783.

A visit to Reverend King’s farm and lunch on the road capped off our too-short visit to the historic and mysterious island where the beauty of the beaches, the historical value of the settlements and the remnants of an obviously once thriving community are underrated. Sixth grader, Steffon Rolle says the experience “rocked my world!” Parent, Mrs. Coral Miller shared, “I was happy to see my daughter embrace the beauty, culture, rich history and folklore of the island. Exposure to the botany, crabbing activities, farming methods and friendly people was an education. I would highly recommend school field trips to our beautiful and unique Family Islands. It is an investment in our children that gives priceless returns, and wonderful memories that last a lifetime.”

Mrs. Samantha Pratt summed it up thus, “One cannot underestimate the impact that such an experience has in the education of our kids. The first hand experiences bring life to what is taught in the classroom. I call it education in motion.” 

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3 responses to ““Gern to Cat Island!” – Education in Motion By Nicolette Archer

  1. This article is quite interesting and informative. Mrs. Archer’s narrative is quite vivid. I have learned quite a bit about Cat Island. I was surprised to hear that it actually has a hill. I am sure that our country folks can speak about rock ovens or something similar. Exploration is the name of the game. However, if I were to venture into the Bat Cave, I am not too sure if I would like to have a close encounter with any of those bats! The carvings of the stations of the cross must be a sight to behold. Could the Healing Pond be likened to our famous mineral baths?
    Russ

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    • I quite agree sanrusa! Mrs. Archer did an excellent job of convincing me that it would be worth my while to visit Cat Island. Obviously it’s a bt more rural than some of the other more developed islands but then again that’s what makes it special. I’m looking forward to lounging around the island and visiting some of those sites.

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  2. Wow! This is indeed inspiring and would lure anyone who has a quest for enjoying the outdoors and an interest in knowing the family islands to explore them when one can! Excellently-written article – kudos to our vice prin for Primary at St. Anne’s!

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