Indira Rivera waved good-bye to regular vacations when she became a fashion consultant for Vera Wang. She now spends six days a week wrangling bridal parties, smoothing in-laws’ spats, and coordinating ﬂowers to match veils to match dresses to match body types. Having recently shot out of bed at 2 A.M. with thoughts of the perfect shoes for So-and-so, Rivera realized it was time—past time—for a break: “I’m too devoted to my clients; I give up lunch breaks, come in early, stay late. I need to go away. To get a massage. To take a nap. I don’t want shoes on. I don’t want clothes on. I want a straw hat, and warm weather. That’s all I want.”
Try Andros Island
When a dreadlocked Bahamian named Captain Butter drove up to the dock in his boat and placidly waved us aboard, I knew this was going to be good. Already, the air was 30 degrees warmer than it was at home. Already, I’d removed my wool socks and was airing my Victorian-white ankles in the rich Caribbean sun. It felt pornographic, really it did—the cloying arch of the coconut palms, the rippling seawater and tourmaline sky. But this sort of thing slackens the jaw of any northerner who leaves a monochrome city and flies south, dreaming of balmy weather and silky beach sand. For this trip, though, my husband and I had layered on an extra set of expectations. We had chosen to visit Andros Island, the largest but still one of the least explored of the 29 inhabited islands in the Bahamas, based on an elaborate calculus of the things in our regular life we were most desperate to escape—namely phones, crowds, news media, all things electronic, and decision-making of any kind.
Specifically, we were headed to South Andros, a 30-mile-long stretch of mangrove swamp and scrubby yellow shoreline, sliced from the top part of the island by a channel of gin-clear water called the South Bight. Despite the fact we were only some 200 miles from the strip malls of Fort Lauderdale and a twenty-minute puddle-jump west from Nassau’s high-rise hotels, here we felt more like pioneers than tourists. There were no paved roads, no planes flying overhead; only a few deserted-looking yachts bobbing languidly on their anchors under a cloudless sky. Captain Butter pointed out a manta ray winging silently across the ocean floor. With shallow waters on one side and a massive reef system—the third largest barrier reef in the world—on the other, Andros has proved just inaccessible enough to ward off large-scale development, and most settlers’ attempts at agriculture have failed. All of this gives the place an off-the-grid, outlaw appeal. The seventeenth-century pirate Henry Morgan (namesake of Captain Morgan rum) allegedly stashed his treasure here, and later, in the eighties, drug-runners speedboating toward Florida found the island’s tidal estuaries and shore-hugging cays provided ideal shelter from the authorities. Today, the Bahamian government has effectively ousted the Miami Vice element and declared part of Andros a national park, making it an exceptionally empty place and a promising hideout for a pair of wintered-out professionals in need of de-stressing. I worried, however, that the glories of isolation might come at a cost to our comfort. South Andros has just a few hotel options, including a run-down bonefishing lodge, a small inland motel, and the place we’d picked, a tiny eco-resort called Tiamo. The eco thing, I confess, was making me nervous. Composting toilets sounded a little too close to outhouses. How reliable could a solar-heated shower be?
Our boat glided up to a simple wooden dock jutting from a mangrove-studded beach, where the only mark of human life was a few hammocks strung between palm trees. A thirtyish woman emerged, smiling, from the woods and introduced herself as Petagay Hartman, a defector from Key West who built Tiamo five years ago with her husband and fellow defector, Mike, and their daughter, Isabella. (With no road access, every building supply, not to mention every morsel of food not grown in the garden, must arrive by boat. Likewise, any garbage that can’t be reused or recycled must leave the same way.) Petagay fixed us a cold drink in the resort’s tucked-away lodge—an airy, upscale version of a beach shack with bare wooden floors and rattan couches, plus a stocked bar and oversize screened windows angled to catch the ocean breeze. Cuban music murmured from the stereo. A bookshelf sat stacked with field guides and weathered-looking novels. She then walked us 50 yards along the water to our private bungalow, one of the eleven that make up the resort, each one secluded behind a scrim of palm. We had yet to spot another guest; just a four-foot-long, electric-green iguana placidly shuffling by.
Turns out, even at a place that’s 100 percent solar-powered, in a 600-square-foot bungalow made from non-toxic lumber harvested from sustainable forest, it is still no sin to have a sumptuous king-size bed with a fluffy duvet and soft, combed-cotton sheets. And this is where I spent a not insignificant chunk of my first day at Tiamo, blissed out on the bed, feeling indoors and out at the same time as I gazed through the bungalow’s floor-to-ceiling screen walls at the riot of jungle fauna just beyond, listening to the trill and shriek of its inhabitants. Every so often, I would wander out for a dip in the warm sea before returning to dry off under the languid whir of the ceiling fan. (There are no energy-sucking air-conditioners at Tiamo, and thanks to the bungalows’ carefully designed high ceilings and reflective pitched roofs, there’s no need for them.) When I finally got motivated to explore the other eco-amenities, they all checked out: The sun-heated shower water? Hot and steady. The composting toilet that used just a pint of water per flush? As photogenically porcelain and unsmelly as the guzzlers they use at the Four Seasons—this in spite of the fact that the only cleaning products used at Tiamo are baking soda, vinegar, and phosphorous-free soap.
Later, at the lodge’s happy hour, I came to understand that conservationist values do not exclude the worship of good rum—in this case, Barbancourt Five Star from Haiti, so smooth it required no mixer. And as my husband and I sat at the candlelit communal dinner table with the fifteen or so other guests, feasting on fresh-caught snapper glazed with Key-lime sauce, I cast aside all presumptions about what sort of people vacation at eco-resorts. There was a British knight, an EPA scientist, a newspaper publisher, a pair of Minnesotan honeymooners, and a National Guardsman about to ship out to Iraq. A few were avid fisherman; others had come—by themselves or in a couple—simply for rest. All were sun-flushed and convivial. Several had arrived barefoot to dinner.
Over the next days, we fell easily into Tiamo’s kicked-back but assiduously enlightened rhythm. We took the afternoons to ourselves, borrowing one of the resort’s sailboats or kayaks to explore the South Bight, or sacking out in the hammocks near our bungalow to read or snooze. Most mornings, however, we signed on for an organized outing to an offshore snorkel spot or a calm estuary, and this way quickly came to understand the complicated beauty of South Andros that Tiamo’s owners are so bent on protecting. Under the mellow guidance of Shona, the staff marine biologist, we dove down on some of the Bahamas’ greatest underwater treasures—explosively colored coral gardens and yawning holes in the ocean floor, thought to be gateways into a vast series of submerged caves and, in Bahamian lore, home to a sea dragon called Lusca. The holes teemed with sea life—dense clouds of snapper and angelfish, rays, parrotfish, and barracuda—like an underwater Penn Station. Periodically, a nine-foot nurse shark muscled through, looking like a Scud missile with teeth. “They’re harmless!” Shona would exhort during our above-water breaks. “Playful, even!” And the funny thing is, I believed her. Call it eco-faith. Chalk it up to the Quaalude-like effect of four days without hearing a phone ring or a car roar past. I don’t know what it was for sure, but the sharks in these parts felt like friends.