Oct. 9: Jan’s story:
We came to South Andros to gather some additional local color for the last chapters of Night Watch, our novel-in-progress set in the Bahamas. I’m afraid yesterday we got a bit more than we’d planned. During our first dinner on Sunday, our host, Jesse, at the Andros Beach Club had suggested a few things we might want to see. We decided on Monday we would hike into the interior of the island to some ruins, described as either part of a Spanish fort, or a watch tower/lighthouse that was used to purposefully lure ships onto the reef and pillage their vessels. The second explanation seemed more fitting for a novel.
You need to know there was one other guest at the Beach Club, Bobby, from Highlands, NC (known here as RB) who is an avid spear fisherman and return guest. Bobby said he had been here many times and loved exploring the island. So, first on our agenda Monday would be to hike to the ruins.
Bobby said he had done this before and Jesse reviewed with him how to find the beginning of the trail. “Just before the last telephone pole before the police station in The Bluff.” No problem, so off we go.
We started in on an overgrown trail. The going was rough, footing insecure and Ed turned back to wait in the car. (His story follows). Bobby and I continued. Turns out the trail through the trees was the easy part. Andros, like all the Bahamas, is made up of limestone. It’s sort of like walking on coral, very rough on your feet and shoes with lots of holes and loose stone. Getting to the ruins took about 20 minutes, just as Bobby expected. We chatted along the way- a bad idea in retrospect. We should have been paying more attention to our trail. Because shortly after we turned around to start back, we got turned around and another 40 minutes brought us back to this same point. Bobby was leading and when he said, “Your not going to like this.” I knew we were in trouble. I didn’t need to see the ruins a second time. It was hot, humid and we obviously were lost. Had the chickcharnie turned us around, changed the trail?
The good news is, after being gone for three hours, we did eventually come out right next to the car where we went in, but we were both covered with scratches. cuts and bruises, (I fell down three times and fought the brush and vines), wet with sweat and tired with sore backs, knees and feet. And we had some explaining to do to the police.
Ed’s story. At about 9:10 am, Jan, Bobby and I started climbing toward some ruins. The undergrowth made it difficult to see any trail at all, the limestone surface was very uneven for my 78-year-old legs, and when I tried to balance myself against a tree, Bobby said, “Don’t touch that, it could be a Poisonwood tree.” Jan looked at me and said, “Maybe you want to turn back.”
“Yes, I’ll wait in the car.”
“Should we turn back too?” asked Bobby.
“No,” said Jan. “It’ll be OK.”
“We’ll be back in an hour,” said Bobby.
They disappeared into the undergrowth and I went back to the car, put down the windows, and waited in boredom and heat. I found myself looking at my watch, counting off each five minutes.
After about 20 minutes I was covered with sweat and turned on the AC thinking about the $7.00 per gallon gasoline I was using.
After two hours I was thirsty but Jan and Bobby had the water bottles with them. But thirst wasn’t my primary concern, I was worried about what had happened to them. Two 67 year olds out in that brush.
By 12:15 I was more than worried. Jan would not have been gone this long. My cell phone showed coverage and I tried repeatedly to call her, but only got her voice mail. (Later I would learn neither of them had a phone with them.). I left the car unlocked but took the keys, left a note for Jan and started walking north along the barely used road. In about five minutes I came to a police station. The officer started taking down information. Name of missing person: Janet Howle. Birth Date: 6/13/45. Was she alone? No. Name of companion: Bobby. The police officer changed that to Robert.
“What is Robert’s last name?”
“I don’t remember.”
“How well do you know him?”
“We met yesterday.”
“You let your wife go off on that trail with a man you don’t know?”
I didn’t answer. I don’t “let Jan do things.” She makes her own choices. But somehow that didn’t seem like a good answer.
“We’ll file a missing person report after 24 hours.”
“24 hours? They have no food and only a little water, and its hot.”
“OK, we’ll round up a couple of officers and go up that trail.”
“I’ll go wait in the car.”
I waited in the car and after about five minutes, Jan stumbled out of the trail with her lower legs, arms and hands covered with blood.
“We got lost. No cell phones, no compass, no whistles. But look at this great walking stick I found.
Bobby came out a few moments later, worried that I would be angry. I wasn’t angry, I had been too scared to be angry and I was wondering what my life would be without Jan.
Jan and Bobby sat down carefully so they would not get blood on the rental car and I drove back to the Police station to call off the search.
Tomorrow we will go out on a small boat to explore the creek and maybe part of the South Bight. I hope it will be more in accordance to our plan.
Ed and Jan
I plan to walk with my stick tomorrow when we board the plane so that I can bring it back and any of you can judge for yourself, if this is a fossilized chickcharnie!