Serene Island Getaways

By Harris, Joanne; Chase, Hank | American Visions, December 1999 | Go to article overview

Serene Island Getaways

Harris, Joanne, Chase, Hank, American Visions

Bermuda: A Therapeutic Adventure

by Joanne Harris

The day before I embarked on a Native Adventures tour of Bermuda, my tour guide said to me, "All you need to bring with you tomorrow is a swimsuit, a knapsack and an open mind." I had two out of three, and, luckily, there was time for me to dash into the quaint town of St. George's to purchase a knapsack before shops closed. The next morning at 7 o'clock, I had on my swimsuit; I carried a knapsack packed with camera, hat and sunscreen; and I had cleared my mind of all expectations of crowded tour buses, canned scripts and hurried moments spent looking at artifacts in old, dusty buildings.

Achieving peace of mind is key to this five-hour therapeutic adventure. It's also how Native Adventures tour guide Tamell Simons--a "country boy at heart"--makes his mark. "Keep it simple" is his dictum. "People coming from bigger countries happen to be pretty quick," he says. "They keep everything moving fast, so I get them to stop and smell the roses a bit. You'll find that with me, you'll never know what to expect, but one of the things that I hope people get out of the tour is a sense of calm." Simons might invite you to sit with him on the beach, grab some wet sand and use it as pumice for your weary feet. At Admiralty House beach, on Bermuda's north side, he might challenge you to jump from a rocky ledge into the warm Atlantic 20 feet below. Or he might take you for a brisk walk to "get some oxygen up in your head--nothing too drastic."

It's apparent from the start that this is not your standard tour. Don't expect stops at me usual tourist traps (aquarium, dockyard, botanical gardens, perfumery, caves, museums, forts). Simons--a tall, slender, 35-year-old man with dreadlocks down his back--doesn't downplay those attractions, but he does stray from what he describes as the "cookie-cutter tour" led by a "Bermuda-shorts-wearing fun guy." For instance, Simons will take you to the mighty Fort St. Catherine, built in 1614 and used throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, but his focus is the enchanting view, the lush foliage, the mysterious marine life, and not the fort, which "you can read about in a brochure at night before bed," he says.

Simons' tours also are custom-tailored: He interviews his customers before their tour to learn their likes and dislikes, their reasons for visiting Bermuda, and their preconceptions of the island. Are you eager to catch Bermuda's beauty on film? Simons, a professional photographer, will include a photo lesson in your tour. Would you rather find the best spots from which to catch snapper or porgies? Simons, an avid fisherman, comes prepared, with fishing lines and bait in his van.

Do you want to feel the beat of black Bermuda's pulse--taste its soul food, view its art, dance in its nightclubs, meet its people? Simons is accustomed to hearing these requests from African Americans, and he enjoys showing them that Bermuda has more to see than golden sunshine, turquoise waters and soft pink sand.

The principal islands of Bermuda--the tips of ancient volcanoes rising 15,000 feet from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and situated just 650 miles off the coast of North Carolina--are connected by bridges or causeways. The narrow roads and alleyways of this charming British colony lead to a distinctive heritage that is at once formal and folksy. As Simons drives you across the island, which measures just 21 square miles, he weaves you in and around Bermuda's neighborhoods--colorful beachfront properties here, palatial mansions there, working-class homes in between--and he points out facts of life that others might take for granted. "What's quite common," he explains, "is for every Bermudian, no matter their income level, to have a piece of land that they can farm, whether it be an acre of corn or just a little herb garden. Everyone has a patch of something."

Along the way, he also points out examples of a thriving folk culture on the island: plants used by his grandmother for medicinal remedies, white limestone rooftops that catch a family's household water supply, fishermen hunting land crabs to use as bait for the prized hogfish (a local delicacy). …

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