Saturday April 27, 2013
If you were to research Great Inagua online you’d probably find out that it’s known for two things. The first is that it houses a Morton’s Salt factory, supplying 1/3rd of the salt that gets shipped to North America. The second, is that the island has a very large bird sanctuary. And in this sanctuary was something that all four of us were very excited to see, flamingos. I had seen them in zoos before, as had Matt, but Stephanie had never seen one in her life. This, along with the lack of a preferable weather window, is what caused us to stop on the island in the first place. Without the promise of these bright pink birds, we may have passed it by altogether. The previous day we had secured a trip with the park master, Henry, and he was to pick us up in town at 8 am. Having forgot my coffee and somehow sleeping in enough that I only had time to shove a Pop Tart in my backpack for breakfast on the road, I silently wished this island had a McDonald’s that I could breeze through to get some hot food on the go. (And before all of you start to tell me how bad their food is for me, just know that I will always love it an no matter how many diagrams or statistic you show me, I will never stop eating it. Besides, I just spent two weeks eating fish and rice every day, I think I deserve an egg McMuffin.)
Walking up to our meeting spot of the grocery store on the main street we found Brian and Stephanie already inside the large Ford pickup that was going to take us around the park. I climbed up the step to the front seat while Matt slid his way in back. We took off right away down the paved main road which soon turned to dirt as soon as we were out of town and the landscape returning to what we were used to seeing in the Bahamas, lots of dirt and sand with low lying shrubs. It didn’t take long for the mountains of salt from the Morton’s factory to come into view and for salt ponds to begin replacing the shrubs on the side of the road. Henry was a bit of a quiet man, although maybe he’s just not a morning person either, and would give little tidbits of information here or there, but for the most part remained quiet. When the road made a wide turn leading into the salt factory, the truck instead took a small dirt path off to the other side, just wide and elevated enough to keep us out of the expanses of water we were now driving through. The water here only looked like multiple miniature lakes, and we were told it was the first stage of the salt process. Once in awhile we’d see foamy bubbles on top of the water and random birds that were not flamingos fly over our heads.
While driving along the radio was playing quietly in the background, tuned to a local station and, at this hour, DJ’d by a man named George that Brian and Stephanie happened to meet the previous night on their way back from Bo’s. Becoming engrossed with the locals, as they usually tend to do, they spent quite a bit of time talking to him and once again, telling the story of how they arrived here. So back to present time, we all had an ear on the radio in the quietness of the truck when we heard a shout out from George dedicated to all of us. “Lots to do on this beautiful Saturday, such as taking a tour of the Great Inagua National Park. We have some visitors in town this weekend and we’d like to welcome you. We know you didn’t have to stop here, but we’re sure glad you did.” See what I mean? Nicest people ever! It was also right after this little high that we started to make out, eeek!, flamingos in the distance! If our ride had been calm and sedated up to this point, it all changed. Windows were instantly down with heads craning outside, the three members in the back seat trying to cram to the one side with the view. They were still fairly far away and the rumble of the large engine seemed to frighten them off before we could get too close, but that didn’t stop us from pulling out our cameras and snapping what we could. Luckily for Brian and Stephanie, they have a large zoom lens for their camera, and I’m quite sure I’ll be stealing some of their photos later.
This sequence continued multiple times, us spotting flamingos in the distance and then scaring them off just as soon as we were getting close enough to really make them out. In one spot where the road had widened a little bit, we asked Henry to stop the truck for a few minutes while we wandered on foot, trying to get as close to them as we could before they became skiddish. Being on food definitely yielded better results than the truck, but man these birds do not trust anything coming up to them. I have no idea what they need to be afraid of either, they’re in a National Reserve. When we felt like we got the best photos we could for the day we retreated back to the truck and continued to watch them fly past us through our windows. Those were soon shut any way as well since this area was heavily populated in kamikaze dragonflies. For the longest time during the drive I couldn’t understand what was blowing through the window and hitting me in the face before bouncing back and out the rear passenger window. It wasn’t until we had slowed down to a stop one time that I realized I was being dive bombed by a bunch of dragonflies, torpedoing through my window to a bulls-eye apparently right on my face. After that it was window up and problem solved.
Next on the tour was a drive through the salt factory, seeing the last stages of the salt in the ponds, and finally the large mounds of it before it is prepared to be loaded on tankers and shipped off. Ok, so we may have been going through this part backwards and saw first the loading docks, then the giant mounds of salt, and finally the salt ponds just before they’re scraped. We actually did drive by one pond that was being harvested (is that the correct term?), with a large bulldozer driving along it collecting salt, looking like a zamboni clearing the ice. We were told that each pond has a marked stick in the middle and as soon as a certain line was hit it meant that pond was ready to be cleared and it’s salt collected. It was a pretty amazing sight, all the white sparkling flecks looking like snow under a Caribbean blue sky. We never entered the plant for a tour, I think that’s a different package entirely, but it was still fun being able to see all the different stages (ok, most of the different stages) of how it ends up from floating in the ocean to sitting in my pantry. I have a feeling that at the moment I could get almost the same results by just wiping it off our solar panels, the side of the boat, basically anything on our boat because it’s all covered in salt, but I think I’ll continue to give the people at Morton’s and the good people of Great Inagua my business for now.
(above three photos courtesy of Rode Trip)
You thought you could run…