This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
At 2,300 square miles, Andros is the largest of the Bahamian islands. It's also the most mysterious, its porous, limestone base riddled with swamps, creeks and underground tunnels and caverns. As a result of this unforgiving landscape, Andros remains sparsely populated - despite its 30-mile proximity to Nassau - with just a few hardy villages dotting its eastern shores.
On its surface, pine forests dominate the horizon, bases tangled with flora commonly used for bush-medicine remedies. These dense shaded forests, dotted with limestone craters, are a prime breeding ground for mythical beasts and spooky tales of warning.
It wasn't the towering pines that spooked me. Or the dank, muck-filled seeps. It was more the silence, a total lack of sound blanketing my surroundings and awakening fears that only foolish girls hike alone in the Androsian forest. In other words, it made me believe that the chickcharnie might actually exist.
Variously described as a three-toed elf, a red-eyed man-beast or a birdlike creature with a lizard's tail and a fluffy mane that likes to hang upside down from trees, the chickcharnie is something out of this world. Hard to describe with precision, but you'd know it if you saw it. According to legend, upon encountering this mischievous beast you must treat it with respect, otherwise your head might spin around on its axis.
Skeptics claim that a 2-foot-high, swivel-headed owl - now extinct - was the inspiration for the myth, while others claim to this day to have seen an actual chickcharnie themselves. Owl or not, the combination of secluded forest and persistent folklore adds a certain layer of suspense to even the simplest of Androsian day hikes.
I'd hit the trail to see one of Andros' most unusual geologic features - a circular "lake" called a blue hole. Gateways to vast networks of underground tunnels and caverns, blue holes are scattered across the Bahamas. Andros, with at least 350 of these natural wonders, takes the lead.
Formed over millions of years as the ocean rose and fell around a coral-based plateau stretching from Florida to Cuba, sea-based blue holes are a noticeably darker shade of blue than surrounding seas because they're so much deeper. Powerful tides rush through some of the tunnels below them and can, on rare occasions, twist into whirlpools capable of sucking 14-foot boats underwater. This phenomenon most likely gave life to another Androsian beast, the half-dragon, half-octopus Lusca. It's not wise to make it angry.
Inland blue holes are typically lonely outposts surrounded by pines. The consensus seems to be that these inland reservoirs - though connected to intricate tunnels - aren't as strongly affected by tidal surges and boat-eating whirlpools as their oceanic brethren. But no one's exactly sure what the passageways hold - divers can't thoroughly explore them because silt tends to cloud visibility at lower depths.
Whirlpools or not, these inland reservoirs are so steeped in mystery that many Bahamians won't go near them. For intrepid travelers, Small Hope Bay Lodge has bushwhacked a trail north of Fresh Creek - look for the sign just past telephone pole No. 209 on the Queen's Highway - to the fairly accessible Rainbow Blue Hole. To see it was my goal.
And suddenly, I did. Trees and underbrush gave way to a vast, wide-open circle of water - flat, tranquil and flanked by towering pines. One hundred twenty feet in diameter, Rainbow Blue Hole drops into the limestone in a funnel-type formation surrounded by tunnels twisting off from the main passageway. Walking to the edge, I peered into its depths, catching sight of a school of tiny fish darting back and forth over the rough limestone rock.
Hang out and enjoy the quiet or return to Small Hope Bay Lodge for happy hour? Suddenly, the placid waters started rippling, no more than 40 feet away. Lusca? Something else? I paused and then . . . let's just say land speed records were broken and that my Kalik tasted pretty darn good.
* A 2 1/2 -hour Bahamas Ferry (242-323-2166; www.bahamas ferries.com) travels to Fresh Creek three times weekly from Nassau.
* Continental flies to Andros Town Airport from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (800-231-0856; http://www.continental.com).
* Guests at all-inclusive Small Hope Bay Lodge (242-368-2014, 800-223-6961; http://www.smallhope.com; $229/person) enjoy three buffet-style meals daily. Non-guests usually can be accommodated with reservations, and breakfast, lunch and dinner cost $10/$15/$30 respectively. Long popular with divers for its many dive trips, eco-minded Small Hope also provides guests with complimentary use of kayaks, bikes, snorkeling gear and maps.
Where to stay
* Andros Lighthouse Yacht Club and Marina (242-368-2305; www. androslighthouse.com; $135) is beside the government dock and has an on-site restaurant.
* For pub grub and cocktails beside Fresh Creek, sit on the deck at nautical-minded Hank's Place Restaurant and Bar (242-368-2447; http://www.hanks-place.com).