Father Jerome, an architect and Catholic priest, built a monastery on Cat Island in 1939. Mount Alvernia Hermitage sits at 63 meters atop the highest hill in The Bahamas and offers a 360-degree view of the island.

The Bahamas – Been There

Cat Island makes a person purr

Photo by Jad Davenport

The Bahamas – Been There

Cat Island makes a person purr

I spend a few days on Cat Island in the Bahamas, soaking up the sea and sun while bathing in the sea and relaxing in a good hammock.

Sergi Reboredo
Sergi Reboredo Travel Photographer

It is named for the notorious pirate Arthur Catt, although some insist it was for the number of wild cats abandoned by Spanish settlers.

With the highest point in The Bahamas, Mount Alvernia at 63 meters, it is also the wildest of the islands. Its wealth was built from 18th century cotton plantations, on the backs of slave labor whose heritage has given the country much of its music and folk culture. The African Obeah religion is still practiced by some locals, who supplement conventional medicine with healing plants and a taste of “black magic”. Voodoo charms protect orchards from thieves and can be seen atop homes to ward off evil spirits.

Many on Cat Island still claim it is the place where Columbus first landed in the New World before sailing on to Cuba and Hispaniola. His description of what he called “San Salvador” is so vague that it is hard to be sure where it is. Nearby Watlings Island, agreed to be a more likely site by key experts, renamed itself San Salvador in 1926 to cash in on the association.

The Spanish ultimately thought The Bahamas of little value and the islands were under British rule from 1718 until 1973, when independence was declared. The new national flag showed the colors turquoise, for the sea; black, for the population descended from African slaves; and yellow, symbolizing the sun.

When I feel energetic, I use a bicycle to explore away from my beachside hotel. I meet Iva Thompson, a kindly old woman who makes and sells all kinds of handicraft from straw: hats, baskets, and more baskets. I see other people, men and women, weaving on the porches of their homes. A group of men on horseback trot past, giving me a cheery greeting.

At sunset one evening I climb Mount Alvernia, where I enjoy the views from a hermitage built by Father Jerome, a Catholic priest who lived here for almost 20 years until the 1950s and is buried in its chapel. I can understand his attraction to this place of peace and beauty. Stretching away below me are thickly-wooded foothills and endless beaches of pink and white sand.

Despite its seeming remoteness, however, Cat Island is connected to Ft Lauderdale in Florida by an 80-minute flight, three times a week. “It’s one of our big advantages,” says fly fishing guide Elias Griffin. “That and our friendly people. I go fishing with visitors from all over the world and, in the middle of their stay, most are already talking about returning.”

Take me to Cat Island!

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