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Red Bays, or the Place that Time Forgot

Red Bays village, Andros Island, Bahamas | Cosmos Mariners
Visiting Andros wasn't all frolicking on deserted beaches and worrying about the ghosts of dead divers grabbing me in the blue holes.

Lest you think this was some crazy spring break masquerading as a college class, let me assure you-- we actually did some work and learned about the island's culture. 

As someone who loves exploring new sites and meeting people from different backgrounds, I found our trip to Red Bays fascinating.

The coolest part wasn't that we got to listen to an actual medicine women speak or when we had a Bob Marley singalong with one of the residents. (Though both of those were really, really amazing experiences!)

Red Bays village, Andros, Bahamas | Cosmos Mariners
Ms. Omelia was the resident medicine woman for the Red Bays village. Her goiter was treatable, but she chose not to use modern medicine to heal herself because she only uses traditional home remedies. 

Red Bays village, Andros, Bahamas | Cosmos Mariners
This is Otis, the town musician. He was happy to play and sing several songs for us. There's nothing like an outdoor sing-a-long on your travels!
The coolest part was learning that this entire village had been completely forgotten by the world for several decades before it was rediscovered by a professor in the 1930s. 

How could something like that happen?

In this part of Andros, pretty easily. 

Red Bay is located wayyyy to the northwest on Andros Island; it's pretty much at the very tippy top. As I mentioned in one of my other Andros posts, the entire island is sparsely populated with only 6,000 residents scattered over 2,300 square miles. Since Red Bay is located so far away from the other towns and the people were completely self-sufficient, no one realized an entire settlement was there. 

No one even thought about looking up there because there's nothing there. Well, nothing other than a few beaches and some pine trees. Even now, Red Bay is a good drive from the nearest town. If you're looking for a remote place to visit, this is where you should be headed. 

The story of Red Bays starts before the Civil War. When escaped slaves intermarried with Seminole Indians, their children (known as the "Black Seminoles") needed a safe place to live. In a brave and desperate move to protect themselves, groups of these Black Seminoles launched themselves off the coast of Florida and found refuge in the (then-British) island of Andros in the 1820s. 

They created a place to live in the remote northern part of Andros. They built homes and lived off of the fish and wildlife that they caught. Legends rose up about the "Wild Indians" of Andros, and they were occasionally seen by other Androsians. 

In the 1920s, a few anthropologists came to study the village, but the Red Bays people were happy to stay quietly in their corner of the world. It wasn't until a researcher of traditional music came to Andros in the 1930s that the Red Bays village became more widely known.

Today, the villagers are the descendants of those original settlers, and they are still fiercely protective of their shared African and Native American cultures. 

Scrap Iron, one of the Red Bays villagers, sat down with us to tell us about the story of Red Bays.

Red Bays village, Andros, Bahamas | Cosmos Mariners
We watched a wood carving demonstration done by one of the villagers. To make his sculptures, he used his hands, a saw, and an ax--nothing mechanical or electronic!
They are particularly skilled in making straw baskets which they often interweave with Androsia fabric

Red Bays village, Andros, Bahamas | Cosmos Mariners
Aren't they beautiful? I had to bring home a little bit of Red Bays, and now my basket sits proudly in my house next to my collection of sweetgrass baskets from here in Charleston.

It's definitely a trek to get to the village, but it's worth the trouble. Learning about the culture and hearing the villagers speak about their history and lifestyle made me wish that I had a safe little corner of the world to call my own. 

Would visiting a place like this be on your vacation agenda? Would you like living somewhere this isolated?