With only one day to explore 76-mile-long Long Island Bahamas before pushing on to the Dominican Republic, Ryan and I decide to make the most of our last stop in the Bahamas by renting a car with our friends on m/v Knot Yet and s/v Senara.
Our first day on Long Island, a local shopkeeper informs us there is a car rental about 3 miles down the road from our secluded anchorage in Calabash Bay, in the north of Long Island, and though no one knows its opening hours, she assures us it’s probably going to open some time the next morning.
So, the following morning, we beach our dinghy with four and a half passengers on board (one is an eight-year-old), and Ryan and I head out to the road to thumb a lift while our friends wait for us at the bar in the nearby Santa Maria resort.
We are picked up right away by two nice Bahamian boys who drive us to William’s Car Rental. But, unfortunately, when we get there, the place is locked up and empty. As the boys drive off, leaving us by the side of the road, they assure us they’ll let William know we are there, waiting. “Don’t worry,” they say. “I’m sure he’ll be back.”
So we sit down in the grass and wait patiently for William. After all, we’ve learned nothing happens quickly in the islands. But after an hour of playing fetch with William’s friendly guard dog, we start to wonder if maybe William has taken the day off. So we flag down the next car we see and explain to the driver that we are hoping to rent a car, but since the place is closed, could he give us a lift to another car rental?
“Oh, you need a car?” asks the driver, turning off the ignition. “I can help you with that.” And off the stranger walks toward the locked-up shack at the end of the driveway, jingling a set of keys and opening the door.
“Are you William?” Ryan asks.
“No, I’m Steve.”
Ryan looks at me and I shrug. I guess it’s feasible that on an island of only 4,000 people, everyone knows each other…and maybe everyone also has keys to all their friends’ business establishments?
“How much is it?” Ryan asks.
“Seventy dollars for twenty-four hours,” says Steve.
“What do we get for seventy dollars?” Ryan asks.
“That,” he replies, pointing to the only car in the driveway — a dusty, gray Nissan Sentra with tinted windows and a broken antenna.
Ryan looks at me and I shrug again. “Do you want to see my license?” Ryan asks.
“No, that’s okay,” says Steve, handing Ryan a set of keys. “Just bring it back tomorrow with a full tank.”
That’s it. No security deposit, no forms to fill out, no photocopying of our driver’s license. Steve doesn’t even ask us what our names are. He just hands us the keys to someone else’s car in exchange for $70 cash.
And, just like that, we are free to roam the island from top to bottom in a car that belongs to someone named William, who may or may not know we have his car.
But thanks to William, whoever he is, we have a fabulous day exploring the sights of Long Island Bahamas. And like the mindful tourists we are, we drop the car off outside William’s locked fence with a full tank of gas, leaving the keys in the ignition. Because, again, there is no one around for me to inform that I have returned their car with a full tank, like I promised.
It just goes to show how trusting small communities can be. And the communities here in the Bahamas are no different.