After too many delays, our plane finally landed at the North Eleuthera Airport. There was only a little bit of turbulence along the way, but we made it - safe and sound. The Bahamas are quite a difference from Orlando, and that is made quite clear from the moment that we landed.
We touched down near this tiny building which might have made for a supply closet at the Orlando terminals. We'd heard about the difference - but ther's nothing like literally experiencing it. It was as though we had entered into another period of time.
By the time that I had ditched the last of my bags at the hotel, I was ready and excited to go exploring. Eleuthera, has the reputation of being off the beaten path and having far less tourists than the other islands of the Bahamas. One of the strange things I had not expected about Eleuthera, is that the people drive on the left side of the road. I saw many of them waving outside their windows to passers-by; everybody was so friendly and warm.
I wanted to take in all the sites and see everything but all my brother wanted to do was recuperate from the trip itself. It was understandable - he had been on planes and in airports for over 13 straight hours since he had flown in from Seattle to meet me and go on the trip.
After wishing my brother well, I went to have a rum drink at the local bar. I don't remember the name of the drink but it was fruity, and rummy and strong. I'll tell you what; they didn't play with their alcohol here, one drink gave me and I was feeling very relaxed. I decided to leave the bar and take a nice walk along the nearly deserted beach, to take in the beautiful scenery.
The endless view of white sands and blue ocean made me loose track of exactly how far I had walked but with the sun beating down and the rum drink in my stomach, I began to feel a little tired. Fortunately, I was able to find a small 'rest stop' in my travels. That was where I met Gustavo. He was standing in front of an easel, making faces at it like all painters do. Every once in a while, he would crush the brush into the paint then add a few dabbles to the canvas in front of him. There were several plastic lawn chairs surrounding him, two of them populated by a young, and obviously in love, couple. The other three chairs were empty.
He offered me one of the empty chairs without taking his eyes away from the canvas. He was a pot-bellied man with a severe tan and stark white hair. He wore dirty pink flip flops and looked like the epitome of a beach rat. Having taken a seat, I observed the painting which he was working on. It was a lovely impressionistic image of the beach in front of us, with a few of the surrounding plants and trees. It looked done to me, but I knew that a picture was not "done" until the artist said that it was done.
"Make yourself at home. There's beer in the cooler." Gustavo gracefully applied more paint to the canvas, and then took a step back to admire his work. "We're going to celebrate!" Gustavo said, throwing his hands in the air and laughing. I suddenly became very confused by the whole scene. The couple just tittered and at the old man.
"Oh no no. I'm not one of those crazy guys," he said after he saw the expression of mild discomfort on my face.
"I am Gustavo Woltmann. " He looked down at his smudged hands and wiped them off on his pants before offering one to me to shake.
"A pleasure", I said as I shook his hand gingerly, still feeling a little unsure of the eccentric painter.
He dragged a Styrofoam cooler closer and then popped open a beer for himself and for me. "Now, the only thing that I ask before we get to drinking is that you take the painting of your choice as a souvenir when you take off." I nodded, still a little flabbergasted that I had made a new friend so easily. I looked around the cooler and saw a pile of paintings, some small, some massive and each one, a landscape of the ocean.
"Take which ever one you want, they're all free." He proudly says to me as I browse through them. He makes sure to inform me that Elethera means free in Greek and that he has never sold a painting as long as he has lived on the island.
Flipping through the various canvases I thought to myself that Mr. Woltmann here... is a pretty good painter, even if he could only paint the sea.
He and I talked for a long time. Jimmy Buffet had nothing on Gustavo. Most of his stories seemed too unreal to be true, but the man exuded such an aura of veracity that I couldn't help but believe. He told me stories of Marlin fishing in the Keys and surfing the big waves in Honolulu when he was young. Seemed to me that Mr. Woltmann had never left the beach in his entire life. Maybe that's why it was all he wanted to paint.
Eventually the in-love couple left to do what couples do, but Gustavo and I kept on drinking and kept on swapping stories. We talked for so long that my brother became worried about where I had disappeared too. I saw him in the distant, walking down the beach.
He had arrived just as Gustavo had packed up his canvas stand and cooler and left for the evening. I was watching Gustavo depart in the distance, one of his paintings in my hands.
My brother may not remember Gustavo's picture fondly since it made him worry, but I definitely do.