Miracle of miracles, we made it to Ocracoke Island on the first ferry headed out of Cape Hatteras. The ferry was not operating the day before due to flooding on the island. Passage to Ocracoke Village was impossible. Luckily, the tide pulled back in the early morning and the rain took a respite. Flooding subsided long enough for cars to get though safely. The magic travel window opened once again for us, enabling us to continue to manifest our plans. (Note: This post was written about an eco-road trip in Sept 2015 and the last part of a series)
Ferry to Ocracoke Island.
There was almost no traffic on the stunningly beautiful 13 mile stretch of preserved seashore between the ferry and Ocracoke Village. To our delight, we discovered when a car did approach from behind, nobody tailgated. Everyone and everything seemed in sync. Nothing was moving too slow or too fast.
We found the Anchorage Inn without even trying. It was perfectly situated. The island is so small there is no need for GPS. The inn was at the heart of the mellow village in a sweet spot overlooking the harbor within walking distance to shops and restaurants. We checked in and ascended to our penthouse suite.
Paul E McGinniss on Anchorage Inn Balcony, Ocracoke Island
Suddenly, the sun burst through the on again, off again rain. It was too good to be true. The view of Silver Lake, the harbor to the village, from our spacious suite was a sight for these tired eyes. I was captivated, drawn into the landscape, or seascape I should say, the minute we got there, enveloped by the intimacy of the secluded harbor. We were an hour to "civilization" by boat, a million miles from NYC.
Window in Our Suite at the Anchorage Inn
Happily ensconced at the Anchorage Inn in our palatial one bedroom suite we began to regroup after our journey. Though feeling still in somewhat of a whirlwind from the N'oreaster experience and visits to Cape Charles & Cape Hatteras, we attempted to center ourselves by checking in on the doings back home in NYC and assembling our thoughts and recollections of the trip so far. Eventually, we began to unwind letting the sound of the waves wash over us and lure us into gentle submission.
Interior Suite at Anchorage Inn.
The best part of traveling is when you feel like you are not only discovering a new place, but a new you. The disconnection from your old life and connecting to a new place inspires one to feel like you can reinvent yourself.
It's rare to have that feeling of getting away, being beyond the stress of your life. Yes, this was what I felt on Ocracoke Island. In Cape Hatteras you feel like you are at the end of the world, but here, on Ocracoke Island, you sense that you are in a place past the world, past yourself.
Walkway to Beach, Ocracoke Island.
Later that day we drove, meandering out of the village towards the beach. We knew the pleasant weather would not last so we seized the opportunity to walk barefoot in the sand and feel the sun and ocean breeze on our faces.
On the way out we eyed an elderly gent in the parking lot and sought his take on the best beach in the area. He gave us an incredulous look, motioning to the abounding sand and surf around us. “Why there's 30 miles of beaches”, he said. “Just drive yonder and when you see a way in, go for it!” Sound advice indeed!!
Yes, the miles and miles of undeveloped beaches on this island seemed to stretch to infinity. Aha, close to town, we found our first path to a parking area. We found it almost completely deserted save for a few hearty souls. This was as good as it gets. Despite the difficulty of island living, the constant triple threat of weather, storms, and flooding, this was paradise.
We both remarked how clean the beach was with almost no litter. I did spot one beer can, picked it up and stuffed it in my pocket to put in a recycling bin I noticed in the parking lot. I wondered if the lack of refuse was because the island was so remote. But, then I recalled the photographs by Chris Jordan which documented how garbage washes up on the midway atoll in the very middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Just as we were thinking about this, we came upon Art and Elizabeth, two locals, walking down the beach. They were gathering plastic bottles and other garbage in bags. I asked if they were part of an official island clean up group. They smiled: "No, we just love the island. This is our island and this is what we do." The graphic on Art's T shirt said it all: "That's how I roll" was written above a picture of a roll of toilet paper (see below). Art exclaimed their enthusiasm for keeping the beach spotless: "This is how we roll!"
Art and Elizabeth cleaning up the beach on Ocracoke Island.
Art and Elizabeth recounted how they came to the island almost forty years ago to get married. After they exchanged their marriage vows, he said they also committed to move there one day. Many decades later, they did. A love story between two people and their natural surroundings began that day long ago and continues to grow to this day.
Upon bidding adieu to Art and Elizabeth, further down the beach, we came upon a father teaching his son to use a fishing rod. Jacqueline without hesitation focused her camera on the mis en scene before us. The camera playback soon revealed that the moment she had captured was truly iconic.
Father teaching son how to fish, Ocracoke Island.
It was as if time was speaking to us, telling us that what we need is right in front of us. Yes, I understood. We are all connected. Each image before us is a metaphor for eternity. A glimpse into other lives, such as the father and son in the distance, often go unnoticed. The goodness in life is often unseen as we are not open to the serendipity and good fortune that is always there if we can only sensitize ourselves to let our guard down long enough to bear witness.
On Ocracoke Island, as in Cape Charles and Cape Hatteras, our previous stops, we learned, once again, one did not have to seek out environmental stories, stories of man connecting with nature.
Art and Elizabeth, the father and son, they all appeared before us.
Again, the eco story revealed itself to us. So many memories in so short a time. How about our experience at the Ocracoke Island Bar and Grill where the menu was made out of old cardboard boxes. We ate using bamboo cutlery off plates fashioned from sugar cane. All biodegradable, no plastic. Part of the bar structure was made with bamboo the proprietors grew right on site.
Jacqueline Lyoussi at Ocracoke Bar & Grill.
The story finding us was so wonderful. When we first realized the menu was made out of what could have been considered garbage, we laughed out loud and said "This is How We Roll." We imbibed a few cocktails in celebration of our good fortune.
And then, for the rest of the day, we would proclaim, "This is how we roll" or "This is how I roll", as we went about our further exploration of the island.
Ocracoke Working Watermen's Association Seafood Store
The restaurants on the island make it a point to serve only local seafood. This small community of about 1,000 people is intricately connected. They rely on each other. The business owners know it is important to support the local fishermen. The Ocracoke Working Watermen's Association, a non profit, does its part as well to empower the local fishing community and support the continuation of a sustainable industry integral to the health of all local business.
The Ocracoke Bar and Grill paid powerful homage to the locavore synergy as they have a certificate displayed which identifies the specific fisherman who actually caught the catch of the day being served. I felt personally, intimately connected to the process of sea to table as I admired the fisherman's portrait while devouring the delectable fish tacos made from blue fish he had caught earlier in the local waters.
Ocracoke Island Golf Cart Rentals, thanks for the charge for our Ford EV!
One of the many sustainable practices on Ocracoke Island is the prevalence of electric carts. These clean, no emission carts silently glide all over the island. The crew at Ocracoke Golf Cart Rental let us charge our car at one of their outlets. So, 100% of our driving on the island was powered by electric charge.
Our Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-in Hybrid fit right in. And, we were happy to drive at the same slow pace as the carts. Of course, on an island so small, there is no need to rush. Ocracoke even has a taxi service which utilizes an extra long electric cart to provide rides around the island. Interestingly, the service does not charge a set fee, but takes tips from customers.
On our next to last day, Sundae Horn, publisher of the Ocracoke Current and Director of Travel and Tourism, Ocracoke Civic and Business Association, invited us to take a walk with her daughter through a fantastical place called Springers Preserve. Much of the trail was flooded requiring us to wade through water over a foot deep.
A walk way through live oak trees to Teach's Cove
The woods, as Sundae's daughter enthused, were nothing less than you would find in a scene out of a Harry Potter movie. She asked us if we believed in hobbits and we said yes. She asked if we saw them, they are over there?! And, we said, YES we see them! The wet trail was worth the effort for it brought us to enchanting woods and a secluded, romantic spot called Teach's Cove.
From the peaceful beach facing Pamlico Sound, one would never imagine this to be where a defeated Edward Teach (a.k.a. the infamous pirate Blackbeard) was beheaded in 1718 following a most bloody, gruesome battle. Walking along the beach, we saw signs of a more peaceful pursuit indicating that the island was undergoing shellfish and marsh restoration much like the Nature Conservancy was overseeing on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
Teach's Cove, Ocracoke Island.
Sundae is passionate about the history of the island. One of Blackbeard's crew, she recounted, was fortunate to survive the clash of arms and return to England. His name was Israel Hands. He spent his remaining years as a one legged beggar who supported himself by telling tall tales of Blackbeard and Ocracoke Island. These stories became the inspiration for “Treasure Island”, the adventure novel by Robert Louis Stevenson.
A pirate battle on the beach may seem inconceivable. Placing oil rigs fifty miles out from the Outer Banks and places like Ocracoke Island seems to me also inconceivable. And, yet, these things happen. Are the oil companies with a good deal of their wealth protected in offshore tax havens any different from the pirates of yore who took profit "off the water", with little concern for the devastation left in their wake?
Pamlico Sound, Ocracoke Island
Luckily, Ocracoke, the place where Blackbeard met his just demise, is on high alert to the dangers of drilling. There are anti-drilling signs everywhere, in yards, on doors in bars and restaurants, on bumper stickers.
Sundae Horn was excited when I suggested she consider arranging a screening at the local library of "After the Spill", Jon Bowermasters' documentary about the conditions in Louisiana four years after the BP Deepwater Horizon's massive oil spill. We will connect Sundae with our new friends in Cape Charles who also want to screen the film in their community.
Village on Ocracoke Island
The consciousness of Ocracoke is infused with sustainability. The islanders know they need to recycle, upcycle, reuse, and reduce waste. They understand the cost of shipping by boat or ferry. They realize there is nowhere left to continue to throw things out, burying them in a landfill to just forget about.
Islands by their very nature have to be more self sustaining than any other place. This “island consciousness” is what the entire world needs—the understanding that everything is intricately connected, rather, intertwined, man with nature, nature with man.
Sundae Horn with her daughter on Ocracoke Island.
We were so thankful to have met Sundae. She generously offered us a window into the real Ocracoke, the life behind the veil of tourism. I will not forget her words as we sloshed our way through the foot of water flooding the trail on the way out of the wooded preserve near Teach's cove.
Wrapped up in her passion and enthusiasm and love of the island, in a magical forest at the edge of the sea, she beamed and shared a saying on the island:
"You don’t have to look for gold on Ocracoke, you just have to look at the sunset. The gold is right there."
Ocracoke Island, a View of Pamlico Sound.
Yes, the Gold was everywhere. It was the woods we walked in. It was the driftwood on the seacoast that resembled birds. The beach grass. The eel grass. It was the total eclipse of the moon we witnessed from poolside at the Anchorage Inn. Nothing like a total lunar eclipse to remind us of the precious little planet we are in a universe of infinite wonder.
Go to Ocracoke. The only thing you will regret is not being able to stay long enough.
Text Copyright Paul E McGinniss Photos Copyright Jacqueline Lyoussi
NOTE: This post was written as part of the series about our Eco Road trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina from New York City. Thanks to Ford Motor Company for lending us the C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid for the journey. Many thanks as well to our hosts along the way: The Cape Charles House, the Cape Hatteras Motel and the Anchorage Inn. And, thanks to Kerry Allison, Executive Director, Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission and Sundae Horn, Director of Travel and Tourism, Ocracoke Civic and Business Association. And, many thanks to my travel companion, Jaqcqueline Lysoussi, who took so many great pictures and my partners Joe and Chris who help edit the text and images for New York Green Advocate.