It Takes Your Breath Away
Imagine a sky suddenly lit up coral pink at midday, a mass of flapping wings and streaming long necks. Inagua is home to 80,000 flamingoes–the largest population in the world – and scenes like this are part of its everyday landscape. The national bird of the Bahamas, the West Indian Flamingo is protected and at home in the Great Inagua National Park. Once nearly extinct, the West Indian Flamingo now thrives in the wetlands of Inagua where salt ponds and salt production have created the ideal habitat for these birds.
Inagua is also home to 140 other bird species, including the West Indian Whistling Duck, Kirtland’s Warbler, the Bahama Parrot, Brown Pelicans, Bahama Pintails, the Tri-Colored Heron, and a hummingbird unique to Inagua. Inagua is a bird watcher’s heaven, rivalled only by Andros, where you can also find flamingos, and Grand Bahama.
Made up of two separate islands, Great Inagua and Little Inagua, and protected by three parks and national reserves, Inagua is a natural home for eco travellers. Shielded by large reefs, Little Inagua, uninhabited by humans, has been able to develop without a great deal of technological intrusion, and is home to species not seen anywhere else in the world – including fast moving turtles and an entirely new breed of lizard. Not to be outdone, herds of feral donkeys and goats, introduced once upon a time by the French, have taken up residence in Little Inagua’s interior.
Like many islands in the Bahamas, the name Inagua comes from its Lucayan ancestors, and means ‘Small Eastern Island’. Like many of the southern islands, Inagua was settled by Bermudians, initially English Puritans seeking freedom in what they believed was a new world. It was these settlers who originally looked for salt and found it; who named its harbor and first city Matthew Town after George Matthew, a 19th Century Bahamian governor. He built the Inagua lighthouse that continues today as one of only three hand-cranked kerosene lighthouses in the Bahamas; his descendents, together with the Bahamas National Trust, turned most of Inagua into protected national sea and land reserves.
It’s a slow paced life here in Inagua, where cars are few, restaurants can be counted on one hand, and Inaguans number just under a thousand. And maybe it’s the warm winds, or the flat lands or the sunshine that makes Inagua an excellent source of salt. Morton Salt Company, the largest employer on the island and the second largest solar salt operation in the Americas, generates one million tonnes of sea salt a year in Inagua. Whatever the reason, it makes for a landscape of beautiful extremes – in the distance you’ll see massive mounds of gleaming white salt stretching for miles under a crisp blue sky, and then, all in a rush of pink feathers and beaks, the West Indian Flamingoes rise into the air above turquoise shallows, like a flash mob dancing.