somewhere, out there, beneath the pale moon light
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If you take a trip to the fringes of this little world in this fleeting life, you will probably get to Hatteras, North Carolina. All you have to do after you get there is drive the length of the island, roll up onto a (free) ferry, ride about a half hour, and then you're on Ocracoke Island. Then you have to drive nearly the length of Ocracoke Island (appx. 16 miles) and you'll end up in its village.
Get the point? Say goodbye to your pretty little life in the mainland, you're in the Outer Banks' outer banks.
If you want to know the essence of how truly lovely Ocracoke is, you should come over to my house. I am seriously wallowing and whenever I speak to someone about it, it's usually followed with sentiments such as, "I hate this world." You may think that any place which makes one feel like this is certainly no good at all. No, see, Ocracoke Island is what I figure Heaven is like and returning to Fairfax County, Virginia (a nice place in its own right, don't get me wrong) has been a rude reawakening to a loud, bustling world, that quite frankly, blows.
So it is that Ocracoke was too good to me, but I'd never want to live this life without that experience, one that I plan to have annually now. It's the correct balance of solitude, easy activity, and beer drinkin' with cute waitresses abundant. I'm not sure a better week has happened in my life.
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so, basically, it's a little island with a big heart
The living arrangement was an interesting one that paired three unique couples of people together in a house: my father and I (we are two people so we are a couple, sicko) in one room, two of his friends (and lovers) in another, and two of their friends (and lovers) in another. We rented (I use "we" loosely since I paid not a dime) this three bedroom, two bathroom ranch for $1000 and got 7 nights out of that. That's $23.81 per night per person. Unbeatable. And we even got to shower outside if we wanted (which most of us did); what is more fabulous than that? More pertinent (to you at least) is that we had everything we needed, and more, including cable television, a functional refrigerator, electricity and water (blah blah), and an amazingly cool screened in porch with a wooden swing.
Our house, as well as the rest of "civilization", is located in Ocracoke Village which is the southwest most portion of the island. That means the vast majority of the island is untouched. It's my feeling that if you're coming on the ferry from Hatteras (from the northeast) and you get to drive the whole island before you get to the village, you get the notion that you're going to somewhere even _more_ remote than if you take the ferry that comes and goes from the village portion of the island. Considering that the width of the island is about 1/2 a mile, you can basically see water (or at least the beach) on both sides all the way down to the village. Or maybe I'm a bit odd. It could go either way.
The makeup of the village is rather simple, just because it's so small. It is, however, packed with stuff in its little area. The heart of it all lies in the Silver Lake Harbor, which is, well, a harbor at the head of the village. Around it lies a bunch of motels (cute little joints, nothing trashy), restaurants (fried fish sandwiches and beer, anyone?), and many 'o specialty shops which sport a vast selection of collectibles that are typically themed for the island, or at least island life in general. If you go outside of the harbor area, you can't go too far before you leave "civilization." However, some of the "finer" and bigger restaurants are outside because I would suspect that the rent is much cheaper. There is reason for that, however, as it's just much more fun and scenic to hang out at the joints around the water.
If you are into scenery, ambiance, character, and such, Ocracoke Island will not disappoint. The lighthouse is one of the more famous sites of the island (just go to Google, type in "Ocracoke" on the image search and see what you get) and admittedly, it is quite cool when you are sitting out around the harbor and you can see the light go on at night. Also, the island's history of being the general location of major shipwrecks and a place where pirates frequented adds much to the character. 1500 ships have wrecked somewhere around Ocracoke. Wild, eh? Outside of that, the general feeling of untainted nature is with you. Despite the bits of development in the village, it feels as if though man and the natural world have an unwritten agreement that both follow nicely. Well, except the natural world forgot to call the bugs off of my ankles. That's for a different story though. Anyhow, if you're the type who could sit around, read, and watch the sea swallow the sun, Ocracoke is your kind of place. May peace be with you.
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stuff to do? sure...if you can come out of that trance
So let's whip out my personal itinerary for my stay on Ocracoke Island:
1) read & write during the day
2) eat lunch with Dad at 2 or 3
3) sit by the water, drink beer, eat fried foods at night
While I went out of my way to see a few things on the island, and drove around to enjoy its natural beauty, this stuff is the stuff I got the most enjoyment out of.
Now you might be wondering, can't you do most all of that without going to Ocracoke? Yes but not like you can do it on Ocracoke. Let me remind you, the real world is over there (points far to the left), Ocracoke is over here (points far to the right). When you are on Ocracoke, you have officially gotten away. There's even something called the Ocracoma that I was introduced to by a man named Dave Pollard, a local folk/country/rocker who played the local restaurants. You stay on that island long enough (which is not long at all) and your mind goes into a soothing "hummmmm." I call it the sound of harmony and inner peace. Plus, the quaint character of the places you go to will probably hold some sentimental value to you (as you will see exhibited from me, shortly enough). So, no, Ocracoke isn't a place full of action but it is a wonderful place to reset and retool your psyche. And a place to have fun!
While I did my daily reading and writing, most everyone else hit the beach. The beaches on Ocracoke are completely natural and you can drive up NC 12 and pick any spot on the coast that you would like. It is your's. From what I know, going into the water can be a bit risky if you go in too far (the undertow is heavy), but a lil' dip doesn't hurt. Anyhow, this vast beach area eliminates much annoyance from screaming little kids, making this getaway ideal for those who don't have them.
Which leads me to say, I find no reason why children will get much out of Ocracoke. Five years ago, I would've hated Ocracoke (I'm 22 currently). "I'm bored", would have been my catch phrase. It's all about lonely beaches, folk music 'n food, long walks, beautiful sights; no fun for kids, indeed. I did see some kids there, however, just none that looked particularly excited or enthused. So, if you have them, call your parents, a friend, the humane society, and let someone else take care of them while Ocracoke takes care of you. If you don't have 'em, well, cheers to you! (Just kidding parents, just kidding).
Before talking about the bread 'n butter of "stuff to do" on Ocracoke, shops 'n food, it's best to touch on how you will get around. It's quite simple: once you've gotten to the place which you are to stay on Ocracoke, you can walk or ride a bicycle to everywhere in the village. The only place you'll need to drive to is the beach. The dumbest human being on Earth would be the one who gets a DUI or DWI on Ocracoke, especially with bike rental as cheap as $40 for seven days. Though, I did see a woman riding her bike and then all of the sudden, she just flopped to the side and onto the concrete. At least that drinking and driving only hurts one person!
Understanding the phenomena of the "shop" is not in the cards for me. However, it is for my father and his glee over the strange collectibles on Ocracoke Island is enough for me to convey to you that, if this is indeed your thing, you will enjoy the shopping part of your stay. While you may not be able to tell from your first run through on the island, there are 30-40 shops "hidden" or clustered together. It's like your own personal scavenger hunt! From hammock sales (Ocracoke Island Hammock Company), to neat lil' crafts (The Village Craftsmen), to strange 'n obscure art stuff (Barefoot Bohemian), the island has no end to the items that you can look at and blow a few bucks on. I'd be remiss not to mention Dad's favorite, Joyce's of Ocracoke, where you can seriously blow hundreds and even thousands of dollars. This place specializes in collectibles that focus on island themes but also include holidays, and other random, weird stuff. He collects nature statues that admittedly look cool and cost an arm and a leg. It must be said though, that taking something from Joyce's is like taking home a piece of Ocracoke. It's a store that you must see if you fall in love with the island, as we obviously did.
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food, drink, love, peace...serenity
The third part of my itinerary, "sit by the water, drink beer, eat fried foods at night", was the part I looked forward to the most every day. Chicken for lunch, fish for dinner dinner, after-dinner Rolling Rocks, beautiful sunsets, pretty waitresses (all with amazingly nice legs might I add), and live folk or country music at most places, all equates to a darn good time in my book.
If you want fine dining, Ocracoke isn't your place. It's all about the fresh fish, barrels of grease, and beer or wine, if that's your thing. Just don't try ordering that Margarita, Daiquiri, or Long Island because liquor is not allowed to be served on the island. The selling point is truly the atmosphere of each individual place. Howard's Pub & Raw Bar is the largest place I dined at, packed with memorabilia, mostly old sports pennants and weird license plates. Like every other place, it's all wood: floors, ceiling, walls, everything. That keeps it feeling more wide open. Howard's is a bit more rock 'n roll, and perhaps a little more modern than smaller, laid-back joints like the working-class Pelican, the woodsy pizza (and more) hang out Jason's, or the indomitable, the wondrous, the amazing, Jolly Roger's. Ahhh...
Jolly Roger's was my home away from home on Ocracoke Island. I visited it six times, spending 2-3 hours per night there, with my father, eating dinner, drinking beers and watching the beautiful scenery and people. It has the advantageous distinction of being the only restaurant on Ocracoke which is actually on the water. Please don't feed the 'gulls from your table though, that can get ugly. On the menu side, don't get me wrong, the beer selection is limited, there are few wines, and the actual food consists of (basically) fried chicken, fried fish, fried Mexican food, fried hush puppies, and french fries, but I told you already, this is not fine dining. What you get though, is a big deck with chairs right on the water, live folk music every night, friendly service, and damnit, it just feels like a place you _want_ to be and you _need_ to be and you _never_ want to leave. I, also, was served by one of the most bewitching females I have never spoken to but that's a story for a different day.
The lone coffee shop on Ocracoke Island is the aptly named, Ocracoke Coffee Co. This is another place I could spend hours upon hours at and never get tired. Beyond having great smoothies and coffee drinks, the Coffee Co. is probably the most bohemian sort of place on the island. The atmosphere is far promoting of that and I couldn't help but laugh when the owner popped in Franz Ferdinand for a little rockin' during the peak hours. Hipsters - they're everywhere.
When all the meals for the day have been eaten, there's probably only one thing you need: candy or more beer! For the former, there is the Sweet Tooth, the great shop of confections on Ocracoke. The first time I stepped into the small shop which sits on the harbor (but not for long as it is moving), I caught a sugar buzz straight to the head. Among their fine treats include ice cream (including a huge banana split), fudge (the best I've ever had, bar none), salt water taffy, truffles, and other more random things. If you don't want the sweets, just another drink, I say stay at Jolly Roger's! But, since it does close at "10 or so" (as the sign says), the Sunset Lounge across the street is great for chilling. Sitting on the second and third level of a lodge, it's the perfect place to see the sun dip into the water, and with ultra-comfortable outdoor seating, a wonderful place to have late night conversations and meet people.
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The people of Ocracoke were initially hard for me to read. They were easy to tell apart from the tourists; they were much more reserved, much less talkative, and seemed to have that whole Ocracoma "hummmm" going on, as previously mentioned. This can be mistaken for being downtrodden, or just plain rude. One thing I'm sure of and that is that they were far from rude. The island being a bed of tourism and little else, they served us with kindness and with efficiency that professionals should. They may very well be dejected in some respects, too, though. Ocracoke seemed like a place of rich living poverty. In that, I mean that the people are probably poor but living on an island where you don't need much to enjoy yourself. But, when your options are limited, and you spend a lot of time seeing more wealthy people with much more opportunity pass through, I suspect the feeling of dejection could creep in easily.
With that said, I'm applying the standards of industrial, mass consumption living to a place that is unlike any that I have ever been to. From those who know the island, the community of Ocracoke residents is incredibly tight-knit. Possibly, they just don't care for us worldly tourists with our tense and opportunistic ways. Either way, the population is quite intriguing, not to mention incredibly hospitable and, for those who serve at the various establishments, excellent in their work.
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the first ferry leaves at 5am
What a sad time it was, making our way through the dark on the ocean, en route to Hatteras and the rest of this damned country. Never have I connected to a place so much; felt its ways and its harmony. There is not much more to add besides, everyone should go to Ocracoke Island at least once in their adult lives. I will go on a limb and say that once you go, you will want to return. As for me, you can catch me on the patio of Jolly Roger's in the middle of July, 2005.
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Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.
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Best Suited For: Friends
Best Time to Travel Here: Jun - Aug