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Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Exuma Land and Sea Park

Warderick Wells is the island home of the Park Headquarters for the Exuma Land and Sea Park. When we sailed around the last bit of the  island so that the harbor within Warderick Wells opened up before us, I thought we’d sailed into heaven. 
view from Park Headquarters

How could one island display so many shades of aqua blue, so many shades of white sand and coral rocks? I was initially speechless. Shades of green and tans dressed the hills to the east which were hiding the Atlantic from our view within the harbor. A few twists and jogs within the harbor coastline only added to its’ beauty. 
dinghy dock at Warderick Wells

The few manmade structures housing the Park Headquarters and the Park Warden house were hidden to us until we were well inside the harbor though we talked with the Office in advance. We’d been assigned a mooring ball and advised to “follow the dark water in.”

The Exuma Land and Sea Park extends for 22 miles and includes all of the islands in between Wax Cay Cut on the north end and the Conch Cut on the south end. No fishing, lobstering or conching is allowed in the waters of the Park and no removal of any shells or coral. Water is so clear that we could see the bottom 20 feet below us, although that is not unusual in the Bahamas.  At Warderick Wells, in the stillness of the harbor, such clarity was even more stunning.
Jumped off the boat to swim; found this guy

When we took the dinghy to shore to follow a trail up to the top of Boo Boo Hill, we found the colors of the Atlantic just as breathtaking although in darker shades of turquoise. To be able to see gradations of color with the changes in the ocean depths from that elevation was spectacular. We’d been sailing on that very water, of course, but unable to see the great myriad of colors while so close to the water’s surface.  Do I sound as though I had fallen in love with a piece of the planet? I had. 

Warderick Wells harbor on left; Atlantic on the right
We felt somehow changed, lighter and buoyant. Our faces more relaxed and voices softer. “Wow……..this is…………….unlike anyplace we’ve ever seen!”…..“How long can we stay here?”…….. “We are just going to relax and enjoy this.” Our very bodies smiled. 
Bahama Grouper. Note variety of corals all around
Before we’d even gotten into the water, before we’d seen the fish and the coral heads below us, before we’d seen the blowholes on the ocean side of the island, before we’d gone exploring we were in love. When I close my eyes now I can see the beauty of the place as if looking at a photo imprinted beneath my eyelids.  

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Another part of me, at that time, however, entertained the strange thought that perhaps this much beauty was more than I could take in. An odd thought—was I deserving of such visual pleasure? And still I felt a preemptory moment of sadness in knowing that no matter how long we stayed, it would never be long enough. Have you ever had such a vibrant reaction to a place of great beauty?
Blowhole on Warderick Wells

These were stronger reactions than I usually have to landscapes of land, sea and sky. Maybe it was my eagerness to snorkel that particular day.  Maybe it was my grateful faith in the protection offered by this national park for its fish and coral.  Maybe it was my medication—who knows? But what I do know is that I want to go back to that very same spot on earth again. I want to soak it in again, with that same sort of religious fervor. Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this vulnerability to a place; a piece of the earth where all things came together for me in such a way that my breath was taken away. 
Shroud Cay, one of the many islands of the Park

Not everyone would have this same reaction to Warderick Wells but surely there are many other places on this beautiful planet where visitors find themselves reacting viscerally and strongly. I think back on the extraordinary beauty of many many places in my life and not once have I written about them in these glowing terms. I am thinking now that I could have. That I should have done so. Should have expressed this same enthusiasm for many beautiful places, big and small. Some of them right in my backyard. Why hold back on letting our appreciation for our beautiful planet be known?
One of many unusual corals found in
Exuma Land & Sea Park

We are no longer in the Exumas. We continued north and arrived in the Abacos (northern islands of the Bahamas) two days ago. Yesterday we snorkeled off of Sandy Cay, a place that had thrilled us when we snorkeled there three years ago. Picture a small mountain-like chain of coral just below the waters surface that has been building upon itself for centuries and with the largest corals imaginable at the top. The Elkorn coral reaches out it's enormous arms at distances greater than my arm span. 
Snorkeling off Sandy Cay. These corals were
beautiful 3 years ago--purples, greens, oranges,
reds, yellows. Few living Elkhorn remaining.

Yesterday was however, not a magnificent repeat of the experience three years ago. Large masses of the huge Elkhorn coral were dead or dying! So much had changed in only three years. So much beauty lost.  Heartbreaking is too small a word for this loss. This is a picture of the impact of man upon our climate and our planet. What will be left a generation from now? 

Atop Shroud Cay, at Driftwood Camp
With sadness after the devastation found at Sandy Cay, and with yet a spark of magnanimity after experiencing the beauty of Warderick Wells, I offer this: May each of us find our own Warderick Wells and fall in love with it without reservation. Hold onto it in wild appreciation of our beautiful earth, in full color, just behind the eyelids to enjoy at any time. Love it so dearly, so intensely that we not fail in protecting the gift. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Thunderball Grotto, Iguanas and Pigs in the Exumas

Photo taken inside cave looking out.
As we moved up the chain of the Exumas, a string of narrow islands stretching for 90 miles, it became apparent that we would be remiss if we did not visit three particular locations which nearly all sailors do. It would be like traveling to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. After returning from Paris, people would react strongly upon learning that you had skipped the Eiffel Tower. “Wait a minute—you went to Paris and you didn’t go see the Eiffel Tower? Why in heaven’s name not?”

Cave filled with snorkelers and fish
So it is in this instance. “You went to the Exumas? Did you see the swimming pigs? Did you go to the Thunderball Grotto? Did you see the iguanas?” And so, we did all three. 

Thunderball Grotto - Staniel Cay
The Thunderball Grotto is a cave under an uninhabited island near Staniel Cay. It is underwater at high tide. But, between low and slack tide one can swim into the cave. The cave is filled with fish that also like caves and it is, quite spectacular. 
Queen Angelfish

I had a tete a tete with a Queen Angelfish that was astonishing. She repeatedly swam so close to me that it was difficult to photograph her. A superb problem to have from my point of view.
Huge cave with high ceiling and natural
sky lights

The Thunderball Grotto has two entrances and so we felt compelled to exit by the other which led to significant corals and fishes outside the cave as well. Beautiful! I highly recommend this snorkel spot.
Since the cave must be entered at slack tide, the tourist
boats delivered many other snorkelers to explore at
the same time as we did.

Iguana Preserve - Bitter Guana
The island of Bitter Guana is home to an iguana preserve for endangered rock iguanas. Most of the remaining 5000 live on that island, enjoying the dry heat and sand and plant life that they eat. We anchored nearby and went to shore to see them, the only people on the beach at the time. We’ve seen many kinds of iguanas on various islands but these were a different species. 

Note the criss-cross striping on the sand.  Those are from iguana tails.
It is not hard to believe that there are thousands of iguanas on the island. Everywhere we walked iguanas have left signs of their presence. Iguana tracks criss-cross the sand between all the clumps of Sea Grape bushes. Those and other waist high plants are really good for hiding, especially if you are an iguana. With some effort, we found two large ones by following the sound of rustling leaves. 

Found one large iguana hiding here.
In time a speed boat arrived with a load of tourists and music blaring. I thought, ‘Oh great, the iguanas are going to run as far away as they can now.’ But instead, it was as if a dinner bell had been rung. Iguanas came out of hiding onto the beach, running to greet the tourists. 
A tourist handed me her skewer to feed
the iguana

Unbeknownst to me, the tour boats, in an effort to ensure that their guests get to actually see the star attractions, had taken to supplying their guests with tiny pieces of food attached to long bamboo skewers. 
One of many who came hustling out of hiding
for tour boat

One of the iguanas, being sorely mistaken that I would have food as well, ran right up to me and put his face into my camera lens as I knelt on the ground. I got some great shots of an iguana front and back leg, belly, and tail. Real close-ups.
How's this for a close-up?

The Swimming Pigs - Big Major Cay
On to the story of the swimming pigs. Yes, there are pigs living on the island of Big Major Cay and pigs do know how to swim. That is not astonishing. They are not wild pigs, which I had assumed they were, prior to our visit and that fact surprised me. I had thought that they were feral pigs which ended up stranded on the island after some shipwreck 200 years ago. That would have made some sense to me. But no, some residents of Staniel Cay nearby, brought piglets to Big Major Cay.  And the pigs, in turn, have certainly brought in the tourists.
Pig who wants me to feed him.

The pigs sometimes swim out to meet people. They did not feel so inclined for our visit. There are awesome photos of pigs online, swimming with tourists. Cute, I admit. There are also reports of the pigs biting people. Can a pig differentiate between a scrap of food and my finger? Essentially no. Pigs will eat anything. Their primary objective in life is to eat and cool down. 
We did bring scraps from our lunch

As a farmer’s daughter, it is my opinion that pigs do not belong in the Exumas. There is no mud to lie in to cool down. The ocean is there of course, but does not provide a covering for their skin as does mud. Ocean water evaporates quickly, the salt is a desicant and the sand is HOT! There is no fresh water on the island.  It is now provided by people bringing it to them. Apparently there were a few pig fatalities until somebody figured that out. 
Since the pigs are accustomed to getting food from
people, I caution turning one's backside
to them.

Pigs do not sweat. I know it is a common phrase, “I’m sweating like a pig.” But pigs do not sweat. And that is a bit of a problem for them. They need to keep cool and certainly not over exert themselves in the heat because of this. They are at risk for heat stroke and death. So, bringing them onto a hot coral island with no soil, is not a very nice thing to do to a pig.  
There are a few half-grown pigs
 and one piglet on the island.

If they’re bent on bringing in an animal to attract tourists, I suggest an animal that thrives in this environment. Like maybe…. camels? Again, just my opinion.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Down at the Rake 'n' Scrape

Man in red plays a saw

Our last night in Georgetown, we went to shore to hear a rake 'n' scrape band. I’d somehow missed hearing about this type of music although we’d been to the Bahamas before this. Even though we were feeling exhausted that day, we felt we owed it to ourselves to experience a rake 'n' scrape.
We ran into these old friends from  2017

The town of Georgetown stretches out both north and south on the slender island of Little Exuma with Elizabeth Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean on the east side and the shallow Exuma Bank on the west. Elizabeth Harbor itself is an exceptionally large harbor, although I would argue that it technically is not a true harbor but rather a wide waterway separating Little Exuma Island from Stocking Island. 

Preparing to exit Lake Victoria through
tunnel and go into Elizabeth Harbor
At times during the year hundreds of boats are anchored here without it feeling crowded, I am told. We chose to anchor closer to the Little Exuma side in order to make provisioning easier. When the waterway is calm, it is a very pleasant trip to shore. When there is some chop on the water, it quickly becomes a salt water shower and bath.

Sometimes there's a bit of a *Rage at the
entrance to the tunnel into Lake Victoria,
although in this photo water is calm.
We traveled slowly across the water that evening and through the tunnel that leads into Lake Victoria around which Georgetown is arranged. 

We arrived early at Eddie’s where the rake 'n' scrape was to take place. We found ourselves  good viewing spots by sitting at the bar. Across the room sat a homemade drum, a huge barrel with the skin of an animal stretched tightly across it.  Next to it was a more traditionally manufactured tom-tom type of drum. 
Man on left playing the saw.

Three men wandered in with electric guitars and speakers which surprised me. I guess I was expecting all of the instruments to be on the order of homemade things. There was however, a saw lying on a chair next to the guitarists and the young man who was sitting next to it eventually came up to the bar. I took that opportunity to question him a little. “Is that just a regular saw you play? What do you play it with?”

Roadway along shore overlooking
ElizabethHarbor. Note layers of packed
coral forming rock walls.
With my husband sitting between us, he shyly, it seemed, leaned over to hear me better. A slow smile and a head nod. “Just a regular saw.” And “A screwdriver.” He was friendly and if it weren’t for the band preparing to play, I’d have loved to ask more questions of him.

The Rack and Scrape band. The man in the pink shirt has just joined the band by
crawling through the window with his instrument.

 The man returned to a chair in front of the single window next to the guitarists with one of them playing host to an exceptionally friendly woman who plopped herself on his lap. One empty chair remained after the two drummers sat. The mystery of the empty chair was solved when during the first number, the last member of the band appeared.  He, in fact, crawled through the window behind the band, bringing his instrument with him, another shiny saw. 

More tourists than locals dancing
A few folks started to dance to the music. At times, the dancing reminded me a bit of dancing to “Y.M.C.A.” Lots of arm movements. The local folks relied upon the hips and feet to do most of the work on the dance floor. The tourists' dancing would have been at home at any American Legion in the U.S. Sometimes dancing partners caught hold of one another for a smooth arm pass. 
Inspirational musician

The musician that had crawled through the window with his saw and screwdriver played his instrument with an intensity that was inspirational. We never saw him sit down in his chair. He played standing in the midst of the dancers. With one end of the saw tucked against his left upper thigh, he thrust his hips back and forth in time with the music and could even accomplish a limbo while playing. I admired his spectacularly muscular legs. It’s been a while since I could do the limbo.
Lot of energy in this band

One of the guitarists was the singer and was actually good. The two drummers were as different as can be. The larger homemade drum was played by a silhouette of a man in dark clothes and hat who never cracked a smile nor turned his head. I could make out only the whites of his eyes in his black face. He seemed to stare through me the entire time; of course, I was sitting squarely in front of him. The other drummer wore light clothing and a Caribbean knitted hat. He played with personality to spare. HIs hands flew as they slapped that drum. Awesome spirit.
Supply ships unload at these piers facing
out into Elizabeth Harbor

Neither of us had reserved enough energy to dance at the rake 'n' scrape. We may have wowed the crowd with some of our dance moves if we had, but then again, probably not. We stayed long enough to photograph the band and dancers and to get a feel for rake 'n' scrape music.
Dinghy dock inside Lake Victoria

We walked back to our dinghy to head home for the night.  The water had become choppy while we were at the rake 'n' scrape. Thus, we were obliged to share yet one more salt water bath in Elizabeth Harbor on our way home to Northern Star. 
Stocking Island, across Elizabeth Harbor from Little Exuma.
Note monument atop hill on the left. Photo taken during calm water.

*Rage refers to an onshore swell that piles up water near shore. At the same time, wind and/or current coming from a different direction converges to make an area of chaotic waters. Traversing a cut (narrow passage between islands) or a tunnel into Lake Victoria can be difficult. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Criminal Element in the Bahamas

Georgetown weathervane

Through no fault of our own (at least that is my interpretation and why should I go with any other) we have run afoul of the law here in the Bahamas but without any ill effects.
Held up for 3 nights for weather on Acklin Island before getting to Georgetown

We entered Bahamian waters on April 28th near the island of Mayaguana and we only cleared in officially, with Customs & Immigration today, May 6th in Georgetown, Great Exuma Island. Unlike other countries we have visited, the C & I officers here in Georgetown had no interest in whether we had exited the previous country, the Turks and Caicos, under good terms. Didn’t ask to see any previous clearance papers. I was afraid there would be fines, etc although today was the first day we were actually able to clear in, given weather and weekend interference.“Enjoy your time in the Bahamas,” was all we got. 

Dock at Black Point Settlement, north of Georgetown
It almost makes a person wonder what would happen if you never cleared in at all. Just raised your Bahamas courtesy flag and sailed right on through the 600 miles or so to the U.S. I am not a reprobate nor a risk-taker and so would never do such a thing myself. But the fact that the Bahamian C & I charges a sailboat over 30’ to pay $300 (US) for the privilege of traversing the Bahamas—-well, I would think somebody along the line would have tried it. They’re probably now languishing in chains in some dark, smelly dungeon in Nassau. 
A favorite fruit, the giant Pomolo, 

No, I believe in following the rules on the water and on land. I’m not always happy to do it however. Take for example, our tedious and uncomfortable effort to clear out of the Turks and Caicos nine days ago.
Georgetown park in front of Customs and Immigration

We crossed the Caicos Bank from east to west on a Friday, with the intent to clear out of the country on Saturday. We were tired from long sailing days and planned to spend the day snorkeling and relaxing after clearing out and then get right back to sailing on. 
Providenciales, in Turks & Caicos

9:00 AM We went ashore on the island of Providenciales, or Provo as it is commonly called, and beached our dinghy on a white sand beach. A man there offered to watch our dinghy, our concerns being theft and the possibility of it floating away when the tide came up.
Chalk Sound next to Police Dept

There are two places on the island of Provo to clear out with Customs & Immigration. One of them, a marina tucked into a shallow harbor has C & I on site 7 days/week. Unfortunately, the draft of our boat is too deep for that marina except at high tide. We were not about to waste 24 hours by waiting for a high tide to enter and for another to leave.
Road from beach to Freight Port, Provo

9:30 AM The other way to go through C & I is at the Freight Port, where the cargo ships come in. We learned after walking ourselves to the Port Office, that C & I would come in on the weekends only when a cargo ship comes in. (The cruising guide we consulted had said nothing about that.) A cargo ship was en route they said and “should be here by 11 or 12:00.” So, we strolled down the dusty road in a thumb-twiddling state.
Carl sitting in shade at Police station

Provo is a desert island. There are no shade trees. And scant few buildings in the area near the Port. It’s very hot. I regretted not drinking more water before leaving the boat. The only spot of shade two loiterers like ourselves could find was on the front step of the police department down the road. So, there we sat until thirst overtook us. So we trudged further along to a gas station/convenience store. 
EnR - Emergency & Rescue

A lone young woman was at the register. How long can a couple of tall, imposing characters like ourselves linger around inside a store ogling the refrigerated section and sidling up to the the air conditioning before starting to look like they’re “up to something” nefarious? Not long enough, let me tell you. Two cold beverages and a snack accompanied us back to our spot of shade on the step of the police department. 
Photographed birds while
waiting. This guy sings
his heart out

11:30 AM. Trodding back to the Port Office through that same inch of fine dust we’d stirred up earlier. “The ship should be here about 1:00 or after,” they said. Hmph. Out into the desert once more. This time we schlumped along until we found a bar/cafe that was open. The cafe actually had good food. We began to think that our luck was turning. It wouldn’t be long now and we’d be on our way.
Lunch of cracked conch and plantain spears

1:00 PM. We slowly hauled ourselves back to the Port office. “Oh, the ship won’t be in for a couple of hours.” I may have groaned aloud. One of the nice young men in the office offered to call C & I to see whether they could be encouraged to come in before the ship arrived. No answer. That was the same result that we had had earlier in the morning when we tried calling.” So much for our luck changing. Now what to do. We’d already found and taken advantage of all the available air conditioned buildings open to us in the vicinity of the Port. 
a wee spot of shade by gated beach house

What to do…what to do….? Neither of us was energetic enough to make a decision. Maybe Carl could bring me back to the boat? We made it partway back to the beach toward our dinghy and then stopped under a wee spot of shade offered by some bougainvillea bushes. There was absolutely no purpose in going back out to the boat.  A half hour to get there and another half hour to return to the Port office? Where’s the sense in that?
The only true flowers on bougainvillea are
the tiny white ones surrounded by leaves
that turn many different colors.

We needed to do something with ourselves however. Something. The bushes were alongside a gated beach house and we stood there until we began to feel like lurkers, casing the joint. Anyway, there was no place to sit down anywhere. Carl’s foot was hurting…..a plantar fasciitis thing we think. What to do? What to do? “What do you wanna do?” “I don’t know. I don’t know what to do.” “What do you wanna do?” At least we were in complete agreement that we were individually and as a couple, completely useless in developing a plan. 

Scaling the hill
Then we noticed someone standing on top of the hill next to the beach…a rocky, cactus and prickly bush-covered hill. The hill lay between us and the Shipping Port. A potential shortcut, if you will, to the Port office. “We could climb the hill for something to do?” “Do you really want to climb a hill?” “No, but what should we do then?” “I don’t know.” “If we climb the hill we can see when the ship comes in. Plus, there’s probably a nice view from up there.” “I’m really hot.” ”There’d be more of a breeze up there.” “That’s true.” “So should we go?” “Ya, let’s go.” “Oh, look there’s a path over there.”
The freight ship we are waiting for--it'll be another 1 1/2 hours before it arrives.

I should mention that I was not wearing hiking shoes but rather slip-on sandals. And it was a very steep rocky hill. But now I risk sounding like a whiner. We skirted the sharpest cactus, found the most secure looking rocks and climbed to the top of the hill. Indeed, there was a nice breeze there. “And look, there are rocks we can sit on.” “And look out there; there’s the cargo ship out on the Caicos Bank.….faaaar away yet.” There we sat—the day slipping away. 
Down the other side of the hill. Freight yard below.

4:00 PM We watched the cargo ship approach the dock far below and we started down the other side of the hill to the Port Office hoping that C & I would be willing to clear us out before dealing with the cargo ship. Yes, they would. Excellent!  We were given hard hats and reflective vests to wear in the shipping yard. This was almost starting to be fun. I was trying to be more upbeat about the extremely hot, and wasted day. 
My first time wearing a hard hat. 

4:15 PM  In the C & I office. “We’re on a sailboat. We’d like to clear out of the country,” we said.  Two uniformed officers, a middle-aged man and a woman glanced at us, then looked at each other in what I would call a sheepish manner. Without saying a word to us and mumbling between themselves they rustled around the office. By that I mean, opening and closing file cabinet drawers, rifling through desk drawers, cabinets, moving things around on the counters. Earnest Rustling if I ever saw it. Finally, the man pulled out his cell phone. We could hear part of the conversation, “We’ve got a ….a pleasure sailboat; …..wanna clear out …….where is the……..looked everywhere.” Neither had ever worked in that office before, they said. Just filling in for the regular guy. I’d have never guessed.
Alternate route back to beach.

All told, it took less than 10 minutes to complete the clearing out process. We opted not to scale the steep shortcut over the rock and cactus covered hill. We were back on the boat again only 8 hours after we’d left it with our silly plan of clearing out early and sailing on.
Fortunately, our dinghy was rescued.

Incidentally, the man who had “looked after” our dinghy noticed it was gone about mid-day, and told us he had found it innocently floating further down the shore. He readily acquiesced to a tip for looking after the dinghy; after all, he’d had to go out looking for it. (As if the dinghy had been naughty and given him a run for his money by making a break for it?) 
Sisal plant. See 12-14' stalk rising
out of center of the cactus-like plant.
Sisal was a crop used to make rope.

Although we’ve heard several sailors report having had a fine time in Provo, I regret to say I didn’t much care for this island.