Friday, March 6, 2009

Bahamas - August 2008

Ah...the Bahamas. Sun, sand, and endless umbrella drinks. And of course, a cardboard blowup of Geoff's head for our picture taking amusement. Some great times at Breezes in Nassau!

After 5 days of drunken debauchery, trapeze training, and a few too many games of beer pong and 'my loins are on fire', it was time to part ways at the airport.

As you guys headed to the spacious international side of the airport, we headed to the one room reserved for 'domestic travel' within the Bahamas.

We checked in with the woman at the Flamingo Air counter (yes my friends, that was the actual name of the airline). And we received our boarding passes - colorful and laminated.

We waited well past the time that our flight was supposed to depart, and finally, the pilot came to get us and the other couple that we were traveling with. We followed them outside, across what was more like a parking lot than a tarmac, to a very tiny plane.

The couple with us was from Paris and on their honeymoon. I think they were just as freaked out by the size of the plane as we were - especially when the pilot opened the hatch to unceremoniously stash our luggage in the front of the plane.

We climbed into the plane - I had never been that close to so many dials. I only hoped the pilot knew how to use them - he hadn't really said more than three words to any of us.

I was pretty excited...and maybe just a bit nervous.

The pilot climbed into the plane through the window - and then preceded to drive like he was from Staten Island - one hand on the wheel and reclining all the way back in his seat. He was practically in my lap.

Let's hope this thing gets off the ground with all our luggage in the front of it!And we're in the air!

Say goodbye to Nassau...Atlantis faded into the distance and we were off for another adventure.

It was exhilerating to be in such a small plane - you could see everything around you. I was totally psyched - but I think Drew was still a little scared!

After about a half hour, we could see a chain of islands break up the clear blue water below us. We were at the north end of the Exumas - the islands we had come to visit.

The changing shades of the water were incredible. From the air the islands looked largely uninhabited - truly a tropical paradise.

We passed over island after island, wondering which one was Staniel Cay. Finally, we started to descend for our landing.

There wasn't much to see where we landed - just a long runway in the middle of a marshland, a lone building, and a sign that confirmed we were on the right island.

One of the islanders picked us up in a golf cart - the main mode of transportation on the island. It was a short ride to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club where we were staying. As we came around the bend, we could see the multi-colored cottages - ours was the little yellow cottage on the right.

To check in we went to "the clubhouse". This bar/restaurant (and reception desk) is one of Jimmy Buffet's favorite places in the Caribbean.

They make the best frozen mango daiquiris!

The clubhouse serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner to the guests in the cottages, guests with boats in the marina, and locals alike.

In the marina, we saw boats from all over the world. Staniel Cay must be a lovely place to stop when cruising around the Bahamas on your own yacht!

Outside the bar, locals were hanging out with a large cooler of fish...

And it didn't take us long to figure out who they were feeding the fish to!

These nurse sharks are common in the Bahamas. Thankfully, they are also harmless.

This one looked really hungry! I wouldn't mess with him!

There were also a couple of rays, a school of fish, crabs, and lobster.

Our cottage was tucked away from the dock, but it was adorable.

And though the yellow cottage doesn't have a patio overlooking the water, it is the most spacious. It used to be the gift shop!

I enjoyed my mango daiquiri, while Drew started off with a Kalik, Bahamian beer.

Between the clubhouse and the cottages was a small, but lovely pool. It is reserved for the cottage guests only.

The pool proved to be a great place to chill out with a drink before dinner each night. Because there are only a few cottages, we got to know the other couples staying there. The Parisian couple and another couple in their 20s were both on their honeymoons. The oldest couple was in their 60s, and the rest fell everywhere in between. Everyone was very friendly - most had traveled from the US, and a few from Europe.

It was so hot, even the seagulls wanted to cool off!

We arrived late in the afternoon, with just enough time to explore the island by bike before dinner.

The island is less than 2 square miles, and only has 80 residents. We picked up a map at the clubhouse, along with plenty of water, and went to see what the island was all about.

We followed the sound of music and found quite a party going on! August Monday (the first Monday in August) is a celebration of the emancipation of slaves in the British Colonies in 1834. Remember Junkanoo? Same thing. So though the holiday had just passed, it seemed like these Bahamians were still celebrating.

Lots of grilling going on...and lots of good music. The whole island must have been at this one party!

A volleyball game was just getting underway as we were leaving.

We continued our trip around the island, and rode over to the east side where hills and cliffs drop off into the Atlantic Ocean. We left our bikes by the road, and climbed up a sandy path where we could look west over the island.

Looking east, the bright blue ocean beckoned!

I was so excited - this is what paradise should look like!

You can't quite see the depth in this photo - but it was a STEEP rocky trail down to the beach.

We had the entire beach to ourselves.

Drew was very excited to have finally arrived on Staniel Cay!

The sun was starting to go down, and we had a steep path to climb back up.

But I just wanted to stay in the water! It's so clear, you can see your feet wherever you are. A little different from the Jersey shore. Just a little.

After getting back on our bikes, we were chased by some crazy island dogs. Let me tell you, having those things nipping at your heals when you're on a bike that has no speed settings or hand brakes is not pleasant! But we made it home safe...

We ducked out of the late afternoon sun in our cottage, and got ready for dinner - served at 7:30 PM sharp.
This is the view from the back door of the cottage. The Bahamian village is just down the road.

We slept well that first night! And we woke up bright and early the next day to take out our boat - this is what brought us to Staniel Cay Yacht Club to begin with!

Included with each cottage is the use of a 13 foot Boston Whaler. You can take it out from 8 AM to 5 PM each day. We picked up a packed lunch and a map of the nearby islands from the clubhouse, rented some snorkeling gear, and figured out how to lower our boat into the water.

Drew took charge operating the boat - and steering - while I tried to decipher the map and navigate.

Our first stop was the nearby island Big Major Cay, home of the famous swimming pigs. The clubhouse staff packs leftovers so that those visiting the island can feed the pigs. The island is uninhabited and the pigs were left there by someone on a neighboring island who didn't want them (or so we were told). In any case, tourists have to be their main source of food, because they've learned to swim out to the boats!
The disposable underwater camera didn't give us the best pictures - but you can make out the pig. In the water. Pretty wild.

Drew made friends with all three of them.

On the way back to the boat, we stumbled over the biggest starfish I had ever seen.

It was beautiful!

Drew was ready for some snorkeling!

We headed north past some other small islands to Sampson Cay, where we found ourselves a quiet beach.

The umbrella comes with the boat - and beach towels are left in each cottage - so there's no reason to bring your own beach gear with you. The staff packs you a picnic lunch if you request it - and the simple sandwiches are delicious thanks to the fresh Bahamian bread. We read and swam, enjoying the peace, for several hours.

Then it was time to explore more by boat. We headed west to Sandy Cay.

After boating around some of the nearby islands, we returned closer to home. What looks like a big rock of an island is actually Thunderball Grotto - named for the James Bond movie it made an appearance in. We look for the buoys and tied up our boat. Then we donned our snorkeling gear and looked for the small hole that you duck your head under in order to enter the grotto.

The cave you swim into is home to thousands of beautiful tropical fish. The underwater camera just doesn't do them justice!

There are all sorts of small caves to explore each teeming with fish.

It really was extraordinary.

Looking up in the cave, there are several holes where daylight streams in. While we were snorkeling, a guy actually climbed up from outside and jumped in from one of the holes. Drew swears it was only 20 feet - but from the size of the splash, I think it must have been much more!

Heading back to Staniel Cay...

The cottages come into view - and suddenly you start to realize you're totally ready for the pool, a drink, and a good dinner.

The Bahamian flag flies over the clubhouse.

And beautiful tropical plants are everywhere on the island.

I call this picture "Phone Booth in Paradise". Gotta call our mothers to say we haven't been eaten by sharks yet!

The bar gets busy by late afternoon.

And the flags from all of the boats that have visited the marina hang from the ceiling.

At 7:30 sharp a friendly Bahamian woman rings the dinner bell, and all the cottage guests sit down for dinner.
The food at Staniel Cay Yacht Club was delicious. French toast on Bahamian bread in the morning, the perfect packed lunch each afternoon, and plenty of fresh selections for dinner. Simple, but perfect. And don't forget those mango daiquiris!

Drew enjoyed his fresh lobster! I had to sample a Bahamian staple - fried conch. There were plenty of non-seafood choices too like steak and chicken, all served with homemade soup, salad, and dessert.
Drew is ready for another day of adventure!

We headed north towards Compass Cay - probably the farthest you can go with the hours (and the fuel!) that you have.
We'd heard Johnny Depp has a house in the Exumas... and there weren't many that we saw! Maybe one of these was his...

We went a little too close to the marina...and got stuck on a sand bar. This was our first mistake of the day, but it wouldn't be our last!

Heading north, we saw a fire on one of the islands. Locals from neighboring islands quickly came to put it out.

Clear blue water and sunny skies!

It took us a long time to make our way up to Compass Cay and find the right side of the island to dock our boat. When we saw this huge rock, we knew we were on the ocean side of the island!

Finally, we found the Compass Cay Marina and for a small fee, tied up our boat.

Time to snorkel - but I can't find the fish!!!
Maybe this nurse shark will lead me to them....
Now these guys know how to find the fish!!

Schools of fish swim around the boats in "the aquarium".

The nurse sharks are friendly, but I'm not getting too close!

There were tons of fascinating coral to explore too.

You could find colorful fish everywhere - if you were patient.

Look out for the spiny sea urchins!

Are these nurse sharks just waiting for me to climb that ladder?

No, they are probably waiting for these guys - feeding them from the dock.

After a morning of snorkeling, we swapped our flippers for flip-flops and went to explore the island.

Apparently NASCAR is big here too - in a slightly different sense.

Trekking through the jungle to the ocean side of the island...

Suddenly, above the trees, the clear blue sea stretched out before us.

And as we headed down to the beach, we spied the perfect spot for our picnic lunch!

Drew pulled up a chair in the shade, while I hit the water to cool off.

The view from the beach chairs...
The view to our right...

And to our left...

No one but little old me!

After our picnic lunch, we headed back to the boat and went around the north side of Compass Cay to find Rachel's Bubble Bath.

There is a place between these rocks where water pours in from the ocean and forms a natural bubble bath.
There she is!

So I'm off to the bubble bath...

"Hi Drew! Come save me, there are lots of spiny sea urchins out here!!!!"

Drew stays put on the beach while I climb over the rocks to explore.

We snap a quick picture of ourselves before leaving Rachel's Bubble looks like its going to storm and we have a long boat trip back to Staniel Cay.

The land leading to Rachel's Bubble Bath is not really land - it's water, but it was too shallow to bring our boat into. So we left our boat anchored off the island and had to trek inland and back out.

Quite a hike in ankle deep water!

We're almost there! When we got back to the boat, we headed to Staniel Cay - a very choppy and bumpy ride. And then, just as we could see the cottages coming into view, our boat ran out of gas. There we were, so close we could see it, and we were stuck. We took out the wooden paddles, and stroked furiously, but the current was too strong. So we had to switch on our radio, and call for help. Thankfully, a boat of islanders passed by, and were able to tow us back to Staniel Cay. Pretty embarrassing. But in the end, we were home safe.

The storm passed over, and we had a beautiful sunset during dinner that evening.

The next day we headed south to Bitter Guana Cay. I'll give you three guesses what we went there to see... and the first two don't count.

I think I see one! Or two! Or ten!

Gradually the iguanas came out of the shrubs to greet us.

This little guy was looking for food!

The staff at Staniel Cay not only packs leftovers for the pigs...but the iguanas too!

This one likes the Bahamian bread as much as I do!

Here little fellow - how about some fruit?

This ones a little too hungry!

And then they started to follow us - you had to be careful not to get completely surrounded.

Drew tosses a piece of food in between these two iguanas.
And they face off!

Meanwhile, this mother and her baby decide they don't need to get involved in such nonsense.

If you look carefully, you can see the iguanas all have numbers written on their sides.

By the time we left, the whole beach was full of iguanas!

Time for more snorkeling!

There are two planes wrecked off of Staniel Cay - one was sunk for the James Bond film, and one (like the plane we had traveled in) just didn't make it to the airstrip. This is the latter.

No skeletons, thank goodness! But plenty of fish.

Apparently a sunken plane is a great home for these guys!

Drew loves to snorkel.

We headed over to an area on Staniel Cay that we had heard was good for snorkeling. Once there, we anchored our boat in the middle of this little inlet, and jumped in. Those rocks at the end are where the sea meets the ocean - and there was lots of coral and sea creatures to be seen. I swam a little close to where the cool water of the ocean was coming through the rocks - and thought I saw something a little large out of the corner of my eye. But I headed back the other way along the coral - and that's when I heard Drew scream "Shark!" Good lord, my heart nearly stopped. Unfortunately, the shark was between us and our boat - and the only land we were near was all dead coral and rocks.

So quick as can be we scurried up the coral and onto the rocks, tearing up the bottoms of our feet and our hands in the process. Good thing sharks can't smell blood... oh wait. We had both gotten a pretty good look at the thing, but we're no shark experts and couldn't tell if it was a nurse shark or not. So we hobbled along the rocks to the beach, where a family from Venezuela had pulled up their boat. They were all out of the water and watching the shark too - and heck, they own a boat, so they must know more than we do! Through a series of hand gestures and my juvenile spanish, we were informed that it was a "cat shark". And this cat shark decided it wanted to keep swimming between the beach and our boat. Eventually, we got tired of waiting for the thing to leave and got a lift to our boat.

That was enough snorkeling for us! We headed back to Staniel Cay, where we were told at the clubhouse that it had been checked out and was only a nurse shark. All that fuss over nothing. But we decided to stay on land for awhile and bike over to our favorite island beach.

Gotta love the street signs in the Exumas.

How ironic!

Back on the ocean side of the island, we found a nice rocky overhang to shield us from the late afternoon sun.

Our last day - heading out in our Boston Whaler on last time. Note my Angelina Jolie look - my lower lip fell victim to sun poisoning.

I wanted to visit my new found friends one last time. They swam out to greet us!

This guy just couldn't wait!

Apparently island pigs really like Pringles!

Here piggy piggy piggy!

This little piggy ate my fruit cup...

This little piggy ate my chips...


Please sir, I want some more!

We couldn't leave fast enough!

And this little piggy went splash, splash, splash - and tried to follow us home!

Apparently, that's how you say no to a pig.

Goodbye little piggies!

One last picnic - we went to the Pirate Trap Beach on Staniel Cay.

At one point, this was actually a dwelling used by pirates. A few embellishments have been added since those days.

It was the perfect opportunity for Drew to don his pirate hat. Yes, he had been carrying it around in his backpack the whole time.

Might as well....

Sadly, after lunch we had to head back to "the airport". Our ride, once again, was a golf cart.

At least it's not hard to find a parking space.

Airport check-in (the two golf carts with the people in them). And airport waiting area (that blue structure).

This time we had a larger plane, but the pilot still climbed in and out of the window. And we got to travel back to Nassau with a giant case of lobster!

The runway.
Back in Nassau, we headed for international departures and our flight back to NY.
Dluzniewski/Horvath - out.

I know its taken me 6 months to post this...but that means there's only 6 months left till this August! Staniel Cay was an adventure...but Breezes was so much fun with all of you - any ideas for this summer??

No comments: