Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Musings Without Internet

It’s morning.  We are sitting in the cockpit just having seen a gorgeous pink and orange sunrise.  The internet is down… 

Bruce is wondering if it’s some terrorist act or maybe some subversive group of hackers have banded together to deprive Georgetown, Bahamas of access to the world.  I’m just thinking how inconvenient it is that I can’t post that sunrise to my page and show Bruce a funny blog post a friend did

Without the distraction of Facebook my mind wanders….

Yesterday we arrived here in the area of the Bahamas known as  “Marathon East”, where Cruisers from around the world congregate to live with other like minded souls.  It’s different from how I imagined it but then, it always is.  Our first line of business was to go and seek out this magical fountain of life, the free water offered to all Cruisers by the local grocery store.  Free. Water.  FREE!!! 

The "arch" approaching from outside
We consulted all of our resources which are inexact, but more like clues to a scavenger hunt.  Snippets.  You go under an arch… There’s a dinghy dock with a faucet…  

The source of life-giving FREE water
We found it easily enough on just that.  With the water taken care of, we moved on and tied off to the dock.   We climbed nervously up the board leading from the dock to the land.(see the ramp at the far left of this picture) It’s what you might see propped from a boat to the dock for dogs to climb aboard…  Rickety to say the least, and treacherously steep at low tide.  

Traffic Jam
Emerging onto the street, I found myself thinking… Mexico.  The activity around the large-for-the-Bahamas grocery store was brisk.  The dusty (sandy) street lined with colorful cement buildings and people scurrying everywhere was not like any “town” I had imagined, but I’m beginning to get used to that.  The grocery store had a lavish array of stuff to buy compared to the tiny stores at Staniel Cay and Black Point.  But still by US standards, it's more like a well stocked convenience store… with prices as high or higher.  We picked out a few things and headed back to the boat.

The givers of FREE water

The Gas Station... ALWAYS busy
Settled with a sundowner later in the evening, my mind wandered back to our foray into “town” two days ago.  We bicycled from Emerald Bay Marina into town looking for a bakery that had been rumored to exist.  We had to ask, but found Frankie's eventually in the center of Farmer’s Hill.  The hub also consisted of a nondescript looking square building with two ancient gas pumps out in front and an equally nondescript square building with an old snaggletoothed woman sitting on the stoop.  A home.  I waved and the lady smiled a big greeting.  

The Store (and the only photo because I went without my SD card in the camera)
Frankie’s was closed until 11 am.  We found another small store there in the town center which advertised beauty supplies, ice cream and snacks and outboard engine supplies…  hmmm.  We turned up a street and found a long low building with an unmarked door.  A BTC top-up sign hung above the door.  We looked closer and found this to be a “market”.  Inside we found the usual stuff, same as Staniel and Black point.  We picked up some potatoes and carrots, onions and eggs.  Oh, and lime juice.  Random.

Killing time… we rode down a street that advertised Beach Access which dead ended at some modest homes on a sloping hill… but below the homes was a shining crescent of snowy white sand with lapping turquoise waves.  We were dumbfounded by such beauty hidden away in such a place.  Where are all of the developers?!!!  Don’t they know about this?  How can the common people such as ourselves have access to such riches? I felt like somebody should be shooing me away!  

Returning to Frankie's, we found the “open” sign out a good half hour before her stated time.  We picked out some moist looking cakes and an orange soda (the selection is meager and your choice is whatever they happen to have that day) and settled at one of four tables to eat our brunch.  There was a TV going in the corner and I glanced over at a diaper commercial.  A new type of diaper was advertised but I’m still unclear as to what was so special about them… I wondered where the broadcast was coming from… surely not the Bahamas.  It was “Oxygen”.  That’s a cable station.  

My mind reached further back to remember a conversation with young man at a fish cleaning station back at Black Point.  He said he had no fish to sell, these he was cleaning were for his family because there was no gas available for their outboard motors.  He didn’t know when more fuel would be available so he had to feed his own before selling to others.  He welcomed us to his island and I asked if he had lived there his whole life.  He said yes, except for high school and college, which they attend in Nassau.  He said some kids don’t come back but he had returned home because he found Nassau’s hustle and bustle to be too stressful.  Stressful.  

I started to wonder how the people living in these outer settlements feel about watching cable TV.  Are they curious when they see things on TV that they will never know or experience in real life?  Do they feel cheated?  As much as I try, I can’t get my head around it.  Is it just some passing thing like when I see snippets of life on TV, say in India, or the Middle East?  Those places mean nothing to me so my mind just skips over it.  Is it that way for the Bahamians? Is it so foreign to them that it just doesn’t compute?  

Am I being condescending?  I isn't intentional… I just really want to understand how it is to live here for real.  Maybe they do have access to all the “stuff” but at a higher price. But it is not evident in the small towns and the areas we have traveled.  A few shiny bicycles are about the only nod to consumerism that we have seen. There are no fancy shoes or designer clothes.  No shiny cars.  There is just nothing here!!!  Except for stunning beauty whenever you turn your eyes to the coast.

Because we are still insulated by our boatload of provisions… I’m not yet forced to live like the Bahamians live.  I don’t have to survive on just what I find in their tiny stores.  I don’t have to pay the prices for goods that are so inflated because they have come so far…. I’ve still got my own stuff.  I wonder how long it would take to begin eating like a Bahamian.  Would my American taste for variety wither and quietly die a natural death, or would I pine for the things I’m used to so strongly that I would want to leave the Bahamas and go back to where my comfort lies?  

Later in the day we attended a talk about the history and culture of the Bahamas.  A man named Cordell, college educated in the States, returned to the Bahamas to help his homeland improve their quality of life. He does these weekly educational presentations to newcomers to Exuma.  It was broad ranging and very informative and it answered my question.  Why ARE there no developers snatching up land and building high-rise hotels here?  

Long story short… when slaves were freed by their former owner, a Mr. Rolle… they were all given land.  The land was deeded to them into perpetuity so it can never be owned by anyone other than their descendants.  It is all owned as part of a public trust and if a person can prove they are descended from one of those slaves they can pick out a piece of land for themselves for free.  All they have to do is build a home on it.  If they fail to do so, it reverts back to the common holding.  

So that’s why we see so many people here living in tiny homes on a piece of land that may have a view worth more than a thousand pots of gold.  That’s why these people seem happy to subsist.  But is that a fair thing to do to a person?  Give them a home so they don’t have a goal?  Nothing to work for?  No reason to thrive?  Is this just my American mind casting projections on others as if ours is the only good way of life?  Isn’t that way of life the very thing that I have fled in coming out here on a little boat?  

Why is it so difficult to dislodge these ideals and preconceptions from my head?  Why do I unconsciously cling to them even while I’m trying so hard to shed them?  Travel is certainly an eye-opener.  Cruising even more-so as it allows us to delve deeper into the communities that we visit.  We can stay longer, unhurried.  We can see the backstreets and not just the shiny colorful tourist zones.  We can question.  We can learn.  

Little by little I can feel things shift.  It seems as if the foundation is cracking inside my head.  Everything I once thought was certain comes into question.  It feels foreign and kind of fun for a bit, but then it feels like too much too soon…Better to let the rocks of my foundation tumble down the slope as pebbles… not an avalanche. I scurry back to my boat and realize that the internet wasn’t down.  I had exceeded my pre-paid data limit.  I go through the refill process and ahhhh… I can feel it like lifeblood flowing through my veins.   Internet is back. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

R&R At Emerald Bay

We had planned to stage close to Galliot Cut so that we could get started as soon as the sun was high enough for us to safely navigate through the coral.  But because we had such a great time at Great Guana Cay, we had to leave there earlier than we like to make the 35 kn miles to Emerald Bay.  We pulled up the anchor and with Bruce on the bow, motored upwind towards Galliot Cut.  

The sun was still way too low when we began to navigate through the small cays that are cluttered around the cut, but fortunately following the Explorer Chart got us through it with no problem.  

You can see the calm water in the foreground with a marked line then waves
There was a little bit of excitement as we looked ahead and could see a definitive line between the calm flat water and the churning waters just outside the cut. The tide was going out so we figured it couldn’t be too bad.  It was a wild ride that required all of my concentration as we crossed that line and began to bounce around.  The chop was unbelievable and I looked down to see that we had topped 7 knots SOG and it felt like we were standing still.  The pictures just don’t do it justice.  

Looking back in the bouncy water
And then it was gone…  just as quickly as the waves began, we turned slightly more south and they smoothed out into a procession of long gentle rollers that carried us high and low all the way to Emerald Bay.

Bruce did some fishing… well, we trolled a line.  We’re still hoping for that Mahi Mahi… but it was not to be.  

We followed the shoreline closely to reduce mileage.  We wanted to arrive at the entrance to the Emerald Bay Marina with good light because it looked ind of tricky on the charts.  As we neared the inlet, the water became more and more shallow.

Looking into the entrance
We stayed where we thought the channel was as I strained my eyes to make sense of the channel markers.  As usual… some were missing.  Most were missing.  But the closer we got the more clear it became.  There was a dogleg and a narrow (really narrow) cut.  The long swells were scooting us along and I got a little nervous as we closed on the entrance fast.  

We were docked in the "cheap seats" along a canal.
And then we were IN!  The waters calmed instantly as I radioed the Marina for assignment.  We turned to the left and found a spot between two other sailboats on a long floating dock.  We had some help docking and were glad to be settled safe and sound.  We’ve conquered the Big Water of the Exuma Sound, and while I wouldn’t wish to have to make that entrance in any worse conditions, in hindsight it was a piece of cake!

The entrance from inside
Emerald Bay Marina is in a very well protected basin with only that one keyhole entrance.  Even so, there is a bit of swell in certain conditions and the boats in the basin seem to be in perpetual motion.  We tied up with extra lines to keep the boat from drifting fore and aft and it seemed that we were retying them quite often.  

The Marina has three levels of pricing.  It is in a state of incompletion with the completed marina slips being the furthest into the basin.  They have full service:  water, power and even pump out I believe.  The second section is near the entrance and the slips only have water available at the slip.  The section we chose was the cheap seats.  $.50 per foot with a three day minimum stay.  We’ll TAKE IT!  We can haul water if needed and don’t need power as long as we’ve got sunshine!  

We took bike rides around the marina and the island
We arrived late on a Monday afternoon and quickly showered up so that we could attend the weekly Happier Hour.  The marina puts this on free of charge and it is truly the BEST happy hour we’ve ever attended.

It is held upstairs in the Boater’s Lounge that will rival any private home for style and comfort.  Oh, and Air Conditioning!!!  Cool, dry air!  Add in free rum punches as fast as you can drink them and some really delicious food: chicken wings and sauces, cheese/meat platter, conch fritters, fruit tray, assorted sandwiches and more!  I wasn’t going to have to make dinner!  



The Beach
Our plan was to maybe do a few projects and get our mountains of laundry done.  Did I mention that the laundry machines are also FREE!!!  Yes, four of them.  Nice front loaders like I have at home.  Free!  

We made it to Exuma.  We have guests coming but don’t know yet when they will be arriving.  We need to do some major housekeeping and then just relax.  We ended up staying for five nights because we can.  We explored the surrounding area on our bikes, we walked the beach every day, we washed mountains of laundry…  Basically we just took time to relax and go nowhere for a while.  It was very nice and we will return for sure!

Tide Pools

BIG Waves

Bird tracks... changed his mind...

Our new spot

Smooth Billed Ani

Monday, March 16, 2015

If Only Every Day Could Be Like This Day

To Stop… Or Not To Stop?  That is the question.  And only the weather has the answer.  Our goal was to make it to Georgetown.  Our time on the Exuma Bank is short as we must make the jump out into Exuma Sound (AKA The Big Water) to get there.  Our resistance to getting beat up by the ocean is strong and so we wait.  It looked as if we would have two days before our weather window and we needed to position ourselves near one of the many “cuts” that offer safe passage from the banks to the sound.  We studied all options, read everything we could find about the cuts between the cays as well as available nearby anchorages for staging.  We were ready to leave Black Point.
Our storm jib
If we play our cards right, we could spend two nights at Great Guana Cay and still get out through Galliot Cut with plenty of time to make a daylight hop down to Great Exuma.  The winds were still blowing pretty briskly but Bruce considered that a GOOD thing.  He wanted to try raising the storm sail just to see if he could.  It’s a ratty old small, hanked on sail (that means it doesn’t go in the sail track or roll on the furler), that we’ve never used before.

Needs some work...
So while I kept the boat pounding into the wind, he messed around with trying to get the sail up.  Finally it was flying and we were oinking along at a whopping 2.5 knots… and falling.  So, reluctantly, he took the sail down and we continued on with bare poles to our planned anchorage near Great Guana Cay.  We were both delighted with the vision of the place and picked out a spot at the north end of the Oven Rock Anchorage.  We took a while getting the anchor to set as there seemed to be a lot of shallow sand over rock. Finally the anchor dug in, but it was too late to explore.  N23°59.291, W076°20.083

The next morning we were up all the more early getting packed up to go and see if we could find this cave they speak of…  Active Captain gives a wonderful description of the trail to Great Guana Cay Cave.  What cave? you might ask… well at this point, we know as much as YOU do…  

Oven Rock
We beached the dinghy on the sand just near Oven Rock and walked along the sandstone shelf beach to find a rock cairn signifying the entrance to the trail.  

The beach was more like a rock shelf
Bruce reverently placed his stone on the top and we began our trek.

The path wasn’t always obvious, but it was well worn enough that we didn’t get lost.  The tricky forks were marked by some previous traveler with extra hard-hats on hand, with… hardhats.  

We climbed to near the highest point of the island and could look out over the anchorage where our boat lie peacefully.  With a turn of the head head the sparkling variegated blues and greens of the Atlantic sprawled at our feet.  

There's our hardhat
We took the last turn and very nearly missed the cave entrance.  Had it not been for that last hardhat, there is no way we would have ever known there was a cave there.

You can barely see the entrance from the trail

Until you climb through the brush to see this!
We crawled down through the brush and the yawning mouth of the cave became more evident.  I could smell the “cave air” expressed from the wide low opening in the rocky earth. I was so excited!  I couldn’t believe that a place like this was just here… waiting for schmucks like us to come and check it out.  No ticket to buy, no rangers and no roped off areas.  Of course all the caves I’ve visited in my life have instilled the need to protect this treasure.  We knew not to touch the life stalagmites and risk damaging them with the oils on our skin.

Yes, I went in first...
We left our bags outside the cave and crept down the rocky slope into the main chamber.  My eyes scanned the ceiling in search of anything that looked like a bat.  Finding none, I relaxed and stared around in wonder.

That thing in the middle is a five gallon bucket collecting drips
There were stalactites hanging from the ceiling, some in lines that, in my mind signified cracks in the ceiling.  Hmmm.  I called upon my PSB to make sure that today was NOT the day that this cave decided to… well, cave in… and pushed the thought from my mind.  

Looking back at the entrance from down inside
Strange greenish formation on the floor

Our footsteps followed the obvious route down to the lowest level of the cave where there was a still pool reflecting the rock formations stretching towards the water.  It was so calm.  We were so red-cheeked hot, it was tempting to get in and swim, but I worried about the possibility of strange, prehistoric cave-dwelling critters that might crawl into my ears and eat my brain.  I know, too many episodes of Star Trek when I was a child.  But this place was right out of an old Hollywood Movie set and I could imagine Spock climbing down from the rocks above and maybe James T. Kirk silhouetted in the entrance.  

Found Here
I found a map of this cave on the internet that showed it continuing far beyond what we see… under water.  Cave divers can have it.  No way would I EVER submerge myself in the water far beneath tons of rock.

Just thinking about it made me nervous so I left the pool and climbed up to a rocky gallery seat where we could rest and quietly survey all this at our feet.  

The rocks were mostly grey and some reddish brown, but many were covered in a muted red, others a dull green color.  It didn’t seem like lichen, so I’m thinking it was maybe some copper in the rock?  What do I know about it?  Not much, but it’s awesome to see and wonder…

Well rested and ready to move on, we climbed back down and I was distracted by the patch of growing baby stalagmites being fed by half a dozen or so drips from the ceiling.  I played around with the camera for a while, trying to get a drip in action… when I heard a sound to my right that was either a bat… or a mouse.  Either of which sent me tripping over myself to the exit!  I shivered as we emerged back into the hot afternoon sun.  You just don’t get this stuff sitting at a desk in an office…

We grabbed our stuff and backtracked to the main trail and continued on to the Atlantic side of the island in hopes of getting in a brief swim.

What we found was, again, out of some old movie.  A perfect curve of beach protected by a reef to block out the pounding surf was our reward.

It was just a little pocket in time and space that provided us with a place to splash around and cool off.

We found a branch to hold our clothes (I had my swimsuit on but Bruce… well, no-can-talk-about).

Bruce donned his mask and snorkel and hit the water.  He takes every opportunity to get in a good swim… while I… I love to lie back and float and meditate.

We drip dried while eating a sparse picnic lunch and then returned to the trail.  Funny how it seems to be a shorter distance back than it had been getting here.  Still the views were breathtaking. We tumbled down onto the beach and back to the dinghy, wishing we had more time to poke around on the rocky shelf… but there was still some talk of leaving today and finding an anchorage closer to Galliot Cut.  During the dinghy ride to the boat, we looked over at the patch of coral heads just waiting to be explored… and the white beach just beyond the boat that needed walking upon… and decided that another night here wouldn’t kill us.  

We returned quickly to the boat to change our clothes and grab our snorkel gear, then set our course to the coral heads and dropped our dinghy anchor just near enough.

With snorkel, fins and masks on, we plunged in and set to making sure our dinghy anchor was secure.  It was not.  Bruce, with a little bit of urging from me… took the anchor and placed it so that we didn’t have to worry about losing the dink, then we swam for the coral heads.  

I was amazed at the variety of fish out here in the middle of nowhere.  So many different ones I hadn’t seen before…

We swam from one rock to the next until there were no more, then we backtracked to the dinghy and hefted our shivering selves aboard.  The sun was beginning it’s descent but it was still warm as we turned next to that aforementioned white sand beach.  

It was a long stretch of gorgeous and we walked all the way to the end.  We found round white shells that were shiny as if polished and picked up a handful.  Funny how you find batches of shells as if they travel in colonies.  Could this be?  

On the way back to the dinghy, I took a dip in the shallow trough of water between the beach and the rock to cool off.  Suddenly a black hulk loomed towards me from the way we had come.  Bruce saw it first, but it didn’t take me long to get out of it’s way!  It was a huge ray just cruising the shallows…  I got some pictures and some video as it passed me, then I ran up the beach to get ahead of it for another picture pass.  This I did several times until I figured “ you only need SO many ray pics…” and we went on our way.  So many times today we’ve mentally pinched ourselves and marveled at how awesome (it’s the only word that fits) this life is.

So let’s just recap the day.  In ONE day… we saw a beautiful sunrise, streaked across crystal waters with hair flying in the dink, beached upon a deserted island, braved being lost and never found while climbing rocky paths inside an otherworldly cave.  Explored said cave risking life and limb from unknown dangers not common to ordinary man, discovered pristine beaches and swam in the protected waters alone, hiked now familiar pathways and swam over an open aquarium.  We strolled lonely beaches and found sea treasures, then swam with a ray… oh, and don’t forget the obligatory sunset.

There are so many places to see and so little time.  This life would be perfect if we could somehow control the weather… It would be nice to spend another night here, or maybe move on down the coast a bit and check out Little Farmer’s Cay… but that will have to wait for another day.  Time and weather force us to leave this particular paradise.  But maybe there will be others.  Of course there will be others.  If only EVERY day could be like this day...