Think about how you live your life. What are your necessities? Do you hop in your car to go to the grocery store? Is your water delivered by the city, or do you have a well? And when you think about places you have lived, what do you think of first? Is it the scenery, or, more likely, the people you have met and the friends you have made? Life in the islands is different than life as we have known it, but we are blending in, embracing the people, the food, and the inconveniences as part of the experience. It is an amazing adventure.
Ida is a whirlwind of energy, and she is always smiling! Here she is giving John his first Bahamas haircut.The view from Ida’s laundromat and the dinghy dock there.
One thing we have noticed along our way is how resourceful and industrious most of the residents of the islands are. On Tuesday, March 29th, after a short trip from Staniel Cay, we made our way to the local laundromat in Black Point that seemed to be so well known. Usually laundromats are pretty mundane places, but everyone we met told us that this was the place to do laundry. We hardly expected what we found when we arrived! Not only were people busy with their washing and drying of clothes, but there was a large gazebo and picnic tables full of cruisers using the Internet, eating conch fritters, shopping in the small attached gift and snack shop, and chatting, and there was even a plastic lawn chair available, and always in use, for getting haircuts. At first entry, it was little confusing as none of the machines took standard coins, but within minutes a fellow cruiser recognized us as newcomers and instructed us to find Ida who was either cooking, at the cash register in the store, or cutting hair. Ida happily stopped in the middle of a haircut to get us our tokens. We were there for a few hours doing laundry, catching up on the blog, chatting with people we have met along the way, and, for John, getting a haircut by Ida. The place is so welcoming that a group of us agreed to dinghy back to the laundromat’s dock for a potluck dinner that evening. Only in the Bahamas!
Joe and Charlotte
The next day, we climbed in the dinghy, picked up our friends, Joe and Charlotte from Sun Cat, and made our way to shore for 9 AM breakfast. We again docked at Ida’s, walked next door to Lorraine’s, a popular restaurant on the island at Black Point, and found the door locked and Lorraine getting ready to drive away. She stopped when she saw us and told us that she had to make a run to the airport but she would be back soon. In the meantime, we were to go in the side door and relax until she got back. Lorraine’s mother came in from her house next door and thought we needed coffee so she heated up a pot of water and handed us cups, spoons, a jar of instant coffee, a can of evaporated milk and the pot of water. She then left and went back home to start her daily bread baking. Lorraine finally came back about 45 minutes later and asked what we wanted for breakfast. We had heard rave reviews of the French toast made with her mother’s coconut bread, so we ordered eggs, sausage and the famous French toast. Lorraine had to walk over to get the bread from her mother’s house, and breakfast was a while in coming, but it was delicious and we did get real coffee after all!
Entering Willie’s Garden of EdenWillie with one of his driftwood creatures.Charlotte tasting a tamarind fruitGoodbye Willie, it was great meeting you.
After our wonderful, but time consuming, breakfast, we needed a walk, so we headed up the street to The Garden of Eden. An elderly man created the Garden of Eden and, although I had heard about it, I had no idea of what to expect. When we arrived, we found a handwritten wooden sign that said to ask for Willie. Walking back through countless pieces of driftwood set up on the rock that made up the ground, we came upon a house. There we found Willie, who was happy to take us on a tour of his creation. Willie finds driftwood, and as he describes it, he sees figures in each piece as we find pictures in clouds. His soft, steady, gentle tones throughout the whole guided tour of his sculptures made us have a real respect for this kind man. He brought us through his garden of fruit trees, as well, all of which he started from seed and planted in the small holes that exist in this island that formed from a coral reef. Charlotte and I tasted tamarind plucked fresh from the tree, which Willie says can be used in place of lemon or lime and which apparently is good for a hangover as well. Although we wondered if we should really enter the garden at first, we all left feeling really happy we had met Willie, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and cataracts, and who was a real joy and an authentic gentleman.
The local goatsLorraine’s mother in her kitchen with her home baked bread.
Walking back to the dinghy dock, and passing a few goats on the front door step of a house, we stopped at Lorraine’s mother’s house to pick up our very own loaf of her homemade bread. We knocked on her door and were invited to go in and pick our bread from the many different varieties she had ready on the counter in her spotless kitchen. For the next few days it was homemade cinnamon-raisin bread toast for breakfast.
David Copperfield’s Island – Musha Cay
The next morning we said our goodbyes to Joe and Charlotte, who were heading back north in a few days as we continued on our way south. We traveled for several hours and passed by David Copperfield’s own island here, Musha Cay. For a mere $60,000 a night we could have stayed on the resort, but, instead, chose to anchor at the island next to his in preparation for our trip to George Town the following day.
In the center of GeorgetownThe beachesChat ‘N Chill
AfterMath leaves her mark at the Chat ‘N Chill bar
George Town, with a population of 1000, is the largest settlement in, and the capital of, the Exumas Island chain. The second largest settlement is Black Point, which has about 350 residents. All of the Exumas 700 islands, by the way, have a total population of about 7300. Elizabeth Harbor lies between Great Exuma Island, where George Town is located, and Stocking Island. Boaters from all over the world love to come and spend time here. Many leave their boats and come back every year to spend the whole winter. It is a cruiser’s playground with as many as 600 boats anchored in the winter months. There are organized activities such as volleyball, yoga, jam sessions, and poker. The beaches are gorgeous, and anchoring is safe and secure. Chat ‘N Chill is a bar on the beach near a favorite mooring field and, although it has the slowest service ever, we couldn’t miss stopping by just once for the experience. The VHF radio is not ever quiet for long. People ask questions, give information, and little children call their friends on other boats with perfect radio manners. Every morning there is a “cruisers’ net” on the channel 72 that announces weather and happenings, greets new arrivals to the harbor and says goodbye to those leaving. The best part of the net is a section where boaters ask for help and announce items they have for sale. The cruisers have really formed a community here.
The beauty parlor and fish market.The fastest talking peanut man in the world!
George Town also has provisions! We had not provisioned since we left Florida and our freezer was becoming pretty empty, so I was looking forward to a trip to the grocery store. The closest and most easily accessed is Exuma Markets. We stocked up on necessities and then went across the street to the beauty parlor to buy fresh fish. There, after two separate trips, I bought lots of grouper, lobster tails and conch. On the walk from the beauty parlor I also ended up with five bags of peanuts from the fastest talking peanut man you will ever meet! He was such a character, though, that it was a fun experience.
Attacking the jelly coconut.Success!!!
On our way to shore one evening we found a local resident desperately trying to start the engine on his boat. He said his brother had taken the battery out and he was trying to crank it to start with a very thin rope. We told him we would wait to see if he got it started and, if not, we would tow him to where ever he needed to go. Although it took a long time, he finally had success and to thank us for our assistance he handed us a jelly coconut. Jelly coconuts are not ripe to American standards. They contain a lot of coconut water and the flesh is a soft, easily scraped consistency that one would eat with a spoon. We thanked him and brought the coconut home to the boat where it sat for a few days because we had no idea how to open it. Finally we approached the shell with knives and even screwdrivers. We got the water out, and I mixed it with gin for, according to a book I read, an amazing tropical drink. I can’t say we ate much of the flesh, but it was fun to try.
The courtesy flags for 5 of the countries where we will stop.
Another reason for us to spend time in George Town was that we were waiting for a couple of packages to arrive. John decided he really needed a Single Side Band (SSB) receiver for the weather predictions before we headed further south and so we had one shipped to our friends Chris and Sam and asked them to ship it to us here. Also, Chris bought us a lot of courtesy flags for our trip and sent them our way from her trip to see her son in Puerto Rico. The cruising guide mentioned that Exumas Markets would hold packages for boaters, so that is the address I gave them for shipping. Of course, nothing is that easy when shipping overseas, and it turns out that Exumas Markets only accepts FedEx packages. Ours were sent by the USPS and by DHL. After many trips to shore, lots of scavenger hunting, and a few nervous days, though, both packages showed up and now we feel free to travel at the next good weather window.
Waiting for our ride to the vet.
Dr. Kwesi Smith. He went to vet school at Auburn University and then came back to the BahamasJohn feeling very insecure!!!
Our last big task to accomplish before setting to sea again was to get the dogs the proper paper work required by the Turks and Caicos. Besides all of our previous documentation, we needed a health certificate signed by a vet in the Bahamas just a few days before departure. This is quite a task on this island where a vet flies in from Nassau just once a month. Luckily today, Sunday, April 10th was the day the vet would be at the Humane Society. We had an appointment and were told that someone would pick us up at the Exuma Markets at noon. Of course today was one of the windiest days we have experienced since arriving in George Town and we were a little concerned about getting Kirby and Jake to shore in the dinghy. We did pretty well going in as we could ride with the waves, but we knew the trip back would be a lot more difficult. Anyway, we got to the market and waited a while when a tiny white flat bed truck showed up. The cab only held a maximum of three people, the sides of the truck bed were just a few inches high and the bed was full of scrap rubber. Another lady was on her way to the vet to get prescription food for her cat and we would never have trusted the dogs in the back of a truck by themselves anyway, so that left it to John to climb in and make sure everyone arrived safely while the driver, the other lady and I sat in the cab. To make matters even more interesting, they drive on the left here and every time a car came at us, I was sure we were going to have a head on collision with John and the dogs barely contained in the truck bed.
We did make it safely to the Humane Society where we met a very nice veterinarian, Dr. Smith. He was from the Bahamas, but he went to vet school at Auburn University and he was happy to hear that Kirby and Jake were well taken care of by our veterinarian daughter. In fact, he wanted to shake my hand because they were so well vaccinated! After filling out the paperwork for the Turks and Caicos we returned to Exuma Markets, again with John controlling the safety and lives of himself and the dogs. It would have been good if that was the end of the adventure, but we had to get back to AfterMath on the dinghy and the waves were really stirred up by this time. According to an announcement on the VHF radio, wind gusts were clocking about 29 miles an hour. I had grabbed a raincoat when we left because I had a feeling it would be a rough ride, but John and the dogs had no protection. We were soaked, battered, and tossed by the time we got back aboard and everyone is pretty tired out, but it was an adventure we will remember and now Kirby and Jake can enter The Turks and Caicos legally.
We like to take time to notice how life in these remote islands differs from what we have been used to. We now take the dinghy everywhere as we used to take a car. If we need to drop off garbage, we dinghy it to shore here, walk down the road to the tiny white dump truck and put it in the back. We then put $2 in the truck window for every small bag or $3 for each large bag that we have left. Or, Rodney can be called on the days he works. He will come in his boat to pump out a holding tank, pick up garbage, or take your propane tank to shore to be refilled. If you choose not to take your dinghy to shore, you can call Elvis, who runs a water taxi. The residents here are not as dependent on the Internet as we Americans are; therefore, Wi-Fi is spotty and many times non-existent.
There are few marinas in this part of the world and those that exist are usually very small. This means that we have not been at a dock for several weeks now, and essentially we are ‘off the grid’. During the day we rely on our solar panels to charge the batteries, which provide power on the boat when anchored. (When underway we can charge the batteries with a 160-amp alternator that runs off the starboard engine). In the evening we run the generator to top off the batteries, heat water for showers and dishes and also to make water. Here, there is no natural water and the communities rely on large reverse osmosis (RO) systems to convert salt water to drinking water. We are lucky to have a water maker on AfterMath (although that idea took me some getting used to), but many do not. They carry a couple of five-gallon cans to the dinghy dock and are thankful to Exuma Markets for providing the free RO water that they take back and empty into their boat’s tanks. Everywhere else in the Bahamas water costs 40 to 50 cents a gallon. Think how much water you use in a day! Getting fuel for large boats is a challenge. Thankfully we don’t need any, but only one place here sells fuel to boats, and only when they have it. We are comforted in knowing that, if our fuel tanks were full, we could actually stay ‘off the grid’ for two years!
The veterinarian comes to the island only once a month here and there is no groomer. Poor Kirby really needs grooming! Sometimes credit card machines work in the stores and sometimes they do not. You are warned to keep your receipts in case there is a problem, and you pay 5% of your purchase each time you use a card for the convenience. The post office closes at 1:00 PM until further notice, and is open only on Monday through Friday – but not every Friday. The library is open from 10:00 AM to noon six days a week. We are told that the meat market on the island comes every Monday to transport customers to their store in a pick up truck and that last Monday 18 boaters crowded in the truck bed to go buy meat and deli items.
Despite the inconveniences, we also notice that we can see a sea star clearly in the sand of the harbor floor 12 feet below AfterMath, that the beaches are whiter than we could ever imagine, and that the blue of the sky sometimes is almost purple next to the turquoise of the water. We are so impressed when a local man asks for our forgiveness because he forgot to greet us before talking to a sales clerk, or when a lady insists we leave a building before she enters because we are her guests in her land. We love that we are invited into someone’s house with freshly baked bread for sale on her kitchen counter, and that people we met a few anchorages ago come over in their dinghy so the children can pet the dogs. We feel the breezes blow over us when we settle in for the night as the boat barely, but gently, rocks us to sleep. We see that there are more stars than we ever realized in the velvet black sky of night. And, while eating the delicious curried conch (after I pounded it with a tenderizing hammer and watched bits fly around the galley), the voice of a little boy comes quietly on the VHF announcing his boat’s name and stating that they are blowing the conch shell for the last time in George Town. As the sun gloriously sets, we hear the mournful sounds of the conch shells from boats all around us as they mix with broadcasted goodbyes from other cruisers wishing their friends fair winds and calm seas as they leave this paradise. And all is right with the world.
Here is where we are today!