Greetings, everyone! No doubt you are here by invitation... glad you could make it. Sit back with an ice cold Kalik or a bottle of Coconut Rum and enjoy! (You may substitute any beer for a Kalik or a Piņa Colada for the Rum if you don't have them on hand, but substitute a ginger ale or ginger beer for everything if you're underage or pregnant.)
· July 24, 2001: The Night Before ·
We had already spent our honeymoon night at the wonderful Hummingbird Hill Gardens Bed & Breakfast, plus a night in our own home, before the post-wedding travelling began with a ferry ride from Victoria to our friends' house in Tsawassen in order to make the early flight on the next day. Lisa & Richard offered their bedroom as the equivalent of a second honeymoon suite, but we all ended up watching a video until 1:30 in the morning, so the "romancing" they intended for us wasn't to occur that night...
· July 25, 2001: Long Day's Journey Into Night ·
The adventure began groggily with a 5:20 am wake up. Our first day was spent on flights between Vancouver & Denver & Miami & Nassau, with stopovers. We finally touched down on New Providence Island at 11:00 pm... so much for Bahamas sightseeing the first day. Around midnight, our cab passed through the Club Med security gate and pulled up to the Pink House, a quaint and somewhat rustic bed & breakfast on, but not part of, Paradise Island's Club Med resort. The lateness of hour didn't prevent us from a quick venture to the north side of the island (about 200 feet) to feel the sand and ocean water between our toes. On the way back to our room, we picked a small coconut growing head-height, not quite planning how we would open it.
· July 26, 2001: The First Real Day ·
After a light but solid sleep amid the incessant whirr of the air conditioner, we awoke a little later than breakfast was supposed to be served, but got our toast, coffee, cheese and OJ anyway. We had chosen this day as our "walking around Paradise Island" day, so we slathered on the sunscreen and set out in the wet heat.
Walking we did; blisters we reaped. Paradise Island, a small island joined to New Providence Island by a toll bridge (you pay to get to Paradise; it's free to leave) is primarily resorts and hotels, with many beaches and coconut trees (the trees, incidentally, are not native to the Bahamas). The biggest of these man-made attractions is the Atlantis Resort, an amazing complex with the theme being the fabled lost city.
We kept walking... up to Cabbage Beach and on to the Ocean Club Resort, where we had heard that Oprah Winfrey was staying at the time. (We never did see her, but every time a limo passed us, Nicole was sure that she was riding in it!)
After a quick hammock rest we continued on to Versaille Gardens and The Cloisters for more photo ops.
On our way back from the furthest point of our walk, a slight sprinkling of rain tried to cool things off, but the tiny droplets were evaporating on the hot road immediately after landing.
|Our next stop was the aforementioned Atlantis Resort, with its huge casino (no gambling for us, though), intricate blown glass sculptures and man-made lagoons housing numerous ocean fauna including rays and sharks. These lagoons have hundreds of feet of observation windows, and we were entranced by the largest denizen of the "Ruins Lagoon" - an 8 foot wide Manta Ray that gracefully glided back and forth across our line of vision while we followed it like paparazzi.|
Our dogs were barking (We must now reference the new Bahamian National Anthem: "Who Let The Dogs Out? (Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!)" by The Baha Men. Sorry.), so we stopped for supper and began the trek back to the Pink House. We decided to pick up snacks and discovered that on Paradise Island, groceries are at least three times the price of home. We couldn't believe that a bag of chips could be SIX U.S. DOLLARS! On a friend's advice (who also honeymooned on Paradise Island), we picked up some coconut rum for sampling, not knowing at the time that it would become an integral part of our diet during our stay.
· July 27, 2001: Nassau, Part 1
As if we hadn't walked enough, we decided to visit the Straw Market in Downtown Nassau. We took a harbour "ferry" from the Club Med dock to Prince George Wharf, where a number of cruise ships were docked. Here we felt the full force of the street vendors, on us like antibodies on Raquel Welch in Fantastic Voyage. (Sorry, watching Dennis Miller has affected my non-obscure simile creation ability.) We found a nice straw hat and a pink wrap to shelter Nicole's delicate epidermis, and a nice short sleeve touristy shirt. It was here in downtown Nassau where we had our first taste of the Bahamian staple, Pigeon Peas and Rice... and where better to be introduced to this than that most Bahamian of restaurants, Kenny Roger's Roasters! With the limited vegetarian offerings of the islands, this was to be one of our main foods for the vacation. After lunch, we followed the main street, Bay Street, eastward in search of Potter's Cay under the Paradise Island Toll Bridge. We were less than impressed when we got there... lots of conch killing (see tomorrow for more about conch) and a couple fruit stands, not the crafts we had expected. We hopped on a "jitney" (jitneys are the Bahamian "public" transit medium - a privatized collection of owner/operators with large passenger vans) and went back downtown to catch the last boat back to Club Med.
· July 28, 2001: To The Exumas · This day was our first "excursion" day, and what an adventure it was - a Powerboat Adventure to the northern Exuma Cays. We were slightly delayed by a short but mighty downpour, but finally got onto our "Miami Vice" type speedboat - one of the company's three, with four 225 horsepower outboard engines each - and hit the open seas. Not including one slight technical setback (the number four engine died) it was an hour trip down to the northernmost point, Allan's Cay. There we fed grapes stuck on the ends of pointed sticks to endangered Giant Iguanas (you don't want them eating right out of your hand because you may end up right out of your hand, or at least parts of it) before heading to the company's private island, Ship Channel Cay.
Before we even dropped anchor, the stingrays were gliding in for their daily dose of human interaction and easy meals. We went in the water about knee deep while a half a dozen of them gently swam around us. The only concern with stingrays is if you step on their spine their stinger, a barb halfway down their tail, involuntarily springs up. If you get stung you have a 50/50 chance of survival, so we were reminded to watch our step, especially not to step back without looking, since they were all around us! After a long petting session (they're very smooth, with an oily aftertouch) we were given fish with which to hand-feed them. We put our hands at the ocean floor with the food sticking up from between our fingers, and when the rays swam over they sucked the fish out of our hands like organic vacuum cleaners.
While all this was going on, about five sharks had begun to arrive. They knew the daily drill... it was their turn to be fed. Our hosts put chum on a strong rope and flung it into the water maybe 15 feet from where we were standing. The frenzy began! At one point, a shark wouldn't let go of the rope, so the wrangler and Ben, the crazy videographer leapt into the water to startle it off.
Okay, the sharks were fed... what better time to go snorkeling? Seriously. Some people went right away, but another quick downpour hit and we battened down the hatches in our little lunch area and had our drift snorkel after the weather settled, starting up the coast about half a kilometer to just past where we fed the sharks. It was our first reef experience, and Nicole was having trouble with the fit of her mask. Once she finally got it to a useable state, she looked down and, lo and behold, a shark was swimming right below her about 25 feet! Good thing they had just been fed.
After the snorkeling, we were provided with a nice lunch, followed by a bit more wading and marine life watching (there was a Moray Eel and a Blue Needlefish by the feeding area, but didn't get particularly good photos of them with our waterproof disposable camera) and a display of conch killing. The conch (pronounced "konk") is a mollusk that grows itself a big, beautiful pink horn-like shell and it happens to be the chief dish of the Bahamas. They're ridiculously abundant, and any given restaurant offers at least half a dozen conch dishes. The hapless conch is unceremoniously evicted by breaking a hole in a particular spot of its shell, and severing the "mussel's muscle" connecting it to the inner shell. Being vegetarian, we felt an urge to begin a "Save The Conch" movement, but we doubted its potential success. We did manage to save a couple of their shells as souvenirs, though.
· July 29, 2001: Nassau, Part 2 / Ardastra Gardens ·
As good luck would have it, a Dutch gentleman also from Canada staying at the B & B offered us a ride into town, as he was picking up a friend from the airport. We graciously accepted and were dropped off a stone's throw from the island's "wildlife conservation area" - Ardastra Gardens - home to a wide array of protected & endangered birds and land critters. Highlights included, but were not limited to, the famous marching flamingos (trained to stop / about face / right face, etc. on voice command), and various exotic birds with characters as colourful as their feathers. We left after a couple hours in the beating sun to take a look at Arawalk Cay, which didn't particularly have anything to offer, then walked east along the public beach before surrendering to the heat, humidity and hurting feet and taking a jitney back downtown. A quick late lunch at Kenny's again and we wandered around downtown until our boat was to return to Club Med.
· July 30, 2001: Nassau, Part 3 · Since tomorrow was already booked as an off-island excursion day, this was our last chance to see Nassau. We went to the Pompey Museum, which was a little depressing, with artifacts and stories from the islands' days of slavery.
After that, we walked "over the hill" and saw some of the lower standards of living endured by most of the island's people. We continued on to Fort Fincastle and the Water Tower (the highest point on the island) for some panoramic views of the whole island. We decided to head to the shopping plaza on the other side of town with hopes to find reasonably priced groceries, mosquito repellent - and perhaps one of those machetes that we had seen being used on the wharf by the straw market to chop coconuts. We found all of the above, topped by Nicole asking a cashier in a hardware store if they had any machetes - "you know, for chopping coconuts (as opposed to people)" and the cashier looking at her incredulously and replying with a thick Bahamian accent and a head wobble, "this is a hardware store, girl - of course we have machetes!." You'd have thought she'd asked if they carried any saws and hammers. Bloody tourists. Close to the plaza was the world famous "The Poop Deck" restaurant, so we stopped in for supper. Lots of seafood; not much for vegetarians except - you guessed it - peas and rice. We were close to the bridge back to P.I. and late for the last ferry back, so we walked home from there. We still have a couple passes for a return to Club Med if anyone's interested.
· July 31, 2001: Rose Island Excursion ·
It was another day for adventure, this time a "Sea Island Adventure", taking a catamaran to nearby Rose Island for reef snorkeling, a native style lunch (more peas and rice for us) and more snorkeling. We returned to the Nassau harbour and were promptly greeted by a torrential downpour, completely soaking us on our run from the dock to our bus. That evening, comfortably cooled by the precipitation, we retraced a small percentage of our steps from the first day for a late supper on Paradise Island's only plaza, and visited the Atlantis Resort again. This time we saw some of the attractions that they charge admission for during the day, such as the "adventure walk" - literally through the water in the "predator lagoon" - teeming with sharks, barracudas and other things that don't kiss very well.
· August 1, 2001: The Island Hop ·
Our flight was slated to leave New Providence Island at 1:00 pm. We foolishly thought that we would get up early enough to do something constructive before then, but our bodies, worn by wandering and sapped by sun, quashed that idea. After arriving in Freeport, reassembling one of our bags that had burst a zipper at the end of its voyage, (fortunately not spilling anything out completely - like the machete) and searching in vain for an ATM at the airport to replenish our seriously dwindled cash on hand, we took the chance that the cab ride to the Castaways Resort would be less than our ten remaining dollars. It was, but we were still required to pay a cash deposit of $20 for our room key. We had noticed a CIBC on the way to the hotel and within walking distance and felt lucky that we could use our Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce banking card from Canada in a Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in the Bahamas and most likely not be charged an outrageous cross-bank transaction fee. Luck turned when the ATM decided it wasn't going to give us any money because we weren't banking with a local CIBC (no signs posted to that effect), plus keep the card just to spite us, with us not being able to retrieve it until after it would be opened the following afternoon. The luck theme continued with the only other ATMs near the hotel being at the nearby casino, and another deluge engulfed us as we made our way through the lanes of the International Marketplace. Needless to say, the events of the day were not conducive to gambling; we got our cash, returned to the hotel and spent the rest of the night there while the rain continued to beat down. A king-size bed, shower with pressure and TV with a channel selection were welcome after our sparse accommodations on Paradise Island.
· August 2, 2001: International Marketplace ·
The Castaways Resort is situated conveniently next to this world-themed shopping attraction. We thought it would be an all-day tour, but soon discovered that the world really is pretty small. We were already used to the availability of goods from all corners of the globe, so the novelty was lost on us, and the "local" shops all had nearly the exact same tacky souvenir selection, the majority of which weren't even locally made. Yes, we had landed in touristville.
We were confined to our immediate vicinity until early afternoon, when we returned to the CIBC to retrieve our partially digested debit card. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, with the bank having a complimentary local phone available while we waited. We took this opportunity to book some island tours for our week, then set out on foot to Freeport's downtown core, which was thoroughly unimpressive. We asked a local where we could catch a bus to the Port Lucaya Marketplace, and about ten minutes later, after realizing we had been pointed in the wrong direction, we went into the Batelco office (Bahamas Telephone Company) for redirection. Another blessing in disguise appeared as Jay, a worker for the phone company offered us a lift to the Marketplace, as he was going there anyway. Jay helped uplift our day with his sense of humour and impromptu tour guiding. The Port Lucaya Marketplace was not unlike the International Marketplace, but worth a stroll nonetheless.
· August 3, 2001: Kayak Nature Tours ·
This was a full-day excursion. We were picked up at the hotel around 9 am and, after a few stops to pick up more guests, we headed east to just south of the Lucayan National Park. This was where we were to begin our river kayak trip through mangrove forests with three other couples, plus a tour guide with a great sense of humour. After the kayaking, we hiked a bit until we got to the beach where we had a little picnic lunch. We hung out at the beach for a while, some guests swimming & snorkeling, us finding critters in the sand. Later, we all went on a guided tour through Lucayan National Park, learning about bush medicine and the island. We went down into a couple caverns to visit bats and learned that the island was composed mostly of limestone, and had many miles of underground caves like the ones we saw. Rain filters through the limestone and sits on top of the denser ocean water, and it can be siphoned off for drinking.
· August 4, 2001: The Dolphin Experience ·
If anything on the trip had warranted complaining, this day made up for it all. We had booked the "Assistant Dolphin Trainer Program" online through the Underwater Explorers Society (UNEXSO) and were looking forward to it. We showed up in Port Lucaya around 8am, had a little breakfast and set out on one of UNEXSO's catamarans with Debra and Jay from Tennessee, the only other assistant trainers for the day, on a 15 minute ride to Sanctuary Bay. Once we got there, we headed past Bimini and Stripe, two of the bottlenose dolphins we were going to be interacting with, and up to the office for some briefing from our head trainer, George. After a little Q & A session, we went to the food preparation room, thinking we'd be knee deep in dead fish. No such luck. We were spared the messy work, but learned about the diets of the various finned mammals of Sanctuary Bay. The two main fish they're fed are capelin and herring. Pregnant or nursing dolphins or young are given a higher amount of herring, because it has a higher fat content. The fish are brought in frozen, then thawed in water and checked for quality. Any fish with broken skin or other imperfections are discarded (and the trainers get to eat them instead). George grabbed two pre-weighed buckets and we all went to the first pool for Bimini and Stripe's breakfast.
Sanctuary Bay is the first inlet of Grand Bahama Island's man-made canal. We chose this particular dolphin experience over others that were offered because the dolphins are open water dolphins, not captive. They come in of their own accord at the beginning of the day, are paired up by the trainers to their separate pools, get their meals and what they probably bill as "the human experience" and are free to leave at the end of the day.
During the first feeding, George showed us some of the hand signals used. The "station" signal is the most important, in which you show your palm and get the dolphin's attention. This way they know that there's going to be a trick requested. We learned how to get them to jump, whistle, sing, flap their pectoral fins, do tail stands and we started wondering just who was getting trained. After they finished off their grub, we headed back to the office for some instructions before we went on our swim with Cocoon and Abaco. Cocoon appeared in the movie of the same name, and Abaco was her daughter, and was in the process of learning new tricks. Swimming with them was not just a thrill for us, it was actually beneficial to the dolphins to get them used to the unpredictability of various people, and not just the same trainers. We stayed in the water with them for a good 45 minutes.
All morning we had been the only guests at Sanctuary Bay. The catamaran was heading back to Port Lucaya and we went for lunch there (at another Bahamian staple... Subway) having been told to be back at the boat at 1:00 for our return to Sanctuary Bay. At 12:57 we arrived to see the cat leaving the harbour. As if to confirm that it had indeed left early, Deb and Jay showed up as we watched it float away. This was a minor setback, though, as one of the trainers returned in a skiff to take us back, and no time was lost. The little skiff was actually a more fun ride than the big cat anyway.
We had such a successful morning as far as George was concerned, he asked if we wanted to do an open-water swim with Bimini and Stripe. As if we would decline! (Bimini and Stripe were featured in the IMAX film "Dolphins", though, for some reason, the filmmakers referred to them by different names. They must have been their "stage" names.) We hopped back in the skiff and headed to an anchor point along the reef about 10 minutes away, with our big wet friends swimming and jumping alongside of the boat all the way. We got in the water with our masks and fins and did some more swimming. Bimini would dive alongside and surface in sync, which was very cool indeed, clearly seeing this 8 foot intelligent sea being mirroring your moves beside you underwater, just as interested in you as you are in him.
We returned to the Bay, fed Bimini & Stripe, saw some of the afternoon guests with their dolphin experiences and realized just how much more we were getting. Their swims were shorter, and people knee-deep in the water petting them had to have one hand behind their back. After the guests had gone and Sanctuary Bay quieted down, we had another swim, this time with Robolo and Cayla in the largest pool. Here we continued learning some additional hand signals that had them spinning in front of and spraying at us. We then engaged in some dolphin-assisted transport, such as the dorsal pull, where they come up on either side of you and you grab the base of each of their dorsal fins and they speed towards the dock pulling you, and the foot push, where they both come up behind you while you're treading water and put their nose/foreheads on the balls of your feet and propel you up out of the water like living waterskis. The capper was having them both jump over the four of us for a photo opportunity - I could hear their chirps in the back of my neck as they planned the jump right before they popped out of the water right behind us, and over us.
· August 5, 2001: Horse Riding on the Beach ·
What's more romantic than a horse ride along the beach, unless you happen to be Charlton Heston and Linda Harrison at the end of Planet of the Apes? Not far from the Castaways Resort was the Pinetree Stables, closed Monday, but open Sunday. Their website says "bring your camera", but once we were there, they said not to, because they could easily be ruined if dropped. They conveniently had disposable cameras for sale, and we fortunately already brought ours with a couple shots left. The weather looked questionable, but we took the risk. Nicole was suited up with a grey and black spotted horse named Casuarina (after a common Bahamian imported Australian Pine Tree) and I was to ride Rasta. The sun broke as we started on our way, down the trail to Williamstown Beach. Rasta had a tendency to follow too close to the horse ahead of him and walk to the left, into prickly bushes. he may have had an itch, but I wound up with the scratches. The tour group got to the beach (where, incidentally, a man had just been attacked by a shark the day before!) and the horses went into the water - almost swimming. Anyone wearing long pants and sturdy shoes (which are recommended for horseback) now had wet legs and feet. Anyone wearing shorts and sandals ended up with a little chafing and slightly sunburnt thighs.
· August 6, 2001: Emancipation Day - Scooters and Deadman's Reef ·
There were a couple nature centers we were interested in seeing and we thought it would be fun to rent a scooter for the day. We arrived at Rand Memorial Nature Center to locked gates; we had not expected this, but the day is a national holiday. We went to Hydroflora Gardens, which wasn't really open, though the woman running it was expecting a tour that didn't show up, so we got the tour instead. As noon approached, we decided to head out to the Paradise Cove Resort and snorkel at Deadman's Reef. It was a 20 mile trip east, at breakneck speeds up to 55 km/h, and well worth the drive. We rented snorkel gear and spent a good three hours along the reef, seeing colourful parrotfish and mazes of coral. After the sun and surf, a Piņa Colada and the first veggie burgers we had seen on the islands were our late lunch, then it was back to town to return the scooter before 5 pm... Okay, 5:15.
That night we attended the Native Show at the Yellow Bird Club for an assortment of music, fire dancing, a freaky glass-eater, a steel drummer and... limbo! The fancy shirt I had picked up in Nassau must have cried out for attention, for I was picked for audience participation three times throughout the night. Yellow Birds and Bahama Mamas (yes, cocktails) helped ease any tension.
· August 7, 2001: The Wanderers ·
The end of the honeymoon leapt upon us as we realized this was our last day to do stuff. We had hoped to do an East End Adventure, but, with the holiday weekend, the company wasn't reachable until it was too late. We crossed the street for breakfast before another drencher let loose. Today was also the last chance to buy souvenirs, so one last trip to the market for cheap t-shirts, that special conch shell and our duty limit of 2 litres of Don Lorenzo Coconut Rum. We had seen 1 litre bottles before, but weren't able to find any at the liquor stores we visited, so we called the distillery, who said they had some. It looked like a reasonably short walk on the map, but our feet disagreed. When we finally arrived at Todhunter-Mitchell Distilleries, we couldn't find any of the bottles they told us on the phone that they had... turns out the warehouse was all out. We took a bus to Port Lucaya Marketplace for one last chance to find the elusive bottles. Ultimately, we settled for two 750 ml and two 200 ml ones from the House Of Rum, 100 ml shy of our limit. We hung around the Bell Channel Bay Pier with a couple Kaliks and admired the yachts, then sat down at the Count Basie Square for a set of live music before deciding to head back. Little did we know that the jitneys had stopped running at 7:00. We waited for a while and overheard some other tourists saying that a free shuttle was leaving the Our Lucaya Resort to go to the Casino At Bahamia - right by the International Marketplace. Not only did we get a free lift, but when we arrived we were given coupons for free drinks at the casino! The drinks were nice and stiff, and helped make for a good night's sleep.
· August 8, 2001: Homeward Bound ·
Another full day of travel was ahead, starting with the 7:00 cab ride to the 8:00 flight. Another long stopover in Miami gave us plenty of time for breakfast (TCBY smoothies and Cinnabons - whoopie!) and the rest of the day on United flights to Denver and Vancouver gave us a chance to see Shrek and play the "try to learn the alphabetic code words (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo...) game", thanks to the headphone channel with the cockpit banter. We wrote them on a motion-sickness bag as we heard them throughout the day. We arrived in Vancouver, being picked up by Richard, (see Day 1) only after missing each other coming out of the gate, seeing his car just about getting ticketed and going back in and finding him. Soon we were on a ferry back to our own bed, and, as they say, the honeymoon was over.
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