EXUMA CAYES, BAHAMAS ~ April 12th – May 1st , 2010
Day 1 ~ Monday, April 12, 2010:
Our first day of travel began with the destination: Exuma Cays, Bahamas. The entire trip was all about traveling from one place to the next, by air, by land, and mainly, by sea. We (Margaux, Tom, and Angus) departed at 6 am from PDX with connections to Huston, then Ft. Lauderdale, and finally arrived in George Town, Bahamas around 9pm. After going through customs, we arranged for a taxi to take us to our hotel, The Sapphire Gardens. Our taxi driver was a great guy named, Rudy, who’s services were greatly appreciated, (especially the next day when he went many miles out of his way to deliver the paddles we had forgotten at the airport. Paddles are much needed when embarking on a kayaking adventure… oops!) Needless to say, Rudy was our natural choice for a taxi driver from that point on.
Day 2 ~ Tuesday, April 13, 2010:
We had the entire day to run around George Town to collect tidbits of knowledge from the locals as well as the last of our supplies. After a gorgeous breakfast at a popular restaurant, we set out to walk along the road to the heart of George Town. The curves of the road were hugged by the sandy beaches, which disappeared into continual gradations of blues.
With supplies checked off the list, we headed out for a refreshing Kalik and a conch salad! Yum!
We quickly realized Bahamians are some of the friendliest and accommodating people we have ever met during our travels. Everyone smiled and said hello when we passed, gave great advice, and everyone we met were genuinely excited about our adventure!
Day 3 ~ Wednesday, April 14, 2010:
Rudy arrived at 11:00 am on the dot ready to drive us the 35 miles to the northern tip of Great Exuma to a small cottage lodging outside of Barreterre The owner, Cely, more often referred to as, “The Big Cheese” was our overly accommodating host and chef extraordinaire! This guy was the epitome of Bahamian cool. From the cooked to order grouper fingers, to the reggae blasting from the stereo, we enjoyed every moment of our time at his establishment.
They kayaks take a bit of work to set up, but less than one would think, (only about an hour and a half.) Angus Ruck, (owner and operator of Columbia Gorge Riverside Lodge has been a long-time, avid kayak fanatic who has traveled far and wide with his own self-generated power. Angus has recently acquired his second folding kayak. For those of you who are not frequent kayakers, Feathercraft is an outfit out of Canada. Our kayaks were extremely sea worthy, stable and not to mention sleek!
Day 4 ~ Thursday, April 15, 2010:
We awoke to yummy instant coffee and powdered milk. Mind you, we are packing EVERYTHING in a dehydrated form. We pre-planned our meals (for 3) a month in advance, giving us enough time to order our dehydrated food online. The company we used is North Bay Trading Co. and their product is great! No weird additives, 100 percent natural, and easy to prepare, simply re-hydrated in water.
After a breakfast of coffee and oatmeal, we packed the kayaks, said farewell to the Big Cheese, and we were on our way! The first night of camping and cooking over the fire was a reminder of how refreshing it feels to get back to the basics of life.
Day 5 ~ Friday, April 16, 2010:
If you like camping, it is easy to sleep in a tent! Thankfully, we both LOVE camping and try to go as often as possible. With that being said, we woke up refreshed and ready for the day ahead! Coffee, as usual, was number one priority! We had purchased a bit of squid bait from the Big Cheese before our departure and Tom headed out to fish for, well, whatever was swimming around out there! He was a success! However, once we saw the incredible fish that swam in the immaculate waters, we decided they were too pretty and we would rather photograph them than eat them. We’ll save the eating for the groupers, which are known for their less than beautiful features. It was catch and release until we found a restaurant!
Day 6 ~ Saturday, April 17, 2010
As we made our way northwest through the chain of the Exuma Cays, (pronounced “keys”) we found ourselves seeing a mixture of uninhabited land as well as sprawling private homes or resorts. We opted out of paying the high price of luxury and paddled on. Like I said before, we LOVE camping!
Day 7 ~ Sunday, April 18, 2010
Our next destination was Little Farmer’s Cay where we stopped to pick up more supplies. What a wonderful settlement! The cruising guide we carried along stated, “a picture perfect part of the Exumas, not to be missed…” It couldn’t have been more accurate! That night we camped on another pristine beach and fell asleep to the calm waves lapping against the shore.
We soon realized the waves were a bit too calm…
Day 8 ~ Monday, April 19, 2010:
During the wee hours of the morning, the wind was non-existent. This meant the bugs were out in full force, hunting human flesh. A first there was a “slap!” here and there. Then it moved into covering ourselves as much as possible, which doesn’t allow for any comfortable sleep… it is HOT in the Bahamas… even during night. Eventually we were up and out of the tent! All of our possessions, including food bags, blankets, thermarests, headlamps, EVERYTHING was out of the tent! There were two crazy photographers running around in darkness slapping ourselves, heading for the water to sooth our itchy wounds. After the rain fly had been removed, we were quick to flip the tent upside down and give it a serious shake, and an even more serious helping of deet!
Finally, after our minor freak-out, we slept. We awoke to the biggest surf we had seen up to this point. It was big enough to jeopardize our ability to launch the boats without getting swamped. We hung around this particular beach for a few hours in hopes the wind would settle. As long as there were no bugs, we would have waited there for days.
This day was our shortest paddle, around a mile or so. It was so windy, we only made it around the next point to a settlement called, Black Point. Once again we were greeted with wonderful, enthusiastic people, and icy cold beers. The tents were set up and we headed to the nearest establishment for our first restaurant meal!
That night we played around with some long exposures and came out with some pretty cool results! This shot was a 30 second exposure, (I tried to stand as still as possible) at f/4 with an ISO of 200. The red light cast at the bottom of the frame was a setting on my headlamp!
Day 9 ~ Tuesday, April 20, 2010:
In the morning we had a couple of visitors! Our new aquaintences, Cris and Suzanne are a couple who were also in the same place at the same time. They had been cruising with their friend and they were due to fly back to the states the next day. After we had chatted for a while we learned they had property in the San Juan Islands in Washington! Small world! These two were so fun to talk to and incredibly generous! They donated some delicious dehydrated food they had dehydrated themselves. We scarffed it down! Thank you Suzie! We hope to see you guys in the future!
We once again headed north and arrived at Staniel Cay This was a place of intrigue. 1964’s James Bond 007 “Thunderball” was filmed on this very cay and also in a cave (Thunderball cave) to the west of Staniel. We found our digs for the night and set up camp. A big thank you to Donny, Ray and Michelle for helping us out around the island!
Day 10 ~ Wednesday, April 21, 2010:
We woke up in the middle of the night to discover the high tide inches away from our tent, threatening to moisten our sleeping quarters. Thankfully it never happened! We awoke to another postcard view, excited for what the day had to bring. This was the first cay which we decided to stay on an additional night. Maybe it was the 007 mystique or perhaps it was the superb camping spot, but really I think it was the cold beer within walking distance.
Day 11 ~ Thursday, April 22, 2010:
The Thunderball cave has two openings, which are most accessible when the tide is low. We were both excited to finally use our new underwater camera casing and test it’s full potential. We were up early to catch low tide and paddle to the cave. It was stunning. The photos speak for themselves.
We spent most of this day planning the rest of our route, paddling around, walking around Staniel Cay, meeting the townspeople and simply enjoying ourselves! It was a wonderful day of relaxation.
Day 12 ~ Friday, April 23, 2010:
After packing up and paddling the day away, we landed on the most stunning spot of all, Sandy Cay. Uninhabited and fairly small, this cay was as close to paradise as one can get. Sandy Cay was hugged by a rocky shoreline on the west side, and a white, sandy beach on the east side, perfectly flat and breezy. It was difficult to part with our own private island, but we had to travel on.
Compass Cay was our next stop on the map. The father/son team, Tucker and Jamal, have about the coolest life, ever. They hang out and chat with the yachtys, feed their pet sharks, provide rooms and meals for travelers, and simply enjoy everything about life! They also allow kayakers to camp on their island. Score. Tom being the only one who was brave enough to swim with the sharks gets all the photo credit for those pics. He felt a little better knowing they had just been fed.
Day 13 ~ Saturday, April 24, 2010:
This was the day we reached our northernmost destination, The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. An exquisite park of sorts that had a no-fishing policy, meaning great snorkeling! With time running out, we only had a couple of days and nights before we had to turn around and head south!
Day 14 ~ Sunday, April 25, 2010:
More snorkeling, map reading, and paddling by cays with owners like, Johnny Depp and Faith Hill and Tim Macgraw. No one invited us in for a rum punch. Stayed another night on Compas Cay and spent the afternoon hiking around in the thick of the woods!
Day 15 ~ Monday, April 26, 2010:
Paddled the 7 miles back to Sampson Cay yet another marina. Unfortunately, a squall came through and rained everyone out, so we didn’t take out the camera. This storm didn’t provide any photo ops, or else we would have been all over it!
Day 16 ~ Tuesday, April 27, 2010:
This was the morning where we spent most of our time drying out everything that was soaked the night before. Although we are eternally grateful for our rain fly, it wasn’t as successful as one would hope. No worries! This climate dries up anything in a flash!
Arrived at Big Major’s Spot, around the bend from Staniel Cay and set up camp. Supposedly, there are swimming pigs on this island! The locals told us to hide our food in the tents or else they would get into the kayaks! Yikes! We did indeed see a pig. Not swimming, just scavenging. He wasn’t interested in the least with what we were doing, and after a few failed attempts at photos, (it was pitch black outside) we let him be.
Day 17 ~ Wednesday, April 28, 2010:
Onward to Staniel Cay! Again! We love that place and all of our new friends. In the afternoon we had a big soup party over an open fire and overlooking the ocean. We were lucky enough to meet a wonderful couple, June and Phil. We sparked up a conversation with June while she was waiting in her golf cart for her husband to come home from work. We chatted for hours, (she was a bit early) and we graciously accepted her invitation for us to stay the night in her spare bedroom. First actual bed in weeks!
Day 18 ~ Thursday, April 29, 2010:
From Staniel we chartered a boat back to Berreterre and met up once again with Cely. We thanked him for all of his kindness and said our farewells. We wanted to get back to George Town, and especially to our hotel room equipped with a washer and drier!
Day 19 ~ Friday, April 30, 2010:
Following so many days at sea it was odd waking up in a hotel. We couldn’t wait to get outside again! We decided we needed to find fresh fish and cook a huge dinner for our last night in the Bahamas, and that we did! We visited a fishing boat, captained by Etienne, and he gave us a killer price on a big ol’ snapper and some conch! We spent a lovely evening reflecting on all we had experienced over the last few weeks and promptly went out to the fish fry. The fish fry was the place to be on a Friday night!
Day 20 ~ Saturday, May 1, 2010:
After lugging our hundreds of pounds of luggage to the airport, (mind you, it was much heavier on the way down because of the food) it was time to wait for our flight. Perhaps a main highlight of the trip was seeing the aerial view of the Exuma Cays and the great distance we had just covered. A sense of accomplishment came over each of us and it was the perfect ending to the perfect paddling trip.