Exumas? Exemplary!

DSC_0237Our last Ariose Note left off with a photo teaser. Let’s end that suspense right now. That distinctive foot? If you guessed it belongs to an endangered Bahamian Rock Iguana, you’re correct! For those who guessed it was a public health warning about the dangers of UV exposure, you were close. Admittedly, with all the wind / sun / salt of the last few months, our skin is beginning to look quite lizard-like. Being able to commune with these amazing reptiles – the iguanas, not each other, I mean – has been one of many exemplary experiences for us as we explore the Exumas. You could even say, for the most part, that we’re exhalting in the Exumas. THIS is what we dreamed of! So rather than tell what we’ve been up to lately, in this Ariose Note, we’ll let our camera do the showing.

Help yourself to your favourite cold beverage, settle into a comfy hammock or closest approximation thereof, click on the 1st image to enlarge it and then the arrows to scroll through the Bahamas’ Exuma Cays with us. Enjoy!

1-Ahh. This is what we were looking for. Serenity.
2-Blue skies day after day. We’ve only had one overcast day since arriving in the Bahamas in January.
3-There have been a couple of storms, like this one that dumped a much-needed fresh-water deluge while hiking Hawksbill, but sun returns quickly.
4-The sun’ delightful, but the wind dictates our actions. There have been brief periods of calm, like this day at Shroud Cay, but 
5- the winds have been consistently strong … ~25knots, gusts to 30 day & night for weeks now. Unusual for this time of year we’re told.
6-So moving from cay to cay has been determined more by opportunity than by our whims and is a bit of an event: checking everything’s secured…
7-reef the main – let’s make that a double reef so we’re not overpowered, weigh anchor and set off.
8-Hours of vigorous sailing later, wondering why others are choosing to motor …
9-we arrive at our next destination, like Warderick Wells.
10-Bottom’s up means anchor’s down & snubber’s on…
11-and we settle in to explore our new surroundings.
12-Next favourable weather window? Off to another anchorage.

Before we get too far into sharing our Exuma experience, there is one not so exemplary aspect that we need to get out of the way.  We had heard from so many other fellow cruisers about this area of the Bahamas: their remoteness, seclusion, beauty above and beneath the waters. We were warned that we would need to be self-sufficient, since there are few places to provision, or people around to rescue us, for that matter. That sounded perfect. We were seduced. We knew we had to go.

REMOTE & SECLUDED? 1-Here’s our 1st anchorage in the Exumas: between Allen & Leaf Cay. If you hear the sound of a “pop”, that’s our bubble bursting. As we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the cockpit the next morning, looking out to the beach …
2-this is what arrived. And then another, ….
3-and another, spilling out tourists, who like us, were fascinated by the iguanas.
4-The days of the Exumas being an isolated destination are gone. We chatted with 1 of 15 staff of one yacht while he raked the beach so his employers wouldn’t be bothered by the seaweed washed ashore. Seriously.
5-Hike to the top of a scraggy bluff, and what do we see?
6-Find an anchorage to ourselves, and then, here they come, the boys in the bright white catamarans!Thankfully, this parade passed us by.
7-Some yachts seemed oblivious to their intrusion. Really? You have the shorelines of hundreds of cays, and you need to anchor on top of us ??!
8-Many of the mega yachts bring toys with them, which undoubtably provide fun for the users, but annoyance for us.
9-So, you can imagine the relief when we weigh anchor and move on from some anchorages.
10-But, looking back on the month we’ve spent here, yes, we’ve shared most anchorages with at least another boat, but it hasn’t been difficult to get off the beaten path and find the solitude we seek.

There’s not much elevation in the low-lying limestone shelves between Exuma Sound and Exuma Bank that make up the Cays, but exploring them has been a definite high point for us. Here’s a selection from a few of our excursions:

EXPLORING THE CAYS: 1-Shore excursions always start with rowing in.
2-Through there??
3-Once Poco’s secured, …
4-we head off…
5-… at times, on well-defined trails as these on Hawksbill Cay,
6-… or this causeway to keep our feet dry on Warderick Wells, ….
7-… but more often than not,
8-the rocky shoreline is our path.
9-Which way do we go?
11-Low tide…
10-You may have noticed that this can be rugged walking on laser sharp, jagged rock with some pot holes just big enough to trap a foot, and others looking like they await a full load of tourists. No room for a false step in the Exumas.
12-… sure makes it easier.
13-We’ve enjoyed the large canvas grandeur, both powerful and …
15-and also have taken much pleasure in noticing …
16-the small scale …
17-beauty (silver leaf buttonwood)…
18-of these islands.
19-Of course, Tim’s in his glory checking out the tenacious vegetation growing in these harsh conditions, whether ancient lignum vitae…
20-… or thriving succulents.
21-Warderick Wells, where the Exuma Land & Sea Park headquarters is located, was one island we walked extensively.
22-… with a rugged eastern shore …
23-looking out to the Exuma Sound.
25-The western shore’s character couldn’t be more different.
26-We’d make our way down …
27-to yet another beach…
28-have a snack, then…
29-don our snorkelling gear to cool off and to explore …
30-the amazing undersea world here in the Exumas. We’ll share more on that in our next post.
31-We spent a really special day at Shroud Cay rowing the full length of a mangrove creek that bisects the island…
32-rowing & rowing, Poco a poco…
33-and once too shallow, pulling & pulling..
34-then finally, abandoning Poco to walk the last stretch. And what did we find?
35-Surprise! Another gorgeous beach all to ourselves.

The wildlife of the Exumas – land, sky & sea – has also been a highlight for us.

EXUMAS WILDLIFE: 1-Of course, there’s the reptilian friends we made on Leaf Cay.
2-As soon a we’d arrive on the beach, we’d hear rustling in the underbrush…
3-out would come one, two, then lots…
4-of iguanas as interested in us as we in them.
5-They’re endangered, and only found on a few cays. Here on Leaf Cay, though, there must be hundreds if not thousands and they are a major tourist attraction. Or maybe their population explosion here is because of the tourists?
6-We, like others, offered them up our best fruit & veggie scraps.
7-Bananaquits were also eager to get in on the handouts…
8-as were the very melodious mockingbirds.
9-Lots of other smaller-variety lizards inhabit the cays…
10-like this inquisitive curly-tail.
11-There have been fewer sea and shore birds than we expected, but those we’ve seen have been spectacular, like this Green Heron, …
12-this Great Egret regally stationed among the mangroves,
13-the osprey soaring overhead, …
14-Yellow-crowned Night Heron eying us warily.
15-and of course, laughing gulls loudly mocking us.
17-Most entertaining have been the Tropic Birds in full-on courtship ritual at Shroud Cay.
18-At Staniel Cay, or more precisely, Big Major, we met “the” pigs.
19-We’ve encountered semi-feral/farmed pigs elsewhere…
20-but this is the home of the most famous ones that draw boatloads of tourists.
21-As you can see, they’re rather bored with all the attention.
23-Let’s play Africa. You be the cattle egret and I’ll be the water buffalo.
24-There’s also a smaller rodent that IS native to the Bahamas – the hutia. We spotted a few of these endangered nocturnal muskrat-sized critters just as the sun set on Warderick Wells.
25-It’s also been interesting to ponder the signs of the many other 2-legged mammals that have been here before us.
26-Some signs are literal, like this mountain of boat-name driftwood atop Boo-Boo Hill on Warderick Wells proclaiming those who have been here. The hill is named for the ghosts of shipwrecked Loyalists whose bodies never received a proper Christian burial. Apparently, they can be heard singing hymns some nights.
27-Some structures have never been completed or are no longer being used. nature’s rapidly reclaiming them.
28-And on a couple islands – like Warderick Wells or here on Hawksbill Cay,
29-There are remnants of Loyalist ruins dating to the late 1700s.
30-Mind boggling to think of the challenges of living and farming in this environment. We found some scraggly descendants of their pineapple plants, and wondered how the plantation owners and the people they enslaved could have survived in the time between arriving and harvesting …
31-then we discovered mounds of conch shells. Of course. The sea provided.
32-No iron in our list of provisions – I guess it would have allowed some semblance of being “civilized” for the settlers.
33-This well-built wall almost bisects Warderick Wells.Why? Our wanderings lead to more questions than answers.

Most of our time here has been away from the inhabited areas, but the need to provision, and a bit of curiosity, brought us to 2 towns: Staniel Cay and Black Point Settlement. Here’s a brief tour:

4-Bahamas Telecommunications … Bell Canada could learn a few things about service offerings.
STANIEL CAY & BLACK POINT SETTLEMENT: 1-The guidebooks, and the local signposts could be accused of a bit of exaggeration in their claims of the many attractions…
2-both towns have airports, and as you can see here in Staniel Cay, it’s a little lower key than we’re used to.
3-But most of the services and amenities you might (or might not) want are there. Here’s Black Point Settlement’s Police station…
5-and beach-side pavilion for hosting community events.
6-Whenever in towns, we first attend to the business we need to take care of, so in Staniel Cay, that mean heading off down the main highway…
7-to the dump. The hypocrasy of us leaving our garbage behind for these settlements to deal with is not lost on us.
8-We were told to time our arrival with the mail boat that brings the town’s provisions. We got there on the right day, but the delivery boat didn’t. After a visit to the Pink store, …
9-the Blue store, and the across-the-bridge store in Staniel Cay, our foraging resulted in bananas, tomatoes, plantains, bread (yummy fresh coconut bread!), tomatoes, and a few canned goods… a fairly successful mission!
10-Then off to explore a little more. Who needs pavement when you’ve got bedrock?
11-These towns are a world apart from the manicured, tourist-oriented Loyalist towns of the Abacos. Here, there was a genuine lived-in look,
12-with some Bahamian pride (note: flag colours on palm trunk),
13-but we can’t help but notice how much unfinished construction there is…
14-often showing signs of deterioration before completion. Seems like many dreams dashed.
15-It was interesting to see boatbuilding going on in people’s yards.
16-Although we anchor out and dinghy into town, we did check out the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, with cruisers filling the bar…
17-and cruiser’s kids filling the nurse sharks.
18-And the bougainvilleas .. . spectacular!

So, that’s a taste of our first few weeks in the Exumas. We’ll share more, especially about its underwater delights, in our next Ariose Note.  The Exuma Cays haven’t been exactly what we expected, but wow, we get why so many others are here. The Exumas have been extraordinarily exceptional… yes, exemplary!

P.S. If I were stranded here,  and no parade of catamarans nor mega-yachts came to the rescue, here’s the guy I would want to be stranded with, demonstrating one of his many survival skills.

1) Find a coconut and, 2) an axe-sharp rock (easy enough around here) …
3) then bash, and bash, and bash, carefully avoiding fingers (not so easy!)…
and only 20 minutes later, le voilà!
Refreshing coconut water. Tim gets first sip for all his hard work, and the photographer gets to polish it off. As for the sweet meat? Dessert squares tonight!

8 thoughts on “Exumas? Exemplary!”

  1. I love reading of your adventures. Beautiful pics peppered with interesting adventures!

    1. Hey there Shelley – We’re enjoying ourselves, most of the time that is, not counting a couple more minor groundings, vicious thunderstorm, etc. … and being able to share with everyone really enriches it all.
      Nice to hear from you – hope all’s well with you. Pass on a hi to CMHA folks from me.

  2. Wow! It’s so beautiful and interesting. Wanderlust is growing in me…. can’t wait to see more.

    1. I guess it’s coming up to a year since you returned from your adventure, Erin. It is contagious, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be perfect to be able to alternate home-based years with wandering years?
      We’ve pointed Ariose’s bow northward, although we’re moving at a snail’s pace while savouring these lovely islands … lots of ambivalent feelings associated with heading home.

  3. HI Shirl and Tim, We sure are enjoying your trip and pictures are absolutely terrific, Lways look forward to R diving hour next episode., safe sailing John and Cathy

    1. Hi Cathy & John. We’re having a fabulous time, and being able to share with others does add to the pleasure. Glad you are enjoying coming along with us. We spent the morning downloading underwater photos — the snorkelling in the Exumas has been a highlight for us! We look forward to posting those next time.
      Hope spring has hit Englehart and that you are enjoying some warmer temperatures. >S

    1. HI Kevan. We really enjoyed the tropic birds mating in flight over our boat. They make pleasing sounds and look so graceful. I was going to go for a walk along the jagged shoreline until I realized that all of the crevases in the rock were being used by the birds for nesting. We’ve also really enjoyed being endlessly seranaded by the Bahamas mockingbird on several occassions. We’re VERY busy snorkeling right now at Cambridge Cay. Mostly just Laughing Gulls aound now. Yesterday, we spotted another Green Heron at close range.

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