Several friends from afar have come to visit me since I have been here in the Bahamas. I suspect much of their interest in visiting me has to do with my new location, but I understand that completely.
In the past few months I have seen and experienced many of the wonderful things the islands have to offer. I find that when visitors come down I quite enjoy playing the part of the tour guide and showing off my new surroundings.
Initially, many people seem to think there isn’t much more to do here than lay on one of so many blissfully beautiful beaches and forget about the rest of the world. Now personally, that is one of my favorite activities, but there are actually a whole host of other activities and experiences to enjoy.
A golfing enthusiast friend of mine was thrilled with the world class golfing that is available in these islands. I have arranged to take my sports-minded buddies on big game fishing trips, while with others we have enjoyed leisurely boating excursions. For the nature lovers I have suggested hiking, and bird-watching tours.
It was just in my last blog entry that I told of my freshly married friends and I shamelessly take credit for the fact that they had their wedding and their honeymoon in the Bahamas.
I have so much more to experience here and I encourage others to come and experience an authentic Bahamas vacation.
I was recently invited to attend the wedding of two close friends. Actually, when they told me of their engagement several months ago I suggested that they have a Bahamas wedding. They jumped on the idea with exuberance and immediately started planning it.
They chose the Exumas, having been there once before and remembering it as the “most beautiful place on earth”. It was a late afternoon ceremony on one of the most stunning beaches I have ever seen. There were just seven guests and a small local band. The ocean was a brilliant blue and the sun was just low enough to cast that sweet golden light that makes everything so beautiful.
The bride wore a long simple, strapless gown and the groom was in chinos rolled up to his knees with an untucked shirt. Both had bare feet, in fact so did I, enjoying the soft white sand between my toes.
The hotel had supplied a lovely gazebo decorated with palm leaves and colorful bougainvillea flowers, which matched the bride’s bouquet. They had also put together a remarkable beachside reception with tiki torches and delicious island fare. The band kept playing long after sunset. It was a beautiful ceremony, and a memorable night.
I flew back to Nassau the next day, but the newly married couple are still in Exuma for another week enjoying a romantic honeymoon in paradise.
I recently went on my first scuba diving trip. It was more otherworldly than I could have imagined. Of course, I have been snorkeling many times and even done a little free diving but this is very different. I felt more unified with my surroundings and was entranced by the deep peacefulness, mystique and magic of the underwater environment.
This was a relatively shallow dive, during which we explored beautiful coral reefs and marveled at colorful fish and sea creatures. I can not fully describe how amazing an experience it was in the crystal clear waters of the Bahamas. I wanted to take it slow the first time. But for more experienced divers the islands of the Bahamas offer numerous opportunities for some real adventure, including shark dives, cave and bluehole diving, and diving around shipwrecks.
There are really too many extraordinary dive sites throughout the Bahamas islands to mention all of them, but New Providence, Andros, The Bimini Islands, San Salvador, Grand Bahama and the Exumas are amongst the top islands featuring an abundance of unique and spectacular Bahamas diving sites with locations suitable for novice divers and also intermediate and advanced divers.
I am headed to the annual Cat Island Rake & Scrape Festival this weekend and I am quite looking forward to it. Dating back to the 1800s, rake & scrape is known as the folk music of the Bahamas and would accompany traditional Bahamian quadrille and polka dances. It has even been called the “heart of Bahamian culture”.
I am told that rake & scrape originated in Cat Island, where the locals are well known for making good use of whatever resources they have around them. It could have originated with the African slaves brought to the islands, who learned to create musical instruments out of the various materials they had available to them.
Rake & scrape musicians have been known to create a bass instrument out of a piece of wood, fishing line and an old tin tub, though, today’s musicians more often are seen using an accordion, a carpenter’s saw and goatskin drums (usually referred to as goombay drums). The saw is played by raking a screwdriver across the teeth. Bending, hitting, raking and scraping the saw creates raw, unpolished but surprisingly harmonic sounds. It’s a beautiful thing.
Bahamian music doesn’t get more authentic than this.
Here is my list of the top 8 natural wonders of the Bahamas, in no particular order.
The wild horses of Abaco
One of Abaco’s secret treasures are the exotic wild horses that have roamed the island for centuries. These beautiful horses, strong and sturdy with long flowing manes, are known as Abaco barbs. Once a herd of hundreds, they are now considered one of the most endangered species in the world, with only seven remaining.
The Glass Window Bridge
Located near Gregory Town in North Eleuthera the glass window bridge was originally an extraordinary natural rock arch. Due to repeated damage from hurricanes it has in recent years been replaced by a man-made bridge. It is a magical place where the deep dark Atlantic ocean meets the shallow aquamarine Caribbean Sea at the thinnest part of the Eleuthera.
The Great Barrier Reef
Andros is home to the third largest great barrier reef in the world. It is over 120 miles long and plunges more than 6,000 feet down into the tongue of the ocean.
Many researchers and scientists believe that a unique formation of rocks under the waters of Bimini may lead to the ancient lost city of Atlantis.
Pink Sand Beaches
The soft pink sand beaches of Eleuthera are another natural wonder of the Bahamas. The 3-mile beach in Harbour Island is considered to be one of the very best beaches in the Bahamas… maybe the world.
Dean’s Blue Hole
The Bahamas has countless blue holes throughout the islands but Dean’s Blue Hole in Long island is the deepest in the world, and one of the most intriguing.
The Lucayan National Park in Grand Bahama is where you will find the world’s largest underwater cave system, with over six miles of caverns, caves and tunnels.
The Pink Flamingos
The flamingo is the national bird of the Bahamas and the Inagua National Park is home to the largest colony of flamingos in the western hemisphere. The park consists of about 2,000 acres of protected wetlands where about 70,000 flamingos live.
Summer is considered the slow tourist season in the Bahamas. Peak tourist season is typically winter… and winters are wonderful in the Bahamas. But the balmy summers of the Bahamas have their charms as well. The temperature only varies about twenty degrees Fahrenheit between summer to winter so a tropical vacation can be enjoyed year-round but summer brings on a schedule chock-full of regattas and fun family-oriented festivals. In fact, you can find festivals and regattas occurring all throughout the islands of the Bahamas.
Regattas are an annual activity and an eagerly anticipated aspect of summer in the Bahamas. Amateur captains from all over the world make their way to the islands to participate in the sloop races. But for those more comfortable on the shore there’s an abundance of land-based festivities going on before, during and after the regattas.
Here is a list of just a few of the many festivals and regattas coming up:
Pineapple Festival in Eleuthera
June 01 – 05, 2011
43rd Annual Long Island Regatta
June 02 – 04, 2011
Cat Island Rake & Scrape Festival
May 25- 30, 2011
South Andros Regatta
June 3 – 5, 2011
Grand Bahama Regatta
June 17 – 19, 2011
Junkanoo Summer Festival in Marsh Harbour
To Be Announced
Bay Fest in Hatchet Bay, Eleuthera
To Be Announced
Black Point Regatta in Exuma
July 30 – August 2, 2011
All Andros Regatta
June 03 – 11, 2011
Cat Island Regatta
July 30 – August 2, 2011
All Abaco Regatta
July 01 – 09, 2011
No Bahamian breakfast is complete without a good-sized hunk of johnny cake. The course bread has been likened to cornbread but isn’t really the same thing. Everyone makes it a little differently, sometimes it is sweeter, sometimes courser, but always delicious. Historically, it was a crude mix of flour, water and salt, though it is often made now with shortening, eggs, even a little sugar.
It partners up well with other Bahamian favorites such as grits or souse, which is a broth with chunks of meat and vegetables. Speaking of souse, Bahamians will serve up several kinds from fish, to chicken, to sheep’s tongue, to pig’s feet souse.
But back to johnny cake – while it pairs delightfully well with many dishes it is almost required eating with boiled fish, yes, I said “boiled” fish, and for breakfast at that! Honestly, it’s one of the best meals I have ever had.
I really wanted to get a true taste of Bahamian cuisine so I was eager to taste this authentically Bahamian breakfast. My new island friends took me to a little home-style restaurant just off the main road in Andros. It looked to me more like someone’s house. I was greeted by a friendly, rubenesque woman who assured me I was about to have the best meal I had ever tasted.
She was not wrong!
She served it a huge bowl and I could smell a piquant buttery aroma wafting up. In the clear broth I could see grits, large slices of onion and huge chunks of meaty fish. It was spicy, having been seasoned with lime juice and goat pepper. It was buttery. It was delicious. And of course, I had a good-sized hunk of johnny cake to go with it. Now that’s an authentic Bahamian breakfast.
We couldn’t have been more excited to embark on the adventure that lay before us. We got up early that morning and made our way to the mailboat at Potter’s Cay under the Paradise Island bridge.
We were going to Long Island.
The captain pulled the boat in closer and held out his hand to assist me on board. His huge friendly grin revealed a rough set of teeth, one of which was encased in gold. I didn’t understand what he was saying but I somehow knew he was welcoming us.
The mailboat was a rugged tank of a boat that looked like it could withstand anything and probably had. In his heavily broken English the captain told us that mailboats were used to transport mail, livestock, produce and other cargo throughout the many islands of the Bahamas. Today it was also transporting us to Clarence Town at the south end of Long Island.
The trip was approximately 12 hours and we had calm seas the whole way. I had never before been out in the middle of the ocean and it was amazing to me to be able to look around and not see land in any direction. I breathed the fresh ocean air deeply and sank into a sense of freedom and relaxation.
Phase I of our adventure came to an end as we got off the mailboat and set foot on dry land again. Phase II would include a hiking trip and a visit to Dean’s Blue Hole. I could hardly wait.
I have lived in Nassau for just over a year and rarely travel to the other islands, though I know a few things about them. Mostly the facts, the history, the details written in books and on websites.
For example, when I recently got a chance to visit Cat Island I already knew that it was where you could find the highest point in all of the Bahamas – Mount Alvernia – reaching a humble 206 feet. And that at the top of Mount Alvernia you could find one of the island’s best known landmarks, The Hermitage.
I knew that the island was once home to actor Sidney Poitier. I knew that it had got it’s name from Arthur Catt, a pirate who frequented the island, though many also say it was named for its once large population of feral cats. I had heard intriguing stories of obeah, a form of ritualistic African witchcraft, believed to be heavily practiced on Cat Island.
Yes, I knew a few things about Cat Island, what I didn’t know was that I would fall in love with the island and its charms. We flew in and as I stepped off the small plane I immediately felt an air of relaxation settling over me.
We stayed at an unpretentious little boutique hotel that fulfilled all the ideals of an island getaway while meeting all our needs. As I lay stretched out in a hammock looking over the beach with a book in my lap I forgot about everything I knew and learned something else… how to relax in paradise.
I know this is a place to which I hope to soon return.
Thanks for stopping by.
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