So as some of you might be aware from my Facebook/Twitter updates, in mid-August I had the opportunity to go on vacation and visit my brother who lives in The Bahamas. The best part: my visit was a total surprise! My cousin and I (who also came along) had my brother fooled into thinking we would be visiting the following week.
As soon as we landed in Nassau we decided before heading to the house that we would grab some groceries and much needed drinks before my brother came home from work. I heard stories of how expensive most foods are down there in comparison to Canada and the US because virtually everything has to be imported because is it either grown or manufactured elsewhere (for obvious reasons; this particular island was only some 20 odd miles long). Even the most basic items like bread and milk are double or triple the price. That being said, the booze was so cheap I could hardly believe my eyes! Side note: I learned that a favourite cocktail for the locals is gin mixed with milk (puke).
So we were fully stocked up on water, food, booze and all the essentials like KD and headed to the house hoping to still beat my brother home from work. And what happens? We meet him in a roundabout just a few blocks from home! Haha... even though our surprise plan was sort of ruined – we wanted to be hiding in the house when he got home – the look on his face as he entered the roundabout and noticed his girlfriend’s car with us inside it was priceless. He stopped and pulled over to take a good look at us. I was in the front seat, my cousin and his girlfriend in the back… He must have thought we were strangers! But as soon as I waved and smiled at him, he recognised it was me and burst out laughing and came over to greet us all with the biggest smile and hugs I think I’ve ever received. It was awesome! Until this time I hadn’t visited him since he moved away about 1-2 years ago. This visit was long overdue. And so my first Caribbean experience began!
Stray dogs called “Pot Cakes” are scattered all over the islands apparently and go, for the most part, ignored – though some people, my brother told me, always carry a bag of dog treats in their car to feed dogs on their way to work. My brother being the animal lover he is decided to keep two of them and give them a better life. Cleverly named Eddie and Murphy, they were great company and a lot of fun to be around. Very thin, this seemed to be the norm in these parts of the world. One thing that I couldn’t believe was how well they survived and seemed perfectly at home outside in the heat; it was constantly above 30 degrees Celsius.
My brother’s house was amazing [red check mark, below]. I could have spent the whole week just hanging out in his backyard which he shares with his landlord and includes a pool, tons of palm trees, gazebo, outdoor surround sound stereo and everything else you could ever ask for. There were tropical frogs, geckos and other wildlife running around all over the pace – especially at night. Hanging out in the mineral-filtered pool, cooling off with some Kalik in hand (“Beer of the Bahamas”) and watching the sun go down was the best feeling in the world.
For the first few days we did a bunch of day and night trips to various nearby beaches, including flipper beach, jaws beach and an exclusive yacht club beach. The day spent at flipper beach was particularly awesome. We packed a cooler fool of food and drinks, and headed out to the National Park where the beach is found. My brother convinced the rangers to let us drive through the bush and literally park right on the beach. We unloaded our snorkeling gear and off we went - dove right into the water and explored some coral reefs and an abandoned pier. We played football around the pier, diving into the water to catch the ball. We also came across some cool stuff like this crab below, and the sunset was to die for.
We’d been in the Bahamas since Wednesday at this point and on Saturday we all wanted to do some of the more “touristy” things like take one of those explorer boating packages to Norman’s Cay and Exuma (cost around $200US) but my brother just so happened to have a friend on Facebook that owned a powerboat docked at Paradise Island [blue check mark above] and was planning an excursion of his own out to these islands and welcomed us aboard! It was amazing – and definitely worth the huge savings for all of us (…or so we thought…)
I can’t remember exactly in which order we visited various Islands and harbours… I was just living in the moment, along for the ride in every sense of the word. But throughout the beginning of this boat trip, we all had the time of our lives. We anchored and/or beached the boat at various little islands and coves, some uninhabited protected wildlife sanctuaries… seemingly undisturbed by anything except us at that very moment. We hopped out of the boat, grab a beer and some snorkeling gear and literally just sit in the sand or water, sting rays and schools of fish swimming by as if we weren’t even there.
One of the coolest things we explored at the start of the trip was a seaplane which crashed in the ocean and was mostly preserved in the water. “The Bahamas were a mecca for drug smugglers in the 1970's until the government got its act together and cleared them out. The most notorious of them was Carlos Lehder who bought Normans Cay to use as his base. Although all is quiet and peaceful now the evidence of its previous history is very obvious – his semi-submerged drug runner’s plane lies in the anchorage.”
We anchored close to the plane and swam out to it, I was able to stand on the wing of the plane and also dive in and swim through the main fuselage. My brother’s camera was waterproof and he was able to capture photos of some of the wildlife that have set up camp around the plane and now call it home.
From there we went to what was believed to be the actual cove where drugs reached shore. And interestingly enough – the tides were constantly shifting in this area – which provided us with the perfect opportunity to beach the boat in the middle of the cove, hop over the side and out into the ocean water (only about a foot deep) and just lay there, soaking in the sun and getting a sort of natural massage as the tide rolled in and out over top of our bodies. Beautiful! And I guess as a druglord back in the day, this truly would have been the perfect spot to do business since many ships wouldn’t be able to gain access to the beach; the water was so shallow. We also stopped nearby at a series of Islands called the Exumas, which are home to an endangered species of Iguana. I got up close and personal with some of them and hand-fed them grapes. Super cool experience.
By this time it was starting to get late and some much needed food was in order. Apparently a few miles away there was a Restaurant and Lodge called MacDuff’s. So we headed off in search of some food! We reached MacDuff’s about a half hour later. Since the tides were constantly shifting we had to anchor about 25 feet from shore and wade our way in, to save damaging the boat. Walking along shore, you could see a bunch of little cabins in the bush and as we made our way through the pathways we finally found the restaurant. Talk about remote! This place felt like it wasn’t even on the map, but breathtaking nonetheless. We sat down at a wooden table and ordered some food – thankfully for me there were some “American” options like chicken fingers – which I ordered – if you know me; you know they’re a favourite of mine. For the record, these were no Jack Astors chicken fingers, but they still hit the spot. The room we sat in was essentially just a raised deck, with canopy above and screened-in all around. The screens did little to keep the mosquitoes and “no-see-ums” (a biting insect so small it’s nearly invisible) away since the floor was littered with cracks and I was literally getting eaten alive. About 2 minutes after sitting down I had about 30 bites all over my skin. I ran back to the boat to grab a shirt, came back to meet up with everyone and continued eating.
Meal was fantastic! The sun was sinking and it was about that time to head home. Dun Dun Dun… *cue Jaws theme song*... So we all pile into the boat. By this time, our captain and his girlfriend are absolutely wasted, it’s been a long day of drinking and such; and the probability for bad decisions at this point was at an all time high (literally). I was fairly sober because that morning I felt sick and wanted to take it easy all day. As we were leaving I was talking to one of the girls who tagged along for the trip about what we’d do if the boat were to break down in the middle of the ocean… in a thunderstorm. Funny I should say that, because sure enough, not even 15 minutes after leaving shore and heading home, a series of alarms start going off on the boat’s dashboard. UH OH. This can’t be good. The boat is losing power quickly. My brother notices that the oil indicator is flashing for one of the motors – the boat had two 250HP outboard engines. So we head to the nearest harbour called Highbourne Cay in search of oil in hopes that this would fix the problem.
Finally we make it to the harbour. First of all – its absolutely STUNNING just like pretty much everything else in this part of the world. And to top it off, there’s massive yachts parked at all the docks… one of the boats was bigger than most houses I've seen in my lifetime. Ok so surely, we’ve come to the right place – there’s gotta be someone here who can help us! We find a spot to tie the boat up and head to the general store up the hill. It’s about 6PM now. Big sign on the door says store hours “8AM-5PM”. We’re screwed! So we ask a few of the other boat owners if they could spare any oil. My brother seems to know everyone, and here we are in the middle of nowhere and he happens to know one of the familys docked at the harbour, their boat was beautiful and for good reason - they own the Sandles resort franchise! After approaching a few of the other boats asking for help, a good samaritan donated 2 bottles of oil to us and we topped up both engines. But unfortunately, this didn't solve the problem and the alarms continued to sound.
So we head back out to sea (in retrospect, we probably should have stayed put). And the debate begins: do we try and make it home before sundown on one engine, or do we try to find a room to stay back at MacDuff’s. Captain makes the call that we should probably play it safe and try and get a room at MacDuff’s and re-assess the situation in the morning. Off we go back in the direction of MacDuff’s, it would take us over an hour on one engine running at about 10% power so we radio ahead to them (never would have guessed a restaurant could receive a distress call from a boat, but I guess in this part of the world when help is needed you need all the help you can get). “Mayday Mayday come in MacDuff’s” one of the girls speaks through the radio after many failed attempts at getting a response. Finally they respond. We tell them our situation and ask if there are any rooms available. As luck would have it, no rooms available. But they offered to leave a light on for us so we could find the shore. Great thanks! ...
By this time darkness has fallen, and we finally reach the shore at MacDuff’s again. Us Canadians, we’re sort of freaking out while everyone else is laughing and carrying on having a great time talking about camping on the beach and roughing it for the night. Me: I was thinking this isn’t what I signed up for AT ALL, with only the shirt on my back and one bottle of water. But with no other options available to me I had no choice but to go with the flow. We’re nearing shore and… buzzzzzzz… you guessed it. The no-see-ums and mosquitoes are quickly on the attack. We’re all literally being eaten alive. This was going to be the most unpleasant night I’ve ever spent camping hands down. Everyone else quickly felt the same and realised this would be no easy-breezy survivor beach getaway. So we collectively decided to drive back out into the middle of the ocean, in order to catch a breeze and keep the bugs away. In the coming hours this would prove to be a great decision to beat the bugs, but a bad decision for our safety and well-being…
Captain anchors the boat about 1-2KM off shore. “We’re staying here for the night, this boat ain’t movin’ no matter what. Do not touch the rope; we will not move this boat. We’re gunna rough this night out folks, I’m sorry.” he kept on saying in his drunken state. By this time it was only about 9PM, and the captain and his girlfriend were downing the Bacardi like water and blasting the on-board stereo as loud as possible trying to turn this night into a party. The rest of us, sitting there in the middle of the ocean as lightning and thunderstorms loomed on the horizon, weren’t so stoked on the situation. We were in a predicament no doubt. Stay out at sea and take the thunderstorms on head first, or go back to shore and take the mosquitoes on head first. We had no protection against either bugs or thunderstorms; no bug spray, no cover, no warm clothing – you name it. Just a cooler of booze, Doritos and each others company is essentially all we had.
11PM rolls around, the music is absolutely BLASTING in everyone’s ears and the thunderstorms are headed straight for us. The winds are picking up. The sea around us is absolutely silent save for the echoing thunder off in the distance. We all knew it was the calm before the storm, and summer storms in the Caribbean are hardly friendly. I’m literally sh*tting my pants at this point. This could be Hurricane Roxanne headed for me for all I knew - things were not looking good for us by any stretch of the imagination.
BAM! Lighting strikes and the battle against the storm was on! The boat rocked back and forth, up and down, every which way you could imagine – the anchor amazingly holding firm in the seafloor – acting as a saviour but also tugging the boat this way and that like a raging bull. The boat had almost no shelter from rain except a tiny overhead canopy above the driver seat; the rest was completely open to the elements. We got SOAKED by the rains. One guy named Ron (who was the closest thing to a Pirate I’ve ever met) curled up under the bow of the boat in a small cubby whole. The rest sat and hung on for dear life, I stood and held onto the driver windshield as best as I could as the boat continued to rock and bounce around like Mother Nature’s play toy. At this point we’re all in dire straights; I’m terrified and shaking from the pouring rains and I’m cold to the bone. The girl next to me is screaming and bawling her eyes out, I offered her some shelter under my towel and together we held on for dear life…
I started arguing with the driver to take us back to shore; I said mosquitoes won’t kill me but lightning, sharks and barracudas (if the boat were to flip) and hypothermia certainly can and we needed to get the heck off the water. “Nope. We will not move this boat. No one touch the rope. Swim to shore if you have a problem with it” He slurred in response. I wanted to kill this guy, but had no choice but to do as I was told since no one else seemed to back up my train of thought.
We survived two of these storms, the second was the worst and amazingly after the second one ended around 2AM the sky above us cleared and the storms continued to crack and thunder but passed some distance away from us. Keep in mind – the music is still blasting. And we can’t convince the driver to turn it off for love nor money. The Bacardi was still flowing and we all realised at this point it would be a sleepless night. If you have to go to the bathroom, guess what – you’re doing it off the back of the boat.
I would have loved to take photos throughout the night but my camera isn’t waterproof and was safely stowed away and I didn’t want to risk bringing it out of hiding. Let me tell you it was the craziest and most scary experience of my life that I’ll never forget.
Finally 6AM rolls around and the sun begins to rise. (did I mention the music is still blasting?) and we all think to ourselves – THANK GOD. LETS GET HOME. Buddy turns his GPS locator on, and we begin our journey home on the one engine barely functioning. I think the waves traveled faster than us. Normally at proper speed the ride home would take roughly an hour, but the GPS estimates our travel time back to Nassau at current speed is 7 hours. When I heard that I was seriously contemplating jumping over board and drowning myself! 7 HOURS! In the heat of the sun, no water or shelter, no food besides chips. This was truly a nightmare. No one was speaking to one another, we were absolutely exhausted save the captain who continued to drink and carry on, keeping us awake for the entire ride.
About 6 hours later we made it back to the harbour, trust me it felt like a lifetime. My body and face was burnt to a crisp, we’re all severely dehydrated, heat-exhausted, seasick and have just spent a total of 28 hours on this boat.
As soon as we reach the dock my family and I pile out and head to the car and hit the nearest gas station to freshen up and drink some water. Disaster averted, but it was definitely a painful ride home. We reach my brothers house around 12:30 in the afternoon and we all crawl into bed and sleep the day away after some much needed KD.
After such an awful experience and with only one more day left to spend in the Bahamas we decided to hit Breezes all-inclusive resort [green check mark above] to make up for the epic fail and waste of time spent on the boat. The pool and drinks were amazing, the king bed was heaven and the food was to die for. Best decision I ever made, and rounded off our trip nicely.
All images, videos, text copyright © Matt Vardy, all rights reserved.