Goodbye Bahamas; Until We Meet Again

Published: April 19th 2017
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It is a bittersweet day here on Abigail. We cast off from Bimini early this morning, leaving behind the turquoise, swimming pool waters and rustic charms of the Bahamas. As I write this, I am looking out our stern window and watching the islands fade away on the horizon.

After more than three months “on the hook” (aka anchored) in the Bahamas, we spent the last week here at a marina. It was an adjustment being at a dock, one feels a little more “exposed”. There are so many more people around who can see in your windows or pop in for a visit; you have to think about actually being presentable – ha ha. But it was a nice change to be able to hop on and off the boat at whim and to meet some new people.

Our last week in the Bahamas has added another chapter of wonderful memories to our adventure. Being at a dock for the last week has presented us with more opportunity to venture out and explore. This last island stop, North Bimini, I think has become one of our favorites. Possibly because we had more time on land, connecting with others and becoming familiar with the community; but we found the people of Bimini so friendly and the island seems alive with Bahamian flare.

North Bimini is the most populated island in the Bimini chain, which consists on Cat Cay, Gun Cay, and South and North Bimini. It is shaped almost like an upside down “U”; the east leg mainly mangroves and bush with the west leg hosting Alice Town at the south tip (where we were docked), the Resort World Bimini (which is almost like it’s own little town) at the north end, and Bailey Town and Pordgy Bay in between. The island, made famous by Hemmingway, who frequented here regularly, is considered the “gateway” to the Bahamas. Located only 50 some odd miles across the Gulf Stream from Miami, it is often the first stop for boaters coming from the US into the Bahamas.

While still rustic and, unfortunately, a little “junky” (garbage is prominently littered about, as is common in the Bahamian towns we have seen), there is an energetic mix of locals and tourists loitering along the streets, lounging in the “shanty shack” bars and buzzing along the road in golf carts. There is one main two-lane road running the length of the island, and from south to north it is hedged in by buildings; mostly crumbling concrete structures, interspersed with ruins, empty lots, docks and wooden lean-tos.

Like we have found in the rest of the Bahamas, there are few signs that tell you what is in all the buildings; it takes some asking around and venturing through rusty metal doors to find their treasures inside…everyone seems to sell something. And while each place does not necessarily have a wide selection of items (no one-stop shopping here!), if you can’t find what you need in their shop, they will most likely know who you can get it from; some will even call over there to make sure they have it.

The last week has been a very busy one, filled with so many experiences, I think to write about them all in succession would take pages (ok, I admit, I can’t remember the exact sequence of when we did what – it’s all one big blur of fun!). So, I figure I will just summarize and highlight in no specific order.

Since before we had left on this journey, Lukus has suggested that I should get my hair braided. Well, on one of the first days in Bimini, we headed for the beach on the ocean side to check out the view. A local woman named Charmaine, approached us to ask if I wanted my hair braided. For the very reasonable price of $30 (I have heard in some islands they charge $100+), she spent over two hours plaiting my hair into tiny french braids. Looking in the mirror, it took a little getting used to seeing my forehead; I have had bangs for most of my life. But I will tell you, it has curtailed hair loss; one glorious week of not having to clean up all my shedding! And I am entertained by the clinking of beads whenever I turn my head. So it’s a win-win.

We have had some more great food experiences as well. While there are proper restaurants here, our favorite places to eat are usually the more “local” spots. We stumbled across one such treasure on one of our first walks around town; a “food car” that parks in front of the cultural centre in Alice Town. From Monday to Friday, usually mid day, a lovely lady brings her car into town, opens her hatchback, rolls down her windows and serves some of the best curry and bbq chicken around. All the food is kept in catering pans in her trunk and when she is done piling food into a Styrofoam container, she passes it to her cohort in the back seat, who adds a few final touches. She then sends you around to “window number one” (the back seat window), to pay and collect your food, enough to feed two of us, all for $10.

Another local eatery we fell in love with was Stuarts Conch Shack, located along the beach in Bailey Town. We found it as we were cruising the island with John and Deb from Alexis in a rented golf cart. The four of us had trekked to the north end of North Bimini to check out the Resort World Bimini, including their casino and the view from the top of the Hilton Hotel there. On the way back to Alice Town, we spotted the Stuarts Conch Shack sign (yes, they actually have a very large, prominent sign!!!) boasting over 30 years in business and a feature on the Travel Channel. Even more alluring was a second sign touting 2 beers for $5, which after the $7 a beer we paid at the Hilton bar was just too tempting to pass by.

Stuarts is a little wooden hut, with no doors and only partial walls. A couple old fridges, a bar, a few tables, and a whole lot of character. On the bar were two large cutting boards being hacked non-stop by two women making dish after dish of conch salad. For those who have never had it, conch salad is probably one of the most famous foods in the Bahamas. Raw, chopped conch meat, combined with onions, peppers, tomato and some citrus juices. Outside the main shack was a small lean-to offering conch fritters, Bahamian mac and cheese, and cracked conch or lobster (“cracked” = beaten to a pulp with a mallet, battered, and deep fried). Rounding out the atmosphere, a local musician jammed on his guitar, while a couple guys cleaned conch after conch, adding the shells to the gigantic pile edging the beach. Super great food, super good prices (for the Bahamas), super fun!

Being docked the last week has made it a little easier to get out at night. We are usually not keen on dinghying too far from the boat past dark when anchored. So, like two kids let loose, we took full advantage of the freedom. At least three nights in the last week, we ended up dancing for hours on end. Dancing in a bar, dancing in the street, in the park, on the beach, on the dock, and on the boat. Once you get Lukus started, he can cut up the floor for hours! I am sure the locals thought we were loco…oh, I am sure the non-locals probably thought it too…but we always have fun spinning and dipping.

This last weekend, Bimini was host to their annual “Homecoming” festival. This is an all weekend affair that takes place every Easter weekend. The weekend opens with a musical marching band and gospel rally on Good Friday. Then Saturday and Sunday is full of live music, food and vendor stands. We spent most of our evening at the festival on Saturday, eating BBQ jerk chicken, and watching the local children run around. Lukus even gave some yo-yo lessons to some of the young boys who had bought the toys at a local vendor’s tent. As night settled in, we ended up dancing to the sounds of the local bands (lost my partner for a few songs to a sweet little girl who wanted to dance with him) while getting drenched in a few good rain squalls. The whole evening was topped off with a traditional “junkaroo” parade, complete with musicians and dancers decked out in glitzy costumes, masks and hats radiating feathery plumes in vibrant colors.

Of course, we “did the beach”. Some of our beach time was spent hunting for sea glass. We learned from friends of ours, that the beaches here are some of the best for finding these little nuggets. As we picked up the fragments of frosted green, white and brown, Lukus remarked on the service we were providing; essentially picking up garbage from the beach. It does strike one as ironic, how something that is hazardous garbage on a street or sidewalk can become charming gems if only tumbled in the surf and sand for a while. What’s the saying? One man’s garbage is another’s treasure.

Among all the amazing experiences and things seen this week, one stands out in my mind. The Dolphin House. The moment I stepped inside the main room of the Dolphin House, I was covered in goosebumps and tears came to my eyes, all from the sheer beauty. I could have stayed in that room for hours, just soaking it all in. For me, it is the epitome of eclectic, fantastical, sublime, “out-of-the-box” creativity.

The Dolphin House is the masterpiece of an elderly Biminite, Ashely Saunders. As a young man, Ashley attended post secondary school in Wisconsin, earning a Bachelor of Arts and then carrying on into post-graduate work at Harvard. When he returned to Bimini and began teaching, he soon realized that their was a lack of literary or historical texts about his home island. He went on to write two history books, interspersed with poetry; earning the accolade of “poet historian”. An experience swimming with wild dolphins “awakened the artist within him; his creativity was sleeping”, in his words.

So, since 1993, as tribute to the dolphins, he has been working, almost singlehandedly on bringing his vision to life. For a meager $5 donation, Ashley himself gave us a tour of his project, explaining his concept and sharing his journey. We ended up spending over 2 hours, charmed by this vibrant man. The house is made completely from materials salvaged from the beach, the bush and the dump; Ashley spends almost half his time sourcing and carrying in his supplies and the other half constructing. With a 5-foot-deep concrete foundation, dug and poured by hand with his trusty shovel, the house stands two stories high with a third now under construction. The walls are made of limestone from South Bimini, coral from the beach and concrete imbedded with conch shell reinforcement.

Scattering the surface of the outer walls are pieces of tiles and plates, shells and coral, and even whole liquor bottles (although Ashley made sure they were empty before being set). Stepping inside the house, there is a main room with a small galley area, two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Each room’s walls are decorated with mosaics made from glass, tile, metal pieces, license plates, mirrors, shells; almost any material you can imagine, whatever Ashley happened to find. The longer you look, the more remarkable things you find stuck in the walls. Like the single flip-flop, or the Alberta licence plate, the spoon, domino piece, porcelain figurine, and miniature horseshoe. All summed up in one word; inspirational!

So, with the week having passed in a pleasant, contented blur, we finally have a weather window to cross. While it is a little sad to leave the Bahamas, we have stocked up our memory closet, filling our spirits with fabulous friendships and enjoyable experiences. And as we travel across to northern Florida and up the east coast towards home, we are now looking forward to new adventures. Each day is an opportunity to see something new, to learn and to discover. And to meet new people, forge new relationships and hopefully, both receive and impart knowledge, wisdom and love.

Additional photos below
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A Conch GraveyardA Conch Graveyard
A Conch Graveyard

There were 3 such piles along the shore near Stuart's Conch Shack

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