We were riding in an Uber a few weeks ago. Scott was telling the Uber driver (he drove a beautiful white Tesla) about our recent travels. Scott is the gregarious half of ‘us’ and can strike up a conversation with anyone. He mentioned that we had recently been in the Bahamas, an archipelago of nearly 700 islands, 30 of which are inhabited; Panama, on the isthmus linking Central and South America; the San Blas Islands comprising approximately 365 islands, 49 are inhabited; Isla Mujeres, Mexico and then back to the United States. More interesting than where we had traveled, was his conversation about the different cultures, way of life, and the uniqueness of the people we encountered.
In the Bahamas, we visited the Berry Islands (Chub Cay), New Providence Island and Nassau, Northern Exumas Cays (Highbourne, Allan, Staniel and Black Point Settlement), George Town in the Southern Exumas, and finally the Out Island of Cat Island. The Bahamas is a blend of European and African heritages, the latter a legacy of the slave trade. A high percentage of Bahamians are members of the Christian churches. The Bahamas economy is heavily dependent on tourism.
Chub Cay Resort and Marina was our Bahamas entry and exit point for Customs and Immigration. The marina was quite “resort-like” with a very nice hotel, restaurant including a swim-up bar in the very cool infinity pool. Unlike many resorts and marinas we have visited, between the hour of noon to 1-pm, everything closed up for lunch! The resort nurse (COVID testing requirement for Visas), gift shop clerk, grocery store, and many of the marina service providers, including the swim-up bar closed up for an hour for “Siesta Time” we assume! At arrival and departure Scott, with all required paperwork and passports was transported to Customs at the “Airport” in a golf cart at Baja Racing speeds requiring him to hold on tight to not be thrown out.
Nassau is the capital and the most heavily populated city in the Bahamas. We saw an amazing number of motor vehicles competing for space on the roads at high rates of speed with horns blaring! This made walking the busy streets a challenge and crossing the streets risky! The cars drive on the “other” side of the road, the European influence and I kept reminding myself to look both ways, twice! We did go ahead and adventure away from Nassau Yacht Haven to Paradise Island and the Atlantis Resort. Atlantis is an impressive mega-resort, casino, aquarium, hotel and marina. The resort is almost surreal with its high-bridge towers, tapered cupolas and leaping sailfish sculptures. This look-see was certainty worth the risk to life and limb getting there!
We anchored near Highbourne Cay and then Black Point Settlement in the Northern Exumas. Highbourne Cay is a private island and offers a marina, restaurant and store. Most fun was the Xuma Beach Bar we accidentally found around the peninsula from the anchorage in a very pretty bay. We mailed two birthday cards and some post cards from the Highbourne marina store but unfortunately, they never made it to the states, I suspect they never got on or off the Mail Boat, sorry kids!
The Black Point Settlement was a great time. It has the second largest population in the Exumas including all the cruiser necessities. While there, we participated in the first annual SSCA cruiser festival co-sponsored by a local restaurant, Lorrain’s Café. This was a four-day event that included a large sit-down dinner, BBQ’s, live music, dancing, morning walk and island tour benefiting a local charity and a no holds barred beach party. We had a wonderful time along with most of the other cruisers anchored in the harbor! Every festival activity was started with a lovely prayer service and the locals seemed to be interested in having a really good time as well. While there we met SV Dream Weaver crew, Mike and Mary and got to know the Mi Casa (N50) crew, Heidi and Scott who we would end up spending the rest of our time with us cruising the Bahamas.
From Black Point we cruised from the Exuma Bank side of the Islands to the Exuma Sound side. Our destination was cruiser hangout, George Town, the largest city on the Exuma Island with an international airport. We spent 3 weeks at George Town near Stocking Island in the Sand Dollar anchorage which is located in Elizabeth Harbour across from George Town. My sisters, Robin and Julie flew in to join us and we had non-stop fun! The tender was our mode of transportation and we traveled to town for shopping, groceries and some entertainment. Interesting, shops and the grocery and liquor stores were all closed on Sundays as well as the restaurant and bar establishments. The Exuma Market, the local grocery store was often well-stocked with fresh vegetables, fruit, dairy, cheese, meats, etc. All supplies were brought in on the Mail Boat from Nassau, once a week. By the end of the week, many shelves in the market were pretty empty. Heidi and I waited two weeks for the chip and tortilla supply!!
In George Town I noted a slight frustration or impatience from some of the locals, perhaps it was the floating cruiser population that invaded George Town this time of the year. The George Town Cruisers Net reported 279 boats anchored in the harbor when we were there. That many boats brings not only big crowds but also a heavy environmental burden on the harbor. There is a great deal of garbage and rubbish (old boat parts) with minimal if any vessel pump-out options in the harbor. If every boater does not follow the responsible conventions governing discharge and dumping… well, you can imagine. But perhaps also the local a general animosity is with the British Monarchy that still exists, as displayed by protestors demanding reparations during Prince William and Kate Middleton’s recent visit to the Bahamas in March 2022. Whatever, we were always polite, friendly and respectful to the many locals that indeed helped us out.
My favorite spot we visited (twice) in the Bahamas was Cat Island, one of the Out Islands North of the Tropic of Cancer. Our friends Mike and Mary on SV Dream Weaver told us about the Island and all it had to offer. I had just read Out-Island Doctor by Evans W. Cottman, published 35 years ago. It is an autobiography of Evans Cottman’s life when he moved to the remoter parts of the Bahamas from Indiana. He became a doctor to the islanders, “De Doctuh Done Reach” was the phrase used to announce his arrival on an islands. A fascinating story that played out in my mind on Cat Island. We anchored Orenda at Old Bight and enjoyed a couple of wonderful meals at Rollezz Villas Beach Resort and beach bonfires (just ask and they will accommodate!)
We spent some afternoons in New Bight, a tender trip from Old Bight with Duke at Duke’s Conch Stand. We also shopped in New Bight. The stores were about 2-miles from where we landed the tender. The Island culture there was refreshing; a sister of the grocery store owner gave us a ride back to the tender with all our groceries and then we were offered a ride to the liquor store to buy beer and the bakery for coconut bread which we gladly accepted. When I took the girls back to do more shopping on another day, Duke helped me anchor my tender (first mates on Dream Weaver and Mi Casa).
While visiting Cat island, we hiked to the Hermitage on prominent Mount Alvernia (Comer Hill) with a commanding view of the Cat Island shore and Exuma Sound. It is a small, stone, medieval-style monastery built in 1939 by Father Jerome (John Hawes), a Roman Catholic Priest. The islanders considered him a saintly figure, living barefoot and as a hermit. Hiking to and touring the monastery is encouraged and you can sense his religious devotion in his beautiful and detailed hand-carved reliefs of the Stations of the Cross. He was buried there in 1956, barefoot and without a casket in a cave somewhere on the site of the Hermitage.
We had such a great time and some amazing adventures during our first visit to the Bahamas and our nearly two months there went by so fast. It was however time for us to get back to the States and find a safe location to leave Orenda for the next exciting adventure we had planned.
We were the lucky invitees to transit the Panama Canal, Pacific to Atlantic, with good friends and cruising companions on Red Rover (N55), Kevin and Alison. It was over three years ago we left Seattle, WA together. They were on Red Rover and we were on our N47 Epoch. Together we made the “Big Left Turn” down the US west coast and on to Mexico. We settled on Brunswick, GA as a safe haven to leave Orenda, a mere 450nm non-stop run from Chub Cay Bahamas, and flew to Panama City where we were greeted by Max, my little buddy of Red Rover fame and of course friends Kevin and Alison who we had not seen since La Cruz, MX 2 1/2 years ago.
I am not going to try and explain how cool this adventure was as guest crew on Red Rover, (we know another killer blog post will likely appear soon on comeonrover.com). After spending a short time in Panama City, our canal transit was a long day starting at 4:00 am to pick up our trip advisor. Scott was one of the line-handlers, Alison as well and Darrin, a friend of Kevin and Alison who has an explosive enthusiastic and fun personality! Doug and Mary N46 One Life were aboard also. Kevin captained Red Rover and a capable captain he was! I was responsible to make sure food, (prepared the day before) was hot and ready for all (breakfast burritos, lasagna, snacks and beverages). AND Mary and I were Max’s handlers. We did not want the little man to get in the way and I was happy to assist!
A day later, after a successful transit, we were cruising southeast to the San Blas Islands. These islands are postcard beautiful surrounded by pristine turquoise waters, white sandy beaches with tall coconut palms. The San Blas are inhabited by the Guna Tribe people. They are a community of proud people that have their own laws, norms, and values that go along with their centuries old culture. Each community has a chief or saila and decisions are made by the saila in meetings held in a community house or Onmaked Nega. Guna families are matrilinear with the groom moving in to become part of the bride’s family. The groom also takes the last name of the bride. Religion or belief is based on God, nature and the cosmos.
Traditional housing is rural thatched houses or cabanas with no electricity or running water. They mainly survive on fishing and harvesting fruits, especially coconuts. Guna transportation is by dugout canoes and paddles, sometimes with archaic sails. We did see one or two canoes powered by an outboard. We were cautioned in the cruising manuals not to go on the islands unless invited, not to take photos of the Guna people, not to pick up coconuts. Spear fishing and fishing is only allowed by the Guna people. We were fortunate to be invited to come ashore at several locations.
We anchored around a few of the islands during our visit to the San Blas. At each new anchorage, local Guna women and their children would come to the boat in their canoes to sell us molas and jewelry. Molas are a type of colorful-embroidered textile featuring nature motifs such as flowers, birds, turtles and other animals that reflect the spiritual beliefs of the Guna. The Guna women wore the molas made into blouses and brightly-colored bands wound around the arms and legs. We were also approached by canoes selling fish and lobster and one canoe brought along an entire produce market, which of course, we gladly purchased! Alison and Kevin would always offer cold cokes or water, candy for the children and even art supplies. Our experience with the Guna people was delightful and most welcoming.
The water temperature in the San Blas was 85 degrees plus. Swim-able!
We also learned from the cruising manual about an island in the San Blas archipelago called Rio Diablo. The island was supposed to have a population who have given up the traditional Guna ways. There is electricity, running water, a bank, police station and even a jail, how different! On our last day in the San Blas, we decided to cruise by Rio Diablo which we coined “sin city.” We cruised around the island but did not find a good anchorage or dinghy dock so we skipped an onshore visit. During our week in the San Blas, we noticed Gunas with cellular phones and small solar panels, probably used to charge the phones. Perhaps the new generation is seeing life outside of the traditional ways through the world wide web. Let’s hope it doesn’t change things too fast.
We completed our guest crew adventure on a non-stop route from Panama to Isla Mujeres, MX, nearly 900nm. We flew from there back to Georgia to resume our adventures aboard Orenda.
The varying cultures within the Bahama Islands, Mexico, Panama and in the San Blas Islands is mesmerizing. Golf carts, dugout canoes, motor vehicles, mega resorts, thatched houses, Mail Boats, a Hermitage built by hand in 1939, hand-made molas, simple beliefs, living without electricity, running water and internet……. Just truly fascinating and very special to experience.
Well, maybe not that fascinating to just read about but as Scott and I make these adventures together it makes me wonder about what our life and lifestyle would be like without Orenda. What we would not have learned about, and would we view life and all it has to offer in a way that warms our hearts and souls like it does today? I think not. Hope you enjoy!!!