41. Northern Exumas

Tuesday 20 MAR 2018 – Allan’s Cay, Exuma Islands, The Bahamas

In the evening after dinner is all cleared up and the sun has dropped below the horizon, I sometimes sit in the cockpit and enjoy the trailing bits of a long day. I’m almost always asleep by 9PM, but since we also eat early, I get an hour or two of twilight before bed. Mostly, the three of us slip off into our own worlds. Glenn will practice guitar, Ava will watch or listen to something on a pod, and I will read or play Sudoku, which I don’t think actually relaxes me, but it’s how I believe I get some thinking done.

Tonight is a clear warm night with little wind and I sit staring out at the bright area that still lingers where the sun used to be an hour before. In the darkening sky, there are a few wispy clouds aglow, reflecting the light of the sun with which they are still in contact. Out here there are many beautiful sunsets and though this isn’t exactly one of those, I am drawn to it because of the crisscrossing clouds, which are slightly uncommon. So, I watch for a while and then unexpectedly I feel the whole scene shift into something more impressive. The clouds have grown into fiery orange layers, translucent yet bright in their overlaps. I wait longer, pinks arrive, but I’m torn about going down below to grab the camera. It’s not extraordinary, I tell myself. But still, ok, this might be a good enough picture. By the time I’m back in the cockpit, taken the camera out of its bag, turned the power on, and focused, the scene has already diminished somewhat. Now I’m annoyed at myself for not having gone down sooner, not really convinced this could have been a fantastic shot, just mad in general at all of the losses that result from my many procrastinations.

Out here things are in constant motion. If I procrastinate, I miss something. Hence, no two scenes are ever the same, no two photographs will ever capture identical images because they can’t even exist. So swift are the changes. Of course, this is true everywhere, but fluctuation is so much more obvious here, there’s so much more of it. At home I watch for and want consistency, for things to be in the same place, look the same, behave the same. Even when they’re not, I bend my mind to see only sameness. In the meantime, I miss all the change. My friend at school teaches a drawing class where she asks her students to draw a plan of their table tops once a day throughout the semester. This exercise gives students an easy and accessible “still life” on which to consistently practice their drawing skills, but more so, it gets them looking closely at life’s objects and their inability to stand still. Of course, the objects’ dance around the table reflects our dance around tables. Their motion is our motion, their lives our lives.

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Wednesday 21 MAR 2018 – Allan’s Cay, Exuma Islands, The Bahamas

This afternoon Glenn wants to move the boat to the other side of the anchorage. The fortunate thing about Allan’s is it has good protection from winds and seas coming from any direction. This doesn’t mean, however, that every spot is good for every condition. Where we currently are will not be good for the northwestern winds we are expecting later in the day. The seas will soon adapt to the new breeze direction and come in through a gap in the rocks aimed right at us.

We pick up the anchor and switch teams. Our new spot in the northeast half of the anchorage is calm and solid, but as the tide drains, our sounder shows the depths beneath the hull getting shallower and shallower. Glenn starts to calculate. He’s worried we will hit bottom before the tide starts to rise again. Let’s move! he says. I get in position behind the windlass on our bow and crank up the anchor. There’s not that much chain out and the bottom is sandy, so the work is fast. As soon as I break the anchor free, we are in motion. We hunt around a bit, including in our old spot which is already much lumpier than before. Glenn settles on a new, slightly deeper, spot in the NE not far from where we just were. Anchor down. Pause. Again he watches the sounder. Again calculations. Again, Let’s move! All together today we move four times. At least I got an arm workout!

 

Thursday 22 MAR 2018 – Norman’s Cay, Exuma Islands, The Bahamas

3AM. Glenn is stepping over my head to get to the salon. His attempts to not wake me up, while noble, fail. He goes up the companionway and stops half way for a long while. Half in, half out. “What’s up?” I finally let my curiosity out. The wind is blowing hard and yesterday afternoon’s run ins with shallow ground have made Glenn anxious. He drags his sleeplessness into the cockpit to keep watch over a dipping sounder. I stay inside our cabin looking up at the sparkling night sky through the screen of our hatch. The stars are blurry, so I put on my glasses. The Milky Way is bright tonight without the moon in the way. I let my eyes drift around the constellations I do not know and make a vow to learn them as I fall back asleep.

In the morning, the wind has swung to the north which makes for a nice easy sail south, running at about 6kts. The weather in The Bahamas has been cool because of these northerlies, which are extending deeper into Spring than usual. The northeast coast of the US, far away from here, has been experiencing a series of nor’easters this winter, the remnants of which get felt down here as cool breezes. For us, it’s hard to complain as the temperatures and humidity remain quite comfortable, but for the first time I stop to consider, climatically, someone else’s hardship as my weather fortune.

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Friday 23 MAR 2018 – Elbow Cay, Exuma Islands, The Bahamas

We are anchored at the far northern end of an almost entirely enclosed bay surrounded by Norman’s Cay. It’s almost like being on a lake, but with the dramatic colors we have gotten used to in The Bahamas. We are the only boat here, and though there a few houses scattered around, I haven’t seen a person not related to me in a while.

I’m up before the other two sitting, pen in hand, in the cockpit. It is light out, but I am waiting for the sun to break over the hill to the east, which should be any minute. Without the sun, it’s chilly again. For a while I put on my hot pink wool hat still up here from yesterday’s chilly morning. When I take it off I touch my hair and feel its wiry coarseness. It’s particularly rough this morning because I didn’t rinse it with fresh water after Wednesday’s swim to shore. For an instant I wonder if it looks okay. Because of the way I sleep, sometimes a big area on the right side of my head will be smudged into a mysterious crop circle made by aliens in the night. I feel around. All feels earthly. I haven’t looked in a mirror in a long while. I’m not without vanity, it’s just that living with the same two people in this isolation, what does it matter what I look like?

I’ve noticed that Ava looks in the mirror less too. When we started this trip, bringing her land habits with her, she would head to the head, where our only mirror is. Sometimes, she would play around with make-up and hairstyles, washing it all off before coming out. Other times she would treat herself to a skin moisturizing treatment, convinced by advertisements that her flawless skin was flawed, or could soon be if she wasn’t careful. What a bunch of dung girls are sold about themselves. What a load of shit. I find myself in the impossible position of reinforcing her understanding of herself as a beautiful being to fend off the media’s insidious messages that she, a fourteen-year-old, needs “products” to prevent the impending diminishment of her looks while at the same time arguing against female beauty as a meaningful or determining signifier. No wonder self-esteem declines so rapidly in early teenagehood for girls. We confuse them with our mixed messages, destabilizing their ability to gauge where their value is. I want this trip to fight against this particularly ugly cultural tendency for my kid, but I don’t think a year away will do it. I don’t think any amount of time will. Maybe though, the trip can give her options. Like the freedom to not look in the mirror.

 

Post script. Overnight when I couldn’t sleep I listened to an interview by Maureen Dowd, famous NYT journalist, and Christiane Amanpour, famous war correspondent. Amanpour, discussing Sarajevo, and other war zones in general, said that the first thing women did whenever there was even a momentary armistice was to go to the beauty salon. She had a lovely way of characterizing this phenomenon: “The real reason, the sub-conscious, the psychological reason, was to stay dignified, to stay human, to keep a little of that humanity the world was taking from them… and that is what beauty does for women (and probably can do for men as well, I was just focusing on women) that in the state of war you don’t know whether you’re going to survive from day to day. And [in war or tense zones] beauty has become the default option and what makes them feel good about themselves.”

Of course, I understand this. It makes sense more than intellectually, but isn’t this also our great sadness as a society?

 

 

Later in the day we sail 8 miles south to Shroud Cay but decide to anchor in the shadow of Elbow Cay due to bad ocean swell. We anchor next to a large catamaran. Almost as soon as we get there the kids take out some jet skis which cause some rolling waves to bouce us a bit. I get annoyed so I yell at the kids something curmudgeony like, (hunch over, toothless old lady voice) Hey you kids, get outta here! Immediately, Ava runs to hide inside and Glenn starts lecturing me about playground anchoring etiquette and how they were here first. What? Huh? When did adults stop yelling at kids? In the past adults yelled just to yell. They didn’t need good reasons. I’m not saying this was good, but more than half the fun of childhood was getting yelled at by grownups. Right?

 

 

Saturday 23 MAR 2018 – Shroud Cay, Exuma Islands, The Bahamas

We move the boat today to Shroud Cay. This is the top of Exuma Park, a national preserve where land and wildlife is protected. Though we are supposed to pay to anchor here, no one comes to collect. In the late morning we pile into the dinghy and motor through an inland waterway that gets us to the sound side of the island. On land, we climb a very short steep trail to the top of a rocky hill tall enough to overlook both the beach and “river” we used to get here. In the clearing on top we find… nothing. There is supposed to be a structure called “Camp Driftwood,” made completely of, yep, zebra wood, just kidding it’s supposed to be driftwood, but we find only a plaque indicating that this is where the (famous?) landmark (used to be) is. Our guidebook had me imagining an intricate hodge podge of silvered wood scraps intricately puzzled together to create a magical nest-cabin in the sky. I saw a sleeping porch, breezy shaded interior, a palmetto thatched roof. It’s “not to be missed” said the author, overselling but probably not by this much. Un. For. Tu. Nately. There’s absolutely nothing here. Not a speck of the place remains. Disappointed we find a shady spot, take out our packed lunch snacks, and have our picnic wondering what might have been here. “It’s a much smaller space than I imagined anyway,” I say sadly, wishing we had found my conjured up version, but grateful to not be disappointed by it’s likely inability to live up to it.

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Shroud Cay waters
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mangroves
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mangroves in color
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Shroud Cay

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Shroud Cay limestone
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Shroud Cay picnic at Camp Driftwood. See it?

 

Sunday 24 MAR 2018 – Hawksbill Cay, Exuma Islands, The Bahamas

The beach at Hawksbill Cay, where we anchor today, is one of the most beautiful I have ever been. On shore we take a small hike, trying to find some ruins without luck. We’ll try again tomorrow. Before heading back to the boat we take a dip in the water. Three tropical fish, white with black tipped fins, come play with us. It’s remarkable how used to people they seem to be. When I dunk under and make a big splash, they don’t dart away, but actually come closer. There were fish like this in Mexico too. I couldn’t understand it until one day I saw a man, waist deep in a giant school of fish, with a big bag of bread crumbs feeding them.

At times it feels like there’s no part of The Bahamas that’s been left untouched by humans. The detritus of contemporary human life is found washed up all over the place, and, even though we are all alone today and this island is uninhabited, I know there have been thousands before me who have already discovered every inch of this island. Or have they? Limestone islands like this are notoriously full of caves and sinkholes, some of which might be interconnected, like the Mexican cenotes were recently found to be. In these holes and their passageways might be some new frontiers humans have yet to see. I find it remarkable that we may have seen more of our universe’s atmosphere than a cave in The Bahamas. But I get it too. Caves are much more frightening.

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Netzah in the distance
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Hiking on Hawksbill

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Monday 25 MAR 2018 – Warderick Wells Cay, Exuma Islands, The Bahamas

In the morning, before we leave Hawksbill, Glenn and I take a quick kayak to another beach. From here we can climb to the find ruins we for which we were searching yesterday. We do. They are scant. I get six mosquito bites.

On the water again we motor to Warderick Wells Cay. This island contains the Exuma Park headquarters. Because of this, there are mooring ball fields, organized trails, some actual buildings, and a lot more people, some of whom are, regrettably, on an adult version of a college Spring Break. They whoop and holler all day and night long as they ride giant circles on their dinghies with giant inflatable swans and ducks as companions and their bald heads getting sunburned.

To escape Glenn and I take a short hike on land to the top of one of the overlooking hills. Here we find scattered ruins of an old plantation of small rock-walled houses and long low dividing walls. We can’t imagine what they could possibly have been growing here, the land is so unhospitable. We climb down the other side and come to an exquisite beach that has a giant shallow area of water. Lounging in the warm water next to Glenn I yell out for a fresh margarita to the invisible waiters. We giggle imagining the scene. When we decide to go instead of climbing back on the hill, I convince Glenn to wade back to our dinghy. This works out well for him as he is tall enough to manage to walk the whole way. For me it’s a lot of swimming with my sandals on my hands.

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Please Note: I will have to post the week’s pictures when I have a better connection. For now, The Bahamas are trying to kill me with their internet.

UPDATE: Pictures have been added!

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