Almost At Home

Duncan Raymond Issue: Section:

I'm not a real vacation person--I don't have them often and don't know what to do with myself when I'm on one. But last December I went to the Bahamas with my wife, Stacey-Jo. I know the Bahamas moderately well because I have helped a few people sail their boats through and around them on their way to and from the Virgin Islands and Virginia. On one of our deliveries, my wife and I eloped. The Bahamas are my favorite place to cruise, though we flew this time.

The water is shallow and protected by outer islands. The fact that it is shallow, yet tidal, means that the coral and sea beds are flushed more or less continuously with fresh, unpolluted water, which makes diving and swimming extremely pleasant and keeps the coral and fish healthy. I have seen coral in the Virgins die, so I'm happy to see that the coral in the Bahamas seemed very healthy.

We like snorkeling and diving, so we did a lot of it. For the winter, a thin wetsuit helped.

In my work life I am a stagehand and usually meet and hang out with other stage hands. In my vacation life I meet the sort of people who might not want to hang out with stage hands otherwise--sailors, doctors, a professional canoeist, lawyers. It's worth going on vacation to see what the rest of the world does day to day. On this trip we met and spent most of our time with Casey and Alicia, a power couple from Richmond, Virginia. Casey runs a youth camp based on white water rafting on the James River, which runs through the middle of Richmond with class three rapids, and Alicia runs the sustainability department for the city. They were idealistic and accomplished, the sort of people I like to know.

I think most people know the Bahamas for Paradise Island, a spectacular money pit near Nassau, the largest city in the Bahamas. I've been diving in Nassau Harbor a couple of times and took refresher courses in a pool at Paradise Island, so I can't really knock it just because it's a money pit. It is located in a great spot.

We stayed in the Abacos--Abaco Island and a few smaller islands comprise the northeast corner of the Bahamas--and loved it. Transportation, aside from the cab ride from the airport, was by bicycle or foot. We stayed in an area of housing developments that were mostly empty and owned by foreigners: mostly white Canadians, English and Americans. The few of these residents who were present avoided talking with us tourists. We waved from our rented bicycles.

I think part of the charm of the Abacos is that it gets torn up quite often by hurricanes. This keeps the resorts both new and relatively inexpensive. Our dive master said he'd experienced fourteen hurricanes in his twenty years on the island.

It's worth noting that we left December 7th and returned the 23d. That was an excellent way to avoid a lot of the stress of the Holidays and it is also low season in the Abacos, so the whole trip was inexpensive, perhaps a third of what it might cost otherwise. High season is the summer, when Floridians go to escape the heat.

The whole time we were there we thought of how great it would be to have our sailboat, a forty-six year old thirty footer, in the Bahamas. Our boat draws under five feet and most of the places we enjoyed had nearby anchorages with over 6 feet. When we returned, we began making plans in earnest to get our boat down there.

There are coral mounts in the Bahamas, blue holes a thousand feet deep and lots of snorkeling. There are a ton of uninhabited islands; there are lots of sandy beaches. We had a three mile long beach to ourselves perhaps half a dozen times. We saw two kinds of turtles, swam with stingrays and nurse sharks, and saw the usual assortment of tropical fish. The only advantage of diving over snorkeling is that the shallower, more accessible, snorkeling spots have been kicked around a bit by the usually less experienced snorkelers. This kills the coral and breaks some of its branches, but even the shallow coral was in good shape.

You can snorkel from the shore or dive from a boat. We did both. Of our fourteen days there, we spent eleven in the water one way or another.

The Bahamas are the way I imagine the Florida Keys were fifty years ago, underdeveloped, slightly inconvenient--it took us two flights and an eighty dollar cab ride to get where we stayed (Treasure Cay, very nice, though I'm sure some would think it shabby)--and beautiful. The true Bahamians were almost universally polite and cheerful. It almost made me believe in the efficacy of going to church on Sundays, which I think a lot of them do.

I did not have my camera out when we passed "Little Haiti", an enclave of Haitian refugees halfway between the airport and the resort. The huts there were squalid and looked very much like the third world places I've been to. But there were lots of kids running around, quite happy, maybe. Perhaps I was projecting, though I think kids always find joy in play. I asked our cab driver about the houses and he explained that when the Haitians were intercepted they were brought there. "They will need to start living Bahamian style," he said, meaning they would need to build better houses less close together. "But we can't send them back," he said, "they have to live somewhere."

a butterfly in the Parrot Preserveplane wreckage in the Parrot Preserveplane wreckage humorsunset at the end of a cul de sac

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