Friday, May 15, 2015

Florida East - Treasure Cay

As soon as we got settled after successfully navigating the entrance to the anchorage at Treasure Cay, we looked around and mused "we could be in Florida!".

Getting in is best done with higher than low tide as there are some shallow spots, especially before the channel begins.

Once in the channel, the markers are abundant and you can see where the shallow spots are.

Inside you will find about half a dozen mooring balls in good conditions, and plenty of room to anchor.  This is where the resemblance to Florida is found.  The anchorage is in a series of canals that are protected by bulkheads and homes.  Even the water is greenish but still clear and clean.  Holding is good if you can't get a mooring.

The moorings cost $20 per night, and you can anchor for $10 per night.  This gets you all of the amenities offered by the nearby marina which include wifi, showers, a restaurant and a nice pool.  You can get limited water by filling your jugs at the marina.

We happily dropped anchor and met some new friends in the process when we settled side-by-side of them.  Their attitude was that if our boats got too close to one another, they'd put out some fenders and raft us up!  How cool is that????  Turns out that they also know Karl and Jan on White pepper and they joined us all for happy hour which lasted well into dark when we were abruptly scattered by a brief rain shower.

The following day we joined our friends for a beach walk.  The beach is right across the street from the marina and has chairs and shady palms.  Treasure Cay has one of the Abacos Top Ten Beaches and it is no lie.

Our mission: to find french fries.  We had heard that there were special fries at a place called Treasure Sand's Club and we were hot to see what all the fuss was about.  It was a rather long walk, but hey, the view makes up for any discomfort we felt and we enjoyed the time to chat with one another.

The TSC is a resort-in-the-making.  There is a very nice open air restaurant.  We sat and ordered drinks and lunch and spent a decadently long time sitting at the table.  Our waiter was the BEST and he made it clear that our happiness was his first priority.  When we finished lunch, we drifted towards the pool, half expecting someone to object... until our waiter approached with an offer of clean towels for us all.  Talk about customer service!!!

After the frosty reception and attitude we felt at MOW Cay, this was such a welcome change.  We spent the entire afternoon hanging out at this beautiful pool, feeling like we truly ARE "The Rich And Famous".  THIS... is the good life!

We were all shocked to realize the time was moving on towards sundown.  We reluctantly left this oasis and trekked back the way we had come.  The view was slightly different with the changed light as the sun slanted behind us.

It's really hard work, this Cruiser life... by the time we reached our "home beach" we were all sweaty and tired.  We took a break under a shady palm tree and just stared out at the beauty that is ours.

Our mood was now a bit somber.  Our friends from home would be leaving in the morning.  It has been so good seeing them but there's just never enough time to properly catch up.

The White Pepper left to get our friends to the airport and Bruce and I stayed on another day.  We did a little fishing (catching nothing) and enjoyed the pool.  This place is so well protected and feels just so welcoming, we will put it on our list of places to return for sure. Maybe it's the fact that it's reminiscent of home (the US), maybe it's because it's just so EASY here... but the place is truly named Treasure Cay.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Welcome to The Abacos

We left Egg Island at Sunrise
We sprayed the gills with tequila 
The days are flipping by fast here in the Abacos.  While crossing the Northwest Providence Channel to Abaco, we boated not one...

but TWO small Mahi-Mahi… our first ever!  We anchored off a beach near Little Harbour (N26°19.885, W076°59.816) after motorsailing over 50 miles and then waited while our friends on White Pepper came up from Marsh Harbour to meet us.  Bruce was so excited to see Robert he had a whole list of things he wanted to talk to him about.  

Totally not what I expected...
We all went to Pete’s Pub for dinner where we had one of the best meals we’ve eaten since we’ve been in the Bahamas… a little pricey, but it was VERY good.  

We tucked in behind that light blue bank
The next day we waited for high tide so that White Pepper could get out of the mooring field through the very shallow channel and headed for a more protected anchorage.  We had to skip snorkeling at Sandy Cay because the swell rolling in off the Atlantic made the reef look like ferocious teeth just waiting to slice and chop anyone foolish  enough to try it…  Will put that on our list of places to return.  With winds reaching 20 knots we choose to tuck in behind the shallow bank at Tilloo Pond.

The water was nice and flat there and we enjoyed some time on the beach and a pot luck dinner aboard White Pepper. 
A BIG charter boat came in during the night

Clear waters and thousands of baby fish!
The water in the Sea of Abaco is Emerald GREEN!
Until it changes to blue green, then blue as you near the barrier islands

The very narrow entrance to MOW
With more wind in the forecast, we chose the protected waters of Man-O-War Cay for our next stop.  I say “chose”… in actuality, Bruce and I were pretty much just tagging along with White Pepper.  They’ve been to the Bahamas many times and knew which places they wanted to take their guests.  We had pretty much just cleared our schedule so that we were up for anything.  

We encountered some traffic coming out as we entered
Man-O-War Cay was an interesting place.  It is very different from the other islands we’ve visited.  Different in that it was very clean and tidy, with quaint and colorful little homes lining the narrow cement streets.  The only mode of transportation on the island seems to be golf carts.  And there were a lot of them zoom-zooming around as we walked along marveling at the colorful flowers growing in the lush green yards of the residents.  
Cement streets wide enough for two golf carts

Beautiful green lawns and tropical landscaping

Moorings were VERY close together!
God Fearing... but also God Blessed - with unmatched beauty
The island is described as being a “God-Fearing” place.  That seems to translate to it being a “dry” place where alcohol is not sold anywhere.  No bars and no cocktails in the few restaurants.  This isn’t a big deal for us… we’ve got a lifetime supply of booze onboard after our recent trip to Jimmy’s Wine and Spirits on North Eleuthera… no, it was ICE CREAM that I crave!  Unfortunately our walk to the ice cream shop ended in defeat… they were closed!  We are getting used to the fact that “business hours” in the Bahamas… well, the concept just doesn’t exist here.  

Small grocery but well stocked
There is a small but well stocked grocery store one street up and a couple of streets over on the hill.  We stopped in to see if we needed anything.  I say that because it really doesn’t work like in the US, where you make a list of the things you need and you go buy them.  Here, you go and see what the store has to offer and then you buy the things you can use from what’s offered.  It isn’t as bad as it sounds… it saves a lot of time I would normally have spent planning meals.  

It was our lucky day!  As we strolled the refrigerated aisle, I began to notice stickers on some items with big marked down prices.  A block of Monterey Jack cheese, regularly almost $6 was marked down to $1.99…  Shredded mozzarella marked $5.65 was $.99.  Cream cheese, yogurt cups… $.99!!!  I gathered a couple of each, trying not to be greedy.  The items were marked down for quick sale because they were due to expire soon.  We aren’t choosey!  We’ve been eating things we bought in the US six months ago!  We’re used to eating expired food!!! 

So with our backpack full of cold stuff and others, we had to hurry back to the boat.  The folks on White Pepper returned from a trip to the beach and came over for happy hour.  

Some time in the night we had a little bit of trouble.  One of the cats had a hardball incident which, in the light of morning proved to be all over our bed.  I haven’t been to a laundromat since we left Georgetown and I carry two sets of sheets… we’re using the second set.  So, instead of taking that planned walk into town… we had to do an emergency load of bucket laundry.  While our friends zoomed off into town, we were left behind chugging the plunger into a bucket and wringing seemingly endless lengths of sheet.  We couldn’t really leave the boat until everything was off the lifelines and safely dry.  

Finally at about 11 am, we were done.  We packed a lunch, parked the dinghy at the marina dinghy dock and took off on foot headed north of town.  We passed the cute little homes along the way, again marveling at how neat and CLEAN this island is.  Nowhere else have we seen such extensive landscaping and lush greenery.  There are no piles of trash.  NONE.  All of the homes are in near-perfect condition.  There are no unfinished buildings, no overgrown empty lots.  It’s very conspicuous after we’ve grown used to seeing the ramshackle hodgepodge of buildings on the other islands. 
Our destination is a spot on the island where you can see the Sea of Abaco and the Atlantic on both sides.  I have no idea how far it is, I’m thinking about 2.5 miles… we walked.  The cement streets ended and were replaced by a sandy track.  The path was just wide enough for the golf carts that continued to buzz to and fro.  We would step aside to allow them to pass.  It would be tragic to be run down by a speeding golf cart at this stage in the game.  

The lush landscaping continued to amaze us.  It’s as if thousands of unseen gardeners work busily night and day to keep the entire island in tip top shape.  We did see one gardener trimming the hedges along the sand street… he had a lot of work ahead of him.  Palm trees shaded our way much of the time, which was nice because we had topped the hill and were walking on the lee side of the island where it was completely still… and getting hot.  

There are quirky little bungalows all along the way with cute names.  Cottages I guess.  Some must be rentals but many were homes.  Each was unique and well kept.  Of all the islands we’ve been to, this is the first where I think it would be really neat to spend a vacation… if I were into vacations, that is…  There’s beauty, there’s quiet, it would be like being lost on a deserted island for a while… only better!

The “Queen’s Highway” turned to the right as we were just about beginning to give up on our quest.  We emerged out onto the Atlantic side with stunning views of the many shades of blue and wild white sand…  It was just breathtaking.  I told Bruce “just a little further” and luckily, I was correct.  Just around the bend was a small pavilion with seats and a picnic table.  It is sitting on a narrow strip of rock where, indeed… the Sea of Abaco, calm and placid with anchored sailboats floating lazily in the mid day sun… almost met the crashing sucking waves of the Atlantic Ocean.  It isn’t a very windy day and I can only imagine how violent this strip would be in a big blow… There is evidence of this in the piles of sea grass thrown onto the narrow road.  

Sea of Abaco to the left, Atlantic Ocean to the right
We sat and ate our sandwiches while the sweat dried on our shirts.  This is a place I could live….

Except maybe not.  All of this paradise… all of this beauty… seems to hide a dark secret.  Forgive me if I’m wrong, but during the short time we’ve been here…we’ve had a feeling that we are not welcome.  

It started when we went to the marina to pay for our mooring ball.  We were told repeatedly that NOTHING is included in the mooring.  Boats on moorings are not allowed to use any of the marina facilities (which are meager at best).  Not the pool, not the wi-fi.  We CAN pay to leave our trash and we can buy fuel and water at the fuel dock…  The dinghy dock is the only thing we can use here.  OK so whatever… 

Back to those zooming golf carts… not one person smiled or waved at us.  We have grown accustomed to the friendly faces and upraised hands offered by complete strangers… the flashing smiles and welcoming, helpful attitudes we’ve experienced everywhere in these islands… except here.  And the stunning difference?  These people are white.  All white.  The only black people here are the workers, the grocery store clerk, the men in the boat building shop… the gardeners… (all of which leave at the end of the workday on a small ferry boat) They have been friendly enough, but the white people?  Sour faces and almost no eye contact.  

It’s like they really don’t want us here but can’t figure out how to stop it…  They are building a beautiful paradise.  It’s clean, there is no alcohol, no smoking… and if they could get away with it, no riffraff boaters mucking up their private world.  

Now understand that I’m not trying to be judgmental or invite anyone to throw tomatoes at me when I say this… but it would seem that the general tone on this island is a bit exclusive.  It’s as if the people who live here (we saw one golf cart with the official Chic-fil-A logo painted on the side) are building themselves an insulated bubble in paradise.  They seem to want no blacks, no drinkers, no riffraff of any kind on their island.  There is no evidence of charity or welcome here. How can there be this much “frost” underneath the warm Bahamian Sun???   It was a little disconcerting!  We’re glad we came here to see this unique place, and our lunch on that narrow strip was such a lovely moment for us… but we want to go (and spend our money) where we feel welcome… and Man-O-War Cay could do a little better in the "Welcome to my island" category.  But hey... maybe if all this was MINE... I wouldn't want to share it either...!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Days Become A Blur

I am amazed as I sit down to write about our time in Hatchet Bay… that we were there for ten days.  Ten. Days.  TEN DAYS of our lives that are already remembered as a pleasant Blur.  

Once we realized that the back-to-back weather systems rolling across the Bahamas would be making things unpleasant, we quickly decided that there really was no option other than to just settle in and wait it out.  Yes, we COULD leave, but we would be subjecting ourselves to uncertainty that would most decidedly tip the scales towards unpleasantness… and we aren’t much up for that.  

It’s funny.  I have to go back through the pictures we took in order to even remember what we did for all of those days.  Let’s just go through them together.

Perhaps you remember our hasty departure from Rock Sound almost two weeks ago… Well, we left there without topping off our water tanks.  The weather turned ugly so we just left at about half full tank capacity.  This makes me nervous.  The last thing I want to do is get trapped on the boat for days by the weather and run out of water.  So the first order of business in Hatchet Bay was to source RO water.
The water plant.  Nice people, delicious water!
There are supposedly numerous public water spigots throughout the settlement, but we went straight to the water plant for drinking water.  We docked around the corner from the government dock and walked across the street with our empty 5 gallon jugs and our new (to us) wheeled cart.  The lady at the Lutra Pure store was very nice and we chatted while the jugs were filled and Bruce carried them one by one back to the dinghy.  She and I became pretty cozy before we left the Bay.  She’s a nice lady and she shared lots of info about how it is to live and own a business in the Bahamas, especially the new VAT tax that’s been implemented.

Firetruck in Hatchet Bay
Anyway, we took our 25 gallons of water back to the boat and decided to check out the public spigots to see how good (or bad) the water was before we made another trip to the plant.  We had paid $4.30 per five gallon jug.  While that isn’t a lot for drinking water… I’m not going to feel free with it for washing my hair and doing dishes. We took a short walk around town finding two public spigots.  One was locked and one was open.  We ran a cupful intending to test it but it came out brownish gray and very murky… no need to test that.  Guess we’ll be buying more water.  But… rain was in the forecast so chances were good that we would be able to collect free water from the sky!

On our rainy days, which were maybe 5 in all… collecting rainwater was about all we did.  We would stay inside the enclosure, or if it got too bad and the enclosure got wet, we huddled down below.  We mostly read.  I cooked.  We ran the generator twice a day to charge our batteries on those days since our solars were getting a little vacation. Every time we ran the generator we would heat water for bathing, charge up our electronic devices… and run the air conditioners!  YES!  We would dry out our boat with a little blast of cool dry air.  

The rain would last all day.  Mostly it was light and steady, but there were several periods of torrential downpour.  At first, we let the water run off the boat.  We had arrived with a thick layer of salt from the big waves outside our safe haven.  Once we felt that the rain should be running relatively clean, we started collecting it in our five gallon buckets.  We tested the quality and found it to be a wonderful 76ppm.  That is better than what we’ve been buying!!!  We filled our back tank but had to wait a couple of days for another big rain to top them all off.  The second time we collected about 84 gallons of rainwater that measured in the 60’s.  We wished we had more buckets!!!  

The public dinghy dock 

Alice Town was a sleepy little place.  On sunny days (or maybe just not rainy days) we walked the streets.  As usual, the people are so very friendly.  The homes are modest buy the people seem to be happy.  
Look who came in out of the rain!  The Liberty Clipper!

Mangos growing everywhere!

Finally updating the menu
We saw several locals taking food from one particularly unassuming little building.  Bruce zeroed right in on that place. His theory is that if the locals are eating there, it must be good.  We talked to the owner and decided to return for lunch the next day.  Bahamian menus require some interpretation.  Today’s menu consisted of sweet and sour pork chop… baked chicken… and curry chicken with rice.  We chose the latter… but in retrospect we should have known that the first two items had definite recognizable pieces of meat.  Therefore, by process of elimination, the chicken curry with rice would be the parts of the chicken that didn’t make it onto the baked chicken plate.  It was GOOD… but again, we’re going with “authentic”.  
View out the door... life on the island

Had to go to the liquor store next door for our drinks... even water!

After our lunch out, we joined Deb and Paul from S/V Kelley Nicole at Da Spot.  It’s a funky little locals bar near the dock.  We whiled away the whole afternoon, enjoying cheap beer and really good rum punches while the locals carried on with life as usual around us.  

The grocery store in Alice Town was pretty nice.  They had a decent selection… nothing like Georgetown but better than the other outer settlements we’ve visited.  The prices were even pretty good.  We have finally run out of chips from our original provisioning back in the States.  We were able to find a couple of bags of chips at prices we would pay.

We picked up a few things and paid while the lady working there jiggled to the beat of a Christian music radio station.  She even showed us pictures on her cell phone of the flooding on nearby Harbour Island.  Crazy… I wondered why the water didn’t just run off into the ocean…  Guess there are some low spots.

We asked her if there was a place to buy fresh bread and were given directions:  "Go back one street and turn right.  Go down until you pass the peach colored house on the right and the yellow car on the left, then take the next track road to the left."  We cautiously followed the instructions and found this house with no sign.  We halooo’d and a guy told us this was the right spot.  A lady came out looking at us as if she wondered how we had found her… but then she sold us some really great bread for $3.50 per loaf.  We should have bought more.
We dinghied back as the rain began to fall!
We met up with another couple from S/V Cheshire and went exploring.  There is a huge cave about 2.5 miles north of Alice Town.  We figured we could walk that so off we went.  It wasn’t long before we got picked up and Bruce and I had our first Bahamian hitch hiking.  I was very glad that we didn’t have to walk all that way.  It was a sunny day but strangely cool after the rains.  Still, it was a long distance.
The lady dropped us off at the entrance to the caves, where there used to be a sign… but it’s gone.  Without her we might have missed it.  

Hatchet Bay Cave is huge and extensive.  There are three levels.  We followed the well worn path down into the first level.  I was once again amazed that this place is just open to the public.  Unfortunately, that public has been unable to control themselves as is evidenced by rampant graffiti.  It is very sad.  There are supposedly some sort of writings on the walls that were not done by recent visitors and while I think I might have spotted one of those, I’m not sure.  
Look closely... I caught a DRIP!

Lori and Mike went down first!
The second level was accessed by a short climb down into a hole on a narrow and rickety looking ladder.  My knees were beginning to shake as I made my way down.  It opened up into huge chambers connected by narrow passageways.  We had to duck and crawl in a couple of places but most of the cave was just, well, cavernous.  There is a thin string that leads all through the caves to keep you from getting lost.  It would be a definite possibility if you left the main pathway, which we did not…  
Bruce could barely get through with the pack on his back

My favorite formation.  It's like a castle


There is evidence of water having once been down here.  Many of the formations are water carved.  Others are the typical stalactite and stalactites but there were really not so many of those.  

The ladder down to the third level.
I was just beginning to worry about making it out alive when we happened upon the ladder leading to the third level of the cave.  It was a wood ladder that led down into a small hole where water could be seen waiting… That portion of the cave was over our experience level and should be visited with a guide or by experienced cave divers… not us.  

Just after that we saw a light at the end of the tunnel, literally.  One last skinny spot to crawl under left us staring up from the bottom of a deep hole.  It was like being down inside of a well.  The walls were sheer vertical rock.  Our only way out was to scale a rope ladder.  My initial knee jerk reaction was:  No way I’m getting up that!!!  But the only choices were that or retraced our steps back through the cave.  Guess we’re going up.  
Ever wondered what it looks like from the bottom of a WELL????
It was not as difficult as it looked.  Only the last part was dicey as I gripped the bottom of a bush growing in the rock at the top.  I thought for a second that it was very possible that today would be the day when that bush decided to uproot… but it didn’t happen.  WOW!  What an experience that was!  We followed the trail through the bush back to the cave’s start and made our way back to the road.
Since they went first last time, we went first this time!
Back to the cave entrance through the brush

Pineapples growing in the fields
We hiked further north up to take a look at Gregory Town.  We stopped at the Sugar Apple and paid way too much for fish/lobster tacos then hitched a ride back to Hatchet Bay.  After several cars passed us walking, Bruce held out a five dollar bill and the next car stopped.  It was a fun and adventurous day.  One of those that left me wondering how I ever ended up here… doing this… while life goes on as usual back home.  
Old Silos stand at the top of the hill

Bruce held out a $5 and a car stopped to pick us up

North Eleuthera Airport
Our three month anniversary is fast approaching.  It’s hard to imagine we’ve already been here for three months.  Time to renew our immigration status has arrived and we need to find an immigration office pronto.  Since S/V Kelley Nicole were with us on our crossing from Miami to Bimini, it was time for them too!  We picked what we hoped would be a sunny day (not) to rent a car and take an island tour of Eleuthera.

Turned out that we had some rain, lots of clouds, but a nice cool day to explore.  But first, we needed to get our immigration office visit out of the way.  We drove to the North Eleuthera Airport, such as it was… and were told that we needed to go to another office back in the town.  This was not an unexpected development… I’ve heard the stories.  After a side trip to Jimmy’s liquor store (where we found super cheap prices and piled our trunk high with boxes) we backtracked to the little town.

Waiting at the door...
We found the office.  It was closed.  No phone number, no hours of operation on the door.  Hmmm.  We walked next door to check out the grocery store while Bruce waited at the door in case someone showed up.  I never miss an opportunity to shop for groceries.  You never know what you’ll find.  
Never pass up a grocery opportunity

Typical selection

Not many planes moving on a flooded runway
Patiently waiting...
Then, back to the airport we went to report our findings to the immigration office.  The guy there called for us and told us to go back again, she would be there in ten minutes.  Back we went, she showed up, we filled out our forms requesting an extension.  Nothing too difficult, where are we staying, how will we support ourselves while here…  The usual.  After a short wait, we had our extensions and the rest of the day to enjoy!

We drove back south on the Queen’s Highway and stopped at the Glass Window.  It isn’t as impressive in settled weather as it was the last time we were here.  We took a charter on the Liberty Clipper back in 2011 and the Atlantic side was a wild frenzy of towering, crashing waves. Today, the dark clouds provided a dramatic view… and a downpour that cut our visit short.  
Rain is coming!

The Atlantic side
Dinghy Dock at French Leave Resort
Next stop, Governor’s Harbour.  We stopped at the French Leave Resort so that we could pay for that night on their mooring ball a few days ago.  The manager was so impressed with our honesty that he waived the fee.  Nice guy.  The facility is very new and still under construction.  But what is there is just stunning and very upscale.  We had lunch in their beautiful restaurant.  It was delicious and not too expensive.  

The view from The Beach House
Leaving there, we headed to the other side of the island to see the pink beach and hopefully, to find that funky beach bar we hung out in back in 2011.  Finding it from a car was different than walking up on it from the beach side, but when we passed The Beach House, I just knew that was it.  We spent an enjoyable afternoon talking to the two bartenders there and learning about their lives.   I love it when you get the Bahamians talking about their home.  
Yes we closed down the bar with these two!

The Pink Beach at French Leave
At closing time, we drove back over to Governor’s Harbour and got out to take a short walk.  The old buildings here are just gorgeous.  The cemetery had graves dating back to the 1800s and most were falling down.  Having been here once before, we noticed that the town seemed to be a bit more run-down.  Maybe I remember it through rose colored glasses from our last visit being our first to the Bahamas…  
The old Library

We got there just before closing time

I love these old cemeteries

Beautiful old churches

Well, that’s it.  After we had our renewed visas, the weather forecast looked like we would get a break.  Several days of light winds.  Not from the right direction of course, but light enough to allow us to make our two-day jump to the Abacos.  Hatchet Bay was a perfect place to hide out from weather.  But we’re happy to be on our way again!