The Exumas (Bahamas)
You know before you land in the Exumas that you are really in for something special. About halfway through our very short 90 minute flight, we looked out of our windows and as far as they eye could see there were small islands and sandbars.
The plane lands next to a small, one room structure. That room functions as both baggage claim and customs. Once your luggage is walked the 15 or so feet over to the building you turn around and you're pretty much in line to clear customs.
We walked over to one of the car rental stands, and after speaking with the awesome folks that work there, discovered they knew the owners of our home and recommended the same charter company as our homeowner. Turns out everyone is related to someone one way or another.
We loaded up our early 90's Mitsubishi Montero and headed for our AirBnB, obviously stopping at the very clearly labeled liquor store on the airport road. Kalik beer and dark rum, please.
The drive was short and easily navigable. We stopped at a roadside market to stock up on some basic groceries, which we would recommend. Restaurants are most definitely "island time". So much so that sometimes there are not even employees inside.
Once we turned off the main road, we began to realize how truly lucky we got with our Airbnb. The road was unpaved and flooded in areas, and up ahead to the left we could see what looked like the house we picked out in the photos.
Aside from the easy going Australian couple staying on the second floor unit of the home we rented, we had an entire stretch of beach to ourselves. The snorkeling off of our beach was just as good as any other beach line we saw on the island; large varieties of fish(including a barracuda) and a few sting rays. No sharks, yet.
The house was the ideal spot for porch drinking and star shooting, we could see the milky way right from the deck. For the record, the rum is strong(and delicious).
The second day we explored the island and drove to all around. We walked to the public beach, bought some keepsakes from the locals and watched a pick up basketball game. We eventually made it to the very end of the island, Williams Town, and an old salt mine with huge cliffs, horizon views and a couple of small hikes. On the way back we stopped near the bridge to walk the sea wall and take some aerial photos.
After we drove the length of the island took the ferry over to Stocking Island. There was a little bar called the Chat 'N' Chill to eat and order drinks. The island was also outfitted with volleyball courts, hammocks, picnic tables, as well as resident cats and sting rays. You could also buy "Stingray Food". We hung out there for about 2 hours then headed back to the main island.
That night was another night of porch drinking, which was not the best idea since we had to be on a boat early the next morning.
At 9am the next morning we were picked up by the tour company we were recommended to, Coastline Adventures. They drove us and a few others to the far side of the island and boarded a boat. We were welcomed with unlimited rum punch and beers. Keep in mind it's around 9:30am. We then headed out on our tour. Once deep enough, we jumped in and dove for some Conch with one of the tour guides, which would later be used for fresh Conch Ceviche.
After the conch exploration we headed off again and with no explanation our captain stopped in the middle of the ocean. It was not too deep and on closer inspection, we could see plane wreckage no more than 8 feet below the surface of the water. We were the only two people on our boat to jump in with snorkels, and once we swam up to the wings of the plane, we realized we were not alone. 3-4 nurse sharks had made the boat their home. Once another tour boat pulled up, we left and continued to the next stop.
From there we went to see the infamous swimming pigs. Although adorable, do get a little aggressive if you choose to feed them, but if you don't feed them they will let you swim and explore, without giving you a second thought.
Next up, swimming with nurse sharks (on purpose this time) at Compass Cay. Compass Cay had such a laid back vibe, it made swimming with the sharks an easy decision(I had done this before but Emily was very nervous), the nerves seemed to disappear. They sharks will swim right up to you, you can snorkel in the cay, or just stand in the shallow water and let them approach you.
After the adrenaline rush subsided, we all boarded up the boat for a little r&r on an isolated sandbar in the middle of the Atlantic. Here, we had more rum punch and watched the captains whip up a fresh conch salad, using the conchs caught earlier that morning.
After lunch, we went to the Thunderball Grotto, an underwater cave which got it's name for its role in James Bonds' Thunderball. The boat drops you off at one end of the cave beccause the current is strong flowing into the cave, and you have to hold your breath for a few seconds to get in. You get to snorkel, explore and take photos before you let the current take you out of the other side of the cave where the boat is waiting.
The last stop of the day was probably the least exciting, but for sure the strangest. Nicolas Cage's private island, who's only inhabitants are iguanas. It is for sure a one time place but worth it alone just to say you've been to Nic Cage's iguana island and be completely serious.
Once we got back, we were exhausted from a day of swimming, diving and drinking in the sun. We made a dinner of SPAM hash out of staples we got at the corner market, finished off our rum, and spent the last night on our own private beach watching the sunset and planned our next trip to the islands. The next morning on the way to the airport, we drove around looking at beachfront homes for sail and talked like we could actually buy one, daydreaming the whole flight home.