February 3, 2013 , Big Majors Beach, near Staniel Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
Sitting here (here and home, at the moment, is just off Big Majors Beach, a wee bit North of Staniel Cay) watching the dissipating dark grey clouds of night and starting to feel the heat of the day as the morning sun rises, sipping on a coffee, and agreeing wholeheartedly with Dave as he came up the companionway and commented,
"What a Glorious Day, Babe".
So lucky and thankful to here. Babe !
I had to look at the calendar day and date this morning as I know that quite some time, and distance, has elapsed since our last post, back at Normans Cay. A definite (involuntary?) escape had us disconnected from not only The Collective but our cell phone was flashing "NO SERVICE".
(Oh, and it's February ? What happened to January ?)
A few days of "The Jitters" followed, which shows just how addictive the constant stream of social media can be. The thought that, gasp, we might be "missing" something. Anything! And, perish the thought, what IF something happened and someone was trying to reach us ?
But anyhow, the jitters were quite quickly and easily offset by the hike to Boo Boo Hill, just atop Warderick Wells National Park, where cruisers have been going to for years, no decades... and leaving behind some "natural" memento of their visit.
Usually a piece of driftwood or a conch shell inscribed with their names, or their boat name and the year, some so faded there is nothing left to discern but the scratch marks etched in wood that might have one day long ago, read something.
One of the handmade signs on the island advertise "Take only Memories. Leave behind only Footprints". We should all treat Mother Earth this way!
And what followed these long morning hikes ? Snorkelling by the reefs in the afternoon. Clear turquoise (and warm) waters that had you jumping into them with happy abandon, swimming over to the reef to witness the many schools of very bright and colourful reef fish hiding from the two giant intruders casting a shadow over their underwater home, seeing a baby ray glide its way along the bottom (awww, how cute) and then quickly jumping back in a scared flutter of finned feet as Dave barely misses the momma 8 foot ray that silently appeared from behind the reef in search of her little one. That was a YIKES moment !
We stayed for enough days to meet most of the fellow boaters that were moored in the narrow strip of deep blue on that large expanse of almost visible sand,
some we have crossed paths with before, and some were new to us, in both cases, all of them we are hoping to meet down the road again. Meet and greets held by the gazebo that cast a shadow on the structure of the whale on the beach (that sadly died from eating too much plastic), or having sundowners over an unorganized and impromptu get together on our boat, that had us feasting on nachos and chili and peach pie (calories in = calories out?), however, not one HUTIA (a relative of the Canadian Groundhog perhaps?) was seen, although there are rumors that the Island is overpopulated by them, as evidenced by the mountains of hutia poop on "Hutia Highway" (one of the walking trails), that has you scampering and climbing over limestone rocks and trying to keep away from the Poisonwood trees.
I read somewhere that the Gumbo Limbo sap is the only remedy to the itchy welts of Poisonwood, however, have not laid eyes on anything that resembles a Gumbo Limbo, and of course, being disconnected from The Oracle, one cannot easily Google any wisdom or knowledge and has to rely solely on any information others can provide. And sadly, Jen at the office had no idea what I was talking about.
And what of the jitters from the disconnect to the Collective ? We paid $15 for 100 mb of data, which had runout in an impressive short amount of time that it took us to download our email and glance at the news headlines, and ascertain that, thankfully nothing dreadful had happened while we were "away" and no one had missed us too much ! So why worry ? Man !
But there was an email from our kids saying they missed us "terribly", which is always nice to read, but makes the heart-ache a tad much? Followed by the great news that my daughter is coming to visit, how fantastique !! Mon !
And then, as is always the case, weather was coming and it was a decision of stay where we were for more days of serious wind, or move now before and go someplace new... So we opted to move on down to Big Majors, where we joined the many other boats already there, and anchored ourselves snugly by the beach of pigs.
Ah, the Beach of Pigs ... another milestone for us, as Dave and I remember reading blogs, over the snowy winter months years ago, of other cruisers living on the waterways of this cruising lifestyle, and posting pictures of their adventures, as they fed the pigs ! We enviously just couldn't wait to be "doin' the same!" and here we were, today, "doin' the same"... Ah, sigh. Dreams, can and do, come true.
A few tears of joy where shed behind the camera lens, as Dave threw the cabbage we had bought back in Vero Beach and imported into the Bahamas all those weeks ago, along some bread ends into the water. The very large spotted pigs heard the engine and ran (yes, ran !) out of the woods, across the beach and splashed into the water, and swam towards us. Man !
Just before the onset of the impressive blow, we re-anchored facing North, and got to work on some "boat jobs". I re-stitched the leather on one of the wheels, as the thread was coming undone, waxed the floors, oiled the teak, made some cinnamon buns and tried a new bread recipe, offered up by MAJIKS. Dave installed a toggle switch for The Wirie, so we can keep the fans on without burning out the Internet, organized his tool chest and went hunting with the boys from MAJIKS and Blue Moose, but sadly, came home empty-handed.
And so today is Sunday, and the only reason we know that is the VHF is happily booming in Bahamian lingo "today be SuperBowl Sunday mon, come on down to Staniel Cay for Happy Hour, and the kick-off, and feast on the Superbowl Buffet and part-ay!
... MAN !"
January 25, 2013 , Norman's Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
There are stories that begin with "once upon a time" and end with "happily ever after". And then there are stories that are sadly filled with the drama that only drugs, sex and violence can induce, that don't necessarily end with anything pleasant for anyone involved, but probably make for more profit in the selling of books and movies.
How Banyan stumbled onto this little piece of paradise, complete with a captivating history is largely due to the Cruising Guides, The Oracle, and oh, a silly little thing called, The Weather.
The Windy Weather, as you may remember, had us high-tailing it out of the very bouncy surge-filled Highbourne Cay and motor-sailing North into Allen's Cay for a lunch-time diversion with the Iguana's.
We didn't much like the idea of staying there, and so a two hour sail later, we turned left and entered the channel towards Norman's Cay. It was much less bouncy in here, and we happily dropped (and immediately set) the anchor.
The Cruising Guides strongly suggest Norman's Cay as a good and/or must-stop on one's visit down the chain of islands that make up the Exumas. Sure enough, as we arrived, we were instantly and immediately mesmerized and awed, in a jaw-dropping type of way, by the large expanse of quite shallow ever-changing green to emerald to turquoise to sapphire waters, and if you remember the T.V. commercial, this was THE island where the M&M's dropped down out of the sky on the unsuspecting, and quite stranded, but oh so happy, party-ers. Ok, maybe not, but sure looked like it. We saw no evidence of M&M's or party-ere!
We watched the sun set.
And relaxed. And were comfortable. And then we looked at each other in surprise as we heard, and then saw, the approaching descending plane coming in for a landing. On this island? In the middle of an abandoned "nowhere"? WTF ?
And so, dear reader, here's our story. A story that combines our visit here with the fascinating history of "yester-day". A story that combines such infamous characters as Manuel Noriega, George Jung, Carlos Lehder, Pablo Escobar, the Medelin Cartel with Dave and Alexandra, the crew of Banyan, anchored here in the idyllic setting of Norman's Cay.
In the 1970's and 80's some were quite happy to (turn a profit) and oblige the marijuana and cocaine that America was demanding.
Just imagine how quickly the speed boats and planes could making the short jump from the US shores to the many secluded Islands and Cays of the Bahamas that would offer the seclusion and privacy needed for these type of covert activities. The Abacos (an Island Chain in the Bahamas slightly North of the Exumas) and the island of Andros were also pit-stops in these runs, but the center of all the action, was right here at Norman's Cay.
Norman's Cay was always a popular anchorage spot for visiting boaters and yachts, due to its location and protection from the elements. Also, there was a small residential community, complete witha clubhouse, store, marina, and an airstrip...
Then, along came a man named Carlos Lehder, who in 1979, shelled out the modest sum of 900K for half of this 650 acre island!! This purchase netted him the Norman's Cay Yacht Club, the airstrip, grocery and liquor store and the 10 rental units. All he had to do was scare away the residents and the tourists and bring on the drugs.
Pretty soon, any boaters or visitors to the Cay were chased away by gun toting guards, probably standing on this weather beaten and decaying wharf.
As seems to be the case with greedy profit turning people, they didn't stay far enough under the radar, and the plane and boat traffic was steadily increasing and all of a sudden Norman's Cay blipped on the radar of Those Who Watch, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Those Who Watch, aka the DEA, planned a task force, named it Op Caribe, and the agents, disguised as boaters (cruisers?), set up surveillance from Shroud Cay (hmm, methinks we now need to go visit there?) and it all went down, just like in the movies, with the bad guys ending up in prison and the island slowly returning to some form of natural glory, the only things left are the abandoned and decaying buildings and the remnants of something hidden in the shrub.
Dave and I arrived on the beach, and anchored dinghy ashore, and walked the hot and sandy path arriving at the airstrip where those planes must've landed last night. And what do we hear off in the distance, the roar of engines as a small charter plane arrived, disembarking some passengers and loading up others.
We were once again, surprised in a jaw dropping type of moment, that there were not only planes, but signs of life, and people, with dogs, and activity happening here. A construction company was obviously here trying to build something up.
We remarked at how the dense vegetation made us feel as if we were in some secluded jungle where there may be drug-runners around - how little did we know!
We crossed the airstrip and reached the beach, left our set of footprints on the coarse sand that pedicured our feet, and rounded the point back to our beach-anchored dinghy. At one point we thought we might be stuck as the beach ended, the high and dangerously ragged edges of the honeycombed limestone made climbing up and over impossible, and so we backtracked, and Dave bravely disappeared into the shrub looking for the path we both knew was "just there". He came out a few short moments later,
Dave: "You'll never believe what was back there?"
Dave: "Abandoned motel units !"
Me: "No way!?"
Had we known then, what we know now, we would have looked for some of the bullet holes in the buildings that are reported to be there.
Had I known about this history I would've yelled "HANDS UP" as he was trying to exit the shrubbery in one of those "you had to be there" hilarious moments.
And then of course, there's the sunken Curtiss C-46 Commando plane,
resting in not even 4 feet of water, not far from where we are anchored, that played a part in this drug-running days of mayhem.
The current was a tad too strong for us to feel comfortable snorkelling around its protruding jagged edges, so we circled 'round a few times, checking out the ravages the salt water had done to the innards. We didn't see any skeletons. Or satchels of dope. Or bags of money. Dommage.
Carlos Lehder was sentenced to life in prison. However, from the little research we did, we think he may have received a reduced sentence, for some testimony he may have supplied, indicting others.
A movie was made from these events, starring Johnny Depp and Penélope Cruz, entitled "BLOW".
Dave and Alexandra enjoyed the rest of the day walking some of the many beaches, snorkelling these gorgeous waters, and gunk-holing with dinghy.
And all the rest of the pictures are on our Sailing Banyan page, like us to view !!