29/03/2008/2:54 pm, Thompson Bay, Long Island
Time for some more exploring by car. We rented a cute little white Suzuki from Fox Auto ($65.00 for the day - $10 less than the usual because the air-conditioning doesn't work) and set off for fun and to cross off items on the ToDo list. First stop, propane. That done, we headed for Stella Maris Airport, Customs and Immigration office.
As Jim puts it, we were due to expire on March 30. The boat is here on a one-year permit from the time we entered, Dec 9/07. No problem. Our personal permits were for only 90 days. When we returned from Canada to the Bahamas on Dec 30 we were given 90 days from that date which takes us to March 30th. None of the immigration offices will renew a permit any more than a few days in advance of expiry so there is a bit of scheduling necessary to be near a port of entry around about that time. Long Island is one, and so is Georgetown. The next closest ones are in Nassau or the Abacos.
Our experience was excellent at Long Island. We went on the 27th and got a 60-day renewal - exactly what we asked for. We now know that permits can be given for 8 months on the initial application. Initially, we checked in at Green Turtle Cay where there is a Customs agent only - no immigration one - who has limited authority around timing. We would go to an Immigration post next time and try to get 6 months right away.
Next stop, the Columbus monument up at Cape Santa Maria. It is a bone rattling 20-minute drive in from the Queen's Highway and we were sure glad to have the Suzuki with its extra few inches off the ground. Waves were crashing up on the rocks, the water was brilliant blue and the monument paid tribute to the original Lucayan inhabitants as well as the landing of Columbus and his fellow explorers in 1492. It was quite moving to gaze out at the sea, contemplating the voyage these men had taken and the discovery of this new land, while also understanding that it was devastating for the native population. Whether they were killed through firepower or the introduction of diseases from which they had no immunity, the gain for the Europeans meant loss for North Americans - the destruction of a people and a way of life.
After rattling back out to the Highway, we visited Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort for lunch. This was an absolutely beautiful resort - Canadian operated and part of the Oak Bay Marine Group based on Vancouver Island - www.capesantamaria.com. Lunch in their lovely dining room was delicious - conch chowder and salads, the beach beautiful and the atmosphere friendly with lots of families coming and going.
From the top of the island, we roared down to Buckleys where I visited the Museum. Long Islanders are noted for their straw work (hats, bags, baskets, table mats) and I bought a couple of placemats. I tried to see if my theory about the larger white population here was accurate but I still don't know. The really helpful woman said that there was a larger white population in the 60's and 70's, but more black Bahamians have been moving back. There is also a lot of intermarriage. In many other cays and islands, Haitians have been moving in to take agricultural jobs. She said that Bahamians here do that work themselves, and unless there is a lot of expansion of resorts, there will probably not be immigration (much of it illegal) of outsiders. If we were staying in the area
I'd love to have come back to the Bahamian festival on Fri and Sat.
We continued on down the road to Clarencetown as viewed the Catholic and Anglican churches, both built by Father Jerome. I had expected more of a community here, but once again, it seems to be a series of houses and small businesses strung out along the roads near the harbour. After a quick tour and a drive by the old salt ponds - which would probably have been more interesting at low tide - we headed back to Max's Conch Bar because I had been lusting after their conch salad ever since I saw Gary making it on our first visit.
He made up a fresh batch as I watched; Jim ate grouper fingers and checked email. This salad was the best I've ever eaten - and I've tried lots of it. It is always a hot and spicy concoction of chopped conch, tomatoes, onions, celery, peppers and limejuice. This one had a complex sweet/sour flavour along with the heat. He squeezed in key limes and oranges, added a dab of sugar and I could swear I saw a bit of apple going in there too. The conch was chewy, the vegetables were crunchy, and the heat was high but not so much that it wrecked the tastebuds - a great combo, and of course Kalik beer was a perfect accompaniment.
By the time we made it back to the boat, the sun was down and we spent a relaxed hour or two in the cockpit making plans for the next few days.
28/03/2008/2:45 pm, Thompson Bay, Long Island
With the wind settled at a stable 15-20, our bow pointed consistently NE, and Madcap safely in the lee of the land, it was time for Jim and me to get moving. Accordingly, we put a few belongings in our packs and headed for shore to stick out our thumbs and hitch a ride down the road.
As we pulled the dinghy up on the beach, Marilyn and Bruce (Reflection) arrived too and quickly decided to join us. It wasn't long before a pickup truck stopped, we clambered in the back and rode a short distance to Salt Pond. After checking out the Marine Store there, the thumbs went out again and another truck pulled up. This time the gentleman said he was going to Deadman's Cay, almost as far as we needed to go - to Max's Conch Bar where there is wifi - and we said fine. As we got to his destination he called back, "I'll take you the rest of the way" and so he drove on several more miles. We were impressed again and again throughout the day by the kindness of these drivers.
Max's Conch Bar and Grill is a great place; it has a similar feel to Pete's Pub back in the Abacos, despite being just along the Queen's Highway with no beach in sight. The roof of the circular little bar is thatched, license plates hang overhead interspersed with pictures and T-shirts and other memorabilia. Counter tops have shell sculptures, plants, photo albums, a checkerboard with beer bottle caps for playing pieces, and a couple of tables out back by the garden provide more elbow room for folks wishing to make eating their first priority. Gary wielded a machete in the centre of the hut as he chop-chopped ingredients for conch salad. Jim and I checked e-mail while Marilyn and Bruce played checkers and then it was time to go in search of the HotSpot - a restaurant they were anxious to try. Once again it was just a minute or two until we got picked up and dropped off a couple of miles down the road where we enjoyed a good lunch of cracked conch for the other three and grouper fingers for me. Our server was a sweet young girl (Gr 6) who was clearly experienced at helping her mother. Her manners were impeccable; she knew exactly what was on the menu and how to present the food.
With stomachs full, the thumbs went out again and we got a short ride along to a service station. This time we walked about a half mile before being picked up by Keith in his van. Despite his intention to go up the road just a mile to pick up a friend, he told us to hop in and he'd take us all the way back to Thompson Bay. Turns out, Keith is an attorney in Nassau and is visiting back here on Long Island. He picked up Peter at a construction site and the two of them proved highly informative and entertaining as we traveled. Peter has a great head full of dreadlocks; I was sitting right behind him and itching to see what they felt like so... I said, "Could I please feel your hair?" To everyone's amusement, I fingered one lock as he told me to grab a handful and pull. They are much rougher and harder than I thought they'd be.
In the evening, the four boats met up at Club Thompson Bay, where Jim and I had made reservations for the Wednesday night Bahamian Dinner. Tryfina delivered plate after plate from her kitchen. Well - actually it was Marge who delivered the plates. Marge and Jerry, whom we'd met at Parrots were there to join us, and Marge did most of the walking back and forth because Tryfina has bad legs - greatly in need of knee replacements - which she plans to have done in Cuba because it is cheaper than Nassau or the States.
Dinner started about an hour later than advertised, and consisted of plantains, grouper done two ways (fried and stewed), liver, ribs, chicken, peas'n rice, potato salad, cole slaw, macaroni. When we got up from the table a couple of hours later, paid our $14.00 apiece (imagine - for all that food!) and said our thank yous and good byes to Tryfina, we were stuffed and sleepy.
As is usual in the Bahamas, mostly everything was battered and fried. At first it is greatly satisfying, unused as we are to that kind of cooking, but now it is starting to feel a little on the heavy side, and the waistbands on all my shorts surely indicate that this is "stick to your ribs" food. Time to keep a few of our favourites and switch to some lighter fare for the rest. I could eat peas'n rice every day but Jim is getting weary of it; mac'n cheese is my all time comfort food and I really like the spicier, firmer Bahamian variety. We'll get back to more salad type food and grilled fish and meat whenever we can. We're taking a break from the wonderful homemade bread right now too.
26/03/2008/10:36 am, Thompson Bay, Long Island
Monday morning found us ashore to track down the internet connection we had heard about. This picture above shows Jim in what has become his typical "office" environment. The real estate office has a wifi signal but it wasn't open so we perched on the rocks just outside and hooked in. When I went into the Long Island Cargo Services office to check on the source of the signal and say thank you, it was so refreshingly cool and air-conditioned that I also asked if I could just sit down in a corner and work there. The lady seemed a bit surprised but said, "OK." I got the last few postings made and as I was leaving she offered me a big bunch of red grapes - just in off the freighter that was nudged up against the shore. We haven't had grapes in ages so they were a real treat.
In advance of the northerly, the air was heavy and humid. Ominous clouds were skirting overhead early on, but didn't amount to anything. On those humid days, every footprint shows up on the floor of the cabin, the bedding feels sticky, the grains of sand cling to cushions and skin. We never did get fans installed and our air conditioning is through open windows and hatches, and it hasn't been a real problem. Most days there has been enough breeze for comfort, and these humid times aren't really too frequent. It would be different further south, but here in the Bahamas, the air is generally just lovely.
The wind was forecast to come up strongly, peaking about sunset on Monday, clocking around from S to W to N and NE by Tuesday, with gusts to 25 and then steady, strong trade winds for the rest of the week. We moved ourselves closer to shore to shorten our dinghy rides, and with any luck decrease Madcap's pitching in the waves. We got in surprisingly close and have seen no less than 6.8 ft. at low tide. By dusk, there were 24 boats here in this corner - with lots of room for more. The wind never did come up on Monday except for a slight increase as it shifted direction, and on Tuesday at dawn, the water was so still that reflections of masts were absolutely straight. It was one of those stunning mornings when the colour is all blue and the line between water and sky is hardly visible.
That changed about 9 and we all stayed hunkered on the boats as the wind came up and the chop increased across the bay. We were pleased with our position - lots of swing room and very little wave action. Mostly everyone stayed on boats all day and there was surprisingly little VHF radio traffic. Jim worked on his taxes and I read - just finished "A Conspiracy of Crowns" by Alfred de Marigny - about the murder of Sir Harry Oakes in Nassau in 1943, deMarigny's trial as the accused, and the involvement of the Duke of Windsor, Governor of the Bahamas at that time. It made for a very interesting read.
By late afternoon, we were anxious for a stretch and the wind/water seemed accommodating so we headed ashore. Everyone else was staying aboard, but after all this time of steady wind and steady direction, we really could not see any indication that it would be dangerous to leave the boat. A brisk walk took us to the Parrots Bar and Grill out on Indian Hole Point Road where we sat on the deck and tried some grouper fingers and conch fritters. Neither were particularly good - the fritters heavy and doughy, and the fish dry. But, the place is really attractive, the service good and the beer $3.00. We chatted with a couple who have purchased land here and will build a house on it, and engaged in a lively conversation with Marge and Jerry, from Chicago, who have owned a house here for 15 years. They filled us in on some places to visit - the Columbus Monument, the Blue Hole, and the Midway Inn's Happy Hour on Friday.
From there, we walked to Club Thompson Bay and made arrangement with Tryfina to go back on Wednesday for her Bahamian Feast. On our way "home" we took a tour out through the anchorage, discovering that it was indeed much calmer in closer to shore. The wind stayed pretty much the same overnight, NE 15-20 with occasional higher gusts, and that north wind blew all the heaviness out of the air.
As we woke up on Wednesday, the thermometer read 22C - one of the coolest mornings, and Chris Parker's forecast is for ENE and E winds of 15 with scattered showers for most of the week. Hmmm - feels like we've already headed north!