Cay Paraiso Adventures

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Aaah, the Exumas

25 February 2020
Suzanne Hurwitz
Normans Cay is part of the Exuma chain near the northern end. We had never visited before partly because we wanted to get further down to some of the better known spots and partly because we'd heard it was difficult to access. This is somewhat true, but well worth the effort - Normans may be our favorite location. Seeing a stretch of unsettled weather with high winds, we decided to get into Normans Pond - a very large, totally protected body of water. So early one morning, on a high tide we crept into the tricky little entrance, tucked into a corner on the east side and dropped anchor. We haven't left yet and we've explored the entire island. The best beaches we've found, wildlife, water colors changing with the tides, very calm in all winds - we like it all.

And there's nobody here! Only shallow draft boats and adventurous cruisers who don't want much company bother. Very few live here either. There's a reason for that. The very large airstrip at the southern end of the island was built in the 1970's for drug trafficking. Carlos Lehder, a Columbian, found the island and changed the way that cocaine was imported to the US. Cargo planes from Columbia were off loaded and refueled here. Cocaine was then loaded onto smaller planes with enough range to reach remote air strips in Georgia, South Carolina and North Florida.

Lehder's operation was a major part of the Medellin Cartel and large volumes of cocaine passed through here. Lehder bought out most residents, bought the small hotel and restaurant and basically owned the island. The airstrip was patrolled by guards with assault rifles and attack dogs. US DEA became aware, but got no cooperation from the Bahamian government who were getting huge cash payments. Also, our State Dept didn't want to upset the Bahamian government because they were allowing us a large military installation on Andros for watching Cuba during the Castro years. So this went on for years and huge sums of money were made here.

Eventually, this got shut down in the early 1980's and Lehder is in a US prison (though with a reduced sentence since he agreed to testify against Manuel Noriega.) The Bahamian government seized everything and some developers are slowly getting things going. The marina lagoon has been opened to the sea and construction is underway there. But MacDuffs is still the only restaurant and only a handful of homes are scattered around the island.

Thus, we find it a nearly private paradise. Marine researchers say this lagoon is a breeding ground for hammerhead sharks in April, but we'll be moving down the Exuma chain by then.......

Comments
Vessel Name: Cay Paraiso
Vessel Make/Model: Island Packet 37
Hailing Port: Wiscasset, Maine
Extra: "When looking out at the ocean, he felt at once humbled and comforted by his own unimportance" (Low Tide, Dawn Lee McKenna)
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