Arriving in the Bahamas felt like a pretty big deal. 700 coral islands set in spectacular seas, even more small cays – pronounced keys, as in Florida Keys. So much to see! Where to start?! Near the bottom turned out to be a good plan.
- Mayaguana Island has an official “port of entry” for boats at Abrahams Bay. Check.
- It is a small, natural, unspoiled, old school Bahamian island with a population of less than 300 people. Check.
- It has a couple of good anchorages and some beautiful beaches. Check.
And that is about it…
The start of our overnight trip out of Sapodilla Bay was perfect sailing weather but it didn’t last. And the thing you should NEVER do when navigating into a shallow coral infested bay through a gap in the reef, is to do it in choppy weather – you won’t be able to see the gap or a thing below the surface of the water.
Amazing as it sounds, getting safely through many of these Bahamian waters relies on a pair of Polaroid sunglasses, an understanding of what dark blue, lighter blue, brownish blue and yellowish blue mean for what is underneath you and someone to stand on the front of the boat (me) shouting “port a bit” and “starboard a bit” back to the person on the wheel (L). Primitive I know!
“As he disappeared off the beach and through the bushes I did have a premonition of never seeing him again.. Oh what an adventure!”
Our plan B for choppy weather was to switch our arrival to Betsy Bay, a straight bit of coast round the other end of the island. Easy. However, we were nervous about arriving just before the weekend without doing the Customs and Immigration formalities – who knows what black marks might go on our record if we were caught that might affect the next places we visited…
We couldn’t get a reply by VHF or phone, so like a Columbus in seersucker shorts (oh yes, Christopher was here) L decided to venture ashore to try to make enquiries or leave a letter. As he disappeared off the beach and through the bushes I did have a premonition of never seeing him again… Oh what an adventure!
When I phoned to check progress an hour later he was happily being driven around the island by his new friends who had wondered what this lonely white guy was up to! They called on the Customs lady at home to reopen the office for him and gave a scenic tour round the island. And that set the tone for the rest of our visit with some of the loveliest people we have ever met!
It is a very pleasant feeling to be met with cheerful curiosity and a friendly welcome as a traveller – who hasn’t been disappointed the looks of bored resentment from the locals in busy tourist spots. We entered happily into the spirit of the island, spending money in little grocery shops and Reggie’s restaurant, accepting many kind offers of lifts as we walked here and there, and enjoying understanding a bit about life on Mayaguana. By the end of a few days we had met a lot of people.
How many places can you imagine a passing electricity company truck pulling over to phone the owner of the petrol station, so that they can let you know when she will be back from the airport, because they have seen you there waiting to buy dinghy fuel? Exactly!
Manager/chef at the island’s only hotel was Tarrue, super helpful guy and owner of a hot BMW and a pair of new bicycles offered for rent at “whatever we thought they were worth”. We used them for some much-needed exercise and a long trip along a woodland road to the northern coast where we walked the wild and deserted beach…actually all the beaches were deserted come to think of it.
A recently dead 3 foot shark lay washed up – a reminder of all the life in the reefs around us, although we were sad to hear from local guide Scully that too much sport fishing had decimated the stocks of bone fish and other species. Patrick the Rasta from the Bahamas sea life protection agency lurked on the Abraham’s Bay town dock – in uniform but barefoot – deterring local fisherman from landing Nassau Grouper in breeding season and monitoring their catches.
As well as these lovely memories, I have a few beautiful souvenirs in these fantastically patterned coral pebbles collected from Betsy Bay beach where we anchored for this very happy introduction to The Bahamas.