Godzilla Attacks!

Lately, we’ve been spending our days in ways that I only imagined when we first decided to venture into The Bahamas. We have been doing the perverbial “island hopping” along the Exumas, a chain of island running north to south just east of Nassau. All of us were ready to leave the hustle and bustle of the big city and get to quieter places. So, we provisioned and followed the wind east.

The Exumas were exactly what we’d imagined The Bahamas to look like – clear turquoise waters, lone palm trees in mere spits of sand, and bright white beaches stretching between rocky shores. Ahhhh. Time to get back on island time, don the snorkel gear, and explore.

The first cay (pronounced “key” for you landlubbers) near which we anchored was Allen Cay. In our charts and guidebooks, it boasted a huge population of Rock Iguanas, a species of iguana with a partially functioning third eye in the middle of the other two. Scientists are still not sure why this phenomenon has occurred, and it was one creature sighting we couldn’t miss. Unfortunately, the day we got into the narrow anchorage between

Kids on beach Allen Cay
Allen Cay and another cay, the wind and currents were reeking some crazy havoc on the swing of each boat within the area. Once anchored, we watched boats spin around their anchors in complete circles, while others right beside them remained in place! It was almost comical, until Field Trip decided to do her own sort of pirouette! Folks on the boat next to us were just as surprised as I was as they suddenly saw our port side rather than our starboard!! Everyone was out on deck watching the dance. One poor guy was single-handing his boat, and must have tried to re-anchor at least 7 times before finally opting out into deeper water, far away from the Bermuda Triangle we were stuck in!

Allen Cay with Kids
Overnight, the wind shifted and calmed, making it possible for us to hop in the dinghy and head to see the iguanas. As we reached the beach, it was hardly a search for the huge lizards… seems they are used to being fed, and several scurry up to you at once, vying for first dibs! I had read that they were not shy, but I wasn’t prepared for the attack of the three-eyed monsters!! Yikes. Finally, we realized they wouldn’t get into the water, so we watched them from the shallow water, just out of reach. I managed to snap a few shots, and we narrowly escaped with our toes! Too bad tourists have trained them to be so food aggressive.

The kids thought the iguanas were very cool, but were equally enamored with all the conch shells that had been harvested and left on the beach in huge bunches. The smell was less than appetizing, but the kids loved seeing so many in one place and picked out their favorites. I was intrigued by the variety of plants on the island – tall grasses, pines growing from the limestone, seven year apple trees (not edible, but we dissected one anyway!), and various small bushes. Amazing that such a variety would find their way to a small island with so little soil. I also loved looking at the pocketed limestone that had been eroded by the saltwater waves, leaving sharp pointed rocks. Michael and I pretended we were walking on the moon (our latest science unit) among huge craters and moon dust.

Highbourne Cay was our next brief stop. It is one of the few marinas in the northern islands, and has a beautiful bar. We walked through their little marina store, balking at the high prices – a box of Poptarts $8, canned veggies $5, and sunscreen $15 a bottle! A brutal lesson in supply and demand! Luckily, our provisions were still sufficient, so we wandered to the bar for a frozen sundowner. The kids sucked down their huge sugary slushies, while Mark and I enjoyed our Bahama Mama and Island Breeze.

Sundowners at Highborne Cay Yacht Club
Sharks at Highborne Cay
Next stop was Norman Cay, an island known for its part in the late 70’s-early 80’s drug smuggling operations. It was here that Carlos Lehder paid $500,000 for the purchase of the buildings and airstrip on the southern end of the island. Then he used it as a base for smuggling cocaine into the United States and other nearby ports. The DEA set up spies on neighboring cays and gained enough evidence to indict him and imprison him after several years, along with many others who were also involved. It was a cool place, with an eerie past. Just off the shore, a wrecked DC-3 airplane lies in shallow water as a reminder of those drug-smuggling days.

Airplane Wreck
All of us got suited up and snorkeled around the airplane, which is now covered with coral. Part of it still protrudes from the water’s surface, but most of it is underwater, one propeller still intact. It was an awesome snorkel experience, to swim right through the body of the plane and watch fish pop in and out of the wreckage. Mark spotted a huge stingray (about 3 feet wide) hiding in the sand in front of the plane and a large nurse shark (at least 5 feet long) nestled beneath one of the large wings. The kids and I waited nervously as he kicked the sands on the backside of the wing to try to spook the shark out towards us. I have no idea why I agreed to this, but I regretted it immediately, as I found myself holding my breath. I watched wide-eyed as the shark came right towards us and then swam beneath us in only about 8 feet of water. Yes, I know they don’t hurt people, but that is one huge animal to be face-to-face with, especially while holding the hands of my sweet little ones! It was an experience none of us will soon forget! Michael popped his head above the water immediately and said, “Mom, we saw a shark in the wild!!” Oh, the naïve wonder of children, makes me smile and relax a bit.

The following day we ventured onto the shore, to walk along the buildings that used to house Lehder’s men and to see the infamous airstrip. As we walked along the sandy roads, I told the kids about the “bad guys” that used to live here, bringing the history of the island to life. So much so that Michael started imagining seeing bullet holes and skeletons of bad guys within the brush along the road. He also saw tire tracks along the road and decided they must be from the “bad guys” trucks. We found an old abandoned home and climbed through the overgrowth to peek inside. Graffiti colored the walls, along with remnants of disco-inspired wallpaper motifs and olive green decorative bathroom tile. I have no idea who lived here or how long ago, but we just decided, again, that this must be where the ‘bad guys’ lived. The crumbling ceiling revealed a dark, spooky attic, and I felt a strange sense of being watched. Yeah, we were all haunted a bit by ‘bad guy’ imaginings, so we shuffled out of there quickly. Then we came upon the airstrip, which is apparently still used today. There was a small prop plane parked nearby and a construction company busily working. We walked the length of the runway, then headed back to the dingy, our minds reeling from the days history lesson.

Norman Cay Hut Next to Airstrip
On the way back to the boat, the kids took turns driving the dinghy. When they saw a ten-year old French kid driving his mom around, they suddenly had an interest in learning. They did great, and it’s fun to see them getting involved in more aspects of the boating life. Pretty soon, they’ll be plotting our course and setting the sails!

Michael Rowing Dink
Well, we are enjoying the quiet that the Exumas have provided, along with the sights and excitement! Let the island hopping continue…

Here is a short video of our explorations of "Thunderball Grotto" - Staniel Cay.


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