We landed in The Exumas and stepped out into the bright, hot sunshine wearing our winter clothes, combat pants, hiking shoes and jumpers with bad hair from a 5am start and a day of travel and felt the smiles spread across our faces as we were greeted by bright flashing cameras and equally bright smiles!
We hugged and were greeted by Kwanza, Kendra and Nelson, our photographer. We were huddled into Kwanza’s jeep and sped off to get to our dress fitting, chatting all the while about how amazing the flight in was, how incredible the islands looked from the sky and trying to catch a glimpse of the bright blue water from the car window.
As we drove down a hill we had an incredible vista of the sparkling Carribean and I almost cried again, here we were in paradise!
We arrived at a small house set back from the road with a gnarly tree at the beginning of the sandy path. In the shade, on the trunk of the tree was a hand painted sign saying simply ‘Dress fitter’. We walked up and knocked on the door and were greeted and pulled inside to a different kind of heat but out of the direct blaze of the sun.
We hugged and kissed Mrs. Cooper and she and Kwanza immediately looked at each other and excalimed ‘she is definitely smaller than Stephanie’, Kwanza’s niece who they had modelled my outfit on, and began to make plans for alterations.
I was sent into Mrs. Cooper’s bedroom to put on my shiny satin dress and then she put pins in it in preparation for it to be shrunk a little.
Alex meanwhile was trying on his outfit, replete with Black satin pants (reminiscent of MC Hammer in his Prime), brightly coloured waistcoat and a shirt that Henry the 8th would be proud of. We giggled at each other in our brand new, hand made Junkanoo outfits.
“Junkanoo is the colorful, energetic, and breath-taking Bahamian festival that takes place every year. Hundreds of people dressed in bright, extravagant costumes parade through the streets playing authentic Bahamian instruments, performing choreographed dance routines, and celebrating their culture. The influence of Junkanoo is seen in all aspects of Bahamian society, in the fine arts, in music and dance, and particularly the personality and attitudes of the Bahamian people who understand the necessity for taking time out to celebrate life.”
“It started around the 16th or 17th century, Bahamian slaves were given several days off around Christmas time, during which they would celebrate by spending time with their families. In their three days of freedom, they would dance, play music, and create costumes as a way to enjoy the holiday. Even after slavery was abolished, this tradition continued in the Bahamas and eventually transformed into the spectacular festival it is today.”
© 1998-2013 Kate Zhukova and Kenneth Bowe, Chat ‘N’ Chill® Ltd.
Once we had had our fittings we hit the shops to pick up some much needed refreshments, local beer, called Sands Beer, icy cold and thirst quenching was just what the Bahamian doctor ordered.
Kwanza and Kendra told us how they couldn’t believe we had accepted their offer to come to this amazing heavenly place and we laughed and explained that we thought they had invited the wrong people and of COURSE we would come! This is the Bahamas afterall, and one of the places we honestly would love to have visited if we had a bigger budget and were not reliant on our camper as our home. We had written off all hope of visiting islands once we had made the decision to keep Peggy. The cost to get there, get around AND for accommodation and food far exceeded anything we could stretch to, so when Chat ‘N’ Chill® and the Exumas Tourist board invited us we understandably fell over ourselves to get there!
Kwanza took us to the wine shop, Bristol’s Wines, and then onto our accommodation, for the duration of our stay. We drove down the drive of the Grand Isle Resort and our jaws once more hit the floor. We were welcomed, shown around and then to our room on our very own personal golf cart…which had its own garage…connected to our HOUSE! This place is incredible!
Our HOUSE overlooked the pristine white sand beach, the ever changing blues of the Caribbean and a slice of immaculate golf course. Our bedroom and bathroom were on the ground floor and a full living room and kitchen was on the second floor with a balcony any right minded person would kill for.
We jumped around in our usual ridiculously excitable manner and threw ourselves on the bed. We read the personalised card propped up against a bottle of wine and platter of fruit and squealed at the La Occetaine soaps and the HUGE whirlpool bath.
Nelson came to take some pictures of us and caught us bragging on Facebook about being in ACTUAL heaven on Earth and we all left laughing to our next stop.
We had been invited to Elvis and Maryanne’s restaurant Exuma Point Beach Bar & Grill, on beautiful Rolleville beach for dinner that evening. We wandered on the sand as our dinner was prepared and enjoyed our very first Bahamian sunset. The colours of the sky reflected on the otherworldly water and the waves lapped at our feet as we walked. The Bahamas Tourist board were along to take some footage so we ducked into a cave on the beach with them and sat on the pier dangling our feet in the water until our food was ready.
Cocktail in one hand and a plate FULL of Conch fritters, we were in our element. Conch is one of The Exumas most popular dishes, they do everything with this HUGE snail like sea creature. They cook it, batter it, bread it, smash it, fry it, bake it, put it in bread and call it a burger and even eat it fresh from the shell with just a splash of lemon and a grating of salt on it!
We tucked in and after our conch fritters, coconut drinks, cocktails and then a HUGE platter of freshly caught fish, lobster tail AND a chicken Breast EACH. WITH. sides, we could barely roll out of there! Elvis and Maryann were quite the hosts and enjoyed a glass of wine with us until it was too dark and the stunning water had completely disappeared!
Kwanza, Kendra, Nelson and the two of us jumped back into Kwanza’s jeep and went back to the Grand Isle Resort & Spa to finish our evening with story time at a lovely beach bonfire on Emerald Bay with Ken, our Junkanoo teacher and story teller and our soon to be officiant for the wedding. Tonight we were to learn the traditions of the Junkanoo, about the way the Bahamians celebrate marriage, how they go about finding themselves a wife and the rigmarole they must go through to even get to the church!
We had a great night, laughing and joking with Ken about the old ways and listening intently to how these old traditions have been adapted to work in more modern times.
Ken told us about various Bahamian wedding traditions, such as a boy not being allowed to directly ask a girl to date him. He must ask her older sister, or her cousins to ask her for him. He joked about how difficult it was to win over the family before you even got to the girl!
Once the fire had died down and we couldn’t manage another “Grand Isle Exuma Blue” Cocktail we all said our good-nights and thank you’s and went to find our Golf cart which we had unceremoniously parked on the steps to the beach in our haste to get to the roaring fire. We pushed and barged deciding who was going to drunkenly weave our way back to our ‘house’ and laughed at whether we could remember which house was ours.
We made it back in one piece, parked up the cart in his garage and took a quick shower before falling into bed exhausted, full, excited and ready for the next few days of adventure in the most beautiful place on the planet so far!
Our wake up call was for once pleasantly received the next morning as we had a busy day ahead, we were going out with the Four C’s Adventures for the day on the mesmerising water of the Exumas.
We bundled into the van, picked up some other guests and soon arrived at the boat. Camera’s flashed as we got out of the van and all of the other passengers wondered what on earth was going on…once we were all on the boat Kwanza explained about our journey and that there would be a camera rolling most of the day. We were a little embarrassed to begin with but everyone soon got used to it and once we were out on the ever changing water we all forgot about it and just enjoyed our day.
We watched as our boat captain, C. Pat Smith dived overboard and brought us up huge star fish to hold and one or two conch which he was later going to prepare for us to eat. I held the conch which just seemed to stare into my soul from his huge snail-like eyes on stalks and I vowed I wouldn’t eat another bit of conch! The guilt was unbearable, all I could think of was the giant pink sea snail in Dr Dolittle (the original, not the one with Eddie Murphy in it!) and I could have wept for the poor defenceless thing!
We put the star fish back and continued on our adventure out on the water. Tamika asked me to count the different shades of blue as the day went on and I had lost count within minutes. There were more blues than there are names for blues, it is indescribable. We soon arrived at the famous Thunderball grotto and dropped anchor and donned flippers and snorkels so we could go and explore.
I’m not sure whether many of you know how ridiculously afraid I am of snorkelling? I So BADLY want to do it but my body just can’t get it, I panic, go blind and although a strong swimmer seem to have no defence against drowning the moment I put my face under the water.
The first time I snorkelled was in Egypt where I walked out a few hundred yards on a jetty, all the way out I could see the coral only a meter below the surface. Alex and I had only one snorkel and mask between us and he went in first and then he sat on the jetty while I excitedly went into the gap in the coral to have my first glimpse of another world underneath the surface of the water.
I pulled on my mask as I tread water, had a quick instruction from Alex not to breath through my nose (I was surrounded by children of all ages snorkelling, how hard could it be?) and I was ready. I stuck my face under, saw how deep the water was (I’m sure I could make out a damn shipwreck), panicked, breathed in through my nose, started to choke, daren’t kick out to tread water properly as I was being swelled towards the wall of jagged coral. All in that spilt second I imagined I could feel the blood pumping through my leg jugular and was convinced I would die if I sliced it on the rocks all around me.
I spluttered, splashed and clawed the water as I blindly tried to breath. I pulled the mask half off my face, my nose was pulled up with it and I coughed and screamed and tried to clear a gap in my, then long hair which plastered itself to my face, and wipe the salt water out of my eyes (the mask had filled with water) so I could see which way I was facing. I could vaguely make out Alex stood on the jetty, his hands stretched out towards me and I (keeping my legs as straight as I could) kicked my way to him. He grabbed my hands and oiked me out of the water like a child and I sploshed onto the plastic island gasping for breath and crying with panic.
SO you can imagine my sheer JOY at trying this again! My heart started to race and I had a word with myself. We are on the biggest adventure of our lives, we are in the Exumas, the Bahamas for crying out loud where the water is the most mesmerising thing I have ever laid eyes on and I was NOT going to pass up the opportunity to see underneath it or to see the inside of the Thunderball Grotto.
Heart in my mouth I donned my flippers and mask and in I went. Kendra seemed to sense my sheer panic and stayed close by my side the whole time. Alex was never far away but knew if he crowded me I would be worse. We swam into the strong current pushing out of the cave and fought against it to get inside. My heart pounded in my throat as we swam between walls of rock and again I could instantly feel the throb in my main arteries in my legs (which of course at this time I imagine to be in my ankles, the most likely part of my body to make contact with anything).
With a bit of effort we were soon inside the cave where the current slowed and we could rest our legs. As someone who normally swims breast stroke the flippers seemed to hinder me at first but I soon got used to them and then I was ready to put my face under the water once more. I put the snorkel in my mouth, practised a couple of breaths and went for it. Kendra stayed close and Alex watched from the surface. I managed a couple of breaths and saw some amazing fish before I splashed back out of the water. It just seems so unnatural to me. I decided against the snorkel in the end and just held my breath to peep beneath the water at the seemingly oblivious fish below us.
I was so proud of myself for going in but tired quickly due to the adrenalin and panic. Kendra and Alex swam me back to a shallow rock where I could stand and they (crazy fools) enjoyed swimming through body sized holes in the wall of the cave. I stood having palpitations waiting for them to resurface and was done with being in the water for now! It was so beautiful to look at from the boat and I decided I didn’t need to get my face in any more today, I was happy with seeing the colours on the top!
Back on the boat we dried off in the sun as we sped towards our next destination, Big Major Cay which Kwanza calls piggy island, to see something I NEVER thought existed, let alone imagine I would see it with my own two eyes!
On Big Major Cay, there is a family of wild boar, who over time have taught themselves and their young to swim out into the crystal clear water to find food. I am presuming this behaviour pre-dates the tourists coming out with loaves of bread, bags of lettuce and of course the odd bottle of fresh drinking water and was a necessary lesson to stay alive…who knows, all I know is it is incredible to see them!
We got close to the shore and the captain started to whistle and shout ‘here Piggy Piggies’ like you would to a cat or a dog. We laughed and thought he was joking and stared onto the beach in front of us but with not a piggy in sight.
One of the group jumped off the boat into the water, excited to swim with the darling little piggies we were expecting. Little pink fluffy piglets with curly tails were in my mind and I was deciding whether to get in now or to wait until they came a-swimming. We watched and listened and I was looking at Alex asking him if he thought they were going to come when the colour completely drained from his face and his jaw fell open. I followed his gaze to see a HUMONGOUS ginger and black spotted Pig / Boar RUNNING out of the palms.
Everything around me stood still for a second while my mind registered the ‘end of level baddy’ sized Pig running along the beach coming straight for us. Everything slipped into slow motion like in the movies and I looked from the guy in the water to the pig running at an earth shaking pace towards him, towards the water…his whole life flashed before me and I stood up and screamed at him! GET OOOOOOOUUUUUTTTT, THEY’RE COOOOOMIIIIING! He looked at me and then at the pig whose family had joined in the sprint down the beach and were now splashing heavily into the waves, then back at the boat…we all looked at the captain’s face trying to decide whether we should get the hell out of there or stand our ground…and he was laughing his head off!
There were 3 ENORMOUS boars swimming right for us. A pink one, the leader, the ginger and black one and a black one, all the size of small cars. They squealed at each other and huffed and puffed as their little, not at all water friendly, limbs pulled their big fat bodies out to sea.
I was still gob-smacked at the size of these beasts and even more so when they got to the boat, mouths agape waiting for me to deposit my sliced bread in there. Their teeth were big and looked dangerous, the bone crushing type and their heads were easily the size of my torso. I threw the bread to the leader but missed in my haste to get my hands out of the way, it caught the water and floated onto the back of the pink pig. The leader (as swiftly as a pig in water can do) spun around and bit the bread AND its fellow pig. An ALMIGHTY racket ensued as they squealed at each other, one upset at being bitten and the other explaining that this stupid human had a bad aim!
We watched the captain pour fresh water into the pigs greedy mouths and then fed them the lettuce leaves which they pushed back to shore with their snouts where they could chew the refreshing leaves without gulping down too much salt water. The poor things were shattered by the time they made it to the shallows and just slumped down into the wash to rest and presumably remain cool after their mammoth work out.
I still couldn’t believe it even after seeing it with my own eyes and as we sailed away I wondered if I had had too much sun and become delirious. The man swimming in the water survived to tell the tale…a braver man than either of us for sure!
We were told by the captain that there is a mother Pig who is heavy with babies in the bush and that the next visitors may get to see the fluffy little pink piglets we had imagined from the off! What an experience! Definitely something that you have to see to believe it AND, as it goes, I wish I HAD gone in the water with them!
We stopped for some lunch at a beautiful beach bar, Ty’s Sunset Grill on a remote island, Farmer’s Cay, we enjoyed more conch and grits and a wonderful local fish stew which set us up for the rest of the day. After a toast with a glass of bubbly we set out again for our next stop on our magical mystery tour, the sand bar.
Again feeling like I had slipped out of reality and onto another planet we sailed silently up to a sand bar in the middle of the vast Carribean waters. Have you seen Pirates of the Caribbean where Jonny Depp is deluded and the crabs come and get him on that pristine stretch of sand??? Yup, it was like that, just luckily without Depp, shipwreck OR crabs, just sunshine, pure heavenly peace and serenity and beautiful blues all around.
We jumped into the unmarked, footprint-less sand and swam in the shallow water all around, in awe of this wonderful beauty all around us. We did some filming here in my terrible Bikini which made me look naked (it was as white as me, on the white sand…not the BEST idea I ever had) and then we set off to go swim with some sharks!
I couldn’t believe how much we were fitting in to one day! So many bucket list ticks going on it was untrue. We arrived at Compass Cay and piled onto the jetty to see the nurse sharks swimming below the pier waiting for us to jump in with them…well, for us to feed them anyway.
We were welcome to go in but I was more than happy just to lay on the pier above and stroke their scaly skins as they swam beneath us. They snapped and grabbed at the food being thrown in for them but it was safe to stroke them as their mouths are underneath and unless you had your hand right in holding a fish they weren’t too bothered about our bony fingers. We were told to stroke them from their head to their tails as the other way they have sharp scales that slice skin and also to watch out for their fins which also have very sharp protective needle bones in them. We heeded our instructions and held our hands flat as they sailed effortlessly beneath our touch. They felt like sand paper and left a kind of grease on our hands. It was quite something to see them so close but to touch them was unreal!
We had such an amazing day, we finished it off in the Staniel Cay Yacht Club with cracked conch burgers (I had normal fish, not sad faced conch) and beers and then headed back to land at a rate of knots. After all the sun, salt water and excitement we were exhausted and as we splashed back to our port we covered our faces in towels and dug in for the hour or so ride.
We couldn’t thank the Four C’s Adventures enough for our amazing day, so many wonderful never before experiences in one day!!!! Incredible and definitely unforgettable.
We were dropped back at Grand Isle Resort & Spa where we collapsed in the shower, got a quick change and headed to the pool side restaurant, Palapa Bar & Grill, for our planned pre-wedding (rehearsal) dinner.
Live music was being played by Dames Entertainment as we sipped our first glass of crisp white wine and let our spines relax after such a fantastic day. We couldn’t help but bob to the beat and before long we were pulled up to dance by Clarence Rolle from the tourist board and the wonderful bar staff. They tried to teach us some rhythm but we just looked like we were doing the funky chicken in comparison! We had a laugh and tried our hardest but our bottoms just don’t move like the Bahamians do!
We were seated at our table and had a beautiful meal, I had the best Pork Belly I had ever eaten out at a restaurant and we chatted about what we thought was going to happen tomorrow at the wedding. After the days events we had no idea what to expect and couldn’t even imagine how anything could possibly top our time so far in the stunning Exumas.