As I sit here to reflect on my recent cruise to the Bahamas I can still feel the boat moving. My body has apparently become accustomed to a life at sea and now is taking time to adjust to life back on dry land. This trip was my 3rd Cruise and my first one with my wife, Jessica. It was quite a bit of fun and more than anything it provided us with much needed rest. We sailed out of Charleston, SC for our 5 day cruise to Nassau and Freeport Bahamas and were lucky enough to have our friend Bailey drop us off and pick us back up from the port. This was so awesome because parking at the port for a week would have been super pricey. We boarded the ship and made our way to our tiny room, dropped our bags and started exploring. Although the cruise ship was massive it seemed so much smaller to me this trip than it was when I was a kid.
I decided to take this opportunity to finally read Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species” and I tried, I really did, but I only got around 5 chapters into it. Every page seemed to take me ages to read because of all of the information saturated on each page. This made me sleepy more often than not and I found myself taking shifts of reading on the deck, eating ice cream and then turning in for a nap. It was amazing. Neither Jess nor I were overly thrilled with the overall party atmosphere of the boat. It was still quite fun for us just to chill and watch the rise and fall of the sea.
Our first stop was in Nassau, Bahamas. This was my 3rd time in Nassau and it seems to go downhill each time. We took a taxi from the port across a bridge to an amazingly beautiful hotel called the Atlantis. They had a free beach access and so we walked through the elaborate lobby and connecting hallways. There was an aquarium that ran the length of the entire bottom floor. Our house will look like this one day if I ever win the lottery or something of that nature. We finally made it out to the beach and immediately were being approached by eager salesmen. The men asked about Jet Skis and the women about hair braiding and bracelets. I got asked around 100 times if I wanted a Jet Ski and when I would say no I would get the follow up question of “do you want to party, I’ve got green mon.”
I guess my tattoos put a label on me as a pot smoking partier but much to the dismay of my Island salesmen, I am not. I did flip the script on one such salesman and tried to evangelize to him and that stopped his persistent salesmanship. It did strike me that he seemed almost unaware of the Gospel, he was wearing a cross on a rosary and had no idea what the cross even represented. Although he really didn’t want to talk with me about it, it really made me think.
I tried snorkeling just off the shore while Jess laid out in the sun and I successfully saw a bag of chips and lots of sand. We walked down the beach to a look out point and were able to see a large crab on a rock and then a couple of manta rays danced through the water closer to where we were. Those creatures look like they are flying through the water. Aside from a handful of pigeons, doves, sea gulls and other birds that was really the only wildlife we saw in Nassau much to my chagrin.
The next day we docked in Freeport, Bahamas and this day was quite an adventure. I somehow found out the Island had a national forest with caves and I got more and more excited the closer we got to the taxi drivers. Eagerly I walked up to the first man and confidently said “How much to Lucayane National Forest?” He immediately shot down my hopes of going out there and told us it would be $100 dollars just to get there and back. It was like someone stole Christmas from me and I hung my head and walked away and scanned a map. Apparently the National Forest was around 30 miles or so from the port and gas was extremely expensive on this small island. I believe one of the taxi drivers said it was around $5.70 there a gallon. Jess and I decided to ask another taxi driver; maybe we could get a deal if we ask around.
The next guy said the same roundtrip would cost us $120. Ouch. This time I just sat down hopeless like a spoiled child. I was so upset and angry because to be honest I really didn’t care much for the ocean, the parties, the ship or any of that, my only real desire was to see animals I hadn’t yet seen. I decided in my mind that it wasn’t going to happen and even though I was extremely upset I decided to suck it up and drive on with the vacation. We took a taxi to a nearby beach and on the walk towards the ocean we intermittently stopped and chased curly tailed lizards. My mood changed as I tried to catch these lizards in the city. I got to see a few males bobbing their heads in territorial displays. I saw one male Bahamian Anole lizard flexing his rites as a male by bobbing and extending his bright dewlap as a display of his dominance. To be honest these little lizards really helped to change my mood.
We finally got to the beach and I made my way to the water with snorkel and goggles in tow. I found myself quite terrified by the possibility of what I would see in the ocean this trip. It was weird because for some reason I was really leery of the ocean even though I was neck deep in it. I was pretty much completely alone in the water and only around 50 or so feet from the sandy shore. I felt this really strong anxiety the whole time about what I could see, between sharks, jellyfish, stingrays or even the fear of stepping on an urchin. I have no idea why this fear was so strong but I tried to fight through it. I saw a few anemones, some small drab colored fish in the pieces of reef and seaweed near the shore, and a couple dinner plate sized fish that made me jump from fear each time one would cross my path.
I looked up one time and saw Jess buying bottled water from one of the men on the shore and then saw her having a conversation with him. I emerged from the water as she motioned for me to come near. Jess told me the man said he would take us to the National Forest for $30. We were both a bit confused and surely he meant $30 each, which would have still been a deal but still out of our budget. I walked over to him and asked him to clarify and he said he would, in fact, take us for $30 if we would also pay his way onto the National Forest. It was only $3 a person so we agreed to take the trip.
I have to admit this may not have been the most intelligent decision I have ever made as we made our way alone into his personal van. We drove for around 45 minutes in a direction opposite our cruise ship on an island I had only visited once as a kid and never to the extent of our current excursion. We pulled into the National Forest and paid the attendant in the tiny parking area $9 for the 3 of us and then made our way to the first cave. These limestone caves are mostly underground and fed by seawater. We snaked our way down a spiral staircase into the first cave and the pungent perfume of bats filled my nostrils much to my enthusiasm.
I was so excited to be descending into this hole in the earth. There were tropical fish of all sorts in the water under the small unstable bridge we were standing on. We looked out across the small living room sized cave and saw scores of bats clinging to the low ceiling. They weren’t close enough to us to get a decent picture but close enough to see them clearly by eye. I was so eager to catch a bat but I knew it was impossible and just admired them from around 30 feet away. We walked into another cave that was very similar, much darker and no bats, or at least none we could see. I was so excited just to be in these primeval places. We hiked through the forest and our guide showed us various plants that were good for this remedy and that ailment. He then asked us if we wanted to go to a secluded beach.
We again reluctantly agreed and as we took our van off roading down a sandy road Jess and I were both a bit sketched out, that is until we saw the sea through the trees. We walked out onto a beach that seemed like no one else knew about. That was somewhat shattered when we saw the remnants of a campsite where we were but even that were amazing to see. The beach was pristine. There wasn’t another person for miles except Jessica, myself, and our shady new friend. Jess started lying out under the quickly clouding sky and I walked into the water and tried to fake it like I wasn’t terrified of this newfound ocean habitat. Again I have no idea why I was so afraid to snorkel alone, partly this time because my wife was on shore with a strange man and partly because of all the real possibilities of sharks.
We were told the beach we were visiting was the location that the first Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed so that was cool. All in all I only seemed to see amazing habitat for sea life, some small reefs and urchins. I am certain that if I hadn’t been struck with fear and swam out only a few more feet from the shore I would have seen much more diversity. I am ashamed of myself for letting fear take away from my desire to explore the wild but it is what it is and next time I won’t let my head ruin what my heart wants to do.
We loaded back into the van and with the tradition of the islands, according to our guide, we filled jugs of water up at the ocean and poured them on our legs and feed at the van so as to not include the beach into his van. The storm that had been brewing over top of us hit around the time the vans doors shut and lightening and thunder were flashing and booming all around. We saw countless strikes that went straight to the ground very close to where we were. One thunderclap seemed to have popped and boomed right outside the window of the van, it was quite loud and made Jess and I jump. The trip overall was amazing and my fear of being zip tied and forced to wear a black hood never seemed to come to fruition so our guide wasn’t as shady as we may have projected onto him. We got back to the cruise ship, hit up the lunch buffet and went back to relaxing for the rest of our cruise.