A Wet Day In

P1010900Tuesday, July 16th. 

Considering that our trio opted to come to the Bahamas in the middle of rainy/hurricane season, I’d say we’ve been pretty lucky in the weather department.

That luck has come to an end.

I’m the first one up this morning (for the first – and only – time during this trip). And it’s raining. Not the type of rain we’ve been having, that dissipates in 30 minutes. It’s all-day rain – the type I thought would have marred our vacation earlier. Talk about good timing.

I feel better than I did last night. I manage to eat a bowl of cereal. But something still doesn’t completely feel right. Later in the day, I finish my leftover chicken cacciatore (admittedly with some determination, because I don’t like wasting food if I don’t have to). Still okay/not okay.

As the rain continues through the afternoon, we do the only thing we can think of: casually drink. There’s a fair amount of liquor left over, and it would be nice to finish it before we leave. Perhaps that’s a bit too ambitious. Besides, maybe it will kill whatever’s been affecting me today.

The showers finally let up by early evening, and for our last meal, we walk down the street to a place in a nearby strip plaza called Meza Grill, a Mediterranean-styled restaurant.

We split some appetizers – lamb stuffed with raisins, a platter with hummus, baba ghanouj and tzatziki, and some calamari. And I vaguely remember inhaling a small chocolate dessert sometime after that. But the alcohol-soaked haze is definitely hanging heavily.

The evening ends as all others have. But that’s it. No more waking up to morning views of palm trees and walking mere minutes to the beach. It’s time to pack up and return to reality.

Sigh.

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What Goes In …

IMAG0126Between the drink Jen gets me (“for the road”) and the sun beating down on my face on the return boat ride back, I’m feeling a bit woozy by the time we get to dry land. I chalk it up to probably being just tipsy.

That woozy/drunkenness seems to intensify on the shuttle ride back to the resort. I spend some of that time on the bus trying to sleep it off.

We’re completely covered in sand by the time we reach our accommodation, but no matter – we head to the beach.

It’s so windy that as we approach the stairs from the resort pool to the beach, the sand grains whipping around painfully sting our faces and skin – well, mine and Jen’s anyhow. Christine either is more of a trooper with a high tolerance for stinging sand, or is not letting on how much this stuff hurts.

We backtrack, taking temporary refuge at a table by the poolside bar. A couple (clearly bored) resort staff members try – in vain – to get us to sing cheesy karaoke music. No dice. Especially from me.

P1010894Eventually, the wind lets up and we head back down to the beach. The water’s unbelieveably warm, but a bit soupy with blades of grass and lone clumps of moss drifting by. It’s the dark clouds in the distance, approaching our direction with some speed, that eventually chase us indoors.

After showering and changing, we relax for a bit before dinner. I feel a headache starting out of nowhere, so I take some acetaminophen to ease the ache. Perhaps the booze and all that sun is giving me a heightened hangover or something. But by the time we head out to dinner, I’m still feeling funny.

We return to the Italian restaurant down the street. I eat my lobster bisque, but whatever’s affecting my appetite prevents me from making a real dent in my chicken cacciatore. By dinner’s end, I’m REALLY not feeling well and all I’m hoping is that we go soon, lest I have … an accident.

On the walk home, I feel waves of nausea, but luckily, I don’t. But … well … stuff happens, which ends my evening. I take an anti-nausea pill and head to bed. One day left, and it would be a shame to have to spend it in bed.

A Powerboat Adventure!

P1010642Monday, July 15th.

We’re at the Paradise Island ferry terminal before 8:45 a.m. and by 9:30 a.m., the monstrous powerboat we’re travelling on pulls away from shore.

It’s roughly a one-hour ride from Nassau, heading south towards the Exuma Cays. We’re in open water, bumping over waves, the sun beating down on our heads and the sea spraying our arms and faces.

A couple of times, the boat hits the waves hard enough to send water splashing into the boat, onto some passengers. But the sun is hot, so it’s not unwelcome.

DSC00628Our first stop is Allan’s Cay, a small island inhabited by iguanas. The water is crystal clear and so blue, it’s unreal.

When the boat is safely docked, Jen and a few of the other passengers climb onto the front of the boat and dive into the water.

The rest of us climb down into the water, with assistance from staff. The water comes right up past my thighs, wetting the seat of my shorts.

A member of the boat’s staff hands us a small handful of grapes with which to feed the iguanas. Prior to getting off the boat, there are just two rules our guide, Jason, tells us to follow:

(1) Find a stick at least a forearm’s-length long, on which to stick the grapes
and
(2) If you’re a woman wearing toenail polish, bury your toes in the sand.

Turns out that not only do these iguanas have a sharp bite, but they’ve also got poor DSC00640eyesight. So for them, a grape and a woman’s big toe covered in cherry-red nail polish look the same.

There’s more than a dozen of the reptiles scurrying around, trying to nip the grapes and clamber back up onto their rocky perches before the seagulls (just above our heads and on the sand nearby) get to them.

About 20 minutes later, we’re back on the boat for another 10-minute ride to our destination, Ship Channel Cay, where we’re spending the rest of our day.

The boat veers left, then right, as the Miami Vice theme, immediately followed by the theme to Mission: Impossible blares over the sound system.

As the boat pulls up to the dock, there’s a little boy – maybe 5 years old at all – hanging out, watching us arrive. When it’s safe to depart the boat, we head into the main building, where an enormous platter of sandwiches – cut in halves – sits, just ready for the eating.

Around the corner, there’s a bar – and bartender – along with a couple of tables loaded up with more platters, of fruit and vegetables.

We grab our first drinks of the outing, then toddle off to the beach. No sooner do we set up our spot on the beach, spreading out our towels, then the group is being called to line up along the beach and kneel in the shallow water.

IMAG0070The stingrays are coming.

I go to change into my swimsuit, then take my place at the end of the line of people.

Jen’s moving behind the line, trying to snap some pictures, while Christine is half-heartedly in line beside me.

Not even a moment later, we hear a kid farther up the line freak out. That DOES NOT help me. Almost in an instant, my excitement turns to panic.

The moment a stingray gets within five feet of me,  I drop my fishy offering, skittering backward up onto the beach as it gets closer, flapping past me. So much for that romantic image.

Next: feeding time … for the sharks.IMAG0076

Our trip leader, Jason, along with another colleague, affix squid to a rope, flinging it out farther into the shallow waters ahead of them. He manages to give my fellow “adventurers” a show, wrangling a couple sharks out of the water long enough for folks to “ooh”, “ahh”, and get a good look.

After the “performance” we’re left on our own for a bit – but not long enough, as (what seems like) 15 minutes later, we’re being summoned to participate in some drift snorkeling nearby. I just happen to look upwards and notice the sky’s not as brilliantly blue as before. In fact, it’s looking a bit grey in places.

Christine and Jen aren’t quite ready to go just yet, because everyone’s crowding around the snorkel guy to get their equipment and snorkeling tutorial. I’m leery, merely because I’m not the strongest swimmer, so I opt not to go.

IMAG0082As we wait for the crowd to thin out a bit, the sun disappears behind enormous clouds and grows really dark. By the time Christine and Jen get their snorkeling gear, it’s starting to sprinkle.

Because the group is already far up ahead and already in the water, one of the crew tells us that we’d be taken out by boat to join the others. I’m staying in the boat.

It’s pouring by the time we reach the others. Christine and Jen enter the water from the boat, while I’m seated, shivering and squinting because one of my contacts has come loose and is doing some swimming around of its own, underneath my eyelid.

While I attempt to regain my eyesight, I chat with Jerome, who’s manning the small motorboat, in the pouring rain. Despite being a bit cold, the water is extremely warm and actually looks green.

The rain’s stopped by the time the group and motorboat get close to shore.

I’m preparing for my eventual drop-off, when Jerome tells me they’re about to get some conch for the salad-making demonstration later on – would I like to come with them?

Since I did not snorkel, I figure, why not? The guys seem nice.

Jerome picks up trip leader Jason, still decked out in his wet suit – he’ll be the one diving for conch.

The boat travels out a little ways from land, but not too much farther out than where the group was snorkeling. Jason steps off the side of the boat, scanning below, then fully submerging and going below to pick up the day’s catch. From what I understand, the crew catches the conch a few days earlier, then leave them tied in bunches. (The conch uses its “foot” – which looks like a single claw or talon – to move along. Obviously, with five of those guys tied together, they can’t go anywhere.)

While Jason is bringing up the catch, I get to hold a horse conch (which, apparently, isn’t really a conch). This one had no “claw’, but tough material which plugs up the opening of the shell. Horse conch isn’t eaten, so after holding it a bit longer, I throw it back.

Once back on shore, I head to lunch. The buffet’s huge – fish, meat, pasta, vegetables, salads, and fruit.

IMAG0092I join Jen and Christine near a railing close to the pier, overlooking the clear water, where sharks, assorted fish and the odd stingray swim about.

Seagulls circle overhead, waiting for whatever morsels of food are dropped or tossed.

The little boy we saw on the pier earlier is throwing bread into the water.

Growing bored really quickly, he starts tossing cubes of cheese instead – which is, obviously rebuffed by the fish, but considered by the birds.

IMAG0112After lunch, Jen, Christine and I spread out on the beach, (partially) checking out Jason’s conch salad demonstration.

He starts by pulling this thing out of its shell, showing it to us in all its ugly glory. He even gets a little girl to pull out a second conch so everyone can get a good look at it.

He cuts off the parts we won’t eat (likely the parts keeping these conches alive), washes them in the sea water and seasons them with salt, chops them up and finally adds the rest of the ingredients.

I join some of the other fellow tourists in sampling some of the finished product. I think it’s tastier than what I’ve had in Nassau.

My friends and I have a few more drinks, get a little more sun, and frolic about in the water. And before we know it, our time is up, and we leave our temporary paradise by about 3:30 p.m. I think we can declare this day trip a success.

A Sunday by the Sea

P1010602Sunday, July 14th.

Today starts with a feast of grilled cheese, tomato and ham sandwiches Jen prepares for all of us, followed by stops at the grocery and liquor stores to replenish our rations.

When we return, I stay indoors a while to cool off from the heat, then eventually slather on some sunscreen and bug spray and wander down to the beach to join the others.

The temperature’s cooled down, so it’s nice – not as blazing hot as it has been over the past several days.

I recline on a deck chair while Christine and Jen alternate between lounging on the chairs and bobbing about in the water.

While we’re reclining in our chairs, we get a visit from a four-legged passerby. He or she is verP1010605y calm and friendly. I don’t think he or she’s a stray, only because he or she is wearing a collar.

But the visit is fleeting, and our furry new acquaintance gets up and continues trotting down the beach.

We’re back in the villa around 6 p.m. and by 7 p.m. are heading west to a restaurant called Compass Point.

It’s located in a community by the same name and – unlike our trip to Sandy Point, it’s about a 15-minute taxi ride from Cable Beach. We pass recent condo developments, gated communities and a local fish-fry shack on the way.

But when we finally arrive at the restaurant and are seated by the water, that is the best view by far. Nothing on the horizon as far as the eye can see.

DSC_0790Christine and I try the Chef’s special – grouper – while Jen opts for a conch chowder and a salad. Sadly, there are no stars or moonlight to accompany our dinner – just the very dim flicker of our table candles, and the nearby glare from mounted TV screens and the lights at the bar. Above us, we see the occasional lights of airplanes preparing to land.

It’s not a late night for us – we have an early start, for our big day trip to the Exuma Cays!

A Fancy Spot, and Hitting the Slots

Saturday, July 13th.

I awake from a strange dream (about being in the Canadian North with a film crew, for a DSC00617story I don’t remember, in the middle of summer when the sun’s out almost 24 hours a day, which does my head in!) to a very chilled, relaxed morning.

In fact, most of the day is pretty quiet and uneventful. Christine and Jen claim their regular spots at the beach. I don’t join them until well into the afternoon.

Around 7 p.m. we go indoors to make ourselves pretty. Tonight, we’re headed over to the monstrously huge Atlantis resort – specifically, the section called The Cove, where the Bahamian location of Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill is located.

Security calls us a taxi and we’re soon on our way. We get a lovely (and, I think, entertaining) driver, who tells us about his kids – some of whom are in the U.S., doing quite well for themselves, thank you very much.

From what I can understand, he used to run tours, but was let go and has been driving a taxi for the past six years or so.

He talks about everything from his family, to the corruption in his country’s politics, switching between the sacred to the profane in his speech. But he’s been the best driver so far, by far.

DSC00613From the front entrance to The Cove, we walk to the restaurant, just marvelling at the elaborate lobby, with its ponds and little waterfalls on either side.

Mesa Grill is enormous; the southwestern American influence is evident in the decor.

We start off with some crumbly cornbread and a goat cheese “queso fundido” with blue tortilla chips, garnished with red and green bell peppers.

Jen orders a zesty margarita with jalapeño peppers. Christine and I split a bottle of reisling.

For our entrées, Christine gets a ribeye steak, Jen tucks into some mahi-mahi, and I tackle three pork tenderloin medallions.

It’s delicious (if, admittedly, a bit pricey for what we get. But, hey – it’s Bobby Flay at the Atlantis).

DSC00614After dinner, I take a chance on my expanding belly and order my first dessert of the trip – sticky toffee pudding  with tres leches ice cream.

The caramel (which I think had been flavoured with some salt) went so well with the pudding and the ice cream – everything just melted together in my mouth.

After dropping some serious coin on dinner, we thought we’d visit the casino and perhaps win some of it back.

It’s only a five-minute walk from the restaurant. But to get to the casino, we pass through this enormous complex in which the casino’s housed.

DSC00623The place is filled with shops and ornate mouldings. On the floor below us, there’s a fish aquarium that is so humongous, it’s unbelieveable.

The casino itself is massive, loud, and dotted with bars that require a $20 cover to enter. (We take a pass.)

After some hesitation, we decide to try our luck with some of the slot machines closest to the cashiers’ counters. It takes about 10 minutes or so of fiddling before we figure out how it works.

I’m not terribly interested in the nickel slots as – in my limited casino-going experience (translation: that one time at the Caesar’s in Windsor) – these are guaranteed money-snatchers.

We shuffle around from row to row of machines … and then I see them. The “Wheel of Fortune” slot machines. Also remembered from my limited casino-going experience: these made me a tiny sum. But there are bums parked in every available seat. And just a couple of moments later, we hear a couple of small cheers, which I am convinced are coming from that general vicinity.

I am determined to get MY bum into one of those seats before we leave.

We wander around aimlessly a bit more, and stumble upon more “Wheel of Fortune” machines. I stick in a $20 bill and come up empty. I hesitate, then feed another $20 bill into the machine. This time? I cash out with $55. We wander around some more. I hit another slot machine and turn my $55 into $70. I try a nickel slot machine, gaining, then losing, 50 cents.

As we move from machine to machine, we’re hit with cigarette smoke. Having long since adjusted to smoke-free environments, the stench is, obviously, disgusting.

But I’m willing to tolerate it a bit longer, as I double-back to the bank of “Wheel of Fortune” machines from earlier. The seats are being occupied by a young couple who aren’t even playing, and claim they’re saving them for someone else.

Again, we wander around, then circle back to see if they’ve finally taken their backsides elsewhere. Vacant. So I try again, and by the time we leave, I’ve turned my $55 into $300. Good enough for me. I cash out, glad this is a one-time visit. It’s easy to see how flirting with chance can morph into a gambling addiction.

We’re home by 1:30 a.m. and turn in by about 2 a.m., looking forward for a nice, lazy Sunday.

Porpoises! (Plus, The Poop Deck)

 DSC00569Friday, July 12th.

The chartered bus headed to the Paradise Island Terminal arrives at our resort just after 12:30 p.m. – manned by a (sort-of) crusty driver.

(Aren’t they all? Cue “Bus Driver“.)

From the terminal, we take a nice 25-minute boat ride to Blue Lagoon Island (real name: Salt Cay).

We pass the Atlantis resort complex in its monstrous glory, as well as a couple of uninhabited cays, and a strip of massive mansions, fringed with rows of palm trees.

Once docked, we head to the complex’s main pavilion, where we receive a 10-minute orientation by one of the staff on dolphin basics. Then Christine and Jen get their lifejackets, while I mind their belongings.

The group is divided into groups, based on the numbers printed on their wristbands. DSC00574There are two platforms where excited dolphin-swimmers sit and wait for their fine-finned friends to appear.

Barely five minutes in, the skies open up and it just starts pouring. I quietly curse myself for not bringing a rainjacket, pick up all our bags and cameras, and run for cover.

The rain eases, and I lug all our things back down to the platform for a second try at snapping pictures. I get a few shots of Jen and Christine as they stroke the dolphins’ bellies, get playfully splashed, etc.

As the group prepares for their one-on-one time with the dolphins (dubbed “dolphin dates”), it starts pouring AGAIN.

DSC00581Back to the pavilion I go with all our things, and I try to get what pictures I can from my much-dryer vantage point. Jen and Christine hug and “kiss” the dolphins, get some vigorous hand/fin-shakes, and get to see other fun tricks.

Finally, the staff help set up for the final trick of the “dolphin encounter”: each participant swims out to a mark in the pool, floating on their tummies, while two dolphins swim from behind and push their beaks (or rostrums) against the person’s feet, propelling him or her upright – like jet-skiing, minus the motorboat and rope.

For everyone, the trick goes off without a hitch. Almost.

For some reason, when it’s Jen’s turn, one of the dolphins – named Stormy – starts acting up. So there’s a delay and Jen has to return to the platform until the dolphin’s ready to cooperate.

For Christine, this happens not once, but twice. When Christine’s first attempt fails, she allows one of the other participants have a turn; that person has no problems whatsoever.

After the second failure to launch, Stormy is sent back to a holding pen and a replacement porpoise – named Shawn – does what he’s told. It was neat to watch. It’s too bad my camera/smartphone video work doesn’t reflect the end result.

DSC00586It’s past 4 p.m. when we board the boat for the return trip back to the Paradise Island terminal, and we’re back at the resort by 5:30. And all that dolphin-swimmin’/watchin’ has left us STARVING.

We eventually decide to take a second run at The Poop Deck. But instead of walking, we take a taxi, with help from the resort’s security staff.

(The security guard, Mario, advises us against hailing a taxi off the street, on the off-chance that person isn’t legit and could easily rob us.)

DSC00605And the Poop Deck, it turns out, DOES exist. (In fact, if we had walked another five minutes the other evening, we would’ve hit paydirt. Oh, well.)

The restaurant’s enormous; we opt to sit outside on the huge, covered patio. The staff’s great, as is the food.

Getting a taxi back to the return is a minor challenge. The taxi driver gave us his number to call when we were ready to return, but the handwriting on the scrap of paper is so bad that the hostess can’t make it out. But it’s nothing the staff can’t handle, and they find someone else to help us out.

Back at the resort, it’s a quiet rest of the night for us, as we have some after-dinner drinks until Christine and I start nodding off in our seats, and we retreat for the night.

Downtown & Around the Corner

Bus driver why you act like dat
Fight like dog & cat
Man please don’t kill me for $1.00
I mean $1.25
Let me off this trap
I den say bus stop from 3 blocks back!

Thursday, July 11th.

Our morning routine is still slow, even if we’re up earlier than on previous days.

Our first point of order: book our excursions.

On Friday, we’ll go to a nearby island for a three-hour session swimming with dolphins. (Or, more accurately, Christine and Jen will swim with the dolphins; I’ll be observing.)

Then on Monday, we’ll take a powerboat trip approximately an hour south to one of the smaller islands – or cays – for an afternoon of sun, sand, snorkeling, sharks and stingrays.

DSC00554Later in the morning, we catch the bus into downtown Nassau, to take a peek around and perhaps do some shopping. It’s cruise ship central, so we see a LOT of tourists crowding the sidewalks.

We start on a random street, walking up one side, then over to another. We visit Nassau’s Straw Market, past many women hawking their wares, trying to get our attention to buy one of their many tchotchkes.

We pop in and out of shop after shop, looking at liquor, t-shirts, sarongs, dresses and other knick-knacks for possible souvenirs to bring home for friends and family.

In one shop, Christine and Jen purchase some hot pepper sauce, while I decide on some mango and hibiscus jelly which – according to the label – is supposed to be Bahamian-made.

DSC00561As we pass through the middle of town, we notice that various displays and patriotically-coloured bunting is still hanging from the day before – it gives the area an almost perpetually festive feel.

We stop for lunch after 2 p.m., then do another partial circuit, where we stop at a liquor store so Jen can load up on Bahamian rum.

We return to the place we were dropped off, then climb onto a bus … which takes FOREVER to leave, because the driver is trying to fill every seat.

When we DO finally depart the town centre, we don’t get very far. We hit a single-lane traffic jam. Apparently there’s an accident up ahead. (And – as with anyplace else on earth – likely drivers rubbernecking to check out said accident.)

One of the local passengers calls her friend to say she’ll be late, then passes the time by singing along to the tunes the driver is playing. Another passenger – wedged in next to me – sucks her teeth in exasperation. Woman #2 leans forward to talk to Woman # 1, probably to commiserate about the snail’s pace at which the bus is going.

Woman #1 (presumably a cook – she’s wearing a white smock with a matching white cap, holding her cell phone in one hand, and a julienne peeler and a straw in the other), points out that she herself is running late, and has errands to run.

“No use in worryin’, ” she replies. “Yuh reach when yuh reach.” I couldn’t agree more.

As we creep and, eventually, drive closer, a song called “Bus Driver” starts playing over the speakers. The song and lyrics, to me, are fitting.

Later in the day, after we’ve unwound (and I’ve taken a nap), we head down the street to a local italian restaurant, called Capriccio.

We start with some mussels in a spicy, tasty arrabbiata sauce. For dinner, Christine and Jen enjoy some seafood pasta with cream sauce, while I try some pan-fried grouper … with ACTUAL VEGETABLES (which I haven’t had for at least several days, and am beyond happy to see on my plate).

After dinner, it’s back to the “villa”, where we drink, dance around to music from our iPods and generally goof off.

It’s almost 1:30 a.m. when my head hits the pillow for a long, gin-stained slumber … filled with dreams of weird movie sequences involving mysteries to be solved, and King Kong pulling down the Eiffel Tower, against a brilliant sunset.