A Travellerspoint blog

In Pursuit of Paradise Day 1: Naked and Afraid.

The Bay Islands of Honduras

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Ways I can die in Honduras:

1. As Matt so thoughtfully pointed out, Honduras is the murder capital of the world.

2. There is a zipline on every mountain. Flying 200 feet above the ground on a cable erected by workers in a third world country with severely substandard wages and no US Department of Labor probably isn’t a good idea.

3. Sleeping in a house with no a/c in a country infested with mosquitos is as smart as simply injecting the disease into your bloodstream with a syringe. Hello? Malaria? Zika? Dengue? Chicayunga?

4. You can get Hepatitis from drinking the water.

5. I could be a victim of a Honduran roadside shakedown gone bad.

6. I could get macheted to death for refusing to hand over my camera.

7. They have tarantulas and boa constrictors and I would die of fright if I saw one.

8. Can you get sick from holding a monkey?

9. Spending 3 days alone on a deserted island with Matt could likely end up with one of us dead.

This was either going to be the best trip of our lives or the worst.

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We arrived in Roatan shortly after noon local time. We were immediately thrust into the most crowded, chaotic airport I have ever entered. Hundreds of people from 2 arriving flights were being crammed into a queue to go through customs and immigration. Several “airport volunteers” helped to keep everyone guided in the right direction. The power had been out, so it was hotter than the 3rd circle of hell.

We were asked if we were staying on Roatan or connecting and we advised the volunteer that we were on a 2:00 flight to Utila. We were ushered into another line that moved even slower than our original line, which seemed to defeat the purpose of expediting us so that we’d make our flight, but explaining things in rational terms to these folks didn’t seem to be an option. We went with the flow.

After a long, hot wait….we were fingerprinted (all 10 fingers), our documents were examined, we were photographed, and sent on our way. I imagine it would be easier to sneak into the research and development lab at Apple than Honduras.

We then had to exit the airport and re-enter on the departure side, which was even hotter than the arrivals side. And more chaotic.

Lines streamed behind each airline and a HUGE line extended across the length of the airport under a sign that read “Departure Lounge.”

We found the counter for tiny CM Airlines and were given big plastic cards to use for boarding. We then got in the huge departure line and waited.

And waited. And waited.

It appeared the line was taking us back through immigration to be fingerprinted again.

This didn’t make any sense.

I saw a much shorter departure line with no one in it.

“I think that’s the domestic departure line,” I said.

We moved over and discovered it was, indeed, the domestic departure line. No sign of any kind overhead. The only indicator was a sign painted on the floor. Because you can certainly see that clearly from 200 feet away in a room filled with sweaty bodies.

Inside the “departure lounge” (this is their term, not mine….it was not lounge like in any capacity), we proceeded to wait in another very hot line.

Eventually, we were herded in a very chaotic fashion with a disorganized group out onto the tarmac where we boarded a less than amazing 15-seater plane.

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I suspected they didn’t put a lot of stock in safety when I noticed that my seatbelt appeared to be missing some important parts and there was no safety briefing. I was certain no one had done a weight and balance, and the rear door was shut by the passenger in the back seat.

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No matter. We made it on time, with relative ease, and were on our way to the small island of Utila!

The flight was quick and uneventful. Twenty minutes later, we landed on a tiny airstrip on the island of Utila.

The Utila airport was not much to look at.

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Several tuk-tuks were waiting, so we jumped inside one and asked to be driven to Bush’s Supermarket, the largest grocery store on Utila, where we would pick up our groceries and wait on the boat dock behind the store for Barry Jackson, who would take us to Little Cay for the next 3 days.

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Utila Town was small and lively. Scooters, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, trucks, and vans all competed noisily for the single lane road that ran through town. The air was filled with the mingled scents of exhaust, salt air, and fried dough. Dogs barked lazily in the shade, and music pumped out of several small bars.

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We found Bush's easily enough and were dropped off with our luggage. I had one hour before Barry arrived. I left Matt sitting out front in a plastic chair with the luggage and several old men smoking cigarettes and went inside with my list.

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I have shopped in many small island grocery stores. I know what to expect. Still, I expected more.

Shopping at Bush’s was an experience in patience, frustration, and creativity.

They had the most random, incomplete, awkward selection of products that I believe one could amass in a central location and still call a grocery store. I had come prepared with a list. When spending 3 nights on a remote island with minimal amenities, you need to plan properly. It’s not like we could run to the corner to pick up something we forgot.

List be damned. They didn’t have anything that was on it.

I started to panic, realizing Barry would be there soon and all I had in my cart was a giant block of mysterious cheese and a squeeze bag of refried beans. I scowled as I looked through freezers filled with bags of frozen meat labelled simply, “Ground meat.” BUT WHAT KIND OF MEAT??? I pawed through boxes of produce I didn’t recognize. I flipped over packages that were entirely in Spanish three or four times, thinking maybe there was some English on there somewhere that I just didn’t see the first time.

The most puzzling aspect was that about half of the packages were opened. Like someone just got hungry while they were shopping, decided to pop open a pack of moon pies and eat one. Haphazardly opened packages filled the store. A box of butter might only contain 2 sticks. A box of granola bars might have a few missing.

I was later told that it's perfectly acceptable to open packages at the store and just buy what you need. You can even ask for half an onion and they'll cut it for you. You only want half a can of Coke? They'll actually open one and pour it in a cup.

Despite the randomness of the inventory, I managed to put together what I felt was a pretty decent collection that would serve us well for the next couple of days. I was sweating profusely and was close to a panic attack, but as they boxed my groceries up, my breathing returned to normal and I realized nothing was that important. So I couldn’t find graham crackers. We were on our way to a PRIVATE ISLAND.

It was going to be amazing. Even without graham crackers.

They delivered our boxes of groceries and our luggage to the back of the store and placed them on the boat dock where we could wait for Barry.
Somehow, we managed 15 minutes to spare, so I sent Matt in search of sustenance.

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He came back with margaritas.

Matt is a good man.

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As we gulped the tequila down faster than the ice could melt in the 97 degree heat, Barry pulled up in his boat.

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Then it was off to Little Cay. Private island paradise or the worst experience of our lives? Only time would tell.

As the little island came into view and began to take shape in the distance, my heart started to beat faster.

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It was around 4:00 p.m. when Barry dropped us off on Little Cay with our two suitcases, two boxes of groceries, a cooler of ice, drinking water, and lots of apprehension.

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As Barry’s boat pulled away, the fading of the sound of its motor left behind a very loud silence.

Matt and I were alone on a one acre private island with a modest house and minimal amenities. Purchased by the Jackson family in 1968 and developed about three decades later (“developed” being a relative term), Little Cay was about 6 miles west of Utila Town, but felt worlds away from anywhere.

The house was a very basic, open structure with minimal power provided by solar panels and a giant empty hole where the hand-crank generator used to be. There was running water from a cistern that collected rainwater, but no hot water. There was no air conditioning and random wires stuck out from the ceiling where the fans used to be. There was no television, stereo system, or wi-fi. There was only one working power outlet in the entire house. Our only means of communication was a small cell phone on the counter that had Barry’s number saved on it. Gourmet kitchen? Try a charcoal grill pit and a gas stove with only two working burners that had to be lit with matches every time we needed to cook.

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It wasn’t exactly Survivor. It wasn’t exactly Necker Island. It was something else altogether.

We spent the first moments in delight and disbelief, discovering every inch of our own personal island. We walked from one end of the island to the other.

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This took exactly 4 minutes.

We had no idea what to do for the remaining 3,966 minutes.

What was this going to be like? Did this have the ingredients for an amazing vacation or just a really good reality TV show? I feared it was the latter and started to wonder which one it would be….Paradise Island? Survivor? When Vacations Attack? Snapped?

Most likely it would be Naked and Afraid. He’d be naked and I’d be afraid. We’d only been here 5 minutes and he was already calling it “Naked Island.”

We only had about 2 hours of daylight left, so we needed to unpack, put the groceries away, and get dinner made while we still had some light.

Dinner presented the first challenge.

We had charcoal, but no lighter fluid because I couldn’t find any in the store. While Matt went on a search of the various closets and buildings to see if he could find something we could use, I set about trying to figure out the stove.

There were 5 knobs, but all of the markings had long since been rubbed off, so I had no idea which knob went with which burner. It also wasn’t obvious what position to turn the knob to in order to light the burner.

I proceeded to go through the awkward process of holding down a knob with my knee, while using both hands to light one of the world’s crappiest matches in a windy kitchen, which resulted in the match immediately blowing out. I would have to light a minimum of 3 matches before one would catch and hold. Then, while holding the knob in with my knee and trying to shield my match from the wind with one hand and hold it with the other, I had to quickly hold it to each burner to find which one(s) worked. I found two and I managed to do it without blowing myself up.

Matt discovered a bottle of mysterious blue liquid that he felt certain was lighter fluid and attempted to get the grill going.

Success!

We grilled up some shrimp, cooked some rice, and made a quick salad.

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We managed to get dinner ready in time to eat before the last dying rays of sunlight disappeared, leaving us in utter darkness.

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Yes, the house had a few lights, but they were weak and we were tired. We’d also experienced a 2 hour time change and had endured a long travel day. We discovered on that first night that it was simply easiest to go to bed at 8:00 p.m.

We chose the downstairs bedroom because it had a king sized bed and tons of windows that opened to the breeze. We put up our mosquito net, put flashlights on the nightstands, and called it a night.

Tic…ticticic…..tak….tiktac….tictictiktac……..

I woke up in the middle of the night, completely disoriented. It was so dark I couldn’t see my hand before my face and something was lying across my leg. I swiped at it and lurched forward only to realize it was just the mosquito net, blowing in the breeze.

Tiktac…tikkkky…tactactick……

And what was that noise?????? Dear Jesus. There was something in here with us. Why not? All the doors and windows were wide open. I knew I should have slept with the flashlight under my pillow.

I carefully pulled up the mosquito net and grabbed my flashlight, hitting the button quietly, so the intruder would not be alerted.

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Dozens of hermit crabs were crawling all over the floor.

Tic…tic…tac…tikkkk…..

You know, it’s amazing what you can tolerate when you are really, really tired.

I sighed and hoped they didn’t have any interest in getting into bed.

Posted by vicki_h 07:00 Archived in Honduras Tagged beach island caribbean tropical honduras roatan utila little_cay deserted_island Comments (6)

In Pursuit of Paradise: Intro

The Bay Islands of Honduras

When you tell people you are going to Honduras, the response is always the same:

“Are you going on a mission trip?”

When you respond, “no,” the response is always the same:

“Then why are you going?”

When I told Matt I wanted to rent a private deserted island in Honduras, one that lacked electricity, hot water, and was a 30 minute boat ride from the nearest town, he was less than enthusiastic.

“But it’s a whole private ISLAND….” I stressed.

“Alcatraz is a whole private island,” he responded, “and Honduras is the murder capital of the world.”

It was going to be a harder sell than I thought.

Sure, Honduras does not get high marks in the luxury travel category. High crime rates. Extreme traveler warnings of carjacking and armed robbery. Advice to get Hepatitis shots and take anti-malarial medication. Stories of police shaking travelers down as they drive the only road across the island. Sand flies that are likened to blood sucking dragons. These were the most common things that I found online when I started researching Roatan and Utila.

Had I stopped my research there, I would have concluded from the warnings that only a reckless, death-wish kind of traveler would ever consider a trip there, but I don’t let little things like sky high murder rates and communicable diseases get in the way of my fun.

However, as I continued my quest for information, I started to wonder if maybe I WAS a reckless, death-wish kind of traveler.

I actually saw an article called, “21 Top Dangerous Places to go on Vacation.” Guess what was #1? Honduras. Just in case I needed confirmation that it was not a one-off, I found another titled, “Travel on the Edge: 7 Dangerous (but Awesome) Adventures Worth Having.” Honduras was listed, right up there with Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia. I’ll put that right up there with “Top Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” “Top Foods to Give You Gas,” and “Top Musical Acts Similar to Miley Cyrus” with regard to how desirable being on that list is.

But they also said it was AWESOME.

That was the thing. Pretty much every piece of information I could find on the place was polarized into one of two categories: Dangerous or Awesome. So which one was it?

It seemed to depend on who was doing the talking.

I did get some comfort from realizing that the bay islands clearly had a better reputation than mainland Honduras. Sort of.

While the islands didn’t seem to share in the whole “murder capital of the world” bit, the realities of mosquito and water-borne illnesses, high crime rates, and severe warnings for tourists were still there.

But then there were the accounts that said the islands were amazing. They were described as an undiscovered treasure, the Caribbean’s best kept secret, and a tropical paradise where we would be awed by silky beaches, lush jungles, and a pristine reef. These people described it as quiet, safe, and beautiful.

I needed to satisfy my curiosity. I had to talk Matt into going.

Sometimes I feel inexplicably compelled to just DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

I feel the need to combine fear with fun.

I need a new stamp on my passport.

I had nothing left in my arsenal, so I simply showed Matt where I wanted to go:

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When that didn't work, I told him it was only $150 a night.

Who hasn’t romanticized the notion of living on a deserted tropical island, if only for a few days? Especially with a boatload of food, books and your best friend? It only sweetens the deal if that island costs less than an inexpensive hotel room in Knoxville, TN.

That’s all it took. Malaria be damned. Matt was IN.

After doing enough research to make my eyes gloss over, I chose to split our time between the remote, private island paradise of Little Cay, Utila and the popular island of Roatan.

It was time for another adventure in paradise.

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Posted by vicki_h 10:00 Archived in Honduras Tagged beach island caribbean tropical honduras roatan utila little_cay deserted_island Comments (3)

A Bahamas WORK trip...as wrong as it sounds.

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We were under no delusions when we decided to buy a beach house, no matter how small. I never had the “A beach house will be a dream! It will sit there and make money while I’m not using it and then all my vacations will be free!” fantasy.

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When you buy a house in a place where a bottle of glass cleaner costs $12 and a gallon of cheap paint runs you $70, you know nothing is going to be free.

I knew that a beach house was a labor of love, not an investment….the emphasis on LABOR. I heard Matt’s “Do you know how many times we could stay in the nicest house on the island for what it will cost to own that tiny place?” lecture enough times to have it committed to memory and I fully realized that many of our trips would involve more work than play.

This is the illusion of beach house ownership:

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This is the reality:

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I knew that going in and I didn’t care.

You don’t buy a beach house because it makes sense. You buy it because you love it so much that you don’t care how little sense it makes.

That’s how I love the Bikini Hut.

Sure, I’m still in the honeymoon phase, and the dazzle may wear off at some point, but for now, I am more excited about going down to Guana Cay to change out electrical fixtures than I am about going and hanging out on the beach.

The same goes for boat ownership. I have heard it said that a boat is a hole in the water that you pour your money into.

The illusion of owning a boat:

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The reality:

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The good news is that we ran into this thing with eyes wide open. So, when it came time to head down to Guana Cay for a quick trip with the primary purpose being WORK, we were okay with that.

Thursday:

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Having our own boat and keeping it at Marsh Harbour has gloriously eliminated the need to leave at zero-dark- thirty in sub-zero temperatures in order to ensure we catch the early ferry.

Instead of scurrying out at some ungodly hour like 3:00 a.m., we set off at a comfortable time, with no goal more ambitious than “get there before dark.”

We landed in the early afternoon to warm sunshine and blue skies, immediately forgetting that it was 20 degrees back home with a forecast of snow. We made a quick stop at the hardware store (okay, that's a lie - no stop ANYWHERE in Marsh Harbour is "quick" - in reality, we wandered around the Ace Hardware with 4 employees for 20 minutes looking for some pocket doors we had ordered back in the summer). Before we knew it, we were on the boat headed for Guana Cay.

I will say that the new routine bypasses Curly Tails and my initial Bahama Mama, so I am going to have to work on better planning in the future so that there are some boat drinks on the way over! Arriving “dry” is simply unacceptable.

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Pulling up to Bikini Hut for the first time after the initial remodel trip was awesome. That sweet, happy little cottage just screamed “Welcome Back!”

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Literally.

Look at what I found in the refrigerator when I arrived:

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Pure. Awesomeness.

By the time we got settled and unpacked (and knocked back a couple of painkillers), it was late and we realized we hadn’t had lunch. We were tired and hungry so we made a b-line for Sunsetters wing night.

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A $5 plate of wings never looked so good.

Or went down so fast.

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We had noticed a glass case stocked with homemade desserts when we had arrived: carrot cake, chocolate cake, pies, cheesecakes….so of course we had to try them out.

I recommend the dessert. Any of them. All of them.

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Who am I kidding? I always recommend the dessert.

Friday:

One of the best things about Bikini Hut is how short the walk is to the beach. Rooby, Bella, and I can walk straight over every morning and see the sun rise. The place we used to stay required a golf cart ride, which is not easy alone, in the morning, before coffee with 2 very excited dogs in tow.

The girls and I got a long, leisurely walk in before heading back to the house.

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I had checked the weather in advance and knew that Friday was supposed to be less than amazing. This made diving into the work we needed to do much easier. Matt and John would work on putting up some pocket doors to provide the room with the murphy bed some privacy, while Teresa and I ran over to Marsh Harbour to buy some things the house still needed.

I had no illusions about how un-awesome shopping in Marsh Harbour would be, but there were things we needed, so there just wasn’t any choice. I’d make do with whatever I could find and I would certainly pay 3 times as much for it.

The best part about heading to Marsh Harbour was that it meant we could stop at Curly Tails for lunch! Finally, that Bahama Mama I had been waiting for.

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Paired with the blackened fish tacos, it was just perfect.

We were hoping to get our shopping done before the rain set in, but we weren’t so lucky. We found ourselves running to the afternoon ferry in the pouring rain with boxes of groceries, supplies, and a table.

We put our purchases next to several boxes of plantains, a boat motor, and a huge stash of tropical plants and found some seats.

Passenger ferry or freight boat? I guess it just depends on the day!

The rain kept pouring. It was coming down in thick sheets, often blowing sideways with gale force winds.

We had walked from Bikini Hut to the ferry. I spent the entire ride back trying to figure out how we were going to get all our stuff, that table, and our bodies to the house without being absolutely drenched.

I wasted my time.

It wasn’t possible.

We got all our stuff, that table, and our bodies back to the house absolutely drenched.

It was still pouring an hour later and we were all hungry. We considered our dinner options.

We could stay at the house and eat Doritos with painkillers, because I had only bought snacks (I still don’t understand why I was the only one that voted for that one).

We ruled out Grabbers because, even if we could get there without getting too wet, all of the seating was to some degree “open air” and the crazy wind made Grabbers a very bad idea.

We ruled out Nippers because, even if we could get there without getting too wet, there was no way to get to the indoor dining area without making that loooooooong walk.

We ruled out Sunsetters because it was the farthest golf cart ride and we knew we’d be soaked by the time we got there.

We ruled out Island Flavors because, even though it was the closest, it was right on the water and we could see from our window that the eating area was getting drenched.

We ruled out Kidd’s Cove because they were closed and I was pretty sure Edmund wouldn’t appreciate me letting myself into his kitchen to see what I could find.

This left Fish Tales. It was only a couple of doors down from Bikini Hut, so we knew we could get there quickly and stay pretty dry. It was also fully indoors, so no fear of being blown sideways while trying to swallow a conch fritter. The only problem was….we’d never been. We had no idea what it was like inside or what kind of food they had. Did they even have food? We knew it was a sports bar, so what if we got in there and all they had were chips hanging on the wall and one of those hot dog carousels like you see in a mini mart with the 2 day old wieners sitting under a sad heat lamp?

It was risky, but we had no other choice.

We dashed down the street and darted inside.

It was absolutely delightful.

Bright, pleasant, incredibly clean, with a great menu and a nice bar.

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HOW HAVE WE MISSED THIS PLACE?????

The guys were extra happy because there were lots of TVs and a pool table.

I was happy because there was wine and pasta Bolognese.

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We stuffed ourselves before making a mad dash back to Bikini Hut in between showers, falling asleep to the sound of the storm raging outside.

Saturday:

The winds of the previous day blew EVERYTHING out of the sky.

I mean EVERYTHING.

We woke to a perfectly clear day.

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I knew from the forecast that this was the ONE DAY. The ONLY DAY. The PERFECT DAY.

This was BOAT DAY.

Sure, we had work to do, but all work and no play, right?

The weather in January in the Bahamas is a total crap shoot. You can get a high of 59 with 20 mph winds or you can get an 80 degree day filled with glorious sunshine. We had the latter. It was a gift and I wasn’t going to squander it.

We loaded up a cooler, grabbed some tunes, threw the pups onboard and set off for the lagoon.

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I intended to celebrate our first real “BOAT DAY” (we managed to squeak out a half day in September, but that just doesn’t count) with mimosas, but I forgot the OJ and couldn’t actually find champagne. So we had fruit punch and Asti, otherwise known as a “White Trash Mimosa.” The only thing missing was some cheese whiz and Vienna sausages to make the party complete.

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We did a whole lot of nothing for several hours.

It couldn't have been more perfect.

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The plan was to hit the Dock & Dine on Man-O-War for lunch and do some shopping. I was pretty excited. We had only eaten at the Dock & Dine once. The food was GREAT but, at the risk of sounding like a person with a substance abuse problem, the lack of alcohol was a bummer. When we are out on the boat, we want drinks. Yes, even with lunch. We are sad, small, shallow people with an unhealthy dependence upon lunchtime cocktails.

Now that the Dock & Dine serves alcohol, we were ready to try it again.

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Never ones to presume, we asked the host if our small dogs would be allowed. We felt this was an unnecessary question and really more of a polite formality as we had never been in any outdoor establishment in the Abacos where dogs weren’t allowed.

We were turned away.

I think I actually heard my heart shatter as I looked longingly inside at one of the Dock & Dine’s juicy hamburgers sitting on a dogless patron’s table. Or maybe it was just my stomach growling.

Looked like it was going to be Doritos and painkillers after all!

I did not harbor any ill feelings toward the restaurant. I understand that not everyone loves my dogs like I do and not everyone wants to eat with my dogs. I get it. We moved on.

Alls I'm sayin' is......I think my dogs would have been much quieter than the two kids that were running around the place, swinging off everything like a couple of rabid monkeys and definitely no less sanitary than the flies that were taking up residence on everyone's plates.

Just putting it out there.

We stopped in at the various shops, picking up some new bags from the sail shop and visiting with the seashell guy.

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Lunch ended up being snacks on the boat at the little Man-O-War cay beach. Maybe it wasn’t a juicy burger, but I wouldn’t have traded the company for anything.

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By the time we got back to Guana, it was close to sunset, and we’d had nothing more substantial than some cheese and chips & dip with a whole lot of boat drinks, so we cleaned up in record time and headed straight for Grabbers (who welcomed Bella and Rooby with open arms, I might add).

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Frozen grabbers, a couple of pizzas, and fried lobster with mac & cheese was better than a dumb old burger anyway.

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Sunday:

Sunday was supposed to be insanely windy with some possible bouts of rain.

The sky looked ominous as I took my beach walk with the girls.

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Even though the wind was gusting around 20 – 30 mph, the rain held off. The blue sky was dotted with clouds that were moving crazy fast with the wind, but for the most part, the sun was out.

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Matt and John had more work to do on the pocket doors, so I took advantage of the sunshine while it lasted and had my own Sunday Funday at Nippers pool.

I literally had the entire place to myself.

Here’s me alone with a bloody mary by the pool.

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Here’s me alone with a frozen Nipper.

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Here’s me alone on the dance floor……Okay, seriously folks, that would just be sad. Some Sundays just aren’t for dancing.

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Not every Sunday can be a Funday. Some days it's a Oneday. I was content to lay by the pool alone and read the morning away.

By lunchtime, a small crowd….okay, more like 4 people, but on Guana, that’s a small crowd……had gathered around the bar to watch the game. Matt joined me for some lunch and I finally got my burger. Along with a giant plate of spicy, hot buffalo lobster bites.

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The rain finally arrived in the afternoon, so we all used the afternoon to finish up some work – the guys on the pocket doors and me painting some furniture.

By the time we finished our work, it was late and everyone was tired. We ran back over to Fish Tales for a quick dinner of grilled fish, sweet potato fries, and a salad before calling it a night.

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Monday:

Monday morning turned out to be cool, but beautiful. We'd certainly had a mixed bag of weather, but since it wasn't really supposed to be a fun trip, we were thankful for any good weather we got!

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The storms had blown through and moved out the clouds, but they brought in a cold front, dropping the temps to the high 60s.

You know what? When it’s January and the sun is shining, 68 feels pretty darn good.

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We finished up our work and set off for lunch at Lubbers Landing. It had turned out to be a pretty nice boat day and no trip to Abaco is complete for us without a trip to Lubber's Landing.

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When we got there, we found that Austin and Amy were in the states, leaving poor Stephanie to tend bar all alone.

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I immediately proclaimed it “FREE DRINK MONDAY” on Lubbers Landing.

Unfortunately, Stephanie did not agree and made me pay for all those margaritas. She did, however, make me drink my free shot when I got the ring on the hook around the pole.

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We soaked in the sunshine, eating delicious tuna burgers and playing with one of Lubbers many cats until it was time to go.

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It was time to go because John had one margarita too many. Apparently, FREE DRINK MONDAY Is not good for everyone.

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We spent the evening finishing up some painting. As we were cleaning up, I noticed the lights on at Kidd’s Cove for the first time since we’d arrived. We joined Forrest and Edmund for some drinks, but they weren’t serving dinner. That would have to wait until next time.

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So, we ran down to Nippers for dinner, knowing it would be good, but not as good as Edmund’s black beans and rice with mahi mahi!

Nippers didn’t disappoint. The “potato skins” that we ordered turned out to be stuffed potatoes. Each one was an entire half of a very large stuffed potato. No one was complaining.

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I had the cracked lobster with peas n’ rice, mac & cheese, and cole slaw while Matt went rogue and got the grouper parmesan. When I saw all of his melty cheese, I was jealous.

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Tuesday:

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It was time to head home. It had been mostly work, but we had certainly managed to squeeze in plenty of fun.

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At home, we woke up to snow on Wednesday morning, finding it hard to believe we had been basking in the Bahamian sunshine the day before.

I think Rooby can express it best:

"You mean, I went from this….."

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"To this?????"

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We all feel her pain.

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Until next time, when Matt and I will maroon ourselves on a deserted island in Honduras. Seriously…WHAT ARE WE THINKING??????

Want to see the Bikini Hut finished product?? Come on inside!

Posted by vicki_h 13:25 Archived in Bahamas Tagged islands tropical bahamas nippers abaco elbow_cay guana_cay grabbers marsh_harbour lubbers_landing Comments (8)

I'm Dreaming of a Wet Christmas

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Matt and I enjoyed spending Christmas at a cabin in Sapphire, NC so much last year, that we decided to do it again this year. What we didn’t know was that the entire Southeast would be experiencing the most bizarre Christmas weather on record.

My visions of a white Christmas, of gazing out at snow frosted trees stretching as far as the eye could see while curling up next to a roaring fire were replaced with….

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Okay, so maybe the weather wasn’t entirely cooperative, and maybe I spent much of Christmas wondering if we were going to get washed down the mountainside in a mudslide, but even the weather couldn’t put a damper on our Christmas spirit, especially when spent at such a wonderful place.

Because we did nothing more than sit inside by the fire and stuff ourselves with Christmas cookies for 4 days, there isn’t much of a story to tell, but this place was so exquisitely cozy and lovely, that I feel compelled to share the highlight reel.

Here's the Christmas in Sapphire Top 10:

#1: Buying a Christmas tree from Tom Sawyer Tree Farm. Sure, I had already put up 4 trees at home, but what's one more, right?

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#2: Sapphire Heaven, the most wonderful cabin on the planet.

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#3: Cozying up by the fire with hot coffee, hot chocolate, cocktails, or my sweet pups.

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#4. Making goodies in the coolest cabin kitchen ever.

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(While I would love to take credit for this amazing red velvet cake, the credit goes to Magpies Bakery. All I did was make the trees! But hey, they are pretty awesome!)

#5. Wonderful dinner at Table 64 in Cashiers, NC.

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#6. Christmas Eve at the Log Cabin Restaurant in Highlands, NC.

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#7. Never getting out of our PJs on Christmas Day.

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#8. Christmas Dinner at the cabin, decorating with whatever I could find.

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#9. One beautiful day where the sun came out and we were able to host Matt's family for lunch (just before the torrential rains returned!).

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#10. A lovely dinner with Matt's mom at The Orchard in Cashiers.

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I hope each and every one of you enjoyed a very Merry Christmas and that the New Year brings you much joy and happiness!

Posted by vicki_h 08:47 Archived in USA Tagged mountains highlands north_carolina rustic blue_ridge sapphire cashiers log_cabin Comments (1)

It’s beginning to look at lot like Christmas

A pre-holiday weekend at Barnsley Resort

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Nothing gets you in the mood for Christmas like a quaint English village festively decorated with an extraordinary number of Christmas trees, countless twinkling lights, and a firepit on every corner. That’s exactly what we found at Barnsley Resort in Adairsville, GA when we were invited to spend a weekend just weeks before Christmas.

The history of the property was a story in itself. A story of love, despair, restoration and hope, it read like something from a historical romance novel.

The original Barnsley Estate was a dazzling mansion named Woodland, built by Godfrey Barnsley, an extremely wealthy cotton broker, for his true love, Julia. Godfrey ignored the Indian legend that said the land was cursed and he began construction on the graceful Italianate villa and its elaborate gardens in the mid 1800’s, only to have Julia fall ill and die before the home was ever finished. In his grief, Godfrey ceased work on the grand manor house.

He resumed construction when Julia visited him in a dream and told him to finish the home for their children. The house was completed and Godfrey lived there with the children but a series of calamities befell them. First, his infant son died, followed by his daughter. Chinese pirates killed another son. The house was then severely damaged during the Civil War. Finally, Godfrey left the estate for New Orleans, to try to rebuild his ruined fortune (he never did). His daughter, Julia, remained at the house. Her husband was crushed by a falling tree. Julia's daughter, Adelaide married and returned to the house, but her husband died shortly thereafter.

In 1906, a tornado damaged the lovely house, ripping away the roof, forcing Miss Addie to move into the kitchen wing with her sons as the house fell into ruin around her. One of her sons, Preston, grew to be a prize fighter, but sustained a serious head injury and was institutionalized. He escaped from the institution, returned to the cursed estate, and gunned down his brother, who died in Miss Addie's arms.

Miss Addie lost her love of the estate and let it fall into neglect. When she died in 1942, the house was roofless and crumbling, it's once beautiful walls now buried in vines and kudzu.

The estate was auctioned off and the land was used for farming for several decades as what remained of the manor house crumbled, and the beautiful gardens grew wild.

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The gardens and manor house proceeded to fall into disrepair. In 1988, a Bavarian prince purchased the dilapidated estate and its 4,000 acres and asked the Cherokee Indians to bless the land and remove the curse. He then revived and expanded the gardens and salvaged the ruins of the once beautiful home. Over time, it has been developed into a beautiful resort, built to resemble a quaint English village, with a central Town Hall and adorable cottages that house the resort’s cozy guest suites.

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With no idea what to expect, we were absolutely enchanted when we pulled onto the property. “Quaint” is simply inadequate. Barnsley’s charms were immediate. We were assaulted by a tasteful display of extraordinary Christmas décor, delightful cottages that looked like something from a fairy tale, and an enormous suite in a cottage that would have put a smile on even the Grinch’s face.

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The property was opulent, without being overdone. It felt genteel, elegant, and genuine. Nothing felt contrived or counterfeit. It was truly like stepping into another time and place, a place where Christmas reigned supreme.

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We got settled and set off to find the Wine Snob’s social hour. The Wine Snob is the gentleman's actual job title at Barnsley. His only purpose is to ensure you enjoy your wine while you are there. On Friday evenings, he hosts a complimentary social hour where he selects a few choice wines that he offers with fruit and cheese for your sampling pleasure.

Wine tastings make me a little nervous. I was afraid it was going to be like our experience with the sommelier at Blackberry Farm, who was so offended by our cheap wine choice (at $95 I didn’t really consider it cheap….) that he refused to even pour it himself and sent the waiter over to do the dirty work.

I was worried I wouldn’t sniff it properly or that my pre-sip swirl would lack the verve with which a true wine connoisseur would approach it.

Even if I managed to sniff, swirl, swoosh, and sip properly, what if he asked me for commentary? What would I say?????

I could just hear myself, “It has hints of frankenberry and bitter clown tears. I think it would pair nicely with a mild bout of depression.”

Would he be able to look into my eyes and know there was a time when the only wine I would drink came in a plastic bottle with a screw top?

Wine Snob.

It sounded so intimidating.

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I am happy to report that the Wine Snob was anything BUT a snob. He was the sweetest man EVER. He didn’t mind that we were not sophisticated wine drinkers and proceeded to provide us with a stellar tasting of two very unique wines, despite the fact that it was pretty obvious our taste currently resides in the $12 range.

With time to kill before dinner, we walked the grounds and marveled at the old world ambience and how simply gorgeous everything was.

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We found ourselves at K.O. Dugan’s Tavern, a rustic bar named after prizefighter K.O. Dugan, the great-grandson of Godfrey Barnsley (yes, the one that shot his brother). Filled with leather club chairs and a stone fireplace, it also sported an excellent selection of fine scotch and bourbon.

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We spent too much time at Dugan’s getting holly jolly, and missed the evening s’mores. Yes, in the evening, the resort sets out complimentary s’mores makings at the fire pits.

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HOW COULD I HAVE MISSED THE S’MORES?????

No matter, it was time for dinner.

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Dinner was at the Rice House, the resort’s fine dining restaurant located in one of the historic homes on the property. The white glove treatment that we had been enjoying so far throughout Barnsley Resort continued as we were seated before a roaring fireplace.

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We opted for the prix-fixe four course menu, and as we typically do, we chose almost the same four courses, deviating only on the main entrée.

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We both started with the apple cider brined plantation quail served over course ground grits with a fall vegetable “nest,”, sorghum-jalapeno, and quail jus.

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For seconds, we both had the vanilla poached Maine lobster with cheese, local apple, garden herb wafers, grapes, corn salad, Woodford sea salt, and truffle aioli.

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For our main, Matt had the bison ribeye, while I had the nightly special which was an extraordinary pork loin. We both agreed that, while both were excellent, mine was the winner.

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For dessert, we both ordered the Georgia pecan pie with bourbon-soaked pecans, sea salt, and dulce de leche gelato.

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We made the leisurely walk back to our cottage, drinking in the beautiful Christmas lights along the way.

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The next morning, we slept in. We had a 10:00 spa appointment, so there was no reason to be in a hurry.

We grabbed breakfast at the casual Woodlands Grill before heading to the spa. Like everything else at the resort, it was draped in garland, lights, and wreaths, making us feel like we were part of a Christmas parade, everywhere we went.

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They had an ENORMOUS breakfast buffet, but I didn’t want to eat that much food before a massage. Eat a bunch of food and then have someone push around on you? No thanks. That’s an awkward moment just waiting to happen.

It didn’t stop Matt.

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The next hour was spent at the spa getting a wonderfully relaxing massage.

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Because he was willing to go to the spa with me, I had agreed to go sport shooting with Matt. Barnsley is well-renowned for their gentlemen’s shooting club. It offers sporting clays as well as a variety of wildlife hunts in the nearby woods.

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Matt was doing the 100 clay shooting course, which was set up on 15 stations throughout the forest. It was a gorgeous day, so I asked if I could tag along.

Each station had two clay throwers and included 6 – 8 shots using a Caesar Guerini over and under shotgun.

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Matt finally talked me into trying to shoot one clay. The 12-gauge shotgun only weighed 8 lbs. but it could have weighed 40, for all I could do to lift it. Despite the number of times I assured Matt and our guide that this wasn’t a good idea, they insisted I try to hit a target.

Can you believe I hit it? I couldn’t. I know they couldn’t.

I immediately retired from my brief clay shooting career while my record was 100%.

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It was such a gorgeous and unseasonably warm day, that we wanted to stay outdoors as long as possible. We decided to visit the Barnsley equestrian center. Matt had never ridden a horse.

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No, riding a pony at the county fair does not count.

As they saddled up a couple of horses, we visited with the other guests of the barn.

There was an adorably fat goat, a miniature white donkey and horse who were obviously inseparable, and a little pig that was so fast, it’s picture was nothing more than a pink blur.

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I’m happy to report that Matt’s first trail ride went extremely well. Thankfully, I was paired with the “lively” horse who preferred to drop far behind the other two before taking off at a spirited gallop until he caught back up. “If you don’t watch him,” the guide said, “He’ll bite the other horse in the butt when he catches back up. That’s just what he likes to do.”

Great.

He also liked to rub his body all over the hay bales in the field, like an oversized cat with a scratching post.

“Just lift your feet up on top of the saddle until he’s done,” our guide kept telling me, “Or he’ll get hay all over ya’.”

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I left a little stiffer and a lot smellier than I arrived.

After our ride, we took a walk through the remains of the estate house and the gardens. The house had lovely decorations inside and it gave it a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere. Julia never saw her house, but they put a tree up in her parlor every year.

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We grabbed a late bite at the Beer Garden, Barnsley’s choice for casual al-fresco dining. It was the place for craft brews, giant pretzels, bratwurst, and fresh grilled burgers covered with gooey cheese.

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We lounged in the afternoon sunshine until it was time to get ready for the Christmas party. Our weekend invitation to Barnsley was a gift from one of Matt’s generous charter clients and it included an invitation to their formal Christmas party.

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I’d love to tell you all about it but,

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Well, almost.

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Sunday morning came too soon, mainly because we’d been dancing until the wee hours of the morning with our good friends Jose and Jack, but also because we were loath to leave this beautiful property.

With no spa appointment or tight dress to squeeze into later, I dove headfirst into the breakfast buffet.

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We took a final stroll through the property.

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There was nothing left to do but head home. Goodbye giant Santa and his rabbit! Farewell huge Christmas tree! Au Revoir Wine Snob and fat goat!

You threw me all the Christmas spirit you had and now I’m ready for old Kris Kringle, goodwill towards mankind, and all things merry and bright!

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Next Stop? A return to the Christmas Cabin in Sapphire, NC....

Posted by vicki_h 09:39 Archived in USA Tagged georgia ga adairsville barnsley_gardens barnsley_resort Comments (2)

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