A Travellerspoint blog

The Cays to Paradise: Boating the Exuma Cays III

Days 7 - 9: Compass Cay to Little Farmer's Cay

Day 7: Swimming with the Sharks.

Compass Cay to Big Major Cay: 8 miles

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Compass Cay is primarily known for the bevvy of uber tame nurse sharks that the marina has been feeding and petting for years. They linger around the marina dock and are literally as docile as kittens. After a breakfast of burritos, fried potatoes, and fruit, we decided we'd visit with the sharks.

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We all jumped in and swam around with the big, gentle beasts until we got waterlogged and pruney.

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I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw this post shortly after our trip: shark-attacks-instagram-model

Her quote: “I am so fortunate that I still have my arm and my life."

Seriously? Is this for real? I jumped in and immediately (accidentally) kicked one of these “ferocious beasts” HARD in the head with my big dumb foot. Then, I managed to bop another one in the face as I flailed about trying to move away from the one I kicked. What did they do? They looked sadly at me like, “Why did you do that?” and the moved closer to me so I could stroke their heads.

THIS is a photo of us with these man-devouring beasts. Certainly looks frightening, doesn't it?

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As a PSA for anyone contemplating visiting the Compass Cay nurse sharks that is worried he/she might lose their life, let me give my 2 cents on the “Instagram model who nearly lost her arm and her life:”

  • She did not, in fact, get in the water at the Compass Cay marina where EVERYONE THAT HAS EVER USED GOOGLE (OR INSTAGRAM) KNOWS THE TAME SHARKS RESIDE. She jumped in the fish cleaning station on Staniel Cay where the nurse sharks are not, in fact, tame, are not accustomed to human contact, and know only that dead fish parts regularly get thrown in the water in that spot and the last shark to grab the meat goes hungry.
  • Have you seen a nurse sharks teeth? It’s like getting bitten by a puppy. I suppose a puppy could maul you to death if you gave it a few weeks. Has anyone ever heard of a nurse shark fatality? I didn’t think so. My 6 lb. yorkie mix has left a bigger scar on my arm fighting me for her sock monkey. That girl was more likely to get killed by a falling coconut than by that nurse shark.

REAL shark teeth

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NURSE shark teeth

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She should be ashamed.

  • DO: Go to Compass Cay. Jump in the water with Chunky, Squirt, and Mutt. Swim around with them. Sit on the lower dock at high tide and they will literally slide up onto your lap so you can rub their heads.
  • DON’T: Be a stupid Instagram model and throw yourself in the bait station at Staniel Cay and then publicly wail about the baby teeth that left a mark on your arm.

I am now emotionally moving on.

We needed to move the boat before noon to avoid an additional night’s fee, so we spent a little time lounging on the giant pizza and making the quick walk over to Crescent Beach on Compass– a ridiculous curve of blinding white sand and impossibly blue water.

That, of course, not another living soul was on.

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Compass had been beautiful, but we had dinner plans at the exclusive and private Fowl Cay Resort, so we loaded up with water and ice and made our way south.

Big Major Cay was our stop for the night.

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Unfortunately, Big Major, thanks to the swimming pig phenomenon, has recently seen an influx of mega-yachts and hit & run tourism (boatloads from Nassau gorging themselves on the pigs for mere seconds before being whisked off to overwhelm the next stop).

However, we knew that the area is big and open and there are plenty of hidden secrets if you want to find them.

We nestled ourselves into a private spot on the far end of Big Major – far from the Nassau fast boats and supersized yachts. We anchored at a lovely little private beach that was literally across from our dinner destination at Fowl Cay.

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We snacked on chips & dip and sandwiches before pouring up cocktails and floating the afternoon away on our own private beach.

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For dinner, we had requested reservations at the private island resort of Fowl Cay. If they have space, they will allow boaters to join them at their Hill House Restaurant for a multi-course dinner complete with cocktail hour and all inclusive drinks.

It comes with a hefty price tag, but we all agreed it was one of our favorite meals of the trip.

The dinner experience begins with “Social Hour” at promptly 6:00 p.m. We arrived by dingy and were warmly greeted at the dock and shown to the restaurant with its cozy bar and outdoor terraces with jaw dropping views.

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Appetizers were set out and limitless cocktails were made to order. Let me repeat: Limitless cocktails were made to order.

Danger, Will Robinson.

We draped ourselves on the oversized loungers and sipped martinis as we watched the sun sink on the horizon, like we were Kardashians and did this crap every day.

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We were eventually called in to dinner and seated at a lovely table where our waiter began to bring our first course. We had pre-ordered when we made the reservation, which was another way Fowl Cay ensured a seamless experience.

We were introduced to Lemont, our waiter, as seared scallops were brought and wine was poured.

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Then a sorbet was provided to “clear our palate.” Our Kardashian vibes were in full gear by this point.

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Everyone had opted for the fresh catch and a delicate and delicious mahi-mahi was set before me.

Lemont changed my life with that piece of Mahi Mahi. It was cooked as if it was a sacrifice to the gods.

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I’m not sure how we had room for dessert, but we made it happen.

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Then it was time for 6 overstuffed, overimbibed people to crawl into a dingy and find their boat in the dark.

Day 8: Birthdays and Karma Will Bite You in the Ass.

Big Major Cay to Staniel Cay: 2 miles

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Our very ambitious plan for the day was to do no more than visit the swimming pigs on the other side of Big Major and then hop 2 miles over to Staniel Cay Marina where we would celebrate Matt’s birthday.

It was a glorious morning. We celebrated the birthday boy with brioche French toast with fresh mango and maple syrup.

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Then it was time to visit the swimming pigs. Matt and I had visited the pigs on previous trips to the Exumas, but our friends had never had the pleasure. It had been 5 years since Matt and I had been, and I was surprised at the changes time had brought.

I felt lucky to have seen the pigs for the first time in 2012. They were still under the radar and very little information existed about them on the tangled depths of the interwebs. We were able to enjoy them in relative peace with only a few other people while the pigs behaved like very polite hosts. Hungry, but polite.

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In 2013, they started to get notoriety as they appeared in web-based articles by some heavy hitters like USA Today, Travel & Leisure, Huffington Post, and the New York Post. Thrillist featured them as a “must do” adventure. Then 2015 came and the Bachelor filmed there and it was all over. Bachelor Ben and his awkward group date ruined it for everybody.

Rather than the primary visitors being those vacationing on Great Exuma or, more likely, those staying on nearby Staniel Cay as it was “back in the day,” in the past few years Pig Beach has become a popular day trip for the masses from Nassau.

I have already shared my opinion of Nassau.

Speed boats loaded with bodies zoom over to throw a few turkey wieners at the pigs, take a selfie, and run back to Paradise Island to get a yard long cocktail at the pool bar. Some people even take a day flight from Nassau just to visit the pigs. In the past couple of years, Pig Beach has become so over-instagrammed, over-visited, and over-hyped that it has lost all of its magic.

I have now visited the famous swimming pigs on 3 separate trips, so I feel I have enough experience to dispel what I call the “Pig Beach Myth.”

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Pig Beach Myth:

“Oh you can’t believe your eyes when the boat gets close to the island surrounded by the cleanest, crystal clear, turquoise water and you see pigs frolicking on a deserted sandy beach and cooling down in the water. Wait, pigs? In the ocean? Oh yes. Here on Pig Beach, you will find big, fat jolly pink pigs, kicking their little trotters through the surf, nuzzling up to the side of your boat, and practically dancing on the surface of the glittering water. As soon as you step in the water they surround you and play with you. If you visit Exuma, don’t miss these adorable pink bundles of joy.”

Note: all of the words above are from ACTUAL blog posts. I have taken the liberty of high jacking them and packing them all together into a single, utterly delightful, and absolutely absurd package.

Pig Beach Myth

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Pig Beach Reality:

First, pigs are prone to defecating all over the place. That said, the water at Pig Beach is neither clean nor crystal clear. It’s more of a murky turquoise because it’s filled with pig poo. So, when you gleefully leap from your boat to frolic with these “adorable pink bundles of joy” make sure you keep your mouth closed. Can you say cryptosporidiosis three times really fast?

Second, most of these pigs are not jolly nor are they adorable. They do not nuzzle, they do not play with you, they do not frolic. While a few of them are moderately “cute-ish,” many of them are quite unattractive. Some are HUGE, fairly ugly, and extremely aggressive. They do not want your friendship or affection. They want a turkey hot dog. They are HUNGRY. As soon as your boat gets close enough, they literally charge into the water, circle your boat, and start clawing with their giant hooves (little trotters, my Aunt Fanny) at the sides of your inflatable. If you are brave enough to get into the water, they will chase you mercilessly looking for something to eat. They bite some people (people who don’t have food or don’t run fast enough).

Third, you are not on a deserted beach. This is not a private experience. You will likely be sharing your bucket list experience with at least 842 day trippers from Nassau. Loud, screaming, maniacal day trippers. With turkey hot dogs.

Finally, NO ONE TELLS YOU ABOUT THE DAMN BIRDS. Seriously, people are running around the beach throwing all manner of bread and potato chips blindly into the air in the direction of the pigs (because the pigs are chasing them down the beach). This results in a flock of manic seagulls dive bombing your head trying to get every morsel the pigs don’t get first. Within moments, you’ll find yourself doing your best Tippi Hedren impression.

Pig Beach Reality

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So, let’s recap: Feces, bacteria, 700 lbs of aggressive swine with sharp incisors and hooves wanting to eat anything in the vicinity of your person, hordes of other people with GoPros and selfie-sticks, possible screaming and profanity depending on who got caught without a piece of bread in their hand, and dive bombing birds.

I am absolutely not saying this isn’t an experience. GO. DO IT. I have been 3 times for goodness sakes. Just realize what it is and what isn’t. Don’t expect Babe snuggling in your hand while you exchange pleasantries and establish a lifelong bond. Enjoy the sheer novelty of pigs on a beach, swimming in the water, and trying to knock you down for an apple. Then run back to your boat. With your mouth closed.

Here is a rundown of our visit: Before we could get out of the dingy, the biggest of the pigs was climbing onto the side of our inflatable dingy. I forcefully screamed, “Everyone get out of the boat and run before she pops it!” At this point, everyone grabs their assigned zip-loc full of old sandwiches and starts running. The pigs give chase. Big Momma Karma, the pig leader, bites Matt on the ass. I start screaming, “Drop the sandwiches! Drop the sandwiches!” as he forcefully flings the sandwiches as far from his body as he can get and runs. Meanwhile, some girl from Nassau is literally screaming like she’s being chopped to death by a hatchet as she runs down the beach while her boyfriend stands next to tour operator asking what to do. At this point, I look over and Big Momma Karma has discovered that I left my bag of sandwiches in the boat (because I decided I didn’t want to be chased) and is attempting to climb into our dingy. Matt and I scramble to the boat to throw the sandwiches overboard. As the sandwiches hit the water, a momma pig with 3 piglets immediately swims into the water, piglets swimming beside her, to eat up the floating sandwiches. As they do, one piglet craps all over my feet.

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While our 2012 and 2013 visits were quite nice, this visit left me feeling like a parent that just took her kids to DisneyWorld, spent $97,456 and did nothing more than stand in lines and come home with a heat rash and food poisoning from a $9 hot dog. It wasn’t what it was promised to be.

For me? Never again.

Like any good Instagram Model, Matt feels lucky to have his ass and his life.

After about 10 stressful and disappointing minutes, we were ready to leave Pork Paradise and get the birthday in full swing on Staniel Cay.

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We moved the boat to Thunderball Grotto where we tied to a mooring ball and enjoyed some mimosas and snorkeling.

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We couldn’t move the boat to the marina until the afternoon, so we took the dingy over to the Yacht Club for lunch.

Frozen drinks, burgers, and fish tacos nearly made Matt forget he’d been bitten on the ass by a pig.

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After lunch, we walked to the Pink Store and the Blue Store in an attempt to restock some necessary provisions (i.e., Doritos). As the stock at the Pink Store and Blue Store could literally been anything to nothing on any given day, we did not find Doritos. We did, however, find some old Halloween candy, cheddar cheese Bugles, and YooHoo.

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Afterward, we took the dingy around the cay until we saw a deliciously deserted beach calling to us. We stopped and did some serious chilling and shell hunting until we were too sun parched to do anything but go back to the boat.

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We moved the boat to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club and cleaned up for Matt’s birthday dinner.

SCYC dinner requires that you sign up and order earlier in the day. There are 2 meal times, early and late. We opted for late so that we could enjoy the sunset.

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We started off with shots in the bar and waited for the dinner bell (literally) to ring us in at 8:00.

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Our multi course dinner consisted of cream of cauliflower soup, fresh salads, and your choice of entrée. Obviously, I dove into the fresh lobster. My side? Fries! Does it get any better?

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I must give kudos to the staff at the SCYC restaurant. Not only did they hook us up with a gorgeous private room for dinner, they also make the most decadent chocolate cake and served with candles and singing.

There was a lot of wine and a lot of silliness. There was loud music, boat dancing, and vomiting off the back. There were 2:00 a.m. Ramen noodles.

I would call it a successful birthday.

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Day 9: Sharks and Lizards and Pigs…oh my!

Staniel Cay to Little Farmer's Cay: 19 miles

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I woke up with Ramen noodles in my hair.

The morning after our rum punch birthday bonanza, Matt was moving a little slower than normal. All he really wanted was to go back to sleep. That and to find the small animal that had died in his mouth during the night.

We checked Matt’s ass for gangrene, found none, and enjoyed a breakfast of loaded scrambled eggs, banana bread, and melon, and headed to Farmer’s Cay.

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We had been swimming with sharks. We had been chased by pigs. Why not round things out with a trip to see the giant iguanas on Bitter Guana Cay?

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It was a short hop over to Bitter Guana where we stopped and visited lizard beach for a while. As soon as you pull up, these prehistoric giants come crawling out of the foliage onto the beach, hoping for a dropped grape.

Of course, it made me angry when a tour operator showed up and handed his guests bags of bread to feed to the iguanas. Yes, bread, a natural part of the iguana diet. At least if you are going to feed them, feed them fruits and vegetables.

We tried to feed them grapes. Which they promptly discarded in favor of Wonder Bread.

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Before heading out, we mixed up some morning bloody Marys and mimosas and simply enjoyed the view.

Sometimes you want a vacation that takes your breath away. Sometimes you want a vacation that lets you breathe.

Exuma was both.

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Eventually we made it to Little Farmer’s Cay. We had overnight reservations at the Little Farmer’s Yacht Club. What it lacked in amenities, it more than made up for in personality.

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The personality of its distinguished owner, Mr. Roosevelt Nixon, to be precise.

He makes a mean rum punch.

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We had planned to take the dingy over to Ty’s Sunset on the beach and have lunch, but, as it was Bahamian Labor Day, Ty’s was closed. Instead, we settled in for fried fish and more delicious rum punch with Mr. Nixon.

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After lunch, we took the dingy into the main harbor where we found a quaint settlement, a fresh conch stand, and Deno Darville…the turtle whisperer.

While we waited for our conch salad, Deno convinced us all to don our snorkel gear and, for a few bucks, he would “call the turtles.”

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Not only did he call the turtles, he called Stewie, the cutest puffer fish of all time.

We swam around in the water until our salad was freshly prepared and ready to eat.

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Full of fresh conch salad and our own rum punch, we took the dingy around to Ty’s, just to see what all the fuss was about. It was a beautiful stretch of beach and the little bar and grill looked lovely. I guess we’ll just have to save that for next time!

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We enjoyed sunset on the boat before heading to Ocean Cabin for dinner.

We had enjoyed this place a lot on our previous trip. While Terry wasn’t up to the entertainment and antics of our previous trip, the lobster and ribs were spot on.

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I still wasn’t a fan of the Windex blue drink though. That stuff could strip the paint off a barn.

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Posted by vicki_h 11:43 Archived in Bahamas Tagged sailing nassau catamaran exuma out_islands lion_of_the_sea highbourne_cay

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LOL! Loved reading that blog. In 2014 I went on a girls' trip to Exuma with 4 of my friends. We did a boating day to see the pigs, iguanas, nurse sharks, staniel cay. I was so looking forward to the swimming pigs. Like you, I was quite disappointed with the reality. I remember watching videos on Exuma that showed cute smallish pigs swimming in the water. We weren't prepared for the 700 lb hungry pigs that bore down on us. I thankfully didn't lose a finger when one of the smaller pigs bit my finger trying to get the bread (thank goodness it wasn't one of the 700 lb pigs) and one of my friends got bit by one of the larger pigs that was mad that she was feeding another pig and not it. And yes the poop in the water, etc. Let's just say that was my least favorite stop that day. The rest of the day was glorious! And yes, that water is addictive! Thanks for a great post that allowed me to take a stroll down memory lane.

by khofmann

Khofmann - agreed!

by vicki_h

I’m enjoying following your journey. We spent several winters in the Exumas on our sailboat, most of the time between Exuma Park and Black Point. Now that we’re boatless we also chartered from Navtours to revisit our favorite spots. FYI, my friend was bitten by one of the sharks at Compass Cay. We had our feet in the water and a guy threw in some chum. We also had a good laugh at the blogger swimming while fish were being cleaned. It’s too bad about the pigs being discovered. We never got real close to them because they are big and mean ( and delicious at a New Years pig roast!). I think the Exumas are the most beautiful place on earth and your photos capture it perfectly! Next time, poke into Pipe Creek. At low tide you can find sand dollars.

by Moondance38

I've been following your travels for some time; you seem to have taste similar to mine (and my friend Moondance38's)! I linked your report to my FB page, because I too have been trying to dispel the myth of the Swimming Pigs -- if for no reason other than saving people the money. And I've expressed my opinion on my own blog (https://sabrecalypso.wordpress.com/2017/05/) -- but your experience is so much more visceral! We just avoid them, and will do so on our next trip. For better or worse, most of the Exumas are a challenging destination, so maybe we can keep enjoying this largely deserted paradise.

by SailCalypso

Moondance and SailCalypso - I'm glad you enjoyed it. Sounds like you guys might be "real" sailors! :-) My biggest pet peeve? Those instagram "models" that can't get from snatching up the baby pigs. Put the piglets down people!!!

by vicki_h

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