Trip #7 and Abaco never gets old.
28.05.2011 - 01.06.2011
I could see the apprehension in my mother-in-law’s eyes as we flew toward the tiny Marsh Harbor runway, a miniscule airstrip bordered on two sides by water, not looking large enough or substantial enough to land a child’s remote control helicopter on, much less our twin Seneca. It didn’t help matters when she saw the mangled corpse of the wrecked plane in the water, just short of the airport, that always greets us when we arrive on Abaco.
Despite her fears, it was a smooth landing and in minutes, we were opening the plane doors to the rush of steamy, hot air that rushes off the tarmac.
It’s no secret that the cays along Abaco, in the out islands of the Bahamas, are one of my very favorite destinations. It’s not just because they lie nestled in the most strikingly beautiful water the eyes can imagine, nor is it only because they contain miles and miles of sugary sand beaches lined with whispering palm trees, the real thing that brings me back again and again is the sweet, gentle personality of these islands and their people.
Life moves slower on the cays. Cars are an oddity, with the preferred method of transport being a golf cart or a boat. Meals are almost always outdoors, with the salt tinged air blowing a constant breeze through your sea tangled hair. There are no casinos, no high rises, no shopping malls, no putt-putt golf or go carts. There is only you and the sun, the sand, and the sea, mixing and mingling together in a beautiful rhythm that can only be found in the out islands of the Bahamas.
This time, we were getting to share our secret place with my husband’s mom, Jo, and our niece, Jenna. We wondered if they would love it as much as we do.
Our arrival was smooth and easy, and after landing we breezed through customs at Cherokee and were on our way to the ferry dock in no time. We arrived at the ferry dock with about an hour to spare before the 1:30 ferry to Guana Cay. This made us very happy, because a trip to Abaco doesn’t begin until we have a cold, frosty Bahama Mama at Curly Tails, located at the ferry dock.
With bellies full of fish sandwiches and conch fritters, it was time to head over to Guana. After a 20 or so minute boat ride, we were pulling up to Guana’s happy little harbor-front settlement. Troy and Maria, our favorite Guana residents, were waiting for us on the dock with our golf cart and an extra cart to help us carry our luggage to our house. If you ever travel to Guana Cay, find Troy and Maria at www.diveguana.com. They are the “go to” people for everything: golf carts, boats, scuba and snorkeling trips, and Maria makes a pretty mean cheesecake if you ask her nicely!
We settled quickly into our home away from home, Sea Coral Cottage, and were thrilled with our new digs. Right on the ocean, with a deck that overlooks the blue waters of the Atlantic, this little cottage was bright and airy, clean, well equipped, and oh so comfy. We were in heaven. Have you ever seen a more perfect back yard than this?
What about this view from the bedroom?
It was only about 2:00 p.m. and no one could wait to get their toes in the sand, so the first order of business was a long, slow walk down the beach. You can walk for miles and miles on this stretch of beach.
Our beach fix in, Jenna and I golf carted down to Guana Grocery, Guana’s only food market that, while small, has absolutely everything you need. We picked up a few essentials, hopped over to Fig Tree Liquors for some cold Kalik for Matt, and headed to the house to relax until dinner.
When everyone had rested up, we headed to Grabber’s. Grabbers is a little open air restaurant situated around a swimming pool. It sits right on the sea of Abaco. Lined with palm trees, it is the perfect location to watch the sunset on Guana. We ordered frozen Grabbers and watched the sun sink into the sea.
Grabbers has great BBQ ribs and I helped myself to a big plate. Matt gave me ½ of his lobster tail and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Bahamian mac-n-cheese (one of the single most perfect foods on the planet), ribs, and lobster all on the same plate.
Life doesn’t get much better than this.
Day One: A Nippers Kind of Day
Sunday on Guana Cay always means Nippers. Nippers was just a short walk down the beach from Sea Coral Cottage and sat bright and cheerful, high on a hill overlooking the ocean, painted in bright rainbow colors and blasting happy beach music. We found a table, grabbed a frozen Nipper, and sat back to watch the fun.
People show up from all around on Sunday for the famous Nippers Beach BBQ. We saw throngs of people (and thongs on people) walking down the long sandy lane from the ferry dock. We saw people walking down the beach from their beach houses. We saw boats arrive, filled with laughing faces. Everyone was here.
Sunday is Funday at Nippers.
We just took it easy. We had lunch, enjoyed the pool, drank a few frozen concoctions, and watched the colorful characters that seem to gravitate to this place.
We always meet someone interesting at Nippers. Last year, it was Fast Eddie, #3, and Fat Calves. This year it was the boat captain with the Crocodile Dundee hat and the electric blue speedo.
Compared to some of the Sundays I have spent at Nippers, this was a calm and uneventful one. We were responsible for a 16 year-old, after all, so we kept a lid on it. No one got in a fight. No one passed out. No one ended up dancing on a table. We enjoyed just sitting back and watching everyone else cut loose.
When we’d had all the sun we could take, we went back to Sea Coral for a break until dinner.
At dinnertime, I was reminded why you should always give a 16 year-old girl AT LEAST 90 minutes notice of any event that involves leaving the house and being seen in public, despite the fact that “public” probably meant about 4 patrons, in varying stages of inebriation, at Nippers late night dinner.
An hour and 10 minutes after announcing it was time to grab some dinner, Jenna emerged, primped and perfect.
There were literally about 6 other people eating dinner at Nippers that night. But I am certain that they appreciated the extra time she took to get ready for her public.
We ate at Nippers indoor restaurant. I had the fried Mahi-Mahi with mac-n-cheese and peas and rice. I was in grave danger of overloading on mac-n-cheese, but I couldn’t stop myself. It’s like an obsession. Much like my driving need to have pizza with every meal in Italy, I had a maddening urge to have mac-n-cheese with every meal in Abaco.
You have to understand, this is no ordinary mac-n-cheese. It’s super-special, top-secret Bahamian mac-n-cheese. Okay, maybe it’s not all that top-secret, but it is super special. It’s baked and is so thick with cheese and peppers that you can pick the square up with your hands and eat it. Delicious.
Sun weary and full of fried food, noodles, and cheese, we crashed.
Day Two: Hoping for Hopetown
We rented a boat from Troy so that we could show Jo and Jenna our favorite places. Our standard “boat day” for newbies always involves a trip to the beach on north Guana and a visit to Hopetown for lunch.
The sea was a little choppy, but we made our way carefully over to the north tip of Guana. We saw the obscenity that is Baker’s Bay Golf Resort– what I consider to be a blight to the pristine beauty of this gentle island. Despite their claim to the most beautiful beaches on Guana, despite their gates and locks to keep anyone from arriving by land, despite their attempt to litter this gorgeous stretch of sand with as many houses as they can sell, all to put money in someone’s greedy pocket, this is still one of the most beautiful spots on earth and I still love it.
If you can arrive by boat, they can’t stop you from going to the beach, as all beaches are public. Thankfully, in this economy, the development has been slow, so the beach has not yet been lined with homes.
It remains, to date, a tranquil oasis. The beach stretches to a point, long and blindingly white. The water is electric turquoise, as clear and cool as a swimming pool. I hope it stays that way for a long time.
We anchored the boat, popped in some tunes, and floated the morning away.
I learned another lesson about 16 year old girls. They won’t get in the water, because they don’t want to mess their hair up.
So, as Jenna sunned on the boat and Jo relaxed in the shade, Matt and I swam in the beautiful water and lay in the warm sand. It was pure joy.
For me, there always comes the beach moment when I am pulled between my desire to do nothing more than rock on the waves and soak in the sun for the rest of the day and my desire to head to some great outdoor restaurant for a post-beach lunch. For me, the food eventually wins.
Besides, we wanted to show them the beautiful settlement of Hopetown, with its colorful cottages, bougainvillea lined streets, and the tall candy cane striped lighthouse. We pointed the boat in the direction of Elbow Cay.
Before we knew it, Hopetown was welcoming us like an old friend.
We tied off at the public dock and headed toward Hopetown Harbor Lodge and their fantastic Reef Bar and Grill. This is one of our favorite stops in Hopetown, partially for the views, partially for the great drinks and food, but primarily because we love to see the smiling face of Gary, the ever present bartender.
We were shocked and dismayed to find out that Gary actually DOES take days off….and this was one of them. I wasn’t sure how I could endure a trip to Abaco without seeing Gary at least once, but a cold rum punch was definitely helping me endure the pain.
The views from this place are just beautiful. We sat and enjoyed the swaying palms, sipping cold rum punch, as we waited for our food.
And there it was. Chicken in a bag.
I made it sound so good, everyone got it.
Jenna looked at the white paper bag in front of her.
“What is it?”
“Duh. Chicken in a bag,” I said. “Just what you ordered.”
“It’s in a paper bag,” she said.
“Um…yeah. Just what you ordered,” I restated.
She tentatively opened the bag…..hesitantly….expectantly….I’m not sure if she expected a live chicken to jump out at her or what….but she made it so dramatic the next table even stopped their meal to watch.
There it was. A fat, tender fried chicken breast, all crispy and juicy, laying on top of a mess of french fries…and the whole lot of it covered with ketchup and hot sauce.
Folks, we had a winner. Even the 16 year old was happy.
I’m not sure what we enjoyed more, the food, the drinks, or the incredible setting, but eventually we had to pry ourselves up for fear of just lapsing into a sleepy chicken-in-a-bag coma right there at the table.
We wandered through the quaint streets of Hopetown, went high at the Jib, wandered in and out of a few shops, and found ourselves at Vernon’s Grocery. We looked at the key lime pies, but we didn’t buy. I’m not sure how we resisted…the smell was intoxicating.
We walked out past the beautiful Methodist church and the view of the ocean was more than Jenna and I could bear. We stripped off right there and plunged into the cool water.
After a short swim, we dried off and made our way back to the boat.
Bye-bye, Hopetown! See you next time!
We got back to Guana with plenty of time to read or nap or just watch the waves crash behind the house before dinner. That was a good thing, because the kid needed at least an hour and a half to get ready.
Not wanting to miss the sunset, but not yet hungry, we headed over to Grabbers to watch the sun go down with a frozen Grabber in hand.
I introduced Jenna to the ring and hook came and it became a quick obsession. I am happy to report that on my 7th trip to Guana Cay, I FINALLY figured out how to do it. Yay for me!
With only a handful of restaurants (well….not really even a handful…unless it’s the hand of a guy that lost a finger or two in a shop accident….), there are only a few dining choices on Guana. We don’t mind this, because we love them all. However, there was one we had never tried….. Pirates Cove Tiki Bar on the corner as you turn up the sandy lane to Nippers.
We’d had drinks there before, but we never realized they served dinner too. We decided to give it shot.
Oh boy, am I glad we did.
They only had 4 offerings: Fish, Shrimp, Steak, or Ribs and each came with cole slaw, peas n rice, and …oh yeah….mac-n-cheese. The atmosphere was fun and relaxed. They had a movie playing outside on the big screen across the yard. People laughed at the bar. The smells of bbq from the grill were making my mouth water.
The food was FANTASTIC. I think it might have been my favorite meal of the trip.
We went back to Sea Coral and spent the night watching movies, playing cards, and eating Oreos and wondering if life gets any better than this.
Day Three: Green Turtle Here We Come
This was Matt’s birthday, so I had tried to plan something special that I thought he would enjoy. You know what they say about the best laid plans.
Instead of a perfect planned day, this would be a day of island-time mishaps, Caribbean miscommunication, and a lesson in making lemonade out of lemons.
I’ll start by telling you what was supposed to happen.
I had contacted the famed Lincoln Jones of Green Turtle Cay about 3 weeks prior. I told him that we wanted to do his boat trip and gave him the number in our party, the date, and our names. We were given a description of his boat and told to meet him at the public dock on Green Turtle between 9:30 and 10:00 am.
I was so excited. For many years, Lincoln has been taking people out on his legendary boat trips. Most people say its their best vacation day. Lincoln picks you up at the Green Turtle Dock and boats you out to Munjack Cay. On the way there, he fishes and lets anyone in the group that wants to fish join him. He’ll include a snorkel stop if you like. Once you get to Munjack, a very small uninhabited cay off of Green Turtle, he takes you to the beach and sets you up with rum punch while he cleans the fish that have been caught and fries them up with potatoes for a fantastic beachside picnic. Because he has been tossing his “fish parts” in the shallow bay for years, people say the sting rays and small sharks nearby know the sound of his boat motor and show up to feed on his cast offs. The brave ones in the group can wade out in the shallow water to mingle with the docile rays and sharks.
This was going to be a lot of fun.
Now let me tell you what actually happened.
We got up early, jumped in the boat, and headed north to Green Turtle. This was not a short trip or an easy trip from Guana. The sea side is very calm and makes for easy boating, but the recommended passage included about 15 minutes on the ocean side of the cays. As we crept along the ocean side, it was anything but calm or easy. The swells were as tall as the little boat and we went up and down, up and down, up and down. Anyone prone to sea sickness was a goner. Add to that the fact that on every down, a wall of salt water washed over the bow of the boat and drenched us all. It was misery.
As we mounted wave after wave, chilly and wet, and fought to keep our breakfast down, I was standing up, hanging onto a vertical pole to keep from sliding off the seat, Jenna was mummified inside several towels, and Jo was huddled into a heap on the front seat, soaked to the bone, eyes closed tightly, and…I’m pretty sure….praying.
Eventually we crossed back over to the calm side and made our way into the harbor. We were sort of shaken at this point and no one was really paying attention to the boating guide or the channel markers…which would have been difficult anyway given that we couldn’t really see because our sunglasses were covered in sea spray. Next thing I know, Matt is swearing under his breath and it feels remarkably like we are sitting on the sand. We are. We managed to ground the very front of the boat on a sandbar barely submerged beneath the water.
Cursing and grumbling, Matt climbs into the water and uses the rope to pull us back into the deeper water. No one really noticed but me, though, because Jo was still hunched over praying that God not let her die today…at least not on the boat, and Jenna was buried under 7 inches of purple terrycloth.
Freed, we made our way to the ferry dock.
I was instantly smitten with the adorable settlement of New Plymouth. How cute was this?
We tied the boat off and waited, certain that Lincoln would arrive any minute. It was right at 9:45 a.m.
So…we waited. And we waited.
And we waited some more.
Maybe we were in the wrong place? I went and asked some guys at the end of the dock where Lincoln Jones picked up passengers. They told me I was in the right place.
So we waited. And waited.
Finally, one of the guys jumped on his cart and said he’d run see if he could find Lincoln.
Seriously, where else are strangers this nice?
A few minutes later he came back and said he didn’t find Lincoln but he found his son. He said he’d be there in a few minutes.
So we waited. And waited.
Finally, someone came down the dock and asked if we were waiting for Lincoln. I told him “yes” and he said that he was Lincoln’s son and that Lincoln had already left to take a group to Munjack.
We were seriously bummed. I could not believe we had come all the way from Guana and he just left without us. I know folks say good things about Lincoln, but my experience was that he’s fairly unreliable. My advice is, unless you are staying on Green Turtle, don’t book a trip. Chances are, you’ll come a long way for nothing.
Still shaky legged and slightly waterlogged, none of us could bear the thought of getting back in our boat and making that soggy, rocking and rolling trip back to Guana just yet.
Not one to let this ruin our day, I quickly came up with Plan B. We were on Green Turtle, let’s spend the day on Green Turtle.
I spied a happy little pink building at the end of the dock with a sign that read, “Kool Karts.” I went inside and asked for a golf cart for the day. Five minutes and $35 dollars later, we were breezing through New Plymouth in our very own kool kart.
Plan B was a go.
We took some time to see the settlement, driving up and down the narrow streets lined with flamboyant trees and plumeria creeping over white picket fences. Bordered by the Sea of Abaco in bright blues and greens, New Plymouth was a picture perfect delight.
Since we’d never seen Green Turtle, we decided to just do a long drive. We passed the settlement and headed toward Gillam Bay, passing what might be the most beautiful flamboyant tree I have ever seen on the way.
I loved the fact that Green Turtle had lots of signs, making it easy to find everything, but this sign made me laugh – particularly because the only other direction you could go dropped right off into the ocean. Maybe that sign is for those folks that have had one too many of Miss Emily’s Goombay Smashes!
We pulled out to Gillam Bay and oooh’ed and aaaah’ed. It was gorgeous.
Back on the road we buzzed along until we saw a sign for Ocean Beach. We ooooh’ed and aaaah’ed again.
Then it was back on the road to find the Green Turtle Club because the seasickness had worn off and we were RAVENOUS.
The Green Turtle Club had a fantastic waterfront restaurant and a very cool indoor bar lined with money. Who doesn't like things that are lined with money?
A cold drink and a lobster salad sandwich later, and I had almost forgotten that this wasn’t our original plan, we were having such a good time.
We decided to head back to Gillam Bay and spend some beach time before heading back to Guana. Gillam Bay was gorgeous in the afternoon sunlight. The water was so shallow that it seemed you could walk all the way to the small island that sits off shore.
When we’d had enough, we decided it was time to head back.
Apparently, Joe the horse had a different idea.
This old horse planted himself in front of the cart and really didn’t want to move.
We pleaded. We begged. We cajoled.
He was very stubborn.
He did, however, like crackers, and a few persuaded him to let us on by.
We did have to make one last stop, however. We couldn’t leave Green Turtle without a visit to Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar, birthplace of the Goombay Smash.
I went inside and Jenna followed me. “Can I have one, please? Please? Can I have one?” she begged.
I gave her my best “Do I have Boo Boo the Fool written on my forehead?” look.
“PUH-LEASE?” she asked again.
Miss Violet looked at me and asked, “How old is she?”
“Sixteen going on 30,” I said.
“Oh, come now, she can have a Goombay Smash…” Miss Violet said with a big warm smile.
“Not on my watch,” I said. “Make her one that is all Goombay and no Smash.”
One Goombay Smash and one virgin Goombay Smash later, we were back on the boat, white knuckled, with our game faces on, ready for the romping ride back to Guana.
About halfway back, I looked at Matt and said, “I feel like I’m riding a mechanical bull in a fish tank,” I said wearily as Jo sat in her resumed desperate prayer huddle and Jenna had again disappeared under her pile of towels.
Somehow, by sheer stupidity, luck, and the grace of God, we made it back, wet and worn, but in one piece.
We spent a little time on Nippers Beach and in their pool before calling it a day.
Matt chose pizza for his birthday meal and we had a quiet night, ending it sweetly with Maria’s chocolate coconut birthday cheesecake.
It hadn’t been the day I had planned, but it had been a very good day.
Day Four: Home Again, Home Again.
It was a short trip and it was time to go home. As we flew over the jeweled ocean, I realized what a joy and a comfort I have in this place, this small group of islands in the Bahamas. They feel like a second home to me and I can never wait until I can see them again.
Until next time, Abaco. Until next time.