It starts off with a Bahama Mama from Curly Tails, complete with exactly one orange slice, a cherry, and a colorful umbrella. I know exactly what it will taste like as I take the first sip…part coconutty, part fruity, and part sunshine. Later, I’ll dig my toes into the sand, scrunching my feet until I get past that warm upper layer and reach the cool sand beneath, ruining my new pedicure and not caring. I’ll do it watching the sunset with a frozen Grabber in my hand as Glen, my favorite waiter, patiently waits for me to decide between conch fritters, lobster bites, or wings.
It’s a first day of vacation that I know well, because I have repeated it almost 20 times.
Sometimes you crave the excitement that can only come with a new destination. You want that thrill you get when you step into a new environment, not knowing what is around the next bend, but feeling like anything is possible.
It’s a rush.
In my younger days, I was puzzled by people who returned to the same place again and again. What was wrong with them? Were they afraid? Or were they simply unimaginative? Didn’t they know there was more to see? Travel was supposed to be about finding something new and undiscovered. It was all about the passport full of stamps.
Part of me still believes that, otherwise, you wouldn’t find me dragging myself down to Brazil, wondering if I’ll make it home with all of my fingers.
While I still crave the new and exciting, as I have grown older a part of me has recognized the soul-soothing joy of returning.
There is definitely something to be said for the “Repeat Vacation.”
Going back to the same place again and again has the comfort of slipping into your favorite pair of slippers. It’s like curling up with a warm blanket and a favorite book. It’s as sweet as getting a warm hug from your grandmother.
Consistency is the most underrated of virtues, especially in vacations. I can visit NYC over and over, only to find that it is an entirely new city each time, but returning to Guana Cay, I find everything just as I left it. Milo is selling seashells and limes on Front Street. Glen and Irene are handing out frozen Grabbers as the sun sinks on the horizon. Music pumps out of Nippers as bodies slathered in suntan oil scatter onto the beach below.
No matter how long we are away, when we return, we feel like we just turned our head for a moment to watch a boat pass by, and, turning back, everything is the same.
It’s why I return to Guana Cay again and again.
It’s a sweet relief. There is no planning. No anxiety. No pressure.
It’s coming home.
As soon as our feet hit Marsh Harbour, we grabbed a Bahama Mama at Curly Tails, jumped in the boat, and headed toward Lubbers Landing. We were early enough for lunch and I was craving some fish and chips.
The place was just as we had left it….Amy’s colorful signs decorated the bar….fresh squeezed margaritas flowed like water…..the fries were still hand cut....and you still earned a nipple shot of Patron if you mastered the “around the pole hook and ring game.”
We stayed long enough to detox from travel day, but left before the saltwater margaritas incapacitated our boat captain.
Before we knew it, we were sipping that first frozen Grabber. It was a little overcast, so there was no sunset, but that didn't make the Grabber taste any less delicious.
For dinner, we headed to Sunsetters. Not fans of the Orchid Bay restaurant in the past, we had heard good things about it recently. Especially “wing night,” where they served up a plate of wings for $4.
With a fried lobster and an order of mac n’cheese on the side, those were some mighty good wings.
The boys had scheduled an early morning fishing trip with Henry Sands, so we arm wrestled for the check and called it a night.
I hate fishing.
I simply don’t understand the allure of getting up in the dark to go sit on a boat in the hot sun for hours doing nothing but watching a string.
There are flies. And unpleasant smells.
Don’t even get me started on the bait.
So, when I found myself awake at an ungodly hour to go fishing….I wasn’t the happiest camper.
I tried everything to get out of it.
"It looks like it's going to rain," I said.
"You can go inside the cabin if it does," Matt replied.
“I don't fish,” I told Matt.
“You’ll enjoy the boat ride,” he said.
“I’d really rather just stay here and read on the beach,” I pleaded.
“Our friends want to go. If you don’t go, they’ll feel bad,” he said.
“I really think the dogs will be lonely,” I whined.
“They have each other,” he said.
“What if I told you I have diarrhea?” (It was the first time in my life I actually WISHED for diarrhea….)
So, I found myself on Henry Sands’ big fishing boat heading out into the open ocean at early o’clock.
Surprisingly, I also found myself having a pretty good time.
The sun hid behind the clouds all morning, so it never got hot. It didn’t stink like I thought it would. The fish were prettier than I thought they would be. There was more action than I expected. And the rocking of the boat with nothing to do but listen to the music playing on the radio was pretty darn relaxing.
Like a little gift from God for being a good sport, the clouds started to break and the sun came out just as we headed back into the marina. It was turning into a beautiful day.
The fish were cleaned and the scraps were tossed to the cats, the sharks, and the rays.
All in all, it wasn’t so bad.
Don’t get me wrong, I still hate fishing.
But I didn’t die.
We decided to eat lunch at Grabbers before heading out on the boat for the afternoon.
After a frozen Grabber and a coconut fried fish sandwich, I had forgotten all about the fishing.
We grabbed Rooby and Bella and headed to the beach at Man O’War Cay where we stopped for some boat drinks and a quick swim.
While I appreciated the effort, I don’t think Matt understood the concept of portable kitchen accessories when you’re on a boat. I wasn’t sure if he intended to grate some nutmeg on our drinks or shred an entire coconut.
It was Friday and that meant Pizza Night at Lubbers Landing. We hadn’t made it to Pizza Night before, because we needed enough daylight to get the boat back to Guana before dark. With a late sunset time and Austin agreeing to make our pizzas a little early, we finally made it.
I had been tormented ever since watching Austin build his super grouper pizza oven, knowing that, if their island burgers and house made drinks were that good, the pizza had to be PHENOMENAL.
I was excited.
I love pizza.
We had let Austin know in advance how many pizzas we wanted, a requirement since Austin makes all the dough fresh. If he doesn’t know you are coming…..no dough for you!
When we arrived, we ordered up some saltwater margaritas and caiproskas and just enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere that only Lubbers Landing can serve up so perfectly.
When we were ready to order, Austin gave us our choice of toppings. Within 5 minutes, we had a hot, fresh wood oven pizza in front of us. The crust was crisp and chewy, perfectly charred, and topped with savory salami, mushrooms, and black olives.
What can I say? It was pizza perfection.
The girls gave it two paws up.
When Austin and Amy do something, they do it right.
We headed back toward Guana with an hour of daylight left. It was perfect timing to see a beautiful sunset on the ride home.
We were welcomed home by the moon and a fresh baked key lime pie.
With an ending like that, I had already forgotten the day started with fishing.
We started the day with the sunrise and two happy dogs.
It was going to be a long boat day, so we left the girls inside, packed up the boat, and headed south.
In 10 years of trips to Abaco, we had never made it to Pete’s Pub. Every time we tried, there was a problem. The weather was too bad. The sea was too rough. It was too windy. Someone had a hangover.
Apparently, getting our group to Pete’s was as likely as finding a unicorn.
We were determined this time, and the conditions were perfect. Sunny skies, not too much wind, and full tank of boat gas.
It was Little Harbour or BUST.
From Guana to the Tahiti Beach on the end of Elbow Cay, it was the usual sights: beautiful water in ever changing shades of blue and green and bright blue skies.
As we passed Tilloo Cay, things were new.
When we reached the shallow area of Tilloo Pond, we were mesmerized by the changing colors of the water.
Before we knew it, we were pulling up to a beautiful deserted beach on an uninhabited cay. There were two curved crescents of beach with one finger of the softest sand sticking out into perfectly clear aquamarine water to separate them.
It was the perfect place to anchor and enjoy some beach drinks.
We were lucky enough to have it to ourselves for a while.
Eventually, we heard the rumbling of a boat motor. Make that 3 boat motors. Before we knew what was happening, 3 boats absolutely LOADED with bodies pulled up and started spilling people into the water.
It was like watching a bunch of red ants attacking a bowl of potato salad at a picnic and just about as welcome.
That was our signal that it was time to move on.
Besides, we were hungry and Pete’s Pub was waiting!
As we pulled into Little Harbor, I could tell this was going to be something special.
I immediately loved Pete’s. A broken down, rambling structure with everything from t-shirts to traffic lights hanging from every available surface, it reminded me more of something from Jost Van Dyke than Abaco. Barely propped up in the sand, it more closely resembled a randomly tossed together house of cards than an actual structure.
We ordered the BLASTER, the signature drink, and checked out all of the fish specials on the menu. I opted for a ginger garlic tuna sandwich that was served with corn and rice and walnut cole slaw.
While we waited for our food, I wandered around and took it all in. This place was AWESOME. The floor was sand, the views were amazing, there was even a live band (High Rocks from Eleuthera).
A quick walk over a boardwalk revealed a wild ocean side just on the other side of the palm trees.
I’d like to say we spent some time in the art gallery, appreciated some fine music, and behaved like civilized, sophisticated adults.
I don’t know what was in that Blaster, but it rendered any semblance of maturity impossible.
The Blaster at Pete’s should come with a warning label:
WARNING: The excessive consumption of Blasters may lead to bad dancing with strangers and awkward limbo contest participation; it may impair your ability to eat walnut cole slaw without seeing it again later; and may be generally hazardous to your health.
That’s all I’m saying about that.
The good news is that we made it back to Guana Cay intact, and in time to see the sunset at Grabbers.
We took the girls for an early morning run on the beach.
Apparently, Rooby can’t read.
Then, I tortured them with dog hats. Bella was a good sport. Rooby was not.
By way of silent protest, Rooby wouldn’t move. She lay immobile on the deck, peering at me out of the side of her hat to make sure I was seeing her misery and understanding that I had ruined her entire life. There is nothing funnier than a concentrated display of overly emotional suffering in a dog.
She got me back by chewing up the hat when I wasn’t looking.
We had decided to do a few hours on the boat before heading to Nippers for a Sunday lunch filled with all manner of people watching.
Our caretaker had told us that his favorite place to go in all of Abaco was “the lagoon.” I was immediately intrigued.
“Lagoon?” I asked, with visions of a Gilligan’s Island style swimming hole, complete with coconut trees and monkeys. Okay, maybe not the monkeys.
He directed us toward the shallow area just between the south end of Guana Cay and Scotland Cay.
“Isn’t that a little shallow?” we asked.
We had been tempted by this incredible little turquoise hole before, but the super shallow water and a healthy dose of fear had always kept us out.
“Nah,” he said. “It’s fine.”
“It’s fine,” I said to Matt.
Famous last words.
The lagoon was beautiful. Shallow water filled with starfish and stingrays, a small sandbar, and a deep blue hole in the center. The gorgeous palm fringed beach was private, being part of the private island of Scotland Cay, but the water belonged to everyone.
I loved watching as the little sandbar started to emerge.
That should have been a clue.
Shallow water. Sandbar emerging. Low tide coming.
But we just kept playing blissfully in the water.
And that’s how we got stuck in the sand.
Do you know how easy it is to pull a deep V boat that’s really big and heavy off of the sand when it is in really shallow water?
We felt incredibly stupid.
There wasn’t a soul around, which was good for allowing our stupidity to remain anonymous, but bad for getting some help.
We did a “get the boat unstuck” water dance.
Just as we were giving up and resigning ourselves to being stuck for the next few hours until the tide came back in….another boat pulled into the lagoon.
Hot damn and hallelujah!
Sure, it was humiliating, but being towed off the sand was better than sitting in the heat for the next 5 hours.
Thanks to the little boat with the big heart, we still had time for a stop at Shell Island before calling it a day.
Having walked the circumference of Shell Island before, I decided this was a good plan for the day. It was low tide, so it should be easy.
Apparently, this wasn't my "smart day."
You know how, when you make your mind up to do something, even once that little voice in your head keeps saying “This is stupid,” you keep going? Like turning around will somehow make you a quitter, doomed to fail at everything for the rest of your life?
That’s what happened to me as I got past the halfway point, only to realize that the last time I did this was several years ago, and that a number of storms had washed a number of dead trees into the path that weren’t there before. The beach route was blocked.
This was further complicated by the fact that the water route, while shallow, was filled with sharp, jagged rocks and I was barefoot.
But I was already more than halfway, I told myself. To turn back now would take longer than to just power ahead. It had to get better, right?
After 30 minutes of alternating between walking gingerly on sharp rocks, praying there wouldn’t be a sea urchin, and picking my way through an entangled maze of downed trees, all pointing at my internal organs like spears, I emerged on the other side….sunburned, sweaty, dehydrated, and exhausted.
This victory called for a Nipper.
I am happy to report that we finally had a calm, low-key Sunday at Nippers. We were spectators, not participators. Sure, that’s only because we were all still a little fuzzy from the Blaster Debacle the day before, but I’ll still claim it as a sign that I am slowly moving toward true adulthood.
Although, it was nice actually remembering most of my Sunday afternoon and not emerging at 6:00 p.m. from a frozen Nipper fog, covered with sand and glow sticks, wondering where my other flip flop was.
And just as we started the trip the way we always do, we ended it the way we always do: late night pizza at Grabbers with a sunset fading into the starry night.
Maybe we are boring for always going back to Guana Cay.
After all, “going back,” means retreat, doesn't it?
However, “retreat” doesn’t always mean surrender.
It can also mean haven, sanctuary, refuge.
I have found my sanctuary.
I’ll see you there again next time.
Same time. Same place.