Bahamas - Half Moon Cay

Boating in the deep blue sea


Cruising is not all about flopping around poolside playing Name That Tune (although it mostly is). There were cinemas, singers, shops, bars, basketball and tennis courts plus, much to my excitement, a shuffleboard deck! Vintage cruising, now we’re talking.

A few shuffleboard thrusts and it was time for a massage. I made an appointment, shuffled on down, only to be told I was too thin for my chosen “bamboo massage” and would end up very badly bruised! I don't know what is involved in the bamboo massage, I just like saying ‘bamboo’, I guess I'll never find out (do they beat you with bamboo sticks?!). I must admit I was chuffed to have my post Christmas wobbles described as "too thin" but I was on an American cruise liner with 5 restaurants and open buffets... It's all relative.

Bamboostic frivolity aside, one aspect of the cruise, which really troubled me, was the food binging and inevitable food wastage. There are millions of people starving in the world and there we were wobbling around a pool, watching Jack Fat and family milling into their umpteenth burger, leaving a sea of French fries behind them. As somebody with a social conscience and Irish-Mammy tendencies the sheer wastage of food was terribly upsetting for me. It may have been a focal point of my repartee (rants) on a daily basis.

Don't even get me started on the skin cancer brigade. Some parts of the boat were like antique shops, sun chair after sun chair coated in leathery mahogany rich folk.

I didn’t pick up the cruising bug (although I did feel a little queasy at times) it’s not my preferred modus operandi for travel, But every now and then it’s good to see how the other half lives; do something different, stretch the budget, stretch the mind, drop the old prejudices and get some new ones.

Deserted Island

Our last port of call (first time I’ve used that expression in a literal correct context, go me!) was the beautiful Bahamas. Half Moon Cay to be precise. What is a cay you ask. Well, firstly, it’s pronounced ‘key’, a rock is less than 4 miles long, a cay is 4 to 10 miles and a island is bigger than 10 miles. The Bahamas is made up of 700 islands, cays and rocks.

We started off on a guided nature walk around the cay, much to my surprise the first thing we stumbled across in the ‘bush’ was the ruins of a building dating back to the 1700s! People would come to the island to fish and hunt. There was no bricks on the island so they would burn conch shells, solidify the ashes and that was their cement. The cay had seemed so remote and tropically intact, the thoughts of European settlers building European style buildings there hundreds of years ago seemed so out of place (not that feeling ‘a touch out of place’ stopped any European powers settling anywhere ever).

"In an octopus's garden in the shade"
Another surprising revelation from the guide was the food the world associates with the Bahamas such as pineapple, mangos, etc are not native at all, the only native flora are very small plants and fruit.

We listened to the laidback guides lecture as we stood in the heart of the Bahamian bush, sun beating, sweat pumping, lizards creeping in the trees beside us, creepy crawlies dancing across our ankles and buzzing buggers drumming by our ears. As I watched Roisin gently fall asleep strapped to her Dad’s back, I realized there wasn’t a scrap of insect repellant on any of us. We hot footed it out of the jungle and down to the sea.

Stingray Starfish Besties

We stopped to watch a school of tourists feed the flocking stingrays. Our guide appeared again, still laidback and still talking, he had a lecture to finish; the Bahamas used to be part of the British Commonwealth but in the 1970s it gained independence. However they still recognize the Queen as Head of State and she appoints a Governor General to preside over the islands. Hhmm, I guess we have different ideas of what independence means. The main industry used to be salt mining but now it's offshore banking and tourism. English is the official language, he made a point of describing it as the Queen's English, but at home a lot of Bahamians speak a local dialect (the Queen would not be able to keep up).

Shiver me timbers

The island, sorry, the cay, is owned by the cruise liner so it’s pretty much geared up for some serious beach time. Roisin ‘discovered’ a sand covered shipwrecked themed deserted playground, much to her endless delight. After a picnic we retired to what is, hands down, the most beautiful beach in the entire world. It was packed full of people which usually spells disaster, but when you reach paradise, people don't matter. The sea itself was like something out of a painting (or a Bounty ad), it was crystal clear, the perfect temperature, I swam like a fish practically refusing to get out of the water, and I’m not even a big swimmer.

Bahamian Battleships

We could have easily spent the day/year exactly where we were, volleying in between making sandcastles and family swims. But I had signed us up for a boat trip on the lagoon (before I knew we'd have front row seats to paradise!).

Fishy Fish!

It turned out to be quite interesting, the boat guide was a lovely larger than life local with a great passion for the flora and fauna of her magical home. We learned that the islands are made from coral. The guide was very insistent that nobody should ever break off any coral, no matter how small because once you break a piece off it destroys the structure of the rest of the coral. It’s coral mafia - ‘you wanna piece of me, huh, you mess with me, you mess with my whole family”.

Random Oldies Just Chillin

The guides’ most interesting fact about corals (which made me want to visit more of the islands), was that birds eat pink and white pieces of coral, they poop them out creating pink beaches! Best poop story ever.

The boat had a sticker with the official Bahamas motto “Forward Upward Onwards Together”, the guide dismissed it in preference of the unofficial motto “Drink and Be Merry”.

As the boat glided along we saw turtles, jellyfish that rest upside down, and huge sponges. The sponges used to be a big export item from the Bahamas but with the introduction of artificial sponges to the cosmetic world, people stopped buying the natural kind. The guide gave such a passionate speech about the natural sponges that I made a mental note to ask Santa for one next Christmas.

There was talk of sharks but they didn’t show (how rude). The guide finished her ‘show and tell’ by holding up a stunning white and pink, large, comic-book-perfect conch shell. She talked about its significance to the islands and how some islanders even eat the shell. I could understand why it was so deliciously beautiful.

I started dreaming about my natural sponge side by side with my conch shell in my Caribbean blue and white bathroom. One day...

Meanwhile back to the good ole U S of A.

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