A Travellerspoint blog

July 2013

Abaco Ain't For Sissies . . . But We Went Anyway (Part 1)

Abaco. The very name strikes fear into the hearts of sissies everywhere. Abaco, with its snakes and its spiders and its sneaky shallow waters. Abaco, where the men are men and the women are doomed to a lifetime of bad hair days.

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Abaco. A beautiful but terrifying place where water is scarce, electricity is iffy, and ironing boards are nonexistent.

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Indeed, longtime visitors to Abaco are fond of reciting the motto, "Abaco Ain't For Sissies," which is the understatement of the year. (Other lesser-known Abaconian mottos include, “Don’t Worry, That Probably Isn’t Poisonous,” and “You Know How to Tie a Tourniquet, Right?”)

In the end, our visit read like the clichéd plot of one of those fish-out-of-water movies: A couple of hard-charging, Type-A city dwellers are dropped into a completely unfamiliar environment -- a dude ranch, an Amish village, the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas -- and hilarity ensues. Laugh as the couple attempts to shower using half a tablespoon of water! Giggle as they chase a spider the size of a dinner plate around with a flimsy flyswatter! Snicker as they wrap their boat’s anchor line around the propeller!

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That's right, we rented a boat. No, we don't know how to operate one. No, it didn't have a GPS or a depth finder or even a fuel gauge. And no, it wasn't a good idea. But we did it anyway, because we don't surf or skydive or rock climb, and death by capsize is much more glamorous anyway.

We'd gotten this cockamamie idea into our skulls after deciding that our usual haunt, Anguilla, had become too crowded for us. See?

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And when honorary Abaconian Vicki H let slip that the Abacos made Anguilla look like Daytona Beach at spring break, we knew what we had to do. After careful research, we decided to stay on Great Guana Cay, an island of less than 200 souls with no hospital, no police station, and no ATMs; where emergencies are called in on a VHF radio and the guy from the dive shop shows up to help . . . or not, if he happens to be out on the reef.

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Given all this, you'd think there'd at least be more than one liquor store, no?

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I'd been reading up on the Abacos on an online forum before we visited, and one sentiment in particular stuck out. The poster wrote: "Abaco really teaches you to make the best of things; I think that's why I love the place so much."

Oh, dear.

Have I mentioned that we're from New York? "Making the best of things" isn't in our vocabulary. We want what we want, exactly when and where and how we want it, and, most importantly, we want someone else to do it for us. (My apartment building employs someone just to open doors for us, for Pete's sake.) What few do-it-yourself skills we do possess are uniquely honed for the urban jungle: We can stare down a would-be taxicab usurper with one steely glance; casually descend into a narrow, crowded tube three stories underground without a second thought; and run the equivalent of an 8-minute mile for the right food truck or sample sale. So we're not complete sissies. . . unless you take away our cell phones, our internet connections, our unlimited supply of hot water, and our gourmet restaurants.

Oh, dear.

Our introduction to what I will henceforth call Operation Outward Bound began in Marsh Harbour, where we arrived for a seven day visit with a mere five pieces of luggage, which is at least 3 fewer than I would pack for a weekend trip to the Hamptons.

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This feat is all the more impressive when you consider that one of those bags contained an iron, a portable ironing board, 8 pairs of sandals, and almost a dozen hair products.

You thought I was kidding, didn't you?

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We headed over to Curly Tails, a breezy spot on the water adjacent to the ferry dock, to grab some lunch and settle into island time. We had about two hours to kill, and Curly Tails took about two hours to prepare our food, so everybody was happy.

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After lunch we checked out the area surrounding the ferry dock, which included a few species with which we were largely unfamiliar, such as octopi, and children.

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As we looked around, we noticed that most people simply left their luggage in a neat pile and went about their business, seemingly unconcerned that someone might try to walk off with it.

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As for our luggage, I made Angel sit on the largest bag, sprawl his arms and legs over the smaller ones, and put on his gangsta face to deter would-be thieves while I took a photo two feet away . . . just in case.

Soon it was time for the ferry to depart. We clambered aboard, slid into puddles of our own sweat, and we were off. Forty minutes later, we arrived on Guana and were greeted by a fleet of golf carts, one of which contained the caretaker for the house we'd rented.

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We had decided to stay on the deserted, hard-to-reach southern end of the island on the theory that if you're going to go all Robinson Crusoe on your vacation, you might as well go all the way. Our first stop, then, was to pick up our big-wheeled golf cart, which we were told would be necessary since the road to the house was a bit rocky. As it turns out, though, that was a little white lie . . . since I'm not sure this qualifies as a road.

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Still, that big-wheeled golf cart was my very favorite part of the trip. I loved bouncing around the "road" in it, hanging on for dear life. I loved gunning it on the paved areas in town. (Sure, its top speed is about 25 miles per hour, but still.) I loved not having to check my rear-view mirror, since it doesn't have one.

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Most of all, I loved that there was no annoying seat belt to wrinkle my dress. Not for nothing did I haul an ironing board all the way to Abaco, people.

For all its charms, however, we quickly learned that a golf cart is less than ideal for transporting water and groceries.

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The house we rented was situated on a small promontory and positioned to take advantage of the cross-breezes. An enormous wraparound deck encircled the entire house, which was open on the ocean side; on the Sea of Abaco side, a screened-in porch afforded a perfect view of Foots Cay. Dining tables, cushy chaise lounges, a BBQ grill, and an outdoor shower completed the spacious outdoor living area.

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The house had received rave reviews online for its interiors, too, with many folks comparing it to a luxury yacht thanks to all of the fine woodwork inside. And it was, if the things you like about yachts are hitting your head on a bulkhead every 30 seconds and a shower that’s only slightly better than having an uncoordinated child chase you around with a squirt gun.

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Oh, how I hated that shower. I hated it more than when you open a pizza box and all the cheese and pepperoni sticks to the lid. I hated it more than when you squirt some ketchup onto your plate and a bunch of that clear liquid oozes out first.

The shower consisted of a fixed shower head conveniently aimed directly at the face of anyone who tried to enter. It also had the unique distinction of emitting a mist of water droplets so fine that you might as well try to wash your face using only the power of humidity. And yet, once you stepped into the shower, you couldn't get away from that mist. It hit you while you tried to shave your armpits. It hit you while you tried to lather your hair. But try to rinse out that lather, and 20 minutes later you're standing there with a head still full of lather and a pair of razor-burned armpits. (Eventually we discovered that we'd been at the bottom of the cistern and no one had switched us over to the full water tank. After four days of showering using bottles of Poland Spring and our own spit, that full tank was the best thing to happen to me since McDonald's brought back the original Shamrock Shake. But I digress.)

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One of the reasons we chose this particular house was because it had a generator and, more importantly, a caretaker to show us how to use it. At home, of course, the city's power lines are buried underground and our high-rise building has an automatic generator and two superintendents, so operating anything more complicated than a hand-held can opener is really outside our comfort zone. Plus, even for the experienced do-it-yourselfer, a generator is a terrifying contraption. What else at your house comes with a 3-page User's Manual and a 100-page "Don't Do This or You Will Set Yourself and Everyone In Your Town On Fire" Manual?

Of course, what we didn't know at the time is that this improvised explosive device/generator actually only conjures up enough juice to power exactly one lamp or one hair dryer, but not both at the same time. (Tip: Pick the hair dryer. All the lamp can do is show you exactly how bad you look without the hair dryer.)

And then there were the house's doors.

A few months ago, the husband of a friend was interviewing for a job in Alabama. They flew down for the interviews and checked out some houses there, many of them quadruple the size of their Manhattan studio. My friend, however, was less than thrilled about the possibility of a move, but not for the reasons you’d think. “I just don’t think I can live in a house,” she began. “There’s just so many . . . ” She trailed off, searching for the right words. But I knew immediately. “Points of entry?” I finished for her. “EXACTLY!” she smiled. “Points of entry! Front doors, back doors, garage doors, basement doors . . .I just can’t do it,” she admitted. I knew exactly what she meant.

You see, although “Law and Order” might have you believe that breaking into a city apartment is as easy as climbing up a fire escape and crawling in through an open window, most city apartments are virtually intruder-proof. First of all, city apartments only have one door, and that door is typically made of steel and outfitted with a Medeco lock or three. And gaining access to that single apartment door requires some Ocean's Eleven-style plotting. At our high-rise, for example, the front door to the building remains open during the day but is locked after midnight. Inside that door is a small vestibule leading to another door, which remains locked at all times, unless the doorman is there. Visitors must be announced by the doorman and approved by the resident before being allowed to enter the elevators, which are outfitted with security cameras. Only then does the would-be burglar have access to the aforementioned triple-locked steel apartment door, and one floor might have dozens of them for him to choose from.

But a house is different. A house is so . . . vulnerable. And a house like the one we’d rented, in the middle of nowhere . . . accessible by a dirt path and surrounded by jungle, in which lurked god only knows who or what . . .

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Our first night in the house, I woke up around 4:30 a.m. and had to pee. But I couldn’t just feel my way around the darkened room or dash across the hallway. Oh, no. On the good old SS Minnow, the bathroom is downstairs. And I really, really didn’t want to go down there alone in the pitch dark. I first tried to wake Angel, but over the years he has learned to differentiate between “Wake up and have some fun with me” and “Wake up and kill this ant for me.” Finally, unable to hold out any longer, I screwed up my courage and amassed some weapons. Armed with a bottle of hairspray and a pair of tweezers, I felt my way down the dark, slippery stairs and even managed to evade all 14 bulkheads. I made it all the way to the ground floor in one piece, only to be confronted with this:

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That’s a lot of points of entry.

Earlier that night we’d set booby traps in front of each of the doors and headed off to dinner at Orchid Bay.

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We settled in at table near the window, and our waitress soon delivered two brightly colored tropical drinks. “Oh, they’re so pretty!” I exclaimed. But before I could even take a sip, she’d snatched them back and returned them to the bar. Thinking she’d brought us the wrong ones, we were delighted when she returned with the same drinks, this time festooned with little matching umbrellas. “Now they’re pretty!” she grinned. I like the way you think, lady.

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The next day was Sunday, and that could only mean one thing: Nippers Pig Roast.

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I'd worn a bikini top and hip-slung beach skirt . . .

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and realized too late that I was way underdressed. Or is it overdressed?

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I hadn't seen that many muscle shirts and lower-back butterfly tattoos since the series finale of Jersey Shore. I knew it was just a matter of time before the Frozen Nippers took hold and people started fist-pumping and stranger-humping, so we made a beeline for the buffet in order to beat a hasty retreat before things got too out of hand.

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Happily, the food at Nippers was fantastic.

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For the first go-round, I loaded my plate with everything on offer.

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For the second go-round, however, I dispensed with the formalities and made up a plate that more accurately reflected the four food groups: Pasta, potatoes, cheese, and mayonnaise.

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Of course, the Bahamian mac & cheese was the best part. Unlike regular mac & cheese that's loose and creamy and held together with béchamel sauce, Bahamian M&C is shaped like a brick and held together with nothing more than melted Cheddar cheese. That might not sound as appetizing as regular M&C, but consider the advantages: You can eat it without silverware. You can stack it to make room for other stuff on your plate. You can put some in your pocket or beach bag for later. I spent the whole rest of the week with a block of mac & cheese bulging out of the pocket of whatever outfit I happened to be wearing.

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The Frozen Nippers, unfortunately, were not our cup of tea. Way too sweet and so brightly colored that I could already picture how my skirt was going to look with a big, red Rorschach stain on it, we quickly switched to Kalik and left the Nippers for those who didn't have to worry about stains, since they weren't wearing any clothes.

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Speaking of being nekkid, our visit to Nippers would mark the first of many times during this trip that someone would ask us if we were on our honeymoon and insist upon taking our picture. (We tried to put on a good show, though admittedly this is about as G-rated as it gets on a Sunday at Nippers.)

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We later noticed that most Abaco visitors travel in large family groups and, as a couple traveling alone, we stuck out like a sore thumb, though you might be forgiven for thinking it was because we looked romantic and lovey-dovey. But trust me: After we got that boat, otherwise known as The Divorcinator, the only romantic notions we were entertaining involved throwing the other one overboard and watching them slowly drift out to sea. Ta-ta!

Later that day we decided to check out the Orchid Bay area and find the "Secret Beach" located near the house.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon at the house exploring the small garden surrounding the property.

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We admired the vibrant tropical flowers. We spied little hermit crabs lounging in the shade. We were fascinated by tiny crab spiders and their delicate, dew-dotted webs.

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Then one of us walked face-first into a gigantic spider web and our attempts at becoming one with nature came to an abrupt and sticky end.

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The next day we awoke bright and early for what in hindsight is referred to as Day 1 of Hell Week. We packed our boat bag/survival kit (sunscreen, water, and a jar of peanut butter), and although I am not usually itching to have my photo taken in a bikini, I had Angel snap a quick photo of me so the Bahamian Coast Guard would know what to look for in the water, should it come to that.

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Jay Sands of Water Ways boat rentals on Man-O-War Cay picked us up at the Guana Hideaways dock and we headed over to Man-O-War to fill out the paperwork. Although we'd planned to play it cool regarding our lack of boating experience, we soon confessed that we’d never really operated a boat before, unless you count one of our friends saying, “Here, hold the wheel for a sec while I pop open this beer.” But Jay wasn't fazed. “Oh, you’ll be fine,” he replied nonchalantly. A beat, and then he spoke again. “You should be fine.” Another beat. “Yeah, fine. Probably.”

Well, between that ringing endorsement and the books I found lying around the house, our confidence was growing by the minute.

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Plus, the boat was called Soleado, which you might think is Spanish, but is actually an old Indian name meaning, "He who is flung from bucking bronco."

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We decided to buy some time and gird our loins check out Man-O-War and get some lunch before making our way back to Guana.

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The Albury family has been building boats on Man-O-War since the 1800s, and it was a real treat to see some of their brightly colored beauties.

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The rest of the settlement was adorable, which is what people always say when they come to New York for the first time, too.

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Oh, and there was cotton! Growing on the side of the road, in the wild!

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Soon it was time for lunch. I was excited to visit the Dock & Dine because I had seen photos of their cheeseburgers online.

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Everyone loves cheeseburgers, of course, but I am somewhat obsessed. Even as a kid, I had cheeseburgers on the brain. Like most kids, I couldn't wait to grow up so I could do whatever I wanted. Despite a world full of possibilities, however, my plans were modest: I was going to run away with Van Halen (the group, not just Eddie); I was going to sleep until noon every day without interruption; I was never, ever going to mow a lawn again; and, most importantly, I was going to eat cheeseburgers every. single. day. of my life.

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That's right: I wanted to grow up to be your teenage son.

Unfortunately, however, these goals (save for the lawn-mowing) have thusfar managed to elude me.

Until Abaco. Dear, sweet, cheeseburger-loving Abaco.

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Damn but that burger was good. But eventually, the eyes that had rolled back in my head with pleasure had returned to their normal position and lunch was over. We had finally run out of delay tactics. It was time to get back on the boat.

Our apprehension stemmed in large part from the fact that we had pictured the Sea of Abaco as a sort of tranquil bay, ringed by islands that were tiny, close together, and easily identifiable.

But what we got was a roiling ocean with just enough shallows to make things interesting; islands so large and yet so far apart that they appeared like shimmering heat mirages on the horizon; and navigation tools consisting of a wet map, a compass, and two landlubbers with bad eyesight.

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Still, part of the reason that I'd rented the boat on Man-O-War was to force us to take the boat out at least once -- back to Guana, where our rental house was. If we chickened out and never took the boat out again after that, fine. But we were going to accomplish as least one solo voyage on this trip, and the hour of reckoning was finally upon us.

I am happy to report that we boarded the boat without falling into the water. We un-docked the boat without killing anyone. We even exited out of the Man-O-War harbor in the opposite direction from how we'd come in (at Jay's suggestion) without getting lost.

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Our confidence was building, so we decided to make a stop at Baker's Bay before docking the boat back at Guana for the evening.

Or, rather, we tried to make a stop at Baker's Bay.

Probably the most challenging aspect of boating in the Abacos for the first time is that every island, every beach, every cove looks exactly the same from the water. We'd picked out a red market umbrella on someone's patio as our marker to the entrance to Guana's harbor, but for Baker's Bay, we had no such markers. So we motored along until we saw a rocky outcropping of land that we surmised must be the northernmost tip of Guana. Terrified of accidentally drifting into the ocean -- we were convinced that allowing the boat's bow to even glance in the direction of the ocean would suddenly short out the motor and pull us into a swirling Vortex of Doom -- we figured that the beach right before the outcropping had to be Baker's Bay . . . didn't it?

It did not.

Still, it was a pretty enough beach, and the water wasn't too deep, so we dropped the anchor and decided to stay awhile.

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Or a long, long, long while, which is how long you will stay when you accidentally ground your boat. I wanted to wait until the tide came in or until Water Ways noticed that we never returned with the boat at the end of the week and came to get us, but Angel decided that he'd just lift us off the sand. We hoisted the anchor (luckily we'd already raised the propeller) and I moved to the front of the boat to lessen the weight on the grounded stern. Angel heaved. He ho'd. (Neither of those is as bad as it sounds.) He was sweating like a stuck pig and grunting like one, too, but inch by inch, the boat began to get some water under it, and finally, eventually, we were free.

The only downside was that Angel set for himself a new level of expectation: If I ever get trapped under our SUV (not as unlikely as you might think given my propensity for freak accidents), I will fully expect him to lift it off of me, quickly, and perhaps even using just one arm.

Wearily we made our way back to the settlement to dock the boat for the night. This would be our first attempt at docking, but how hard could it be? Sure, it was pretty windy, but it's just like parking a car in a parking spot, isn't it?

It is not.

I steered the boat while Angel shouted out commands. I gripped the wheel like it was the last of my size at a shoe sale and shifted the gears. I am not going to go into the gory details here, but suffice it to say that after a lot of screaming and yelling and shifting and steering, everything went sideways.

Literally.

I'd managed to wedge the boat in parallel to the dock, not perpendicular to it, straddling both the slip we were trying to dock in and the adjacent slip. Luckily someone heard our panicked cries, and that someone happened to be Dervin, Jay of Water Ways' brother-in-law. Which was lucky for us, he explained, because otherwise he'd have left us there. At least while he went home to get his camera.

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The next day we decided to try again to find Baker's Bay. No, we weren't trying to prove a point. We were just hungry.

Baker's Bay is a spectacular stretch of white sand framed by crystal-clear water and mangroves. Sadly, however, this area of the island has been taken over by a developer called the Disgraceful Despicable Discovery Land Group, an organization whose mission is to ensure that every last pristine place in the world is razed to make way for one of its hideously outsized luxury communities, which will then be charmingly named after whatever was decimated in order to make room for it.

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However . . . when faced with the Sophie's Choice of contributing in some small way to the Destructive Land Group or stuffing down one more fried grouper/fried chicken/fried conch/fried anything sandwich, well . . . I am ashamed to admit that the Detestable Land Group and its fancy-by-Guana-standards restaurant won out.

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We made our way into the marina at the Baker's Bay resort and found a place to dock. Angel slid the boat in perfectly parallel. That was easy, we thought delightedly. That is, until one of the Baker's Bay employees kindly explained that we'd have to dock over there and use one of the mooring balls instead. We had never used a mooring ball. We had an audience. And I had become so fearful of the reverse gear after our sideways docking experience that I had taken to shifting into neutral and frantically paddling with my hands to move in reverse. And so, like the sissies that we are, we threw up our hands and allowed another BB employee -- this one a teenage girl, from the looks of her -- to board the boat and put us into position.

That's two boardings in two days for those of you keeping track. Sure, a few skills are nice when you go boating, but a complete lack of dignity is absolutely essential.

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It pains me to admit that the Baker's Bay property is gorgeous. And if I didn't know what they had done to the environment to get it that way, I am sure this would be a place that we'd return to again and again.

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For now, though, I just wanted some unfried food and a frozen drink that didn't contain an entire bag of sugar, and the Conch Shack at Baker's Bay delivered on both counts.

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After a frozen banana colada and a delicious cranberry/banana concoction, we moved on to chips and fresh tomato salsa, a BBQ chicken pizza, and the best tacos this side of Mexico.

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After lunch we decided to check out the property and admire their freakishly green lawn before setting off for the beach.

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After a short shade break and a little jewelry shopping at the Market, we boarded the boat and set off again for the northern tip of Guana, to the beach that Vicki H had told us so much about.

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On the way, we decided make a stop at Spoil Bank Cay, which was easily recognizable thanks to the island pines that dot its landscape. It looked lovely from the water, so we made our approach, dropped the anchor, and headed for the shore.

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Apparently the side of the island where we anchored, however, is also the side that gives Spoil Bank its nickname, Shell Island. Which is really being kind, since Spoil Bank Cay is more appropriately nicknamed I Just Got Jabbed in the Foot By Another @#$%& Rock Island. Still, we didn’t really notice the rocks until we were halfway between the boat and the shore, and being the stubborn mule that I am, I refused to head back to the boat until I either made it to the shore or bled to death from the puncture wounds to my feet, whichever came first.

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Finally, after an hour or so of using the soles of our feet as pin cushions, we decided to make one more attempt at finding Baker’s Bay. We brought the boat around toward the ocean side and steeled ourselves for the Vortex. When it didn't materialize, we continued to inch our way around the tip until suddenly, the spectacular beach came into view.

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We were right in the middle of patting ourselves on the back for a job well done when this Jet-Ski went by. With a toddler at the wheel.

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We dropped the anchor, lowered the swim ladder, and enjoyed three blissful hours floating in the clear water and soaking up the brilliant sunshine.

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We splashed in the shallow pools carved out by the rock formations. We delighted in the tiny fish. We cursed that little kid on the Jet-Ski.

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That evening we headed over to Grabbers for a much-deserved sunset dinner.

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The sunset was perfect, the shrimp was fantastic, the pizza was frozen, but so were the drinks, so we'll go ahead and call that a win.

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The next day we decided to visit Elbow Cay. We loaded the boat and checked our fuel gauge: a notched wooden dipstick.

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We figured Elbow Cay would be easy to find due to the lighthouse.

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Oh, you don't see it there on the horizon? You don't even see land? Welcome to our world.

We actually found Elbow without any trouble, and once we got close enough, the lighthouse guided us into the charming harbor.

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We entered the harbor and looked for the public dock. Soon we spotted a sign for it, which also contained an ominous warning:

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We would have to use the stern anchor. For the uninitiated, this means that while one person moves the boat forward towards a head-on collision with the dock, the other person waits until the boat is approximately two boat lengths away from said collision and then drops the anchor. The forward motion sets the anchor; then, a quick shift into reverse prevents the impending crash. Supposedly.

But already it did not look promising: Half a dozen boats of varying sizes were tied to the dock at various angles, their stern anchor lines just daring us to get tangled up in them.

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Plus, as I mentioned above, this was a two-man operation, and only one of us (I will leave you to your own assumptions here) has any common sense and upper body strength and knows right from left. Angel let me pick: I could steer the boat and shift into the dreaded reverse gear as we neared the dock, or I could heave the anchor off the stern once we were the appropriate distance from the dock. I chose the anchor, and at Angel's command I flung it off the stern of the boat with all my might.

And then the engine died.

Angel checked the ignition. He shifted into forward, then reverse. The boat didn't move.

The engine was dead.

Which is how we came to be boarded for the third time in three days, as a kind bystander diagnosed the problems as follows: (1) This boat is being operated by idiots, and (2) One of those idiots has managed to wrap the anchor line around the propeller about a dozen times.

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Obviously it was time for lunch by now and, more importantly, it was time for cocktails. We walked the short distance to the Hope Town Harbour Lodge in search of both.

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We cooled off with a round of frozen drinks while enjoying the view.

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Eventually our food arrived, and along with it a swarm of flies that reminded me of that time that, unbeknownst to us, a raccoon had died in the soffit of our summer cottage, and we didn't find out until about a week later. But the waiter kindly brought us this neat Bunsen burner? Butane lighter? Heated fly remover? and we were able to finish our meal in peace.

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After lunch we had planned to rent a golf cart to explore the island. Our waiter made some calls for us, but when he informed us that there weren't any carts available, we walked around a bit instead, then waited for the local bike shop to open so we could rent a couple of bikes.

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I could already tell from our short walk that it was way too hot to be biking around with the sun burning a hole into my scalp, but I played along for the time being. As it was, the hot sun was already starting to take its toll on me, so Angel found me a shady spot outside the liquor store where I could sit down. It was in uncomfortably close proximity to a large bag full of trash, but those on the verge of heatstroke cannot be choosers.

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While we waited for the bike shop to open, we got to chatting with a woman whose husband was inside the liquor store shooting the breeze with some buddies. We told her that we'd tried to rent a cart but had to settle for bikes instead, and she in turn made an extraordinarily generous offer that would have delighted normal people. But to suspicious, cynical people from New York City, it sounded like an elaborate plan to kidnap us and hold us as sex slaves (as opposed to holding us for ransom, which would be stupid because nobody we know would pay good money to have to see us again): She and her husband were headed home to the south end of the island, and they would be happy to give us a ride and drop us off at one of the beaches. Afterwards, we could just take their cart back to the dock and they'd pick it up later.

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Oh, sure. Just take our cart. What did these two really want, we wondered? Money? Jewelry? Our kidneys? We had no idea, but in New York City, if anyone without a taxi medallion offers to give you a ride, you would do well to smile and then beat feet the hell out of there.

But those suffering from heatstroke cannot be choosers. We could bike around in the broiling sun, or we could hitch a ride with a couple of suspected organ harvesters/sex traffickers and see where the day took us.

We went with the sex traffickers.

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Posted by TraceyG 05:23 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boat man war o treasure elbow nippers abaco guana cay grabbers Comments (19)

Abaco Ain't For Sissies . . . But We Went Anyway (Part 2)

Back on Elbow Cay, we'd chugged a few beers for courage, then boarded the back of a fancy red golf cart driven by a suspiciously friendly couple named Gigi and Greg, who ostensibly planned to drop us off at the beach, but whom we secretly suspected planned to drop us off at the morgue.

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When they aren't out picking up hitchhikers, Gigi and Greg are real estate agents, and if you have spent any time whatsoever reading this blog, you know that one of my favorite pastimes is to walk or bike around and photograph houses. I love architecture, I love interior design, I love landscaping, and I especially love peeping, so cruising around the cutest island we'd seen thusfar with two people who knew everything there was to know about every house, every plot of land, and every resort on the island was nothing short of a little slice of heaven three days into Hell Week.

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In addition, Greg spent most of his working life as a pilot for Bahamas Air and, even more interestingly, as a test pilot. The test pilot is that crazy SOB who gets in a brand-new plane that no one has ever flown before -- because they're not sure it actually can fly -- and tests it out. The fact that Greg is still alive and living it up in the Bahamas just goes to show you that he is either very, very lucky . . . or very, very quick with the Eject button.

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Our first stop was at what Gigi called Stonehenge, a fantastic rock formation overlooking the wild surf below.

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Next, we stopped at the Abaco Inn for more beer and to take in the view. It was easier to chat here than on the golf cart, and we quickly discovered that if we couldn't actually be Gigi and Greg, then we would have to settle for being their new best friends.

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As we were departing Abaco Inn, Gigi and I both stopped at the exact same moment to admire this woman's cute little anchor-print cover up. "Quick, get a back shot!" Gigi stage-whispered. Best friends, I tell you.

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Next it was off to Tilloo, where we took in the view . . .

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. . . and ogled some of the island's impressive waterfront homes.

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Plus this little guy, which Gigi and I both agreed was preferable to any mansion because it would be easier to clean. Lazy minds think alike.

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But perhaps the most impressive home of all was the one that Gigi and Greg designed and built for themselves a few years back.

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They invited us in, and if we both hadn't had to use the bathroom pretty desperately after downing all those beers, we would never have come inside, because everyone knows that once you accept a ride from a stranger, it's just one small step over the threshold before they are sewing themselves a nice new suit made out of your skin.

We were greeted by their beautiful dog Shadow, he of the stunning eyes and delightfully velvety ears.

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The house was gorgeous, with double-height ceilings, a commanding view over the ocean, and a large backyard pool.

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The eclectic decor included the World's Largest Onion and a plant Greg received from one of his real estate clients, ballad singer Burl Ives. If you can read the rest of this without "Silver and Gold" playing in your head, you have much more control over your subconscious mind than I do.

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(Seriously, though: What's up with that onion?)

Gigi wanted to show me her other pets, so we went outside to the yard and she began calling for them. "Hawkeye! Laverne! Squigmund!" I expected a few cats, or maybe more dogs, but I should have known by now that this afternoon was defying all expectations.

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We got back to the boat later than we'd planned, but spending the afternoon with Gigi and Greg had been so thoroughly enjoyable that we didn't really want it to end. (We of course invited them over to Guana so we could treat them to dinner at the spot of their choosing, to which Greg replied with an emphatic, "Um, no." I guess Guana is the armpit of the Abacos?) Our magical day continued on the boat ride home, where we finally got a tiny glimpse of how wonderful boating in the Sea of Abaco could be.

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That evening we grabbed a quick dinner at Nippers . . .

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. . . then decided to stop at Pirate's Cove for a beer and a glass of wine. Or some semi-chilled Chardonnay in a plastic cup, as the case may be.

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Sure, I knew better than to order wine at a roadside shack. But we'd just come from dinner at a place that looked like my parents' basement circa 1974, for which I'd gotten ready in the dark and without a hair dryer since the power had gone out, and for god's sakes, man, I'm from New York. I had made it five days on an island without 24-7 access to organic smoothies and hot-stone massages and arugula, but enough was enough. If there was any chance, no matter how infinitesimal, of getting a nice glass of wine in a real wine glass, I was going to take it.

I was also not going to give up on that ring toss until I did it.

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I did it!!!

At Pirate's Cove we got to chatting with Ricky Sands and his lovely fiancee Katie, and soon our tales of woe came tumbling out: We can't dock the boat! We can't navigate the boat! We HATE the boat! There is a spider the size of my palm in the Spider Room (formerly known as the Ironing Board Room) and we can't go in there anymore! How do you get your hair so clean? There's a SPARE WATER TANK?!?!? At one point Katie gently suggested that perhaps we should hire a guide -- not necessarily Ricky, just someone who could save us from having to buy Water Ways a new boat at the end of our trip. Angel grabbed onto the idea like it was an actual life preserver, but I steadfastly refused: We'd come down here to go boating, dammit, and we were going to accomplish that goal, even if we died trying.

Or that spider got to us first.

The next day, Thursday, the wind finally died down. We knew this might be our only chance to shoot over to Treasure Cay, so we loaded our emergency peanut butter onto the boat and set off for parts unknown.

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We first headed north, past Spoil Bank Cay and the north end of Guana, and then we spotted two islands. One was Whale Cay, and the other was Treasure Cay. But which one was which? We must have gotten turned around a bit, because we had no idea. After much debate we decided to head for the island that was further away since that route seemed more dangerous; plus, from that distance we couldn't even confirm whether it was land or just some haze on the horizon. This was the lesson Abaco had taught us: Never take the easy way when you can take the difficult, dangerous, or foolhardy way.

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Sometimes a fool's gambit pays off, though, and soon we found ourselves at Treasure Cay. After a little trouble finding the harbor entrance (apparently those poles with the red triangles mean "stay away," not "enter here"), we made our way in. We'd been told that the Treasure Cay resort made guest dockage available for those visiting for lunch, so we entered the marina . . . and were confronted by docks in every direction, dozens of docks, all of them unmarked.

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That's another thing about boating in the Abacos. Nobody tells you where to dock until you've already docked, and then they are happy to point out that you cannot dock there and must dock somewhere else. But perhaps there is some room for compromise here: If the dockmasters would be willing to invest in some signage, we would be willing to stop docking in spots meant for 40-foot yachts.

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We docked smoothly, tied up, grabbed a golf cart, and made a beeline for that day's destination: Treasure Sands.

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Ah, Treasure Sands. It was chi-chi. It was snobby. It was overpriced.

We loved it.

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We luxuriated in the hushed atmosphere devoid of whooping adults and sugar-addled children. We delighted in the cloth napkins and real silverware. We indulged in the best pina coladas we'd had all week. We gazed at the pristine beach and pined for a dip in the sparkling pool.

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We lunched on gazpacho and lobster and fresh fish and more pina coladas, and when a fellow diner saw the glee on our faces and offered to take our picture, we couldn't help but laugh like loons.

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Pampered loons.

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We whiled away the afternoon by alternating between floating in the warm sea and lounging by the refreshing pool.

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When it was time to leave, I dug my nails into that nice, cushy chaise lounge and held on for dear life, but eventually Angel pried me loose and loaded me and my buckets of tears back into the golf cart.

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Hoping to repeat the upscale experience we had at Treasure Sands, that evening we headed over to Grabbers for Italian Night, lured by this boast from their web site: "How about ravioli or veal picatta, of course spaghetti and yes, even pizza....all served with a new selection of fine wines in a real wine glass!" That's right . . . fine wines, in a real wine glass. I was so excited that I got gussied up in one of the sundresses I'd managed to iron before the Spider Room had to be sealed off and scrunched my unruly hair into curls and even put on shoes.

There was no Italian Night. There were no Real Wine Glasses. There was, however, a grouper special topped with a tomato-based sauce and the same pizza that is on the menu all the time, and this is probably what people mean when they say that Abaco teaches you to make the best of things.

On our way over to Grabbers, we'd stopped in the settlement to take some pictures of the sunset over the harbor.

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I walked out onto the dock, holding my camera and the lens cap and my little tiki purse, which is three things, while I have only two hands and zero coordination. Which explains how the lens cap ended up slipping out of my hand and landing exactly between the wooden slats of the dock and plopping into the water below.

"This is not how I wanted to learn to play water polo," Angel muttered as I handed him a long wooden stick studded with rusty nails that I found lying about and cheered him on as he slowly pushed the lens cap toward the shore.

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Lens cap back in hand, we drove the short distance over to Grabbers for "Italian Night" and settled in with a couple of drinks, served in plastic cups. Abaco: Teaching spoiled brats everywhere to make the best of things.

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We were nearing the end of the week, and I still hadn't had a proper lobster tail, so I decided to get one at Grabbers. That turned out to be the best decision I'd made all week. The broiled lobster was tender, juicy, and caramelized on the top thanks to having been run through the kitchen's Salamander, and the butter was browned and laced with lemon or crack or whatever.

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It was so good I even ate the shell. Kidding!

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Angel ordered the coconut-fried lobster, and although fried trumps broiled in almost all instances, I think we both agreed that broiled was the way to go, if only just this once.

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Our meal ended, as so many do, with a bout of thumb-wrestling over who would get "the point" on this decadent piece of key lime pie.

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The next morning we stopped in the settlement on the way to the dock to do a little shopping and take in some of the sights.

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The cute little dog in the photo above chased and barked at every golf cart that went by. The first time he chased our cart, I didn't see him at first, and he scared the bejeezus of me when suddenly there was a chihuahua trying to attach itself to my arm. Which normally wouldn't be so scary, except for that time a few summers ago when I was at a fancy gelato shop in the Hamptons and bent down to pet a little chihuahua and he suddenly went nuts and tried to bite my thumb off. "Oh, did you pet him?" his owner asked nonchalantly as I tried to stanch the bleeding with my gelato cone. "He doesn't really like that." Oh, really? Because I don't like having my thumb amputated by a dog who's dressed better than I am. (For the record, Cujo was wearing a Burberry jacket that probably cost more than that tetanus shot I needed afterwards.)

After a quick stop at the drug store, I went ahead and maxed out my credit card at a beachy little shop called Gone Conchin'. I figured that if the Abacos ended up being the death of me, I'd never have to pay the bill.

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We'd decided to head back to Treasure Cay so we could spend the day at our new favorite place, Treasure Sands, and so we could have at least one trip to an island where we didn't stop in the middle of the ocean, consult the map, throw up our hands, and flip a coin. We docked easily without any incidents and headed over to the cart rental to get the day under way.

Alas, no carts were available, but the beach at Treasure Cay Resort beckoned, as did the mile-high banana coladas at the CoCo Beach Bar.

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As we approached the restaurant, I noticed this sign.

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Now, perhaps they meant to say "anybody," and not "any body." Still, wouldn't you love to be in charge of determining exactly which bodies are undesirable? "Excuse me, sir, but you and your beer belly will have to imbibe elsewhere." "I don't care how much you paid for those boobs, ma'am, we still can't let you in." "I'm sorry, sir, but that much hair is offensive . . . and unsanitary."

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Feeling pretty good that we hadn't been turned away by the Physique Police, we snagged two chairs and an umbrella on the beach, ordered another round of drinks, and luxuriated in the sun until it was time for lunch.

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A chef's salad, some grouper fingers, and a fish sammie later . . .

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And it was back to the beach for some soak time, followed by a walk over to Windward Point.

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You know how Moses spent 40 years wandering in the desert? That was the walk over to Windward Point.

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The sand along that never-ending stretch of beach was exactly like the quicksand in that old episode of "Gilligan's Island": No matter how close to or far from the water's edge we walked, it sucked us in with a sickening thuuuup and refused to let go. Every step was agony: I'd put my foot down, the sand would ooze up from in between my toes, and then I'd sink ever downward into the grainy abyss until I could barely see my knees. Trying to remove the lower portion of my leg from that sand was like trying to remove your foot from a pair of Wellies: You just know that if you pull too hard, you'll end up knocking your front teeth out with your own knee. And so we slogged on like that for 26.2 miles . . . uphill, both ways.

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Forty years later we made it back to Treasure Cay resort, at which point I collapsed in the sand like those people who decide to climb Mount Everest, realize halfway up that it was a bad idea, and then lay down in the snow to die.

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Indeed, that walk took so long that by the time we made it back to our beach chairs, it was just about time to head to the dock and depart for Guana. It was good timing, too, as a large rain cloud was forming on the horizon, and by now we already knew that if it was going to settle over any one particular boat and then swallow it whole, it would be ours.

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We ran the boat faster than we'd ever dared before, successfully outrunning the storm and arriving safely back on Guana. Our last full day on the boat had come to an end with us still alive and the boat’s hull still intact, so we decided to celebrate with a bottle of wine before leaving the boat for the night. Angel popped the cork and poured us each a glass, and we made a heartfelt toast to the guy who invented life jackets.

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And we couldn’t help but shake our heads and laugh as the first rumble of thunder rocked the boat and the rain swept in, dripping down through the Bimini top and plopping into our wine glasses.

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The storm didn't last long, so that evening we headed out for one last dinner, back over at Baker's Bay. We figured that if you're going to single-handedly destroy an entire ecosystem, the least you could do is provide the hypocrites who come by for dinner with real wine glasses and cloth napkins and candlelight.

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Then again, maybe it was wrong to expect too much from a restaurant housed in a deli.

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Still, the food was good, and they did put these fancy sauce swirls on our plates. Real plates.

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Afterwards, I savored the long, bumpy ride back to the house, knowing that it would be our last.

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On our last morning, I awoke earlier than usual and decided to take a quick ride over to Secret Beach to catch the sunrise.

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As I took my last mist-shower back at the house, I allowed my mind to drift to the simple pleasures of the Abacos that we'd come to enjoy over the past week: bumping along the rocky road in our little cart, gazing at the dozens of shades of turquoise water in every direction, marveling at a night sky blanketed with more stars than I ever dreamed existed.

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But like a pet chimpanzee who seems all friendly at first, then suddenly goes berserk and rips your face off, those lovely last two days were just Abaco lulling us into a false sense of security, while it was actually gearing up for its big "I Told You This Place Ain't For Sissies" Grand Finale. We still had to depart from Guana, make a stop at Man-O-War, and head over to the airport on Marsh Harbour, and if you're already thinking that 3 islands + 2 les incompetents + 1 boat = an infinite number of chances for things to go wrong, then I think you are adequately prepared for Part 3.

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Posted by TraceyG 06:27 Archived in Bahamas Comments (8)

Abaco Ain't For Sissies . . . But We Went Anyway (Part 3)

On our last day, we awoke early and pinched ourselves: Yes! We'd survived an entire week, and by the end of the day, we'd be home. We gathered up our belongings like the house was on fire, left skid marks returning the golf cart, and bolted over to the boat for one final voyage, as visions of hot showers and hoity-toity wine bars and kale on demand danced in our heads.

The plan was to return the boat to Water Ways on Man-O-War Cay, grab some lunch there, and then meet up with Jay back at Water Ways so he could take us over to Marsh Harbour to catch our flight. We'd heard rumblings that Saturday would be windier and choppier than the two previous days, but we'd already been through windy conditions earlier in the week, so we weren't too worried. That morning Angel listened to the Cruisers Net for the last time. "It's a beautiful day in the Abacos!" the announcer chirped. "Seas are doable."

Ah, yes, "doable." Allow me to explain, in hindsight, what doable actually means. Doable means, "Don your wet suit if you have one; fashion one out of a large trash bag if you don't." Doable means, "Do not go out there in anything smaller than a cruise ship if you want to live." Ever seen one of those skydiving videos where the guy's parachute malfunctions and he lands in a tree? That would be "doable," too . . . if the tree were a large cactus.

Still, we said we'd return the boat, and if we hadn't chickened out after docking the boat sideways, or grounding it, or wrapping the anchor line around the prop, or getting lost for the nth time in it, we certainly weren't going to do so now.

Plus, earlier in the week we'd come across this fantastic Bobber Tree, where you can leave a dream or wish on the tree in hopes that it will come true.

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I am pretty sure that mine was the only one that read, "I wish that I could get off this island without capsizing my boat, contracting malaria, being bitten by a(nother) chihuahua, requiring a syringe full of anti-venom, or ending up on an Abaconian milk carton."

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I threw on a bikini and coverup and urged Angel to wear his swim trunks, but he was loath to wear them on the plane and instead wore his usual cargo shorts, which he likes for travel because they have lots of pockets for travel documents. And now you're thinking, "Oh, I see where this is going. I bet their passports and planet tickets get all wet!" And while that might be the punch line on a normal vacation, need I remind you that this is Abaco? Worrying about your passport in the Abacos is like worrying about your nice white pants getting dirty during a bullfight.

The boat was already rocking back and forth like a carnival ride when we boarded it. We tied the bow line around ourselves to keep us in the boat, said a quick prayer to the patron saint of castaways, and set off for Man-O-War.

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We were maybe five minutes outside of Guana's harbor when the first wave hit. A splash the size of the one Shamu makes when he hits the water sprayed up and doused us both right in the face. (Admittedly, it was better than any shower I'd had thusfar, but the timing was a little off.) Then another wave hit, and another, and another . . . one roughly every 30 seconds -- or until I'd just wiped my sunglasses off again -- all the way to Man-O-War.

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We arrived looking like a couple of Cuban refugees whose life raft deflated halfway across the Florida Straits. My hair was soaking wet. My coverup was soaking wet. My bathing suit underneath was soaking wet . . . as were Angel's boxer shorts under his cargo shorts. Mascara ran down my face and smeared the inside of my sunglasses. My lips were swelled up like two overfed slugs from all the salt water.

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And all of this might have been fine, relatively speaking . . . if we hadn't been headed to the airport.

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Knowing that the flights home would be unbearable if we had to sit in a freezing plane wearing wet clothing, we asked Jay at Water Ways if we were taking Soleado back to Marsh Harbour, or if perhaps a bigger boat (read: container ship) would be available. No, the 18.5-footer was it, he explained, and taking the ferry to Marsh Harbour instead would mean that we might not make it to the airport in time for our flight. We headed off to lunch to weigh our options: Another drenching ride on the boat, or a ferry ride that might result in us being stranded in the Abacos one more night -- something that neither of us felt confident we would survive.

We oozed into the Dock & Dine, ordered up two cheeseburgers, and tried to decide what to do.

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In the end, however, the decision was made for us. As we dug into those heavenly burgers, suddenly Angel looked to the sky. His face contorted into that look I knew from back home as, "Whaddya mean, you're out of bagels???" but that in Abaco I'd come to recognize as his "I can only stretch this much further between the dock and the boat before I fall overboard" face.

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I turned and was confronted with a black cloud so large and so dark that for a minute I thought it was a plague of locusts. Which at this point would not even have surprised me.

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Within minutes the cloud descended and all hell broke loose: Lightning flashed, thunder rumbled, the power went out, and a deluge of Biblical proportions soaked everything in its path in mere seconds.

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I had tried to "make the best of things." I had tried to roll with the punches. But this? This was the final straw. Sitting there in the sticky, airless incubator created when Dock & Dine battened down the clear vinyl curtains, I knew that I couldn't get back on that little boat.

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I mean, getting drenched again was one thing, but being struck by lightning for good measure was just too much. I had to draw the line somewhere with these Abacos, and apparently that line was death.

We quickly paid the check, then Angel ran back to Water Ways through the torrential downpour to pick up our luggage and inform Jay that Abaco ain't for sissies, and that's why we would be taking the next ferry back to Marsh Harbour. We weren't even worried about the close timing, since surely the flight would be delayed thanks to the weather . . . wouldn't it?

It would not.

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But first, we had to get to the airport. I had waited under the overhang near the Dock & Dine while Angel made a run for the luggage, and through the sheets of rain I spotted the Albury ferry, docked right outside. I couldn't believe my luck! The captain disembarked and I called to him through the downpour. Worried that he might lose patience if I didn't explain myself quickly enough, the words came tumbling out in a psychotic jumble: We go on ferry! Husband running, many luggages! Piso mojado! Thunder! Big waves! Wet undies! Help!

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"Sure, you can get on this ferry," the captain said. "But this isn't where we board. The boarding dock is over there." He pointed, but it was raining so hard that I couldn't see the end of his arm. "I'm just here for lunch." He must have seen my salt-swollen lower lip start to tremble then, because he quickly added, "But you can board here if you'd like."

God bless you, kind sir. If you had made me slog through the downpour with all of my bags to the other dock, I might have had to stab you.

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Just then, Angel returned, but without our many luggages. He was panting and probably sweating, too, but I couldn't tell because he looked like he'd just jumped into a swimming pool fully clothed. (I did not even bother to point out that he'd ignored my earlier suggestion about wearing his swim trunks, and maybe that was why he'd already been soaked to the bone three times today -- and it was barely noon.) He quickly explained that Jay had radioed ahead to the ferry and would be bringing our luggage over by boat.

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Meanwhile, Jay's wife Samantha pre-paid for our ferry tickets, then called ahead to her father over in Marsh Harbour to await us at the ferry dock and shuttle us over to the airport. Jay and Samantha Sands of Water Ways, you are not sissies. You are not afraid of waves or lightning or Old Testament-style floods or tough New Yorkers being reduced to blubbering piles of wet mush. You went so far above and beyond good service that I don't even know how to thank you. You two are my heroes.

Finally, our clothes clinging to us like wet rags, we hauled ourselves onto the ferry.

Have you ever seen those black & white photos of the poor families who lived through the misery of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s? Completely beaten down by the awesome and destructive power of nature, they stare blankly into the camera, their eyes deadened, their mouths drawn in a tight line across their weary faces.

We could relate.

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Once on the ferry, I immediately collapsed onto the vinyl bench with an audible squish, but Angel remained standing, contemplatively eyeing the life jackets lining the ceiling.

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Finally he spoke. "Well, at the rate this day is going, maybe we should just put these on now and avoid the rush?"

Little did we know that he wasn't far off.

We arrived at the airport, checked in, and decided that just this once it would be okay to go out in public un-ironed, since wrinkly is better than soaked, at least on an airplane.

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And so, after changing clothes and fixing myself up in the vestibule of the men's room (don't ask), there was nothing to do but wait for them to announce over the loudspeaker that our flight would be delayed thanks to the electrical storm raging outside.

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Of course, that announcement never came. I'd like to think it was because the Marsh Harbour airport doesn't even have a loudspeaker, but we both know that isn't why. The reason was Abaco. You think we're afraid of a little lightning storm? it mocked. Girl, please.

We'd just begun our ascent into the clouds in a plane that seated maybe 25 people when I looked out my window and saw a jagged bolt of lightning stretching from a roiling black cloud all the way to the ground. Terrified, I looked away, only to be treated to an identical sight out the window on the other side of the aisle. The turbulent air jostled the plane like a toy.

And then it began to lose altitude.

I flew up out of my seat like it was that first steep dip on a roller coaster. The overhead compartments sprang open and luggage spilled into the aisle. People began to scream; others cried or prayed. The woman across from us somehow managed to retrieve a pill bottle from her purse, but her hands -- and the plane -- were shaking so badly that she couldn't aim the pill at her mouth. (I was hoping it might go airborne and land in my mouth, but no such luck.) The flight attendant, her eyes round as saucers, crouched in the aisle trying to reassure the most petrified among us as the plane continued to plummet, while I kissed Angel good-bye, assumed the crash position, cursed Vicki H one last time, and thanked god that at least my last meal had been a cheeseburger.

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Obviously, and thankfully, we didn't crash. But when your plane repeatedly loses altitude in a lightning storm, the number of years shaved off your life due to sheer terror means that you will be dead sooner than you thought anyway.

Which is why the first thing I did when we got to the airport was scarf down two more cheeseburgers, just in case.

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Of course, we were relieved to have landed at all, even though we didn't actually find out where we'd landed -- Palm Beach? Fort Lauderdale? corn field? -- until we entered the airport. But there was no denying that that flight -- indeed, our entire trip to the Abacos -- had really shown us what we were made of.

Fine. We are sissies. We surrender. You win this round, Abaco. You win.

But someday, when our hearts stop pounding and our legs stop shaking, we'll be back for more.
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The Abacos were great doable, but man cannot live on adrenaline alone. Subscribe here to come along with us to the Hamptons this summer, where the food will be fancy, the drinks will be fruity, and the water pressure darn well better be fire-hosey.

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Posted by TraceyG 05:57 Archived in Bahamas Tagged abaco guana Comments (16)

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