Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Escape to The Exumas

Visitors to The Bahamas typically find themselves booking their trip to the obvious hub of Nassau, oftentimes without knowing what else may be out there. With 700 islands to choose from, it can be overwhelming to pick from one of the many out islands without prior experience or a recommendation. Nassau has a lot to offer various travelers, but who wouldn't want to to escape the throngs of tourists, commercialized hotels and noisy jet ski operations, and go in search of somewhere a bit more low key (or shall I say "cay")? And let's admit it, The Bahamas are so much more than just Atlantis, casinos and cruise ships. Get away from the city, and there's is natural beauty and unspoiled islands waiting to be explored.

Ship Channel Cay - the private island of Powerboat Adventures

That's where a day trip to The Exumas comes in. The Exumas are an archipelago of 365 islands, just a short hop from Nassau, yet they feel as far removed from civilization as though they were tiny specks in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. There is a sense of remoteness about these islands that simply can not be explained until you experience it for yourself.

The northern edge of The Exumas, a few craggy rocks and Ship Channel Cay, are just 35 miles from Nassau. The islands stretch southeast about 100 miles to the "mainland" of Great Exuma where the largest settlement of Georgetown is located. In between you'll find private islands of the rich and famous, small settlements, the Exuma Land and Sea Park and endless expanses of untouched rugged nature.

Although there's endless opportunities for snorkeling, diving and encounters with wildlife (such as sharks, rays, dolphins, turtles, iguanas and yes, the famous swimming pigs) getting out there there can be tricky, as commercial flight services are limited. And once you're there, you'll feel stranded without a boat. Luckily you have an amazing option for a day trip from Nassau with Powerboat Adventures, which have been giving visitors the opportunity to sample the magic of the Exumas for 25 years now.

View of the Exuma Sound from Ship Channel Cay

The Exumas hold a special place in my heart as the first place I called home when I landed in these islands. When you live in a remote corner of the world, you tend to get to know your neighbors pretty quickly (because there's not that many of us!) and there's a certain sense of kindred camaraderie among us. One of my island neighbors and one of the first people I got to know during my early island days was Powerboat Adventure's owner Nigel Bower.

Although I had visited Ship Channel Cay as a guest of Nigel's while living in the area, I had never witnessed the full Powerboat Adventures experience until recently. So now after experiencing it for myself, I can officially recommend this fantastic day trip with rave reviews.

The morning of my adventure started out with a stop off at Starbucks and arrival at Margaritaville Bahamas for an 8:30am check in. The dock was bustling with tourists getting ready for Powerboat Adventures and other excursions.

With a head buzzing with caffeine, I boarded the boat, counting at least 50 passengers on my boat alone. Two full boats headed over that day. The winds were brisk so my traveling companion and I chose a seat under the canopy behind the protection of the isinglass screen. I'm glad we did too. Those seated at the bow of the boat had a few good doses of salt spray on the way over. I'm sure it felt warm to those from northern climates, but to us island folk, it was quite cool. After an hour crossing, as the high rises from the city slowly disappeared into the distance, we came to our first stop at Allan's Cay to visit the iguanas.

Anchoring at Allan's Cay

We spent about 20 minutes on the beach feeding the iguanas grapes on sticks. The iguanas were quick and snappy so you had to be sure to keep your fingers out of the way! They also recommend hiding any red nail polish, as they mistake your shiny toes for a tasty grapey treat. Luckily, being a seasoned island girl without a lot of patience for your typical womanesque maintenance, I was sans nail polish. The iguanas were agile and spiritedly, waddling briskly towards their target grape and then skittering back to the safety of the bush as soon as they had their treat in their mouth.



After the iguanas had their fill of grapes, we all loaded back on the boats and took the short 8 minute ride north to the private island of Ship Channel Cay. Along the way we were serenaded with the themes from Miami Vice and Mission Impossible as the two boats nimbly weaved and danced with each other in the smooth Exuma Sound.

Arrival to the pristine island with a hungry tummy after only a coffee quencher as my breakfast, I was delighted to see that we were greeted with snacks and sandwiches to tide us over until lunch. Immediately after snack time was the stingray feeding and shark wrangling. The guests waded into the water with the docile stingrays, feeding and petting them as they slowly drifted by. The sharks required a safer distance however, and the crowds backed up to the edge of the water to watch the staff feed them. The sharks clamped onto a rope with a big chunk of fish securely attached and allowed themselves to be pulled into shore, stubbornly gripping on. This was most certainly an up close and personal interaction. There were reef sharks, lemon sharks and nurse sharks buzzing around with primal energy. And if you ask one of the staff members nicely, they'll take your GoPro in close for a shot of the sharks that will be the envy of your friends back home.

An aerial shot of shark wrangling. Photo Credit: Powerboat Adventures

A nurse shark cruising around with Sargent Major fish

To continue to build up your appetite, next on the menu was a drift snorkel to gaze at the beautiful reefs. If you thought that the Exumas above the water were beautiful, wait until you get in. The reefs are teeming with fish, rays, turtles and vibrant coral. Visitors are outfitted with masks, snorkels, fins and life vests and drift along with the current just off shore. No scary open waters - it's all within the protection of the surrounding rocks and cays. If you're into underwater photography, you'll have some fantastic photo ops. 

After all of those activities, you realize that you are famished, and lunch is served in the nick of time. We are served a wonderful display of fresh caught mahi mahi, vegetables, salads and tropical fruit. Visitors eat lunch at picnic tables overlooking the calm sea, washing it down with an ice cold Kalik or a rum punch.


While guests are eating, a glance back towards the water will signal you to notice the conch salad maker diligently chopping vegetables in preparation for the conch salad tutorial. Conch salad is considered the national dish of The Bahamas, and no visit would be complete without trying it! Simple and fresh ingredients are key. You will be shown the special way to crack the conch shell and cut the muscle in order to remove it. Then they'll show you how to clean the slimy outer layer off, and if you're brave enough, you may even get to eat "the pistol" which is thought to give you strength and virility.

After the conch show, there's a small window for last minute sun bathing before finally boarding the boat at 3pm to return to Nassau. People are much more chatty on the ride back, feeling the buzz from a day in the sunshine, and maybe from a few rum punches as well.

I have to admit, I was sad to leave. A trip to The Exumas feels like going home, and the day went by entirely too fast. But the good news was that there were margaritas waiting for us at Margaritaville on the Nassau end, so the day wasn't quite over just yet. I'm already looking forward for my next excuse to get over to the islands and I'm hoping that I have some visitors soon, so I can share with them the magic of The Exumas.


For more information on Powerboat Adventures or to book your trip online, visit their website at www.powerboatadventures.com. You won't be sorry.

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