Bahamas - a genuinely friendly country
Nobody knows which way the wind will blow
Last Friday I described plan A and B which were my alternatives for leaving Cat Cay and reaching Nassau. But it turned out that I would reach my destination via a different route. Perhaps plan C?
I was still on Cat Cay, the private island, waiting for an opportunity to reach Nassau. I sensed that I was becoming a familiar face on the island. The vast majority of everyone on the island are staff: Gardeners, chefs, cleaning, maintenance, security, captains etc. Walking is almost considered a crime. Everyone uses golf carts to go wherever they need to go no matter how short the distance would be. I was offered a golf cart several times, but I do not mind walking. Especially when the longest distance I need to walk is 5 minutes away. So apart from my beard and my hat I was now considered strange for walking too :)
Bernardo in the middle and Jonathan to the far right.
Bernardo, Jonathan and I became friends as the days would go by. Jonathan would come by the boat from time to time check up on me and to see if everything was alright. Our conversations would grow longer and longer every time. Bernardo, who is the chef and resident manager, invited me for dinner one night. Then breakfast the next day...and then that became the norm. Bernardo was born in Venezuela and grew up in Peru. A very good combination if you ask me. Venezuela is spectacular within its beauty and Peru is legendary for its food. And if you think you have had good food then imagine how well a chef cooks when he has been chosen to be the chef for a family of billionaires? It was delicious every time!!
In reality I find it quite easy to meet people and connect with them. Leaving is always the hard part. Having visited the entirety of the Western Hemisphere now, I have met hundreds of people if not thousands. One would imagine that it would get easier over time - but it doesn't.
In reality the deference between someone helping me and someone trying to help me is no existing. If I sense that someone is trying to help then that is equally important. But I think Carlton, the customs officer, was disappointed about what happened next.
Cat Cay island.
Carlton and I had planned that I would go via the U.S. and back to the Bahamas in order to reach Nassau. All the necessary arrangements had been made and although that was the long route it seemed to be the most reliable route. Then suddenly Jonathan approached me with a huge smile on his face! He had good news!! A fishing boat had arrived, which would stay over night in the port, and would leave for Freeport the next day. Jonathan introduced me to the captain who with his big clear eyes smiled at me and said that I would be welcome onboard. He introduced himself as captain Bunny and told me that we would leave the next day in the morning. Perfect!! That would save me the hassle and costs of 2 boats, a few buses and entering the U.S. By going with captain Bunny and his merry men to Freeport I would only need to take the mailboat from there to Nassau. Much easier.
But it cancelled Carlton's plan which for him was a hard blow as he clearly wanted to help.
The next day Bernardo cooked me my last breakfast and I said my goodbyes to him and Jonathan in the pier. Then I stepped onboard the "Capt. Duckie" and we left Cat Cay. A strange feeling after 6 nights on the island.
"Capt. Duckie" is a fishing boat. They primarily head out to sea to catch stone crab. But lobster will do fine too. Apart from captain Bunny we had company onboard by Bernard, E.J. and Jay. It didn't take long before captain Bunny invited me to sit on the captains chair in the wheelhouse. He is a nice guy who has a childlike gentleness about his way although there is no doubt that he is a man of the sea and is accustomed to the rough life that goes with it. He doesn't like the smell of cigarettes. Which is too bad because Bernard and Jay were constantly lighting them up :) However he is crazy for a good cigar and according to him the best ones come from the Dominican Republic. Cuban cigars are only best by name...
The men had prepared a bed bunk for me down below and suggested that I would take a nap. They would be pulling some pods out of the water later on but not for the next few hours. So after Cat Cay disappeared behind us I went down below and fell asleep. When I feel asleep the waters outside were still shallow. Only about 5-6 feet deep. The Bahamian light blue color, which the country is so famous for, surrounded the boat as we moved closer towards Freeport. But when they started pulling pods the ocean had turned both dark and deep.
A pod is a wooden box. It's essentially a trap which has an opening but no exit. The inside of the box is fitted with a piece of cow skin no larger than a grown mans hand. Crabs and lobsters are scavengers and are drawn towards the cow skin and eventually climb into the box to get it. 30 such pods are connected to each other on a long line called a string. And in the most efficient way you could imagine Jay was pulling up the pods with a winch, then he would slide it down to Bernard who opened it, took out the content, removed the old skin, placed a new piece of skin, nailed the pod back together again and passed it on to E.J. He would then pick it up and stack it together with the other pods on the back of the boat. E.J. would then rinse them off with a hose and wait for the next one. Except there wasn't really any waiting...one pod took the next and all 3 men were busy until the last pod came out of the water.
E.J. and Jay on the back behind the pods.
30 minutes later captain Bunny gave the orders to drop the sting. And E.J. would now work hard on lifting the pods up and placing them on the back of the boat. Once the first pod was in the water the speed of the boat would ensure that it would pull the next pod into the water as the string stretched. Then the next pod, and the next, and the next...until all 30 were back in the water. Hard work for sure.
Somewhere during all of this Bernard pulled a stone crab out of a pod and dumped it on the deck behind him. Then when he had a few seconds he quickly reached for it, snapped both arms off it and threw the armless crab back into the Atlantic. An odd sight for me but I had an idea what was going on which Bernard later confirmed. The arms grow back again. The crab will now hunt for food with its mouthpieces alone until the arms and claws grow back - at which point it may be caught once more and Bernard may repeat the procedure.
The crew onboard "Capt. Duckie".
A viking ship on the men's yellow overalls caught my eye. It was the brand logo for "Viking, Bristol Bay". Interesting I thought. I have been to Bristol in England during this journey and the Nordic Vikings of my homeland would regularly raid England. So I found the combination amusing. But fascinating that it should end up on a crab boat so far away from home.
It was late at night before we reached Freeport. It had taken us about 10 hours to get there. I was offered a ride to a nearby hotel and due to the late hour I decided to spend my night there although it was far out of my budgets range. The next day as I checked out a young woman came to me and said hello. She was Danish. Sussi, which is her name, is the daughter of Lisbeth and together they run the place. In fact Lisbeth's mother is there too, so together they form a family owned establishment of 3 generations. I looked up and noticed a Danish flag waving in the wind above me next to the Bahamian and American flags. An obvious sign I suppose?
They invited me for lunch and lo and behold: They had typical Danish rye bread. So we feasted on that :) Lisbeth spotted an opportunity to call the Freeport News and Jamie, a reporter, quickly found her way to do an interview. The mailboat heading for Nassau wouldn't leave until in the evening so I had plenty of time for this. But I surely wasn't expecting it. Afterwards Sussi offered to bring me to Tony Macaroni and his conch restaurant at the beach.
One thing lead to the next and I found myself in the kitchen speaking with Tino after Tony Macaroni had pushed me inside. I was now watching how Tino prepared 4 servings of roast conch and added the secret ingredient. Then he went on to tell me that he has 44 sisters and brothers!! Yes! He is one of 45!
Later that day I was in a taxi heading towards the port. During some small talk I casually mentioned to the driver that I met Toni who has 44 siblings. The driver laughed and told me that she was 1 of 46!!
Left over conch shells.
I don't know quite what I imagined the first time I heard someone mention the mailboat. I probably had some nostalgic notion of a captain and his boat delivering mail to people who eagerly await at the shore for his arrival. Something which I have mentioned several times before is that the islands throughout the Caribbean should have better boat connections. They are islands for heavens sake! :)
http://mailboatbahamas.com It's fully owned by Bahamians! :)
In reality the mailboat is actually the mailboat company. I'm unsure how many vessels they have but it's a highly efficient way of connecting a number of the most populated islands. The one I got on was a large metal ferry which took onboard trucks, cars, cargo and passengers. A meal was served onboard and the flatscreen televisions entertained during the entire 10 hour voyage.
The next morning when I arrived to Nassau Craig A. Woods, Film Commissioner of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, was waiting for me with a smile. He shook my hand and looked me straight in the eyes: "Welcome to the Bahamas!"
That's Craig standing next to me. And Chris is behind the camera.
He then brought me to Hedda Smith at Breezes which is a grand resort on a prominent beach. Superb luxury! Hedda is the kind of woman you simply want to keep. I think she cannot help herself. She is destined to make people feel good. At one point I was sitting down in a lounge chair, while working on minimizing some of my administrative load, when she came to me and asked if I had remembered to eat lunch? The thing is, she would have had to know that I was sitting there, because she was somewhere in her office and still found me just to ensure that I wouldn't go hungry :)
I spent 2 nights at Breezes and the days in between were spent together with Craig, who would show me around Nassau, set up various appointments, chauffeur me around and generally just take good care of me.
On 1 occasion I ventured far inland to see what "the real life" looked like in the Bahamas. Because it couldn't all be so friendly, colorful and nice - could it ? And of course it isn't all a dream. But in my opinion Bahamians have a sincere hospitality about them which they are happy to share from. Even inland where the tourists don't come, the houses are still relatively well kept and painted colorfully. No matter who I would speak to they would be kind, helpful and polite. I even got a ride with the ministry of justice on one occasion when I was asking for directions.
The Bahamas is comprised by more than 700 islands plus an additional number of keys and banks. It's mostly flat and the water that surrounds it all is generally shallow. Tourism is the main income and the Bahamians know that. So the friendliness and hospitality could surely be a product of that. But I sense that it stretches further and deeper than the commercial value. I think the generosity and friendliness runs deep here. The colors of the waters are unlike any I have ever seen before and the history is bursting with stories of pirates, slaves, colonial powers, lies, murder, torture, rum, treasures and opportunity. The country is certainly also a product of that. What strikes me the most is the difference from 1 island to the next. There is much to explore here.
I spent last night partially sleeping on the mailboat until it arrived in Freeport around 03:00am. After that I found a bush to sleep behind in the port area. I woke up around 08:00am when it started raining. Now I'm online using the free wife here at a parking lot. Last night I was staying at a luxury resort. Nobody knows which way the wind will blow...
I'm no stranger to the ocean. The little fellow is me trying to take the ore from my uncle ;)
Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - getting ready to leave the Western Hemisphere