How we pay for things

In cash.

We pay for things in cash.

It’s not compulsory.  We could pay with a credit card at a few places on the island … with with a ~%5 additional fee from the store!  They charge you!  (I’m not even sure that’s legal).  But overall, credit card machines are a minority presence.

So we pay in cash.  Cell phone bills, car insurance, gas, beer, everything.  (It requires a lot of in-person transactions.)  It’s exhilarating to have to carry cash!  There’s nothing that feels or smells quite like a big wad of it.

But, I can’t believe

    • how quickly it goes.
    • how frequently you need to beg someone to break a large bill.
    • how much your day just ends when you run out of it.

····· Exuma has 4 ATM locations.  Stock up before long weekends.

When was the last time you asked someone if you could borrow some money to buy gas?  When did you last actually need help paying a $25 tab?  It’s funny but I feel like these sorts of interactions with friends never happen in the US.  I personally try to pay people back as.soon.as.possible because, OMG the guilt of debt is intolerable!

Outside of borrowing cash from friends exists the concept of CREDIT.  I put it in all caps, because … the signs.

Credit is harder to come by than friends.  At this point in our time here, we have a few places that will give us credit and I always feel like we won something.

Currency

The Bahamian dollar is valued to the US dollar 1:1.  It makes math pretty easy and both currencies are accepted.  There is a huge amount of US currency here – maybe because of proximity and tourism.  When you get change from a transaction, you’ll get a mixed handful of US and Bahamian dollars and coins.  What’s extra exciting is that Bahamian pennies have changed sizes over the years…and the US dime is significantly smaller than the Bahamian dime.  This adds additional variation and excitement when it comes time to roll them up (see below).

Coins and VAT

We enjoyed not paying sales tax when we began our time here.  Things cost what they said they cost, and purchase totals always came out to delightfully even dollar amounts.  But then VAT appeared and everyone had a coin problem: consumers had way too many and businesses never had enough.  John’s pants threatened to fall off because his pockets were full of change.  I think things have evened out since.  I just roll a lot more coins and can still “sell” them to businesses in exchange for paper cash.

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If you’re feeling politically adventurous, go to a bar and ask loudly “So what happened to all the VAT money that the government collected?”

Receipts

When you check out at a store, you generally get a printed receipt. But many places handle things by hand.  At restaurants, you even have to turn the bill back in with the payment.  I find it more personal and charming to do things this way.  SLOW DOWN, right?  (Unless I’m in a hurry because I’m actually not on vacation here.)

Casino Banking

I won’t say too much about this because I’ll probably say something incorrect.  But there are gambling businesses which operate like franchises in the Bahamas, with locations all over.  Called numbers houses, they are full of computers like internet cafes.  You log in with your account to play / gamble.  Your numbers house account is linked to your bank account.

We once paid someone by taking cash to a numbers house, where a clerk received it and added the value to our friend’s account.  We got a receipt!  Seems legit!

A note about shopping

When buying one item….from anyone…you get a plastic bag.  It might even be double-bagged, depending on what the item is.  There is a strong cultural difference with the amount of plastic bags used here.  Please, stop the madness and refuse the bag! 

When I refuse a bag or bring my own, they think I’m totally weird and find sneaky ways to get me to leave with a plastic bag.  Or they’ll make me re-ask to not have a bag each time I visit the store.  I’ll never give up!  Let’s make a positive change.

Official transom regulations

Bahamian Regatta Sloops

While watching a race from Regatta Point this year, I overheard a tourist ask where she could find out where each boat is from.*

We thought for a minute….the regatta program? (no); the boards at the regatta site displaying historical winners? (yes, but only for the winning boats); the transoms of the boats? (sometimes, if it is painted there and you are close enough to read it).

Ok, well…organizing information is one of ‘my things,’ so I’m presenting an incomplete list of what I could dig up.  I looked through my own regatta pictures that I have taken at every regatta I’ve attended.  I also looked through the last few years of photos available on the National Family Island Regatta Facebook group – special thanks to Doc Fig for consistently recording regatta history there! I also did some Googling to see what else I could find but I really didn’t turn up much of this sort of information.  It definitely needs recording!

Please leave a comment here on the blog post if you see errors, know of **additional** boats, and/or can help fill in any blanks.  I will update as it comes in!

Also, if anyone knows the exact specifications for the size of each class…please tell me!

P.S. I’m not prepared to tackle the task of describing Bahamian regattas or the sailing sloops.  But let me direct you to this post by another blogger!  Here is some detail about the origin of these regattas, and here is a PDF file of the official rules for the National Regatta.

*These sailing sloops are generally owned and maintained by members of a particular settlement on an island.  As such, they are a major source of pride and joy for the people and location they are associated with.

A Class

Class Name Number Home Port
A Abaco Rage 11
A Ed Sky Nassau
A Good News Ragged Island
A Lady Muriel 17 Staniel Cay, Exuma
A New Courageous 02 Ragged Island
A Original Courageous 20 Nassau
A Red Stripe 81 Black Point, Exuma
A Ruff Justice 10 Long Island
A Running Tide 05 Long Island
A Rupert’s Legend A1 Mangrove Bush, Long Island
A Silent Partner
A Southern Cross 19
A Tida Wave 16 Staniel Cay, Exuma

B Class

Class Name Number Home Port
B Ant’s Nest 06 Ragged Island
B Barbarian II 4 Acklins
B Blue Shadow Hartswell, Exuma
B Cobra 17 Mayaguana
B Eudeva 20 Mayaguana
B Heathcliff 09 Andros
B Lady in Red Lovely Bay, Acklins
B Lady Nathalie 1 Acklins
B Lady Sonia 24 The Cottage, Exuma
B Lonesome Dove 18 Hope Town, Abaco
B Queen Drucilla 07 Mason’s Bay, Acklins Island
B Rowdy Boys Pin-Ah Long Island
B Storr #2
B Susan Chase Mangrove Bush, Long Island
B Tari Anne 33 George Town, Exuma
B Whiplash 2 Hard Hill, Acklins

C Class

Class Name Number Home Port
C Barbarian Mason’s Bay, Acklins
C Beerly Legal 55 Long Island
C Bul Reg  17 The Cottage, Exuma
C Bye Gully Staniel Cay, Exuma
C Captain Laurin Knowles 73 Long Island
C Catch da Cat 777 Cat Island
C Crazy Partner 18 Black Point, Exuma
C Dream Girl 49 Rolleville, Exuma
C Flash Acklins
C Fugitive 28 Rolleville, Exuma
C Golden Girl 04 Buck Town, Exuma
C H2O 47 Black Point, Exuma
C Here Comes Trouble Rolleville, Exuma
C Hog Tusk 711 Barreterre, Exuma
C Irene Goodnight 20 Farmer’s Cay, Exuma
C It Ain’t Right Hope Town, Abaco
C Jacobs Ladder 41 Pirates Well, Mayaguana
C Keep Your Eyes On ‘Em 45 Rolleville, Exuma
C King and Nights 107 Mason’s Bay, Acklins
C Lady B Barreterre, Exuma
C Lady Diane
C Lady Eunice 03 Black Point, Exuma
C Lady Margaret Mayaguana
C Legal weapon 33 Black Point, Exuma
C Melva B 74 Mangrove Cay, Andros
C Pot Cake 07 Barreterre, Exuma
C Queen (Four C’s) Rolleville, Exuma
C Raging Bull 23 Rolleville, Exuma
C Revelation 3:19 34 Black Point, Exuma
C Sacrifice C1 Cartwright’s, Long Island
C San Sally San Salvador
C Smashie 40 Black Point, Exuma
C Sweet Island Gal 57 Long Island
C Termite Great Exuma
C Thunderbird
C Two Friends [lost at sea while being towed by a mail boat] Black Point, Exuma
C Unca John 117
C Warrior 06 Barreterre, Exuma
C Whisper Acklins
C Whitty K 44 Long Island
C Xena 90 Long Island

E Class

Class Name Number Home Port
E Armageddon Nassau
E Bahamas Hot Mix Nassau
E Bluebird Nassau
E Donzie Acklins
E Gold Rush Little Creek, Andros
E Judgement D 07 Andros
E Jumpin Jack The Cottage, Exuma
E Lady Kayla 17 The Cottage, Exuma
E Lauren George Town, Exuma
E Lucayan Tropical
E Old Faithful Nassau
E One Bahamas Exuma
E OSEAMJJJP 06
E Q Exuma
E Scholarship II 02 Moss Town, Exuma
E The Panther 04 Exuma

Mystery Boats – Need info!

Class Name Number Home Port
Jungless 29 Rolleville, Exuma
Lady Ruthnell
Palm Cay Princess Nassau
Staying Alive
Official transom regulations

Official transom regulations

Water Spouts

Months ago, we had a “weather event” during a beach party.  I’ll start by saying that I still don’t quite understand the mechanics of what is actually going on here.

We were out at what we call Blister Beach.  It’s an uninhabited cay ~3miles out on the southside of Exuma.  It’s very isolated, and we come here a lot with dogs and kids.  This was to be a totally normal picnic in store. And yet…

Behold, the phenomenon of the water spout (and Jo…who is possibly the best natural-disaster model).

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I wouldn’t know how to explain what happens inside a tornado.  We just don’t have them in my native California.  …But water spouts are essentially water tornadoes.

The surface of the ocean begins to violently rotate, while a fresh-water spout begins to descend from a spout in the clouds overhead.  (What? Right?)  If you are close by, as we were, a water spout will be accompanied by “frequent and dangerous lighting” according to the NOAA.  And yeah, that’s true.

We survived, but I can’t help but wonder about how people reacted to these before there was science.  Because even WITH science, there is not one single video in all of YouTube that explains water-spouts.*  I turned to OpenLibrary.org and found some old texts about this.  You can read this one, in its entirely, online. Now.

Sailors and seamen of old have explained water-spouts as sea serpents or dragons…or just a crazy AF weather formation that you don’t know how to respond to.  But one popular response for those at sea was to make the shape of a cross, using two black-hilted swords.  If you were European, you’d recite the Gospel of John.  My favorite strategy is to just shoot cannon balls at it.

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(Our experience wasn’t quite so dramatic.)

 

And now let me share what WE did!  ***Keep reading to learn about what you’re supposed to do.***

 

According to my research, we did really bad survival things and are probably lucky to have survived.  (Welcome to Exuma!). As much as I googled, I couldn’t find advice for a situation specific to ours, so I pieced this together from various kayaking and boating sites:

  • Get to shore, if it’s safe.
  • Move away from the water’s edge (our dogs actually wanted to move further inland but we called them back to us.  Guess we should have followed their advice.)
  • If there are trees, avoid any trees that are standing alone.
  • Spread out from each other!  (This did not feel natural to us, so it might be the hardest to follow in the future.)
  • Crouch down with just your feet on the ground and become the smallest target possible.  Hang out near smaller trees.

I’ll also add that this was the *coldest* I have probably ever been in my life.  The rain that fell on us among the circling lighting was frigid!  We got so desperate we risked electrocution by jumping in the warm ocean between lightning bouts. So basically: I would grab any canvas or waterproof cover you can, and use it to protect yourself.

Anyway, we’re all obviously glad to have survived.


* Please.  I want to understand this phenomenon.

El Faro finds

Sometime around the 24th or 25th of this month, cargo that is thought the be from the sunken El Faro started washing up along the entire island of Exuma and surrounding Cays.  The news spread on Facebook and people headed to the shore to ‘salvage’ what was washing up.  Salvaging is an old Bahamian practice of collecting goods from sunken ships.  In some historical cases, the ships were deliberately misled into crashes so that the cargo could be claimed.  In The Ferry, Little Exuma, there is a small church which was built entirely from materials salvaged from an (accidentally) sunken ship.

The El Faro debris has deposited hundreds of Frontline tick-prevention medication for pets across various beaches. There are also lots of tubes of mini-m&ms (predominately empty), lots of hypodermic needles (for diabetes), mayonnaise packets, and various Avon products (like deodorants).  It sort of feels like this must be coming from a container for a Drug Store. We might be able to find out – there is a rumor that part of a container ran aground on Duck Cay, which is a rock we’ve been to many-a-weekend.

It’s definitely weird to associate these finds with the drowned sailors aboard the ship.  They must have been so near to us.  I do like the idea that anything useable that washed up is going to be used.  This stuff is getting cleaned up off of the beach one way or another.  The local vet office is going to receive a bounty of donated Frontline, that’s for sure.

Joaquin


For donations to the recovery, this is a reliable campaign: http://bahamashurricanerelief.com/


This has been a challenging blog entry.  I still feel a little unsettled and will do my best to capture our experience.

The storm has been exhausting.  It snuck up on us, giving the islands only a few days to prepare.  When it arrived, it was very slow-moving and stayed a while.  And when it passed, the physical work that followed was more tiring than the mental work of getting through the storm.

During:

Unbelievably, we had power and Internet at our house in Exuma for most of the time that Joaquin was hovering nearby.  We continued business as usual and logged in to work on our normal schedule.  By Monday, the stores and schools had closed, the roads were quiet, and it was either work or wait.  It felt lonely.  The wind outside was constant for three days, and it became mentally tolling.  It was dark – at first because of the cloud cover, and later because we decided to put the storm shutters up.

And we were understandably anxious: neither of us (or anyone) could guess what the elements had in store.  We listened to the boaters moored in Elizabeth Harbor over VHF radio, where they debated for hours about how much longer the hurricane would stay and how many miles it might crawl.  A few of them took to the land for the worst parts of the storm.  We also heard an eerie search call for El Faro, the ill-fated ship that proved to have been sunk with 33 crew members aboard.

View from our house during the middle of things

View from our house during the middle of things

When we started feeling that the worst had passed by Thursday, we relaxed.  We had friends come over and play cards.  On Friday, we went beachcombing, had beers and generally celebrated ourselves for outliving Joaquin.

Then rumors started trickling in about our neighbors 30 miles east: Long Island had been destroyed, deaths were in the double digits, our friends couldn’t contact their family members.  And we realized that Facebook had indeed gotten quiet.

John theorized that the power had been out in most places, and people’s phones were dead.  If your phone isn’t charged, you can’t post to Facebook or message anyone on WhatsApp.  Or if your phone is charged, you could be suffering from a fault of the mobile pay-it-forward system: the cellular company here has a pre-pay system which allows you to stop in to most stores and “Top Up,” giving a few bucks in exchange for mobile minutes and data.  If your pre-pay runs out, you’re stuck until you get to a store to Top Up. All the stores have surely been closed.

Aftermath:

But hopeful theories aside, those aerial photos weren’t lying.  We saw tiny planes going back and forth from Exuma that day (and we still are seeing them now that things have moved into a relief phase).  In a place as small as the Bahamas, people could easily recognize which neighborhood the pictures depicted, and even whose home was underwater.  The power lines were clearly downed, cell service was out of the question, and the airports were underwater.

joaquin

Click to see the location of islands vs. the storm

Note: At this point I need to clearly state that others islands took a hard hit, too.  The hurricane caused significant damage to Acklins Island, Crooked Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador.  Our experience was limited to Long Island because of our personal friendships and physical proximity.

On Sunday morning, the first flight out of Nassau delivered a group of Long Islanders to the closest open airport: Exuma International.  We knew they were coming because our dear friend Graeme was with them and told us he was coming.  We drove them to boats for the 90-minute ride.

I hadn’t really met these guys before, but they were the right guys to be sending down there.  They had two satellite phones and extensive personal connections within and without the islands.  I think that the earliest relief efforts, eyewitness assessments, and rally cries can be attributed to them.  I would also give Outstanding Citizenship Awards to our friends who drove their personal boats to ferry survival supplies and people throughout that and the following days.

We went to Long Island the next day.  I was worried about what I would see or how I could even help.  Before leaving Exuma, people met us at the boat dock with clothing donations, cases of water, baby supplies, and best guesses on what would be helpful based on the reports.  As with most experiences, the small things mean a lot: we had a cooler full of ice with us and kept a rotation of water bottles going.  This allowed us to hand cold water to people who hadn’t had anything cold in 5 days and it was received as treasure.  (Remember that it’s still over 80° here.)  I’ll let the pictures do a lot of the talking from here, but some final thoughts:

  • Even in the worst times, I have to truly commend how resilient the people here are.  They are able to smile and appreciate their safety in the face of lost homes.  You will even hear some jokes and happiness when they recount the stories.  My favorite is about a family (including Gramps) who stayed in a tree for 6 hours to avoid rushing flood waters amid 90mph+ winds.  Evidently the 90 year old thought the whole thing was pretty exciting while up there… and the family thinks it’s a great story!
  • When I posted some pictures of our trip to a public group on Facebook, I didn’t realize that a poorly cropped photo would reveal that someone’s mother was ok.  And I didn’t realize that a blurry shot would give someone relief to see that their family survived.  If I could do it over, I would take a picture of every face I saw and post them for their families.
  • The rumors were horrible and largely unfounded.  It’s a miracle, but I think that only one life was lost in Long Island.  The importance of staying calm and verifying information cannot be understated when people are fearing for their families.
  • Long Islanders are exceptional at living off of the land: Unfortunately, the flooding has contaminated the wells, and the storm tore apart farms.  I truly hope that whatever the recovery efforts bring, it does not change the strong relationship that they have with their environment.  Or with each other!  This is an incredible community.
  • It’s really impressive how effectively Exuma was able to assist those less fortunate from the hurricane.  The airport here was used as a jumping ground to the impacted islands, and Exumians collected and delivered supplies to be loaded onto the planes.  Using Facebook, information was able to spread quickly and people could see the impact they were making.  We were put here to be helpful.

Finally, there is a confusing flurry of ways to donate to the short and long-term recovery efforts.  I would suggest this one: http://bahamashurricanerelief.com/

Funds raised here will go to the Long Islanders Association, which is a responsible organization and will also share the funds with the other severely impacted islands.

sandbars are good for your soul

I’m having a hard time understanding sandbars.  Sandbars are quickly becoming my favorite “place” on Earth and as much as I want to know more about them, I kind of am enjoying the wonder that comes with…not knowing.

sandbar party

sandbar party

Things like, do they ever get named?  (I only found one search result that indicated named sandbars, so I guess not?) Or, how come if they are supposedly made of sand being slowly moved around from one beach to another, the sandbar itself manages to stay in pretty much the same place? And what the heck makes this shape (see photo)?

What the heck is this?

What the heck is this?

And why aren’t more people doing time-lapse videos of them as the tide changes? And how is it that there are so many sandbars in the Bahamas, making it the best place in the world? Maybe I actually want these questions (and google searches) to remain unanswered for a while. I love sandbars.  They represent a time and place that by its very nature is finite.  I guess if you think about it, they spend half the time under ocean water.  When you first arrive at low tide, it’s a clean and empty beach.  Just ripples that have been suggested into the sand while it was submerged. In some areas of life, I think that anticipating an end to something can make it seems less satisfying.  Yet sandbars feel different in that respect.  You can arrive and get lucky; maybe the tide has just gone out and you have a couple of hours in a magical, safe place.  But you know that the tide will come back and we will have to leave.  But nobody ever hears the clock ticking in the back of their heads, counting down until it’s over.  The time at the sandbar is very “now.”

It’s almost like sandbars are the gentlest lesson in impermanence.  An enjoyable one, even. There is something exhilarating about setting foot in a place that is temporary.  (Burning Man, anyone?)  The sandbar won’t always be above water when you want, but it will be back eventually.  And it will be clean slate…no matter how much you tore it up last time with foot and dog prints.

A Weekend in Long Island

Island time is rubbing off on us.  We took this trip back in September, and here we are barely posting it within 2014.

On incredibly short notice, our friends organized what turned out to be a ridiculously fun to trip to Long Island.  Long Island is larger than Exuma, but has half the population.  This leaves room for literally miles of empty beaches.  John’s secret talent #7,805 is the ability to draw maps.  Enjoy.

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The practical/economic way to get from Exuma to Long Island is to take a boat.  Either your friend’s boat, or the twice-weekly ferry on its route to Nassau and back.  If you want to take an airline, you must fly to Nassau first and take a second flight to Long Island.  Both of those flights are likely to be significantly delayed.  Our journey was less typical; there was an increase of traffic to Long Island from Exuma due to a funeral, and we were grateful to tag along in the mayhem.  John, Shots, and I shared an 18-minute chartered flight with some nonplussed Bahamians (because remember that dogs are treated differently here).

Saying you took a chartered flight can sound glamorous, but the rest of the journey involved a 40 minute, horrifically cramped car ride.  Our mistake!  We’re still in the Bahamas, and we’re still on an adventure, and leave it to us to expect that you’d be able to rent a car or get a taxi at the airport.  We puddled in to the trunk of a Jeep Liberty with a cooler and a dog.

Like Exuma, Long Island has one major highway, going from end of the island to the other.  Long Island is 80 miles long, and we drove up and down the whole thing.  By the time we were headed back home, our Bahamian friends took over the wheel because John was too slow.  John – by California standards – is not slow.

A notable stop is what is called the Columbus Monument, but which is actually dedicated to the native Bahamians who were the Lucayan Indians.  Turns out we’ve all been a little misinformed about Columbus, and the Lucayans were totally wiped out by the explorer and his crew.  I’m so bummed we didn’t get to go inside, but I believe Long Island Museum has Lucayan artifacts.

Over our time there, we had many pit-stops up and down the island for food, beer, and air plants!  We found a literal forest of wild air plants, with the biggest I’ve ever seen.

One stop I will mention was the local Tourism office.  They had a ton of info on Long Island’s history and current points of interest, and sell locally made art (yay!) and jams.  Why jams? Like guava jam and sapodilla jam?  Long Island is the source of some incredible produce, and also raises mutton for much of the Bahamas.  Side note: the island also has a sponging industry that’s hanging on, as well as fishing and boat-building.

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The most famous spot on the island has got to be Dean’s Blue Hole.  For as big as these types of events can actually get, there is a huge international free-diving competition held here every year.  We stopped and had a swim.  I did not go in, swim over, or really try hard to acknowledge it because it is impressively scary.  You really just need to Google this.

There was a lot that we didn’t get to cover on this trip.  It is seriously the most beautiful place and there’s more heritage to learn about there.  We’ll be back!