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 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.


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?”


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.


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).


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 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.


(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.

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.

sea beans

It’s starting to feel like winter here.  It’s still in the 70s everyday, but the temperature hardiness John and I brought with us has been destroyed.  Our spoiled selves are starting to find the water almost too cold to swim in (also in the 70s), and we’re noticing a fresh crispness in the air.

We’ve been having a lot of windy weather lately, and this week brought a huge amount of seaweed and lightweight flotsam to shore.  Yesterday we put on long pants and hung out on the beach, where I got to work picking up a depressing amount of plastic that had washed ashore.  (I’ll talk about the volume of plastic that I find in another post.)

But we found something new and interesting!  Behold, sea beans.

Ours don’t look very heart-y, but from what I could figure out online, this specific type of ocean-faring seed is called a ‘sea heart.’  I guess some of them look like hearts.

Sea hearts fall out of their giant seed pods and plop into the water somewhere in the tropical rainforest.  They come from a plant called a monkey ladder, which is a type of Liana vine.  You’ve got to click through to this website to see some crazy pictures of this plant and the journey of these seed out of the Amazon!  They can float in saltwater for 2 years and still produce a baby plant in the right environment.

The amount of websites that come up when searching for sea beans/seeds/hearts is pretty fascinating.  It’s an entire category of beach combing!  I was also able to identify these whiter seeds as mangoes.


So yeah, something new to collect!

A bit of history, you old salt

I’m reading a book called Wind from the Carolinas.  It’s fiction, but people seem to agree that it can be considered an accurate portrayal of a very significant time in Bahamian history.  I have to say that it’s a good read either way.  I’m no historian and can’t really speak to its accuracy, but author Robert Wilder enjoyably captures an attitude of Bahamians that I can see today. The history goes that after America became independent …*ahem* declared in 1776, fought for until 1783 … the Loyalist plantation owners did not want to participate in the new democracy. Quoth Wilder from the forward to his novel:

At the close of the War for Independence they found life all but unedurable.  They were hated and reviled…subjected to taunts and violence.  At their request the Royal Navy took entire families, their slaves, livestock, furnishings … to the Bahamas.  There they attempted to recreate the Colonial magnificence they had known.

The crown (as it was called) paid to move these families and their slaves to the Bahamas, where they were given land grants to recreate the plantation lifestyle and continue to export cotton to Britain.  This is in itself is interesting to me because this is a totally underrepresented viewpoint!  I mean, I know I’m not alone when I admit that I did not hear about this in history class. IMG_4130 Photo of plantation ruins on Little Exuma island by Bruno Yasoni under Creative Commons

It took less than half a generation for this endeavor to totally fail.  Let me put it this way:  the compost that John and I are making is the only dirt in the yard aside from the stuff we intentionally bought.  These islands are solid rock and any dirt here has too little nutrition to support a plantation. It’s kind of a sad story, because there wasn’t (isn’t) enough profit to be made to go around.  So what does this have to do with salt?  Not a ton, but it sure beefed up this post.  It’s a segway. Something that had been turning a small profit even before the failure of the plantations was salt.  The island of Little Exuma (attached by a one-lane bridge to Great Exuma) had a salt harvest/export operation starting in the 1790s at the latest, and continuing until the 1860s.  A huge pillar was put up to indicate where ships should come and get it.

It’s an impressive monument, but now you see the need for the beefing up.  I don’t know if there is more to say about it.  Nearby is a beach-front restaurant that’s actually open during the slow season.  We sat down and got some free entertainment!  These kids weren’t practicing for anything….they probably just don’t have iPhones.

Meet Shots!

You may have seen some hints about this in the last couple of posts.  I’m honestly not sure why it took so long for us to introduce her here, but we adopted the cutest, chillest, most Bahamian dog in the world.  We named her Shots, after the greeting that we use with our friends here.  Walk into a bar where your friends are already hanging out?  “SHOTS!”

* Note: We pretty much never actually do shots, but it’s been known to have happened.

Shots pier

There are plenty of stray dogs.  This is not America, where dogs are coddled.  They live outside in the elements, don’t go to the vet or get groomed, and eat chicken bones.  The first dog we met in the Bahamas was eating a dinner of straight-up chicken bones.  Alarmed, we told the owner, who replied “she’s a Bahamian dog.  They can eat chicken bones.”  While that still doesn’t make it a good thing to give to a dog, it speaks to the cultural difference in pet-ownership attitudes, as well as the incredible resilience of this defacto breed of mutt.

On the islands, there is not a lot of new variety introduced to the dog gene pool.  There is also close to nothing on the doggie-birth control scene.  What’s emerged is a Caribbean breed of mutt called a potcake.  Shots is a potcake.  To understand what a potcake is, you have to know two things about the Bahamas.

  • The staple side dish of every meal is peas and rice.  Not green peas, but lentil-looking things.  It’s very flavorful and the good kind probably includes all sorts of grease and fish juice that I don’t want to know about.
  • When you make peas and rice, the bottom of the pot ends up with a crusty “cake.”  This is what you feed the dog, because dog food is frivolous.  Thus, the name potcake.  (By the way, Shots eats puppy chow.)

They are sturdy and resourceful dogs.  With Shots, she seemed to instinctually run to the shade underneath cars when we first brought her home.  I think our house may have been her first time inside anything.

We take her out all the time, which is a weird thing to do here and gets us lots of looks.  Good thing she’s so cute!  We want her to be social and comfortable in all situations: we take her on the boat, to get dinner or drinks, to the beach – which she LOVES – and just around town.

I think she grows a little each time we feed her.  I keep telling her to stop, but she’s not listening.  As she’s starting to settle and grow, her personality is starting to come out, and I think we got really, really lucky.  Having a dog hanging out with you is pretty freaking cool.

Here’s a bonus video.  Shots’ best friend and look-alike, Chance, taught her how to get in the water.  She had previously been too scared!