BAHAMAS BLISS: Reefs, turtles and swimming pigs

BAHAMAS BLISS: How to make your friends jealous

SEE this? That's your drink holder but it's usually used for beer. Cue raucous laughter.

The bike rental guy was pointing to a zip tie in the corner of a basket on the bicycle I had just rented for two days.

The two other men, brothers hosting me at their Airbnb, enjoyed the joke too.

 

A day cycling around Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas.
A day cycling around Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas. Rae Wilson

It's not uncommon for people to drive around with open cans in Marsh Harbour and Dundas Town in The Bahamas.

Just the day before I had been in the passenger seat while their uncle did just that, after we had finished jerk chicken and drinks along the water.

He drove me around the island seeing the sights while drinking, despite the fact a family member had died at the hands of a drink-driver.

The police who had earlier walked through the bar, doing fist bumps with the locals, don't blink an eye.

It's an observation of the 'no worries' Caribbean attitude.

 

Jerk chicken and drinks along the water in the Bahamas.
Jerk chicken and drinks along the water in the Bahamas. Rae Wilson

It's my 40th birthday and I've slept in for the first time in ages, relishing my incredibly lovely apartment, completely at odds with the more modest homes surrounding me in Dundas Town.

I start the morning with a mini red velvet cupcake and admire again the helium filled silver 4-0 balloons my host prepared for my arrival.

We had an eventful morning just trying to get to the bike rental place, thanks to an overheating car that shot water high like a geyser when we tried to top up the water, and subsequently lost the cap.

But then, after finding my bike legs, I took up my host's recommendation - the Island Family Restaurant.

I resisted going for the usual weekend bacon and egg meals and studied the "Bahamian Tings" menu - a reminder of the creole English spoken on the Bahamas' islands, not unlike the pidgin varieties of Papua New Guinea or Belize.

 

Breakfast in the Bahamas.
Breakfast in the Bahamas. Rae Wilson

The steamed sausage and grits dish was incredibly tasty and worth well beyond the $6.50 price tag.

The Johnny Cake, a bit like a tea cake, is the most common side dish in the Bahamas. One newfound friend told me they would smuggle the treat from restaurants in serviettes after falling in love with it.

I spent the rest of my milestone day snapping postcard-worthy photos of crystal clear water - drifting between emerald, turquoise and aqua, depending on the sun and the depth.

 

A day cycling around Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas.
A day cycling around Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas. Rae Wilson

During two dips at the only "beach" in town, I watched locals set up a Weber and cook up a real treat for the family as others began to arrive for their Saturday afternoon cool-off.

Lunch was cracked conch - which must be pronounced konk if you want to avoid embarrassment among the locals when eating this seafood specialty - at Jamie's.

Conch, from a beautiful shell, is indigenous to the Bahamas, and other Caribbean islands, and is usually served as fritter, salad, or soup.

Dinner was at Mother Merle's takeout - a local food joint in Dundas Town that my host's late grandmother began many moons ago and which still remains in the family.

The Bahamas, a short flight south of Miami in the United States, form part of the Lucayan Archipelago which has more than 29 islands, 660 cays and almost 2400 islets.

It's a true sailor's delight. So the next six days can only be described as pure paradise on board Abel - a 13m catamaran.

 

Steered ably by skipper Judy, the vessel was the perfect way for myself and five other Intrepid travellers to explore reef after beach after reef after beach.

From swimming with pigs, to feeding turtles and stingrays, to floating in waters off pristine white sand beaches - Bahamas bliss is real.

I swam with and fed pigs at Noname Cay where, as the stories go, they either swam there after shipwrecks or were left behind by original settlers of the islands.

There is no settlement on the island but locals do try to ensure the pigs have enough water and food to survive.

It is, thankfully, not as crowded as the much more touristy Exuma further south in the Bahamas.

The pigs love to munch on leftover fruit scraps and will happily take them from your hands, some more aggressively than others.

 

Swimming pigs on No Name Cay in the Bahamas.
Swimming pigs on No Name Cay in the Bahamas. Rae Wilson

Just don't try to pick up the bubba pigs or you might quickly meet mum in a less friendly manner.

Feeding turtles at Green Turtle Cay can be a little dangerous too if they chomp on your finger as you offer up some squid.

But, despite an occasional shark also coming for a stickybeak, it's surreal to have them glide up to you for a feed.

It's worth checking out Dollar Bar at the Green Turtle Club Resort as well as taking a dip in the pool at Pineapple Bar and Grill.

You can hire a golf cart, simply with the flash of a driver's licence, to cruise around.

Floating in turquoise water near the white sand beaches of Great Guana Cay, I tried to envisage life in one of the mansions ashore.

 

Great Guana Cay in the Bahamas.
Great Guana Cay in the Bahamas. Rae Wilson

I've already picked which one I would buy if Lotto ever goes my way.

The more deserted Manjack Cay (also known as Nunjack) is just as stunning.

With perfect water temperature, gentle rolling waves lap on a heavenly deserted white-sand beach.

Stretching on a gentle arch along the ocean, the cay is the perfect spot for shots worthy of gracing the pages of high-end travel magazines.

Around the corner is a cove where you can interact with marine life, wander through scrub and build camp fires.

As the stingrays' barbs swung around me with the familiarity of a happy dog, I couldn't help but tense as Steve Irwin came to mind.

My newly adopted pets would sweep over my hands to grab some store-bought squid from between the middle and ring fingers.

 

Feeding sting rays at Manjack (Nunjack) Cay in the Bahamas.
Feeding sting rays at Manjack (Nunjack) Cay in the Bahamas. Rae Wilson

But I squealed as their squidgy flaps swept around my thighs and buttocks. Not with glee.

The homes in the Abaco Islands chain are the stuff dreams are made of.

Jetties at the end of the yard with tinnies and small boats to get around "town".

Views around Hope Town and Elbow Cay in the Bahamas.
Views around Hope Town and Elbow Cay in the Bahamas. Rae Wilson

Marinas or larger home moorings for yachts, some large enough to house multiple families.

With roots in loyalist architecture and many in eye-catching pastel colours, the luxury homes sit against a background of pristine beaches with turquoise waters.

The walk around town is a photographer's delight.

Hope Town is most famous for its candy stripe lighthouse that was built in the 1860s to mark the Elbow Cay reef.

 

The Hope Town lighthouse on Elbow Cay in the Bahamas.
The Hope Town lighthouse on Elbow Cay in the Bahamas. Rae Wilson

The views from the top are simply breathtaking.

 

Views around Hope Town and Elbow Cay in the Bahamas.
Views around Hope Town and Elbow Cay in the Bahamas. Rae Wilson

Man-O-War Cay is similarly punctuated with mostly wooden homes in pastel colours with golf carts among the main source of transport around the island - and cheap to get with just a driver's licence as ID.

Albury's sail shop is a must visit for the unique bags and hats made from recycled sails.

The granddaughter of the woman who began sewing bags and purses from canvas leftover from her husband's sailmaking business is still behind the needle.

The day I stepped off that yacht, my heart nearly broke.

But I felt better knowing just how jealous my friends were going to be when I posted to Instagram and Facebook.



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