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March 2017

Staniel Cay, the Swimming Pigs, and Our First Guest

March 22, 2017

We had our first visitor here in the Bahamas! It was great to see our friend Justine and finally check out Staniel Cay, especially after spending the previous four days going a bit stir crazy stuck around the corner at Big Majors (home of the swimming pigs) riding out 24–35 mph winds.

The good news is that being stuck at Big Majors gave us plenty of time to visit the pigs before Justine arrived. Okay, so that took about half an hour. The pigs were cute, but we weren’t sure how we felt about the whole feast or famine aspect of it. The pigs are either inundated with 50 or more tourists at a time pulling up on boats to manhandle and feed them while trying to snap the perfect selfie, or, when the weather’s too rough for anyone to come by, the poor little (and not so little) critters are stuck wandering hungrily up and down the beach waiting for a snack.

I paddled ashore on the kayak a second time with some snacks after a day or two of high winds and no one visiting the pigs. It was kind of sad. There’s a sign up now because apparently tourists need to be told not to give the pigs alcohol or try to ride them… Several of the pigs died a few weeks ago under mysterious circumstances, though the word on the street is that it had nothing to do with the dumb tourists giving them alcohol.

The new sign at Pig Beach, not that anyone listens…

We finally ran into CW and Kevin, friends of our Isle of Hope neighbor Paul’s, at Big Majors. We’d been trying to catch up with each other since Nassau. Good peeps! Kevin was kind enough to take us ashore for a stop at the grocery store in Staniel Cay (yes, having a motor on your dinghy, or a friend with one, can be handy on occasions such as these when you’re anchored just a little too far away to go to town). We had dinner on their boat one night and had them over for dinner at ours another night. We also might’ve seen a shark when we were snorkeling off their boat one afternoon. CW and I weren’t waiting around for the verdict. You’ve never seen two people get out of the water so fast! Kevin and Rich were a little more blasé about the whole thing.

We spent the rest of the time listening to the howling wind and catching up on our reading. I also finished up some freelance.

With Justine safely on board in Staniel Cay we headed a few miles south to Bitter Guana Cay. It was a bit of a cloudy, rainy day, in fact, the first real rain we’ve had since Nassau. But we still managed to get in some kayaking and swimming in the afternoon.

Justine’s first day on board was a bit cloudy and rainy…

…but we woke to a beautiful rainbow the next morning.

Justine having a blast on the kayak

The next day we decided to forage for dinner. We searched in vain for conch (Justine and I trolled behind the dinghy and each dove for a couple but the shells had been taken over by hermit crabs). Then the hunt switched to sea snails, which at least we could find. Rich cooked up a nice top snail pasta, but I wasn’t sure I loved the extra-briny ocean flavor so much, though Justine seemed to dig it. (Or maybe she was just being polite?) Not sure I’m dying to try those again… Interestingly, we found out that conch is technically a sea snail too. You learn something new every day down here in the Bahamas!

Snorkeling for conch to no avail, but having a lot of fun (and getting a lot of exercise, we were tired afterward)!

Site of the best snail foraging at Bitter Guana Cay

The next day, we headed back over toward Staniel Cay, stopping for a swim through Thunderbolt Grotto (so-called for the scene from the James Bond movie that was filmed here). Justine and I were nervous because we’d heard that you sometimes have to dive down underwater to enter the grotto, which sounded a little daunting. Thankfully, we were able to time it right at low tide and avoid that part.  This was some of the coolest snorkeling I’ve ever done. I couldn’t get over how the fish would just swim right up to your face, and there were so many of them! I guess they feel safe in their little protected space so they’re not shy at all. The effect was slightly overwhelming at first but after some nervous giggling in my snorkel and mask, I eventually I got the hang of it. I didn’t think our camera could really do it justice so I left it back on the boat, but that’s okay because there was one moment that was so cinematic that I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget it. The light from the hole in the roof of the grotto was streaming down in golden rays that looked like they were descending straight from the heavens and when I looked toward the entrance of the grotto I could see those rays flickering down through the water and lighting the fish as they swam, silhouetted against the opening. Amazing!

Alas, Rich’s visit wasn’t so magical. Remember that hole in the roof I mentioned? Some dude and his girlfriend were attempting to jump through it down into the water below, on top of the people snorkeling below, including Rich. Apparently people do this a lot, but it’s a pretty small area to swim in once you get inside and I honestly can’t imagine attempting the leap myself. Which is why I can’t blame the girl for getting cold feet . But the guy kept trying to get her to do it, “Okay, one, two, three…jump!” But she wouldn’t jump. Then he’d do it again. But still she didn’t jump. Meanwhile, everyone below was stuck waiting for the annoying spectacle to end so they could continue snorkeling in peace. This went on for a really long time, effectively ruining the experience for Rich.

Going ashore to get drinks and dinner at Staniel Cay Yacht Club that night was a fun treat. Our first cheeseburgers in paradise! The nurse sharks that collect right in front of the marina are quite the spectacle too.

The sign says you can pet the nurse sharks, but I was fine with sitting this one out on the sidelines…

Justine and Rich at the beach near Staniel Cay Yacht Club

For such a small island, Staniel Cay has a lot to offer: two grocery stores (one blue, one pink), a laundromat/liquor store, an air strip, and the all-important dump (trash management out here is no joke).

And before we knew it, Justine’s whirlwind visit was over. Just in time for us to get ready for our next visitor… More on that later!