Saturday, March 23rd, 2013
Yesterday we arrived at Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to begin our adventure miles from home. Around 12:30 PM, 7 of us loaded a small plane with a pilot named Eddie (I got to be co-pilot!) and we set flight over the ocean. The ocean is simply breathtaking and magnificent. Looking the 5,000 feet down to the shades of blue wasn't full of much to look at but I couldn't take my eyes off of it. I was looking for something to strike my eye, to jump out of the water...SOMETHING! There were a few flecks of fish maybe, riding the surface but no matter-my eyes couldn't leave the sight of the waves crashing and the unknown.
It was interesting to watch the shoreline and skyscrapers fade, heading towards empty sky and empty sea. Have you ever seen the other side of a cloud?...It takes a certain skill to navigate through fog and air when there seems to be nothing ahead.
We landed (quite smoothly, I might add) on single runway Andros Islands, Bahamas! The customs building was literally a one-hallway building with both doors open on each end creating a wonderful cross breeze! We filled out a single slip of paper with general information on it and got our passport stamped. Which is quite an exciting thing for a first time country leaver...
We loaded all of our gear up in a cab where a driver named Freddie took us down the winding roads that were even worse than St. Joseph, Missouri roads (potholes galore). Native Pines bombarded each side of us and Freddie gave us the grand ol' tour. The Native Pines on each side of us were on fire! The United States has wildfires and mountain fires and such but the difference between here and there is that we put ours out. The Bahamians just let it burn.
The field station...
The field station was AMAZING! PERFECT! A cabin-like place, white sandy beaches, palm trees, friendly natives. Words could not describe the beauty of this residence that we were so privileged to experience. I couldn't wait to dive into the ocean!
A few of us snorkeled around the ocean area in front of the field station. There weren't many fish but when we did find one we were ecstatic! (All of our studying paid off). We saw some Beaugregory, Fairy Basslet, Yellowstriped Grunt Juvenile and a few other fish. Very cool.
Finally the others arrived around 5-5:30 and we headed over to the boats where we were to live for the next 7 days. By the time we got there it was dark so I wasn't sure how exactly the view was from where we were "rocking", but I was betting it was gorgeous. It wasn't until the AM that I got to explore.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Erika Enlow and I walked down a trail to where a sandy beach stood. I couldn't wait to snorkel (yet again) so I slapped on my mask and breathing tube and stuck my face in the water. There wasn't much plant life so the fish we saw were far and few between-but we did see some. The most abundant of species we saw were starfish! Just relaxing on the ground.
Then came the "real" fun...
Each group loaded onto their dingy and we set out for some reefs! It was quite a ways out from the dock, maybe about a mile or so-we dropped anchor and dove right in. There were fish everywhere! Blue Head Wrasse, Blue Tang, French Grunt, Princess Parrotfish and so much more! ALL OVER! Studying really paid off when I was able to recognize what I saw. The waves were crazy rough but I didn't mind at all. (It just meant we got a workout along with an awesome experience). It aws especially fun to duck dive below the surface and get up-close-and-personal with the fish and the plants. They would peer back at us like "hmm what are these creatures?" It was like finding Nemo only far more vibrant.
We loaded back up in the dingy and set out in the other direction for another spot to snorkel along the edge of the mangrove forest. There were quite a few fish around there as well- a lot of grunts and upside-down jellyfish. The water was very cloudy because of numerous accounts of kicked up sand so it was tough to see clearly...
Monday, March 25, 2013
Finally! The day arrived to set sail. We secured the deck, fueled up, topped off our water tanks and set out on sail boat Conchy for the Exumas. 65 miles from Andros and about a 10-11 hour day. Yeehaw. I rode on deck some of the way and I was careful not to be a victim of 'man over board'. Captain Chuck let me learn to sail. It was sweet! I want to be a captain and own my own sail boat! How cool would that be?! ONE DAY!! I got seasick after awhile but after a whole stack of saltine crackers and a couple Dramamine pills, I was golden.
We arrived to our "Anchor" spot after dark. There were numerous other sail boats anchored around us (neighbors in the middle of the ocean), two of which were fellow classmates on the Calypso Poet and Moonshadow. Boy was it rocky. We woke in the middle of the night to rain dripping through the vent and pans banging around. I actually slept with TWO sheets.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
We rose early and set off at 165 degrees SE. It started out cloudy but the sun started to peek through. We finally arrived at the "Coral Reef Sea Aquarium" which is a part of the Exuma Keys National Park. We lowered the anchor on Conchy, slapped a healthy layer of sunscreen on and gathered our snorkel gear and set out in our dingy to the next snorkel site.
Oh! And also a very important piece of information is that we are probably less than 600 feet from Johnny Depp's private island! *swoon*. The beach is the most pearl-white-smooth looking sand I have ever seen from a distance. There is one lone wooden shack just a few feet from the shore. Simple and magnificent. One random tidbit of information is that all beaches in the bahamas are public property. So even though Mr. Depp's island is private, we still could have set foot on the beach front. Cool.
ANYWAYs, back to the sea aquarium. Wow. I thought that the other snorkeling sight was awesome-but this out does it by a long shot. The colors were so brilliant and perfect, illuminated by the sun, home to thousands of species of fish. Words cannot explain the beauty captured by these surroundings. Here we took the underwater slate down with us to record what we saw. My favorite fish that I observed were most likely the Squirrelfish. They were always hiding and you had to really keep your eyes peeled to find them (like where's waldo).
We loaded back up and returned to Conchy. I got to experience my first Joy bath. We jumped in the turquoise blue ocean, careful to keep one hand on dingy because the current was something fierce, got back in the dingy, lathered up real well with joy (both the soap and the emotion ;), jumped back in the ocean, made our way to the ladder and rinsed off with fresh water. It was a blast! The real fun was getting pounded by the current and holding on for dear life.
For dinner, Moonshadow gave us some Mahi-Mahi Dolfinfish, fresh from the ocean! It was getting dark by then. We sat up on deck and talked about anything and everything from fruit composition to alcoholic beverages to movie quotes.
We were out by 9:00-9:30. The waves were perfect-a nice slow rocking to sleep. I slept in pants and socks if that gives you any clue to the weather.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
I swear every snorkeling sight we go to gets better than the last. of course, we dropped anchor in 10 feet, right next to the little island of Staniel Cay which, by the way, is busy as ever with the "Staniel Cay Yacht Club" and other sail boats and yachts. We loaded into the dingy and headed over to Thunderball Gratto. And holy moly. That place was AMAZING! --And crowded!! There were a ton of other snorkelers and tourists.
Fish everywhere! Coral everywhere! You know when you were little at the zoo aquarium and you'd say, "I wanna swim with the fish" well, I go to do that today! I couldn't go a mere foot without potentially running into a Sgt Major or a French Grunt or a Blue Head Wrasse.
Going around the "coral island" we were greeted with an opening to a cave. You'd have to duck dive with a breath full of air and when you pop back up you're surrounded by rock above you with a single opening to the sky at the center. The water was a few degrees colder in the shade but the population of fish was immense. And then you could find other tunnels that required a duck dive and a breath and then a beautiful blue-indescribable, turquoise, baby, ocean, sky blue- opening to another realm was tempting and available for our discovery. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.
The current going out of the cave was something fierce! I started to laugh at my failure to get any progression! Haha! I could have drowned! I was cracking up. I soon discovered that going diagonal allowed you to make it against the current.
_ _ _
We loaded in the dingy (surprise, surprise) and headed into the town of Staniel Cay! This island was beyond cool! Definitely a tourist town full of ritzy yacht owners part of the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, all seated around the bar with their white visors and margaritas. They were definitely on island time. Pure bliss. We walked around, past a creamsicle orange Baptist church, native men playing an intense game of dominoes, and numerous colorful buildings. There were also a couple of natives feeding some nurse sharks and sting rays. We had to head back before the sun set.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
We rose early to make a big breakfast. Then we set off to "Little Bell" island and coral reef exploration area--it was some park. As we dropped anchor, instead of loading up in the dingy like we typically do, we just swam over with our fins, mask and snorkel. That was a neat experience because it was freedom at a whole new level. We were alone in the wide open blue, basically fighting, battling (swimming merely) for our survival. It really was only about 11 feet deep but with that sort of mindset and imagination it kept things interesting.
The most interesting aspect of this reef exploration in particular was that it spanned across a pretty lengthy wall and after the last curve, a current could potentially sweep you away into the abyss. I saw a great barracuda...those bad dads were pretty daunting up close. He would sort of peer out of the corner of his eye up at you swimming peacefully and slowly above him, examining his every move. I was just waiting for him to pounce.
When we were through examining the coral and the many species of fish, we swam to the secluded, "deserted" Little Bell island. This beach was incredible. Sand as soft and powdery as flour and free of any human existence. Erika and I walked almost the entire length of this island then we turned around and swam back to Cap'n Chuck on good ol' Conchy. Then we had another Joy bath Woo00HooOO00o.
We continued sailing because we had to be able to make it back to Andros by Friday so we didn't set anchor until way past night fall. T'was our last night on the open water so we shared more laughter and discussions then we slept.
Friday, March 29th, 2013
We rose early to help Chuck prepare for sailing. We got to witness the sunrise one last time. It was beautiful. We sailed. All day. 10 hours.
Saturday, March 30, 2013
Some of us kicked it at the field station until our little flight back to the states arrived. Even though I could live at this magnificent place, I was ready to be home with family. We said our goodbyes to the natives and interns and headed home, once again over the wide ocean. <3