Sunday, April 10, 2016

Glorious silence, neon toys and canned food - The Exuma reality

I’m squinting at the tiny mangrove roots, marveling that they push up through the mushy white sand. Sun bakes my dry corn-husk hair and exposed limbs. The tide is rapidly flowing out through rivers to the sea, leaving our dinghy exposed on the ever growing beach. We are like castaways. Salt caked and leather brown. Our small bottle of water is empty. 
JW and I sit in silence in the sand on this uninhabited island in the Exumas. Tiny resilient seeds and crispy dry leaves whisper as they tumble along the sand, at home in this harsh environment. The only other sounds are far off airplanes and distant speed boats. They try to encroach, to remind us that this reality is small and confined. But it’s ours. And it is wild and it’s free.
It could be a Saturday or a Tuesday. Shiloh is anchored out in the unprotected bay, a huge ocean swell slapping her from side to side. We’ve escaped to the shore for some peace from the incessant rolling. 
We’ve been in the Exumas for 6 weeks. We left the last town two weeks ago. The last ‘proper’ grocery store about 4 weeks ago. We’ve run out of beers and cokes and snacks. Same with eggs and bread. Haven’t seen a fresh vegetable in a while. We are in the land of the scarce.
The Bahamas Telecom network forgot about the northern Exumas as well. But we’ve managed to devise a makeshift system for getting an Internet signal once every few days. Our iphone is double wrapped in ziplock bags, then tied to a keychain float and hoisted up the mast. If we are lucky it finds weak reception and we scramble to answer emails, check in on facebook. Say hello to the real world. And then we sink back into the salty, sun soaked world of islands we love so much.
This is the land of shifting sand that creates works of art daily. Swirls of electric turquoise, emerald green, soft teal, creamy beige. And if you can hike to any vantage point above, the rewards are awe and amazement and a humbling so profound. It floors me daily. This is natural beauty unmatched. White tropic birds with their long ribbon tails swirl above, turning blue over the water with the reflection of the sea, and back to white over land. 

Each island offers something unique – hikes to ancient ruins, bubbling pools to play in between the ocean and rocks.
Earlier today we took kayaks and the SUP and paddled a dense and still mangrove river out to the ocean on an outgoing tide.  

Some days the silence is broken – pierced by the wild whirling jet skis of the mega yacht crowd. From any shoreline you might see, anchored out in the deeper waters, a colossal white or silver multi-million dollar, crew-run floating funhouse for the rich. In this place where nature is king and money is useless, it is a jarring sight. And the huge tenders with their massive outboard engines cut through the waters with disregard, shuttling the privileged owners and guests to-and-fro. Some take over a beach with elaborate umbrella systems, blankets, baskets, neon pink and green beach toys that bob around at the water’s edge, claiming their territory. 

Today it is a convoy of power boats, here to break the silence. Down from Nassau for the weekend; kids, beers, bright toys. The breathtaking beach at the end of the mangrove river is overtaken by bikinis and bellies and exuberant chatter. The decibel level is too high for us. We haven’t been in a crowd forever it seems.
They are friendly enough, one guy in a Blue Jays baseball cap sipping a Labatt Blue he’s brought all the way from Canada. “It’s snowing back home!” he tells me, as his little pink two year old, clad in full body sun-shade armour and a wide brimmed hat that covers his whole face, plays happily in the sand. I can barely hear him. My mind does not compute. Snow? Holiday makers with Canadian beer? It seems absurd. I thought we were castaways in our own little world. I think I wished it so.
But this world, free and wild as it is, must be shared. It must come to an end even for us. One day soon our canned goods will run out too. We will need to make a bank transfer or talk on a phone. My backpack/purse will have to be transformed from a sandy vessel for water, sea shells and sun block, to wallets and cell phones. The real world will call to us and we will have to answer.
But for now intense sun. Salt. Sand. Silence.