Having spent much of my childhood in Nassau surrounded by hotels, cruise ships, duty-free shops and sunburned foreigners, I’m not keen on touristy things. I have zero desire to parasail, jet ski, have my hair braided or shop for made-in-China souvenirs. With apologies to the organizers, and those who wouldn’t dream of missing it, I’d rather be stranded naked in a swarm of jellyfish than attend the Stranded Naked beach party.
During our recent trip to Green Turtle Cay, I wanted to do something different for Tom’s birthday. Several friends suggested a day trip with local guide Lincoln Jones, and though I secretly suspected it might end up being a rum-soaked, reggae-blasting booze cruise (nothing wrong with that – just not my thing), I decided to give it a try.
Turns out – and my husband will love this – I couldn’t have been more wrong. The day was lovely and low-key, and, given that boating, fishing and beach cookouts are practically built into the Bahamian DNA, as authentically native as it gets.
The entire day evoked fond memories for me: conch diving with my cousins in Hope Town, hand-line fishing from the seawall opposite Fish Hooks, Sunday beach picnics and public holiday cookouts with my extended family in Nassau.
Lincoln collected us from our cottage around 9:30 am. In addition to Tom and me, there were three other guests. We headed north in the Sea of Abaco before veering right between Munjack and Ambergris Cays and into the Atlantic.
Fifteen or so minutes out, Lincoln shifted the boat into neutral and tossed a line overboard. When he landed a mutton fish in less than a minute, we dropped anchor and baited the remaining lines. Despite competing with a shark and a barracuda, both intent on stealing our fish before we could reel them in, we had a productive morning.
Shortly past noon, with the cooler stocked with yellow tails, snappers, grunts and mutton fish, we puttered into the clear shallows at the north end of Munjack Cay. A welcoming committee of young sharks trailed casually behind.
The braver souls, including my husband, hopped overboard off the stern. The saner members of the group waited for the crunch of the hull on sand before scrambling over the bow and onto dry land.
While we explored “Lincoln Park,” our captain retrieved a giant cast-iron skillet from the bushes and kindled a fire. He mixed a batch of Goombay Smashes (a pineapple-based rum drink invented on Green Turtle Cay), cleaned and floured much of the morning’s catch, sliced and seasoned potatoes and set out a fresh salad.
Before long, the six of us were gathered at two weathered picnic tables, enjoying our fresh-from-the-sea lunch.
It was great to get to know Lincoln – turns out that as kids, he and his brother used to go fishing with my two uncles when they’d come to Green Turtle Cay on school holidays.
The other guests – a married couple, both psychologists, and a country music publicist – were interesting and intelligent and much fascinating conversation and laughter ensued.
It felt so much like the family outings of my childhood, I could almost hear my dad and uncles debating politics, and my grandmother warning we’d get cramps for swimming so soon after eating.
Not that we swam after lunch. Once we were done, Lincoln marched a pan of fish carcasses down to the water. A dozen or so small sharks swam lazy circles in the shallows. Lincoln tossed in a fish head and the sharks darted simultaneously toward it. Two stingrays hung back, waiting for the sharks to clear out before gliding in to nibble the leftovers.
Truth be told, getting up close and personal with rays and sharks isn’t typically Bahamian, but perhaps more locals would take conservation seriously if they could experience these amazing creatures up close.
After a few minutes, I was more fascinated by the sharks than scared of them, and by the time we were leaving, I was comfortable enough to wade out into the water to board the boat.
Of the many things I enjoyed about our day with Lincoln, one of the best was sharing it with the foreigners in the group, all of whom seemed to really enjoy the trip. It was terrific to see tourists have the opportunity to experience the real Bahamas, rather than some generic, manufactured facsimile.