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Paradise Next Door
Bahamas Cruise
2011
Great Harbour Cay Pool Bar
~ Great Harbour Cay Pool Bar ~
Great Harbour Blue Hole
Strange Worlds
A front had arrived and the morning started out fairly windy, so we decided to get some laundry done at the marina – $10 to wash and dry! I could have done it onboard but then we'd have been faced with paying for the potable water at 50 cents a gallon. This was where our cruising kitty was spent. Fuel, laundry, water – all the usual, extravagant luxuries for which one splurges while vacationing.

Only one of the two dryers was available when our two washers finished, so I put our expensive little token in to turn it on. 45 minutes later I retrieved the marginally dry laundry and started the other load in the same dryer. While I was folding clothes, the woman who was using the second dryer, a local Bahamian, stated she was done and suggested I move my load over because that dryer worked better. I remarked that I'd already inserted the token to which she replied "Oh – these machines don't really need tokens. You can just push the slide in and start them over and over."NOW she tells me! Hopefully the dock master, Thorren could go out to a nice restaurant with our $20.

 Great Harbour Cay Blue Hole
~ Great Harbour Cay Blue Hole ~

While waiting on laundry, we hung out at the Pool Bar and noticed what appeared to be preparation for a party. A man sitting at the bar said it was the ministry of tourism setting up for a Visitor Appreciation potluck held later that night and invited us to attend. It appeared Great Harbour Cay was attempting to overcome the ruin caused by the 80s drug trade, and attract travelers to their little corner of paradise. Don and I figured what the heck – free food and we might meet some people, plus we had no other plans for the evening!

Great Harbour Cay Blue Hole
The front passed and the wind died down a bit, so we decided to spend the afternoon snorkeling a blue hole located in the middle of a shallow cove to the north, behind a little islet named Rat Cay. We also planned to dive on a nearby, decades old plane crash – another relic of the 'Stoned Age'.

Basically described as a vertical cave or underwater sink hole, this particular, aptly labeled blue hole was a perfect sapphire circle surrounded by beautiful, Bahamian aquamarine water. I didn't really want to get too close to any place called 'Rat Cay', so we anchored our dinghy nearer to the edge of the blue hole. The bay was fairly stagnant and once over the side, Don nearly sunk to his knees in the muck. I tried to do a belly flop into the water to stay buoyant without further reducing visibility, but we only had about 4 feet of water under us, and gravity greatly surpassed my grace.

Upside Down Jellyfish and Variegated Sea Urchin
~ Upside Down Jellyfish and Variegated Sea Urchin ~
Upside-Down Jellyfish
The entire edge of the blue hole was surrounded by a submerged garden of Cassiopeia medusas and variegated sea urchins. The medusas are fairly innocuous to humans, and were commonly referred to as upside-down jellyfish, because they spent most all their lives lying on their flat saucers, filtering out whatever drifted by with their tentacles. At first, their symbiotic algae covered arms made me perceive them as plants growing on the seafloor, until we disturbed one and it launched upward and pulsed away. They are venomous, and I later read that crabs will sometimes carry them around on their backs, as added protection from predators.

But the little variegated urchins were my favorite feature. No one is certain why, but the tops of these spiny little spheres were almost always decorated with bits of algae, sea grass, and shell held on by their tube feet. One belief was that, though they preferred a habitat of shallow, clear water they were sensitive to UV rays, and these little pieces of debris would provide some protection for the fashionable sea critters. They reminded me of church ladies sporting their finest feather bedecked bonnets.

There were lots of good sized yellow tails skirting the edge of the blue hole, but none of us – snappers or snorkelers – dared to swim across the chilly void. It was just too strange to be in crystalline seas and then to hover over this deep, midnight blue abyss that sunk down to depths beyond view. A perfect abode for sea monsters, this chasm into the underworld was just too intimidating for free-spirits like us.

Stingray in the Sand
~ Stingray in the Sand ~
Airplane Wreck Reef
The airplane wreck, a single prop wide bodied craft was a short dinghy ride away. A small portion of the engine and one wing rose just above water level. Both wings were still attached, but the two propellers lay on the ground not far from the engine, the tail was almost completely reduced to a rusty skeleton, and there was a tangle of debris all around the site.

As we circled around the rubble, Don pointed toward two small humps poking out of the sandy bottom. A stingray, buried in the silt with only his eyes exposed, laid perfectly still while warily watching for predators and keeping an eye out for unsuspecting prey. Luckily, we weren't on the menu. Hundreds of reef fish made a home in the remains of the fuselage and Don managed to quickly dispatch a lionfish with his spear. They were a misplaced species from the other side of the globe and although they were quite beautiful, were highly venomous. Voraciously exterminating many of the native species, these lionfish were considered vermin, and eradicating them was the duty of all capable divers.

Beaugregory Peeping Out of a Conch Shell
~ Beaugregory Peeping Out of a Conch Shell ~
Photographing a Beaugregory Damselfish
Don continued spear hunting, but never being fond of diving on wrecks, I wandered off to investigate the surrounding area. In only 8 or so feet of water, the grassy seafloor had lots of conch shells scattered throughout, all previously cracked into and thrown back for other sea creatures seeking shelter. Capturing a photo of a little neon blue and yellow beaugregory damselfish, who'd claimed a very pretty home proved challenging. He'd pop out of his bright pink chamber, see this big, threatening, alien hovering nearby, and dash back into the safety of his conical haven. This occurred over and over before I got the timing right, but I couldn't blame him. I'm sure I'd turn tail too if I'd stepped outside and saw a giant with flashing lights floating overhead.
Board of Tourism's Visitor Appreciation Party
Before long, it was time to returned to the boat to clean up and prepare for the party. I made a salad for the potluck, since the lettuce I'd brought from the states wasn't going to last much longer, and given the beyond-ripe produce I'd seen at the local grocery, I figured it would make somewhat of a delicacy for the locals. Sadly, my seasick garden was mortally wounded by the salty spray it'd received on our journey here, and it didn't look like the salt-sullied dirt was capable of producing anymore edible greenery.

The party was rather peculiar for us, in that it was really to honor Second Home Owners for pouring their spare change into the community. Here were the masters of all the mansions we saw on our way to the Sugar Beach Caves. All these wealthy Caucasians from the states were very well acquainted with each other, and remained rather smug and aloof. And the island's populace of only 750 Bahamians meant no strangers there as well – other than us. I noticed the inhabitants generally stayed segregated from the honorees, and Don and I were soundly ignored by almost everyone. We were not of either one's world.

But the day had already shown us a universe of the strange and the bizarre. While visiting the mouth of the netherworld, we'd encountered topsy-turvy jellies and accessorized urchins. We'd seen a fish that had wings lying next to a plane that failed to fly. We'd been encouraged to evict the intruder swimming around the unnatural reef, while skeletons served as sanctuaries.

Though we were earnestly welcomed by the natives, we'd been slighted by those we resembled; perceived as aliens by the interlopers. We'd only gone 100 miles from home, but on that day, clearly we were the strangers amidst strange worlds.

Don with his Pole Spear
~ Don with his Pole Spear ~
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2011 - Bahamas
Paradise Next Door
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