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Paradise Next Door
Bahamas Cruise
2011
Old Stone Beacon on the Hill
~ Old Stone Beacon on the Hill ~
Stocking Island Hike, Great Exuma
Wild Isle
A fellow cruiser passed along yet another hand crafted 'map'Click here to see map that alluded to nature trails throughout Stocking Island. The drawing was bestrewn with details and dotted lines; each path sporting a specific name and ultimately leading to the expanse of the beautiful Atlantic shore otherwise occluded from our view. Stretching our legs sounded like a pleasant diversion, so with toes squeezed into hiking shoes and topped up water bottles, we motored the dinghy over to the dock at the foot of the Navy Beacon.

The slender island is less than four miles long and a tenth of that at its widest point. Running parallel to the much larger Great Exuma Island to the southwest, Stocking Island banks the mile wide Elizabeth Harbor where Re Metau was comfortably anchored, and protects the capital city of George Town from buffeting ocean waves. Though it's land is lightly inhabited with a population of less that a dozen people, it boasts several restaurants, a resort, vacation cottages, and envelops three separate hurricane holesIdeal locations to moor a boat during a storm. – one with a 400' deep blue holeA large marine cavern or sinkhole, which may be open within land, or under the surface of the sea..

The large stone pillar in our sights stood on the island's steepest hill, and served as a beacon for the 19th century salt ships that used to ply these waters. Although the gas light and glass lens was long gone, the 100 foot high monolith could still be seen from afar. We concluded that if the cartography was as ambiguous as what we'd previously confronted, at least this tall column would guide us back to the dink.

Belladonna
~ Belladonna ~
True Indigo
~ True Indigo ~
Glasswort
~ Glasswort ~
Eating Wild
Having observed that a variety of uncultivated fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens were often included in many of the islander's diets, I'd developed an interest in the Bahamas' flora. This more natural type of nourishment was almost completely wiped off our plates in the USA, so I wanted to know what plants were edible, how they were prepared, and what flavors each imparted on the palate.
Bush Passion Fruit
~ Bush Passion Fruit ~

But first, I had to be able to identify the green goods. And this hike provided the perfect focus for my wild foods foraging journey. Not wishing to pluck up the natural beauty of the area, I instead snapped pictures of every flower, pod, leaf, and vine that caught my eye. The intention was to refer to the several field guides I had back onboard, and what a treasure trove of natural resources I'd encountered!

The pulpy, pungent pomes of the Bush Passion Fruit were a clear contender for a wild snack. But beware of the Belladonna, more judiciously known as Deadly Nightshade. It's shiny, black berries, though sweet, bring about hallucinations, delirium, and convulsions.

I'd also captured some beautiful periwinkle petals of True Indigo, originally used to dye denim for that distinctive blue jean hue. And while I embrace the 'Leave Only Footprints' mantra of most nature preserves, I couldn't help but gather a handful of knobby tendrils from the carpet of Glasswort (a.k.a. Sea Asparagus) growing over a salt marsh.

I was confident in the identity of my harvest, and enthusiastic to introduce a fresh briny crunch to our evening meal. I knew it was a prodigious, rapid growth weed found almost everywhere in the world, so no harm – no foul.

The mapmaker did warn that care must be taken when trekking. There were toxic trees throughout that could raise an uncomfortable rash with just one rub! Unable to discern the leaflet's nebulous depiction of these Florida Poisontree's leaves and fruit, each and every brush with any branch gave pause! One would think such a warning would be issued with better CLARITY! I made note to memorize this pesky plant once we returned to my reference books back on the boat.

Nev's Trail
~ Nev's Trail ~
Dazed in a Maze
Despite closely and carefully scrutinizing our surroundings, Don and I still seemed to be oblivious to anything resembling a trail marker – even the dubiously detailed ones scribbled throughout the diagram. No 'Red Sign on Tree' or 'Blue Rope on Stump' or any other colored clue was detected. Neither 'Bench with View' nor 'Table in 20 Yards' was furnished in our foray.

I don't know if I'd recognize a Rhizomorph, even if I'd tripped over its roots. And the entire island was dusted with sand, so pointing out 'Dunes' on the drawing seemed dumb! We'd managed to sail hundreds of miles over open ocean with paper charts, but couldn't seem to follow a single sign on this sketch! I was fairly confident that we'd not come close to 'Crabzilla' – though that's something I would've liked to have seen!

The criss-crossed paths were obvious, but whichever one we were meandering on remained a mystery. We were lost in a maze that fortunately, always popped us out to some fabulous ocean view. Ah-well! It's hard to complain about being trapped in such a picturesque puzzle.

The Baths
~ The Baths ~

The only unmistakable indication we encountered was the sign for 'Nev's Trail', which, oddly enough, appeared at a dead end. From there, we surmised that the bizarre pools of seawater bubbling up through that weird looking reef must have been 'The Baths' surrounded in 'Stromatolites'…maybe? I really had no idea!

Dehydrirritable
Thus orientated, we believed it would be a good time to turn around and head back. Hours had passed, the water bottles were sucked dry, and the hot sun had sapped the enthusiasm for further exploration right out of us.

Of course, this is when the foliage got really thick. And there was no sight of the Salt Beacon! Were we in the 'Butt Trees', the 'Shoe Trees', some other freaky forest? Who knew?! We were really lost!! AAAHHHH!!!

Revived with Rum!
It is astonishing how panicked one gets when one is really just thirsty! In a very short time, we stumbled upon Hamburger Beach, and a shack selling quenching rum punches. Whew! We'd survived the wilds of the isle.
Diana on Bench in Shade
~ Diana on Bench in Shade ~

The diversity of Stocking Island's terrain, and all its ecological niches made this hike truly worthwhile. We'd scrambled up gentle hillocks, waded through shallow sand drifts, sauntered under dry-rain forest shade, and strolled along scrubby salt flats. There were many spectacular panoramas along the outer coastline, an abundant variety of tropical flora full of bird life, and photo ops galore.

My grumbles about going astray must be taken tongue in cheek. The Exuma cays are rugged and remote; an untamable canvas that is best left flawless and free. One must genuinely appreciate every effort made to draw travelers off the translucent water, and into the wild beauty of this faraway enclave.

But PLEASE! SOMEBODY! LEARN TO DRAW A PROPER MAP!!

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2011 - Bahamas
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“When I forget how talented God is, I look to the sea.” ~ Whoopi Goldberg