Gypsies of the Caribbean

“Mark well what ye saw here today, mateys, and always remember this as the day you sail with Captain Jack Sparrow.”   – Talking Skull

October 29 – November 7, 2015

Sometimes an unexpected surprise can drop right into your lap. After my mom passed away, my dad decided that he no longer wanted to pay for the Bahamas time-share that the two of them had enjoyed for many years. While calling to cancel his membership, I learned that they were already paid-in-full for 2015 and so he had one more trip coming. He decided he would make the trip so we helped him book a flight and make all the arrangements. A few weeks later he said he’d only go if we went with him, so we agreed to join him. A few weeks after booking our own flight, he decided he really didn’t feel up to going at all without my mom. Thus, we were left holding tickets for a week at a Bahamian resort. Darn the luck!

Ranchhand
Ranchhand

But first, we had some business to take care of back at our old Florida stomping grounds. Our friends, Clare and Kelley DeBoef, were kind enough to let us stay at their guesthouse, where I got to haul some wood, feed horses, and help build a porch. The guesthouse came with nice furnishings, a hot shower, free Wi-Fi, bagels and coffee, and a wild boar’s head above the commode. First item on the itinerary was to return to Foundation Christian Academy and visit our friends and my former students. We received a couple hundred hugs and toured the campus, which is undergoing major renovations and improvements. They were also kind enough to let me speak in chapel. Love that place! Next up, we resumed our 4-year long weekly hand-n-foot card night with John and Laurie Walsh…one of the traditions we miss most from our time in Florida.

What God Has Joined Together
What God Has Joined Together

Our primary reason for coming to Florida, though, was to officiate the wedding for Kristen Walsh, a family friend and former youth group member, and her fiancée, Louis. I’ve done one other wedding and three funerals…just infrequently enough to not really know what I’m doing. Fortunately, it all came together, people cried, and it was a beautiful ceremony. The following weekend, just prior to departing for the Bahamas, we had the added bonus of being invited to the surprise engagement of Brittni Walsh (Kristen’s sister) to her boyfriend, Bobby Wilkinson. He proposed in a hot air balloon over Orlando, at the same time Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs fame) was filming an episode of his show Somebody’s Got to Do It. So apparently Rowe may somehow incorporate them into an episode. It was a really special day and we were glad to be there to celebrate with them at the landing zone. I can only hope the video shows that when Bobby asked Brittni to be his wife, she shrugged and answered, “Somebody’s got to do it!”

Somebody's Got To Do It
Somebody’s Got To Do It

November 8-15, 2015

Our Bahamas trip got off to a rough start.   We boarded a small plane in Fort Lauderdale and sat on the very last row. Just in front of us sat a tall man of European origin with unbelievably bad body odor. I think it was the worse thing I’ve ever smelled. Worse than Boys Cabin 9 at Florida Bible Camp on day 6 after two days of rain. Worse than the bucket of spittoon juice and Limburger cheese I had to bob apples from during pledge week in college. It was so bad that I took out Janet’s scented Chap Stick and applied it to both inner-nostrils, and then we both buried our heads in her jacket for the thankfully short flight. At one point she observed, “I think he might have a problem.” I replied, “His problem is that he smells like raw sewage full of dead, rotting fish.”

Island Seas Resort
Island Seas Resort

After safely landing, my next big challenge was driving the Bahamian rental car. It seems everyone in the country drives on the wrong side of the road…an unfortunate practice established by their former colonial master, Great Britain. Apparently the islanders never got word that the right-side-of-the-road driving United States won the Revolutionary War. For me, that meant thirty-two years of driving reflexes were suddenly rendered useless. It was a terrifying 20-minute drive in the dark to the resort, with cars zooming towards us at high speeds in the “wrong” lane. I grabbed the wheel at 10 and 2, applied more Chap Stick to both nostrils, and kept reminding myself, “Stay left…stay left…stay left.”

Pool, Hot Tub, & Swim-Up Bar
Pool, Hot Tub, & Swim-Up Bar

Fortunately, we pulled into Island Seas Resort without incident and began a fun and interesting week on Grand Bahama Island. The island is one of 700 that comprise The Bahamas. The Siboney Indians originally settled it some 7000 years ago, and the Lucayan Indians superseded them between 5 and 7,000 years ago. There were about 4,000 Lucayans on the island when Christopher Columbus arrived, at which point they were enslaved and transported to work the gold and silver mines of Hispaniola and Cuba. After claiming the island, the Spanish largely ignored it, perhaps due to the treacherous shallow reefs that made landfall dangerous. The British claimed the Islands of the Bahamas in 1670 and eventually took control of it from Blackbeard and other pirates who used the reefs to run vessels aground. The pace began to pick up on the sleepy island when the American Civil War broke out. With a Union blockade and embargo in place, The Confederacy received smuggled goods from the West End of Grand Bahama. The next smuggling boon, during the Prohibition era, involved West Enders smuggling alcohol 56 miles to the coast of Florida. In the mid-1950s, a concerted effort was made to turn the island into a tropical Caribbean playground…no easy feat considering the country is technically not in the Caribbean.

Now after that history lesson, here are our Top 10 share-able memories from our time in this tropical Caribbean playground…

  1. Once again feeling the need to take a road all the way to the end, we decided to head east until the road and the island ran out. Our first stop was beautiful Lucayan National Park, home to one of the largest underwater cave systems in the world. We hiked the park and looked in the mouth of the caves, but decided not to underwater spelunk them because we didn’t want to die.
Gold Rock Beach
Gold Rock Beach
  1. One scenic Lucayan National Park trail took us to Gold Rock Beach, considered the best beach on Grand Bahama. It was stunning, incredibly scenic, and mostly deserted. We learned that it was one of the filming locations used in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean. As we walked along the beach, I began channeling my inner-Johnny Depp. I soon realized it’s nearly impossible to have deep, meaningful, borderline romantic conversation while talking like a pirate… “I love ya, matey! I’ve sailed the seven seas, and you’re the sleekest schooner I’ve ever sighted! Aaaaargh!”
Gypsies on Gold Rock
Gypsies on Gold Rock
  1. At the East End, we ate at Bishop’s Beach Bar, which came highly recommended by the locals. They were correct! The grouper fingers were delicious and turned out to be the single best meal of the week. After lunch, I saw the nearby beach hammock and yelled, “Blimey! Let’s dance the hempen jig!”
Is It Still a Hammock if Your Butts Touch the Ground?
Is It Still a Hammock if Your Butts Touch the Ground?
  1. We travelled to the Port Lucaya Marketplace, which is full of souvenir stands and restaurants, and home to UNEXSO (Underwater Explorer Society). After walking around in the sun for several hours, we stopped for some ice cream. Unfortunately, Lil Jan over-heated, turned pale, and vomited the ice cream in the Port Lucaya Marketplace ladies restroom. I wasn’t in there, but could hear a very piratey “Aaaaaargh!” I yelled back, “Aye! You’ve got chum in ye timbers, matey!”
  1. Among many possible touristy excursions, we decided to spend one day doing a Glass Bottom Boat Tour. While we looked down through the glass bottom, the captain positioned us over several reefs, thousands of tropical fish, and two shipwrecks. Apparently, the ships’ poor lads were hornswaggled and ended up in Davy Jones’ Locker.
Coral & Fish, Through the Boat's Bottom
Coral & Fish, Through the Boat’s Bottom
  1. Wednesday nights on Grand Bahama feature the popular Fish Fry at Smith Point. This beach eatery has the perfect combination of music, fun, and fish that stare at you while you eat them. For an appetizer, we had conch fritters and they were amazingly delicious! It’s hard to imagine how something that looks like an embryo from the Alien movie inside a shell can end up tasting so good.
Fish Fry, Bahamian-Style
Fish Fry, Bahamian-Style
  1. We took several long beach hikes throughout the week. One of the neatest things about Grand Bahama is that there are miles and miles of beautiful, deserted beaches. Take Siesta Key beach in Florida, add clear turquoise-blue water, remove all the people, and you have a typical beach on Grand Bahama. One of the locals told us most locals don’t go to the beach unless they’re fishing, and most tourists stay near the resort beaches. While hiking, we searched for and found several conch shells, watched some horseback riders in the ocean, and used seaweed to make chest hair. Good times.

IMG_2184

  1. Once again, it was time to explore the outer reaches of the island, so we headed to West End. Along the way we stopped by the Xanadu Beach Resort and Marina. Millionaire Howard Hughes purchased the resort in 1972 and lived in its penthouse floors for a few years prior to his death. It was also known as a gathering place for celebrities such as Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, and Lucille Ball. Next stop was the Pier One Restaurant where, for $10, you can feed sharks off their dock at 7, 8, and 9 p.m. A little later, as the road began to narrow with water on both sides, we began to see massive piles of conch shells. Apparently the fishermen pull the conch out to sell and then toss the shells away into piles. I rolled down the window to get a picture and immediately breathed in a brutally awful smell. As I reached for the scented Chap Stick to line my nostrils, I couldn’t tell if the smell originated from the conch shells baking in the sun or the European gentleman who was on our plane.
Howard Hughes' Xanadu Resort
Howard Hughes’ Xanadu Resort
Giant Conch Shell Pile
Giant Conch Shell Pile
  1. Our last 24 hours in the Bahamas was a combination of sad and bizarre. The sad part was learning, on our last night in town, that terrorists had killed several people in Paris. The bizarre part occurred during our final long beach hike on our final morning. While heading west about a mile from our resort on yet another stretch of deserted beach, we spotted what appeared to be a large seal in the distance along the water’s edge. As we got closer, we realized it was a local Bahamian man lying on his stomach in about a foot of water, with the tide going out. As we walked along the beach near him, he hollered, “Hey, mon, can you help me?” Apparently, he had no idea we were pirates. Sadly, my first thought was that he might be up to something. Perhaps he was concealing a knife or had some buddies in the nearby bushes waiting to jump us. We cautiously approached him and asked what was going on. It turns out the man, probably in his early 60s, had a stroke a year earlier, and likes to occasionally swim in the water for therapy. On this particular day, he went too long, got weak, collapsed, and couldn’t get up. Had the tide been coming in, he would have been in a world of hurt. We got on either side of him and turned him over, got him to sit up, and eventually helped him to stand. When Lil Jan realized he was in his boxer shorts, she muttered, “Arrrrgh! I’ve sailed the seven seas, and you’re the sleekest schooner I’ve ever sighted!” Not really. Well, he was in his boxers but she didn’t say that. Anyway, we slowly walked him over to his clothes and offered to call someone on his behalf. He declined and said he’d be fine after sitting there awhile. A half hour later, as we approached that stretch of beach on our return, he and his truck were gone.
Island Seas Resort barely visible through trees
Island Seas Resort barely visible through trees
  1. The final memory of our trip happened after landing back in Fort Lauderdale. As we descended an escalator with our luggage, an elderly couple was in front of us. As the man got to the bottom of the escalator, he tripped over his large suitcase and fell. Blimey! Two seconds later, as we scrambled towards them, his wife fell on top of him at the bottom of the escalator. Arrrgh! With the help of several people, we managed to get them and their luggage un-scrambled and upright again. They were embarrassed and she suffered a leg scrape, but nothing too serious.
Hiking with My Best Friend
Hiking with My Best Friend

We regretted that Grandpa was not up to joining us on this vacation because he is such fun to hang with. Still, it was a great week of interesting food, sights, water rescues, and other experiences. We had a delightful smelling return flight to Dallas and were happy to be back in our home on wheels. Thanksgiving was fast approaching, and that meant time to go searching for some Diamonds. Aye, matey!

Big Steve

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