Friday, March 24, 2017

The Bahama's a Stone's Throw Away

First night on the boat was a blast! Ended up hanging out w/the crew. We went to a local place they called 'the fish fry' (catchy I know). And what a place it was! We were the only non-locals. It was like one of those bazaars you roll into overseas. People everywhere! Music blaring! Motorcycles and cars rolling through the crowd. Fish shacks lined up back to back along the water. A crazy place!

We went to 'Sonny's', a favorite of the sailors.  Sonny and his wife are in their 70's or 80's and are down there everyday selling their specialty conch delights! He was very proud of his place and was a wonderful host!

After grabbing a bite to eat and a drink or two we headed to a soccer game. The rest of the night went by quickly. A great start to my travels!

The water here is so beautiful! Shades of bluest blue and greenest green... unbelievable! We set sail for a few hours. It certainly is a beautiful sight seeing the ship under full sail! 8.5 knots, the rock of the boat, warm sun, nice breeze... Good for the soul!

After a day of relaxing on some of the most incredible beaches known to man. Sapphire water, powered sugar sand and no other people for miles I swam back to the boat to watch the sunset!

You'd be right if you're thinking that these pics don't do this moment justice. If you haven't experienced a sunset out on a sailboat in the middle of the Caribbean don't wait! Life's too short to miss out... 

Captain Rob (Yes, many Capt. Ron jokes ensued throughout the trip!) gave us an astronomy lesson with his wicked cool super laser pointer! It was really unbelievable! (Yes, I do think it was the same one that Auric used on Bond in the 1964 movie Goldfinger).

Captain Ron... Oh, I mean Capt. Rob

The moonless sky was so clear that you could easily see the milky way! There were so many stars out that some of the constellations were hard to find! It was like being in a planetarium only better!

This morning climbed the rigging up the main mast to the crows nest some 90' feet up. Palms sweating, heart pounding, jittery... Breathe, go hand over hand, focus on now! One step at a time. Keep going, don't stop, you'll make it! If someone can do it, I can do it too!

Kyle (one of the sailors) climbed this like a monkey. He felt at home just 'hanging' around. Crazy! Me, not so much! =)

   The view up top was breathtaking!

 We sailed through a place called 'Current Cut' part of the Eleuthera Islands. They said it was rather technical to navigate it. It's only about 300' wide at the waterline, however underneath the water, the "cut" is less than 125' wide at high tide. This cut allowed the keel of the ship to pass without grounding. Captain Rob made the pass look effortless. 

Later that day we arrived at Glass Window. It was once a natural rock bridge that separated the  Atlantic and Caribbean Ocean. The stark difference is profound. Master & Commander meets Captain Ron. Beautiful! The cliffs were incredible. Maybe 120' or so. You could see for miles!

The moon pools were cool too! An area where the ocean cut away the rock into these circular formations, like bird baths. At night they reflect the moon in each pool... Thus the name! Too bad I didn't get to see that!

After hiking back to the beach I took a quick dip to cool off and then swam back to the boat. Much to my delight, the crew rigged a Tarzan Swing off the aft mast of the ship. Much fun was had by swinging 20' or so off the rope and into the warm turquoise water! It was like being a kid again! The day wrapped up wit a jam session with the crew and guests! Another fantastic day sailing the Caribbean!

Sailed through the night and anchored off from Rose Island where we snorkeled (OMG!), swam some more, chilled and saw Gilligan's Island! Yes, that's right, I did say Gilligan's Island! The very island they used for the main picture of the original B&W series. Later, when they went color, they used an island near Hawaii.

 If you look close, you can see Mary Ann making banana cream pie!

Sailing was great! It was pretty much what I was expecting. I'm glad I finally did it! No, I didn't touch on much of what I did on this trip, you only get a flavor! Many things will stick with me for a lifetime, but my favorite has to be sitting on the deck watching the sun set and the stars come out! There aren't words to describe that! 

It was cool sharing that world for a while. The crew had something going on that was addictive. They loved what they were doing and it showed in everything that they did! Vibrant! Alive! The ocean and sailing is deep and rich in history and tradition. The skill each of the crew demonstrated was impressive. We admired seeing them in their element... and being a part of it even if only for a moment.

After getting off the ship, I stayed a couple days at this fantastic place called 'A Stone's Throw Away', another place that I recommend you go if you ever get the chance! You won't regret it!

Well, that's it for now intrepid travelers! Thanks for sharing some of my journey! Until next time! Remember...

“To know the universe itself as a road for traveling souls.” 

~Rolf Potts

All the best,

Monday, March 13, 2017

Charlie's Pigs Feet

By this time, I see that my plan wasn't going quite as I... well, planned. After checking in on the boat, I head to the local convenience store to buy some provisions before getting back on the boat later that afternoon. I forget it's Sunday, so the place is closed, however Othello (I assume the owner) lets me in anyway and lets me grab what I need. Nice guy.

I notice that all the stores here have thick iron bars on all of the doors and windows. The gas station is equipped with bulletproof glass... Hmmm... Although that isn't really any different than many of the places not too far from my place at home, none the less, it makes me more aware that I look like a tourist, complete w/backpack. At least I'm not toting around a bunch of luggage!

I tip Othello for letting me in his store when it was closed (he didn't have to do that!). Feeling the pings of hunger, I realized I haven't had anything to eat all day. So, I ask Othello where there was a good place to eat around here? He directs me to a local place called Charlie's Stadium Cafe'. It's literally around the corner. They call it the stadium cafe' because it is built in the front part of an old sports stadium. Anyway, Othello says it's a favorite local place.

I walk in. It's empty. There are a couple gals working there who greet me. They say something and then grin and laugh. I can't understand them very well because I haven't quite picked up their accent yet. They repeat what they said, directing me to a booth. I sit.

Yet again, they address me in that sweet island dialect. No menus. They just apparently are asking me what I want to eat. I'm looking for some local cuisine. I think I understand them. She is saying something sauce or soup. Local? Yep. Local. Ok, I smile and nod. A few minutes later out comes a huge bowl of soup... Pigs Feet with Sauce.

Oh... NOW I understand what she was saying! Yuck! Boiled pigs feet in soup... Lucky for me it comes with bread.

Yes, I was looking for something local, but this was a bit too local for my taste. Well, at least it came with some bread!

Not wanting to be rude, I was committed to giving it a try.

I quickly realized that I didn't even know how to eat pigs feet! Do I pop them in my mouth and eat them whole! They looked like a mass of hooves, with bone, grizzle and fat. I didn't see any meat on them what so ever.

I look down at the heaping pile and think, "of all the times for there to be huge a portion..." Well, here it goes. I shovel a spoonful in my mouth. It tasted like salty soup. As long as I didn't think about what I was eating it was alright. I munched the hooves around in my mouth, biting off all of the stuff that I could swallow with out choking. Then, after I bit off as much of the chewable tissue I could, I gingerly spit out the remaining hoof into my hand and put it next to the bowl. I continued this process until I went through half of the bowl. My stomach only turned twice threatening to eject my efforts back onto the table. I held strong...

The waitress, Rachael came back to ask me  how everything was? I said great (of course). I finished the "sauce" off by dipping my bread into it. The soup portion was pretty good, but after eating about half of the pigs feet, I was done.

When I was settling my bill, I got a chance to talk with my waitress. I told her that it was my first time eating pigs feet and I admitted to not even knowing how to go about it. She told me that I was doing alright. With the sweetest smile, she went on to tell me how their restaurant is known for their pigs feet in sauce.

Where ever I go people are proud of their heritage, their food, accomplishment, beliefs and values.

I smiled, thanked her and left a tip on my way out.


Friday, March 10, 2017

No Entry Twice

Graffiti painted sign just outside of tourist district in downtown Nassau, Bahamas

For those who don't know me yet, I'll tell you that one of the things I've wanted to do since I first saw a Windjammer Brochure in 2000 is one of these Barefoot Cruises! It was something that I'd dream about, much like a Buffet song, it would help out during times of work stress. A fantasy outlet! Time came and went and before I knew it it was 2016! Yep, 16 years later. A lot happened in the middle of those years (as all years!), but in June, I finally said screw it, I'm going! I just had a decent sized contract come in. I was doing alright on bills and I had enough in my bank account to put a down payment down on the trip. I'll tell ya folks, hadn't I paid that down payment, I wouldn't have gone. Yet another year would have passes by.

So what's a barefoot cruise? Great question! A barefoot cruise is a trip on a small sailing ship (in this case a 125' twin mast schooner). This particular boat will be home to 8 crew and 16 passengers. Flexible, relaxed island agenda. Sailing to the small places with minimal tourists, maximum awesome! No big cruise ships here! Unbelievable beaches, water and hidden coves to explore, minus the hustle bustle of crowds and touristy routes.

I wake up slow, wash up, pack my gear - 12 days, one backpack. That includes all of my clothes, 6 books (BTW, that's about 3 too many!), my journal, toiletries, electronic gear, flip flops, hat, etc. Yep, everything I needed... and more!

For those adventure travelers who are interested, I'll write a blog about what I packed and how I fit it all in to my ONE CARRY-ON luggage piece! Yes, you skeptics it is possible, I had MORE than I needed for the trip. I could have cut a number of items out and have been fine! Don't believe me?! You'll have to catch that blog to see how I did it!

When I travel, I like to walk when it makes sense. This gives me a better feel of the area, the people and helps me to connect with the experience more deeply. I planned this aspect of the trip when I booked my hotel. It looked like a reasonable hike from my hotel to the marina where the boat was docked.

That morning I repacked my flip flops, put my merrells back on , grabbed my gear and headed down the road. By the look of the map, it was a straight shot from the hotel to the marina. Only about 1 1/2 miles. If I kept the ocean on my left and went just passed the bridge to Paradise Island, I'd be there in less than hour.

I walk straight through the tourist district downtown Nassau. I can see the huge ocean liners docked in the water. Each one holds thousands of passengers! A slice of hell if you ask me, but to each their own. The shops I passed by were no doubt catering to the people who came off those ships: Gucci, Polo, Ralph Lauren, Dakkar... You get the idea.

In a few short blocks, I was in what probably was the old tourist area of town. Boarded up buildings, for sale signs and gang graffiti replaced clean facades, new pavement and tourist cash.

Step by step I followed the ocean shore until I finally came to the marina. I found that it is best to look like you know what you're doing when you are wandering around (maybe a guy thing!?). However, don't be afraid to ask questions. In fact, this method seems to work so well, that two different people asked me for directions. When I got to the marina someone asked me which boat was mine! (If they only knew how much I get lost!)

I could see what had to be the boat's masts. It was the only ship in the yard that had old school twin masts standing high and proud 100' in the air. I confidently go through the gated entrance and walk out on to the dock toward where I figured the boat was. My deduction proved correct.

As I approached the ship (I use boat and ship interchangeably, we'll cover the differences later!), what I assumed to be the crew were buzzing around doing their thing. They were much younger and more relaxed than I had pictured in my mind (which is pretty much the norm now-a-days!).

I walk passed the "only board if invited" sign, on to the gang plank to talk with someone. I figured I was more than invited, I paid a good deal of money to sail with them. No sooner than my big toe touched the deck, a young blond gal in her late 20's / early 30's (every year that goes by, I have a harder time judging peoples age!) about had a stroke, trying to shoe me off the boat. She had the same demeanor as the "Do NOT Approach" lady from Westside who thought I was a homeless person asking her for money. Click here for that funny story!  In a blink a couple of the other crew members start in on me as well. Although they were a bit more "even keeled" (pun intended). I slowly back off the vessel, which seemed to put the young gal at ease.

"Boarding time is 5pm." The scruffy ship hand said.

He looked a lot like a modern version of one of his predecessors from "Black Sails."  Later, I would find out that his name is Ben. He was jovial enough as were the entire crew once I got to know them.

"Yea, I know, but it said we could stow our gear here anytime after 11am." 

"No problem." He says looking my name up on his wadded up piece of paper with the passengers names on it.

I thank him as he explained where I could go to get some some provision. I start walking off, but I see he's not putting my gear on board. I ask about it and he replies,"Oh, we just leave it here dockside. Don't worry, we'll keep an eye on it."

Oh, no no noooo. Me no likey likey! So my pack w/all of my stuff, clothes, keys, a fair amount of $$, electronics, travel and hotel info, etc... left dockside, literally inches from being knocked in the water or someone walking away with it!? I don't think so! Call me paranoid, but no, I don't feel comfortable with that! So, I do an about face, pick up my gear and walk back to the marina.

"Yo, Craig!" A voice calls out after me.

He says it twice before I turn around to talk.

Ben tries to assure me that it's cool and the bag will be fine. I on the other hand am not about to leave all my stuff there unattended. I nicely decline his offer and tell him I'd feel more comfortable having my gear with me.

I'm sure he and the rest of the crew are talking about the uptight tourist, but if you ever been stranded a few thousand miles from home w/o your gear, you'd understand!

More later,

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Mr. Bodhi-Booty and Prom Pictures

Local Nassau artist making and selling his work on the beach right across from my hotel

Hilton, my cabby takes me through the winding back streets of Nassau. Immediately I notice something odd. I never realized that they drive on the left side of the road here. Who would've thunk?!

Along the way I ask Hilton if the surfing is good in the Bahamas.

"No, not good. Beautiful reefs, but water too shallow, mon." He says in that cool laid back island accent.

Good to know, so I guess I won't be learning how to surf here. That would explain why I never see any huge Bahama surf spots in the magazines. Ok, I'll have to stick to swimming, snorkeling, kayaking and swinging off the Tarzan swing rigged to one of the masts. 

After a half hour or so of the twisting and turning we finally pull up to the the El Greco. Much like on-line dating, the picture that they post on looks much different than what I saw before me. The 1988 prom pic gave way to 2017.

El Greco's "Prom Picture"
(Sorry I don't have one of my pics)

I grab my things, pay Hilton and check in.

"You pay $20." The clerk tells me as he pushes a poorly xeroxed sheet of crinkled paper with hand written notes scrawled on it.

"There must be a mistake." I say pointing at my printout from that clearly states at the top of the sheet, and I quote, "YOU'RE ALL SET. PAID IN FULL."

"No, no." Is the reply. "Not include V.A.T." 

"Well, it says PAID IN FULL right there. How am I misreading that?" I say, staying calm, but feel that twinge of anger rising from my belly.

"No, international doesn't include VAT." 

"I've use internationally and they haven't charged me VAT when it said "paid in full."  I state matter-of-factly.

"No..." He trails off shaking his head.

"Get your manager." I say firmly.

The manager comes out and give me the same line. Quick on his feet, he says that it is in the fine print and points out that I only have the first of three sheets printed out. I raise my voice firmly telling him that this is crap. He's not budging. He's really leaning on me not having my full docs to prove it wasn't in the fine print. Which I must admit I didn't read, I've just never been charged above what charged me; here, there, in or out of the States.

Now, I would like to say that I used my Sinatra like influence to make him see things my way, but it didn't go down that way. We stood there eyeball to eyeball. A standoff. I'd been on the road since 4am and it was now 5pm. I was tired and didn't want to start off my vacation like this. Either this guy was right, or it wasn't his first rodeo and I was just another tourist who'd be taken advantage of. He knew that most of the hotels were booked solid and I didn't want to be out trying to find another place now after traveling all day. So, I reached in my pocket, pulled out $20 and cut my losses.

"Alright, here's your $20, I'll talk to about it and mention it in my review."  I said directly. (Big deal! He's got my $20 now)

*Note to self, print entire document so next time I have the 'fine print' with me as well.

He grunts and pushes my room key across the counter to me. (Yup, an actual key, not key card!). I follow him back through the atrium where he showed me my room. It wasn't a hole, but for $149/night (including my recent $20 'VAT'  charges), it more resembled a Motel 6 than how it was depicted in No bugs, but not what I was expecting for the cost. However, it was right across the street from the beach.

Would I stay there again? Sure, it wasn't that bad. After I get back home and settle in, I'll look into the 'fine print' to see if there was a shred of truth in the VAT story, or if it was total BS.

After the manager leaves, I toss my gear onto the bed, change into shorts and flip flops and head out. I meander down the beech a fair ways, then head back toward the hotel to find somewhere to eat. I find a place by the hotel and order some food and a beer.  I'm not there more than a few sips into my beer when this dude with a huge 70's style afro approaches me smiling all friendly. He looks like William Marshall from the 1972 movie Blackula, complete with long pointed nails and bloodshot eyes (thankfully, minus the fangs).  Replace the tux with baggy jeans and a slightly soiled red tank top and you can see who I was looking at.

"Welcome mon, I'm the promoter, Mr. Booty." He says with a Cheshire grin.

"Mr. Booty?! Now that's an interesting name." I say.

"No mon, Mr. Bodhi, not booty, but I can get you booty, or jib (putting his fingers to his lips mimicking smoking a joint.) Whatever you want mon, whatever."

I chuckle, "No thanks man, I'm not into either, I'm just here to have dinner and a couple drinks." 

"Really mon, whatever you need, I'm your guy. It's my job to make sure you and your guys havin' good time." He says smiling from ear to ear.

"I see that." I say still laughing at how cliche' this all seems.

I go back to eating before Mr. Bodhi-Booty (my new nickname for him) leaves to see to his other guests.

Before he takes off he asks, "How long you here for?"

"Only tonight." I reply between bites.

"Where's your crew?" 

Now I get a feeling, 'that' feeling, you know? It might not be the best time to be 100% honest about traveling alone.

"Some friends are meeting me here after they get their luggage." I say straight faced.

"No worries mon, I make a good night for all you guys." 

He seemed to buy my line, as he walks away. Why wouldn't he? My delivery was good and most people don't travel alone, so my claim is totally believable.

Remember kids, honesty is a relative value and although lying is usually viewed as bad, under certain circumstance (such as this) it is encouraged. Please pay attention!

I finish my over priced meal and walk back to my overpriced hotel. I wouldn't have paid half as much in G.R., however GR isn't 90 degrees, sunny and on the beach. Not to mention I wouldn't have the Mr. Bodhi-Booty or El Greco stories either.

By this time, I'm tired and it's getting late (well, late enough anyway), so I retire for the evening.

The best part of all of this is... We're just getting started, I'm not even to the boat yet! It's going to be a good week, I can feel it!

More later,

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Weather's Here, Wish You Were Beautiful

 On the Liberty Clipper after climbing to the top of the main mast.
 (My palms still sweating & heart beating out of my chest!)

Traveling solo is interesting... I flew into Nassau about 3:30 pm yesterday. Grabbed a cab to my hotel (the El Greco). My cabbie, Hilton, was nice. Hilton has eight kids and drives 7 days a week (to support them I suppose). He says he has been to every State in the Union, China and Europe. I have to give it to him, he looked way too young to have eight kids ranging in age from 8 to 21! He gave me his card as I asked him all of the usual questions I ask cabbies, bartenders, waitstaff and locals I run into when I'm traveling:You know where all of the strip clubs are and how I can get my hands on some drugs and hookers? ...Just kidding I don't go to strip clubs... (Now come on, no, I'm not being serious about any of it... let it go!)

All kidding aside, the questions I typically ask are:

  1. Where are the good places to go? (Eat, See, Do)
  2. What are the places & things I need to be careful of? 
  3. If you were to only recommend 3 things to do or see, what would they be? 

Most people have been taught to be on alert when they travel. Keep an eye out for someone trying to take advantage, scam or rob you (in some places even kidnap). Maintain good awareness. Don't trust strangers. Have a money belt where you keep most of your valuables (Passport, $$$, etc). Keep track of your luggage. Don't take any wooden nickles and of course have a nice relaxing vacation!

Being that one of the main things I do for a living is teach defensive tactics, I agree with all that and more, however we have to remember to remain balanced between freedom and security. Risk is what lays between and separates the two. As conflict resolution expert Dr. Robert Humphrey said,

"As much freedom as possible with as much security as necessary."

Travel as life is inherently risky, however the rewards can far outweigh the risks, if you know how to assess and minimize your exposure. A lot depends on your risk tolerance, your awareness, your ability to assess and skills to manage that risk.  That's why I train! So I can know what experiences are worth the risk.

Every place you go is different. The look and feel of people and places can vary dramatically. Until you get in tune with where you're at, you don't really know what you're taking in, or exposing yourself to. At first it can all look overwhelming and scary, but if you relax a little and pay attention, you'll start to get a gauge for things.

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."

~ Shunryu Suzuki

This quote can be taken in many ways. When you're talking about being safe, you realize that if you let your fears grab a hold of you too tight, it seems as if anything goes and the amount of vulnerability is so high because "anything could happen." However, as you gain experience you begin to see that although there are risks, they are manageable if you have the right approach. 

The Liberty Clipper - a 125' twin mast schooner. 
Home for the next week or so...

As for my first experience of the Bahamas?! I'm still getting the lay of the land, the sea and the people. I haven't gotten used to their cool island accents yet, let alone all of the other factors. It'll take me a little time to get my travelers legs on, so to speak (sea legs too!)... but it's all good!

In the next few posts I will share some of my journey with you, sailing the Caribbean on a 125' sailboat called the Liberty Clipper. Island hopping in the Bahamas, meeting interesting people, seeing and doing things often reserved for dreams (and Jimmy Buffet songs!). 



"Gonna put the world away for a minute,
Pretend I don't live in it,
Sunshine gonna wash my blues away..."

~Zac Brown Band, "Knee Deep" 

I train to Live, Protect & Inspire... It's a Lifestyle, the Protectors Life, a PeaceWalker's Life!

See you in da'Islands Mon...   ;-)