|By Gina Cicotello
It was, as expected, a stunningly beautiful place with white sand beaches, dramatic rocky coastlines, and crystal clear water about a million shades of blue. The warm temperatures are mitigated by tropical breezes, and the area is relatively undeveloped and unpopulated. Fulfilling its promise as a peaceful and worthwhile Caribbean getaway, the Exumas surprised us more than once.
Some of our friends had been there in March 2008. Their trip report, which gave us a lot of clues, starts here (music alert, you might want to turn down your speakers).
Peter and I planned a route that would take us to interesting sights and minimize the overlap on our return trip. We had hoped in 9 days of paddling to get all the way to Staniel Cay, but due to multiple circumstances things didn't turn out that way. Here's our whole trip in a nutshell:
Day 1: Sat 12/29 - TRAVEL: Washington, DC to George Town, Exuma
Day 2: Sun 12/30 - LAUNCH: Launched at Odie Creek, camped on Lily Cay
Day 3: Mon 12/31 - Camped on New Cay
Day 4: Tue 1/1 - Crossed over to Melvin Cay, camped on Lignumvitae Cay
Day 5: Wed 1/2 - Hiked and snorkeled at Darby Island, camped on Big Galliot Cay
Day 6: Thu 1/3 - Visited Little Farmer's settlement, camped on Great Guana Cay (near White Point)
Day 7: Fri 1/4 - TURNAROUND: Visited new friends and snorkeled at Prospect Point, camped on Big Farmer's Cay
Day 8: Sat 1/5 - Hiked and visited research station on Little Darby, camped on Lignumvitae Cay
Day 9: Sun 1/6 - Visited iguanas on Guana Cay, snorkeled at Leaf Cay, snorkeled and camped on Lee Stocking Island
Day 10: Mon 1/7 - TAKEOUT: Snorkeled at Pigeon Cay, landed at Barreterre
Day 11: Tue 1/8 - Slack day in George Town, snorkeled at Stocking Island
Day 12: Wed 1/9 - TRAVEL: George Town, Exuma to Washington, DC
As with any first trip to a new place, we look back on the things we did "right" and learned some things we'd try differently another time. Shared below are the things we wanted to emphasize, so that others might benefit.
EXPERIENCES / LESSONS LEARNED / RECOMMENDATIONS
The Exuma Cays are a string of islands in the Bahamas that generally run east-west. Kayak trips usually start somewhere from Great Exuma on the eastern end of the chain. By default any trip will be out-and-back, though by exploring the short chain of Brigantine Cays to the south, it's possible to eliminate some of the territory you will see twice.
The north side of the Exuma Cays is exposed to the ocean, and can be very rough with rocky coastlines and dumping waves. Kayakers generally stick to the south side of the chain, paddling in the lee and island-hopping in calmer waters. Crossing the channels between islands can be tricky, depending on winds and currents; it's recommended to give them a wide berth.
It's almost ALWAYS windy in the Exuma Cays. Kayakers should be comfortable paddling in choppy water, sometimes into a headwind, sometimes with beam waves (rollers, not breakers) or strong currents. Prevailing winds are from the east, so extra time is required to go back west on the return to Great Exuma. Heading out with a stiff tailwind can be awfully nice, but coming back requires a strategy to hug the islands, plan the crossings, and keep tabs on the tides and currents. Most of our days on the water, the winds were 10-15 knots, not strong enough to deter our progress and useful for keeping the bugs away. The first two days with 20+ knot winds, we stayed in protected areas along the Brigantine Cays and limited our mileage.
Winter temperatures are remarkably consistent, 70-80 degree air temps, and water temps just a bit lower. Thin shirts were always fine for kayaking. When swimming, I was happy in a rash guard type shirt, but Peter preferred to wear his shorty wetsuit. In the evening while sitting on the beach, we put on long sleeves and zipped the legs onto convertible pants. Fleece sleeping bag liners were sufficient for warmth at night. We got no significant rain, just a couple of very brief showers.
Kayakers often spend days and weeks on end trying to explore waterways from above the surface only, and I think it's a big mistake. Especially where the water is as clear and inviting as it is in the Exumas. A whole ecosystem of marine life lives underneath our boats, so we find we get a much more intimate experience by simply sticking our faces in the water. Catching the shadow of a passing stingray isn't nearly as interesting as staring it in the eye! Many of the critters hang out in the shallows, so even if you never submerge underwater you can see a whole lot with no more skill than it requires to float along on the surface. Snorkel sets are cheap and easy to find -- Peter and I got our U.S. Divers kits at Costco for about $40. Since we were already wet from paddling anyway, we kept our kits handy on the back deck or inside a hatch, donned our mask and fins whenever we felt like it, and jumped in. The best time to snorkel is during the midday sun, say between 10 AM and 2 PM. We looked for calm bays and especially along rock walls where the coral heads grow and the fish school. Deep channels are interesting too -- we watched a formation of giant Eagle Rays gliding majestically through Darby Channel -- we were careful to watch the currents.
Most times we camped on the lee (south) side of the islands, but quickly learned to always look for a trail that goes to the ocean (north) side. We never missed the chance to explore these, and were rewarded with spectacular views of the rugged, rocky coastline and crashing waves. A particularly nice scenic overlook was on the ocean side opposite the campsite on Lee Stocking Cay.
Ocean side of Lee Stocking Cay
On Little Darby, we stopped at the research station and got permission to hike the trail on Big Darby. The trail starts at the cement dock. There we found the remnants of an exquisitely designed house built by a Nazi sympathizer. He was dredging the channel trying to make way for U-boats to get into the Exuma Cays, and using Darby Island to grow food and livestock to resupply them offshore. He was successful at both, but after the war was lost he was kicked out, and the beautiful house has since fallen to ruins. On our visit someone had recently cleared the trail with a machete, so we kept on going to an interesting cave where we heard bats roosting in the crevices. The island is for sale, if you've got buckets of money and the fortitude to restore an old fixer-upper.
Castle ruins on Darby Island
While talking to the research folks on Little Darby, they taught us about stromatolites, layered rock structures formed in shallow water by sedimentary grains that are trapped and bound by microorganisms, especially blue-green algae. Stromatolites are some of the oldest known fossils, providing the most ancient records of life on Earth dating back more than 3.5 billion years. Jack, who's often cracking conch on the pier, was easily persuaded to take us to a beach on the other end of the island where stromatolites can be seen, and he pointed us to other places in the Exumas where they exist.
If you're going to the Exumas in the winter, remember that your days will be short. In December-January, dark fell at 6:00 PM, which left us a lot of time trying to entertain ourselves on the beach after dinner. On cloudless nights the stargazing was incredible, but it would have been nice to bring along a couple good books to read or some cards and games.
George Town may seem like a sleepy place, but it surprised us at times. For example:
On the night we arrived, we wandered around town just to get our bearings, and stumbled on a group of musicians warming up brass instruments. Scattered around the school exterior were dozens of elaborate costumes and feathered headdresses, which made us curious.
It's 9:22 PM in George Town, and the band is just getting warmed up
We finally asked a guy what was going on. "Oh, there will be a parade in about an hour." What's the occasion? "Boxing Day. We're celebrating a little late." (It was about 8:00 PM on Sat 12/29/2012. Boxing Day was officially 12/26, so they were indeed late.) I was feeling pretty crappy at this point, coughing violently and my throat hurt so bad I couldn't swallow. But I figured I could wait an hour not to miss the excitement, and we found ourselves a good spectator spot along the roadside. Finally, sometime after 9:30 PM (clearly they're on island time) we heard music up the hill where they'd been warming up. Slowly.... at an excruciating pace where they'd take a few steps, then stop and play for 10-15 minutes.... the "parade" made its way down the hill. It consisted of one float, with lights and bright decorations on wheels, which they pushed along in front of one large band of brass and drums, and a whole troop of gaudily dressed, gyrating dancers. The feathers and masks were hypnotizing, and they played and danced with the enthusiasm and charisma of a Grateful Dead concert. It was impossible not to get entrained by the rhythms, and caught up in their intense spirit of celebration. The parade proceeded maybe 2-3 blocks, which took a significant amount of time, then stopped in front of our hotel. One by one the dancers exited as their masks and costumes were discarded, and only the band was left playing. Well this party is winding down, we thought, so we proceeded to our room at Mrs. Marshall's Guest House and I collapsed in a self-pitying desperation for sleep and healing. But the partying didn't stop, in fact the band kept playing well into the wee hours of morning. Right. Outside. Our. Room. They'd come up one side of the building, just outside our window, then creep away for awhile, and just when I relaxed into a deep sleep they'd come up the alley and blare away outside the opposite window. They were pretty good, their enthusiasm making up for any lack of talent, and the whole situation was so ironic that I couldn't help but laugh it off. Eventually I did fall asleep, and woke up rather startled by the peace and quiet.
11:12 PM just outside our hotel. The dancers packed up and left, but the band played on... and on... and on...
On Day 11, we took one slack day at the end of our kayak expedition to explore the rest of George Town. Hideaways, where we stayed for two nights, is in Palm Bay less than a mile from George Town's center. The hotel will shuttle you for free, but it's just as easy to walk to town. Peter and I like to poke into the nooks and crannies of any new place on foot, so we walked around the loop and down a long, well-graded unpaved road towards Dead Man's Cay and what was the old airport, now a small U.S. Navy base (they have one helicopter). It was a natural setting, the native shrubs only interrupted by a small concrete plant and some piles of discarded debris, and much more peaceful than walking along the shoulderless roads. (What is it about small island cultures that makes its inhabitants want to DRIVE everywhere they go, at recklessly high speeds?) The winds had kicked up past 20 knots that day, and we were grateful to be off the water. After the morning rain showers had passed, we went back to the town dock and got on the ferry. A water taxi will take you to one of two beaches, the Chat 'N Chill beach or the Peace 'N Plenty (aka Hamburger) beach, both on Stocking Island, for $15 per person round trip. We spent the afternoon on the Peace 'N Plenty beach, snorkeling on the lee side and hiking up to a monument indicating the highest point in the Exumas. The ocean side was rugged and beautiful, but underwater rocks, dumping waves and strong currents kept us from going in the water past our knees.
Get to know the fish! The outfitter gave us a waterproof card that helped us identify some of the species. They're all pretty to see, and some are also good to eat. We took along a spear, but we're too wimpy to actually kill anything. Another couple told us they had improved their spearfishing skills and could have eaten fresh fish every night if they'd wanted.
If you're into birds, take binoculars and a field guide for Caribbean species. The most common bird I saw was the Bananaquit, who flit around in the shrubs and aren't shy to come close. Others that were easy to identify were Ruddy Turnstones and American Coots. However, I was unequipped to identify many of the pelagic species soaring over open water -- possibly various types of Shearwaters and Kites.
The Bahamas are full of lizards, in addition to the famed and endangered Exuma Iguana. We saw lots of iguanas in preserves on Guana Cay and Leaf Cay. (They also exist further west on Bitter Guana Cay, if you get that far.)
The endangered and ever curious Exuma Iguana
The famed swimming pigs (yes, pigs, they're tame and trained to swim in saltwater, and they just had a litter of little baby piggies) are on Big Majors just beyond Staniel Cay. Sadly, we didn't get that far.
We saw an occasional snake, none are poisonous.
Scorpions exist though we never saw any. We were told they like to hide in the crevices, so shake out your gear and shoes before wearing them. Their sting is not dangerous.
In the water, we were warned to beware of the beautifully decorated but poisonous and invasive Lion Fish. We saw a few while snorkeling, and reported them to the researchers who subsequently went on a hunt to eliminate them.
Stingrays are everywhere. We avoided getting too close.
Giant red-orange Sea Stars are common. We found one with a leg missing.
Sea Star more symmetrical than most, but apparently doing just fine.
Hermit crabs are everywhere, both land and sea, and come in all sizes from the size of a fingernail to larger than my hand.
Hermie the Hermit Crab
The Bahamas are known for sharks, and we saw a couple different shark species. They are not aggressive to humans, but blood or chumming would not be wise.
And as usual, rodents are often present at well-used campsites. We were diligent about storing food in our kayak hatches.
Water from the tap is fine to drink. Each island generally has its own desalination plant, and many buildings are off-grid with water collection systems. The outfitter would have gladly provided us with MSR Dromedary bags, but we'd brought our own. I let them fill my water bags from 5-gallon jugs of drinking water, but Peter did just as well to fill his from the tap at our hotel.
As with many things in this remote island culture, food is expensive. At the Splash restaurant, it was easy to rack up $60 on dinner with one cocktail, an appetizer, and two burgers. The waitress always brought us bottled water, and charged $2 apiece, unless we specifically asked for tap water. Many places seem to want to serve fish or shrimp that has been breaded and fried. Greens and fresh produce are hard to come by.
There are two grocery stores in George Town, the Exuma Market and the Shop Rite. Both are pretty well equipped for last-minute items (we picked up some fresh fruit, raisins, PB&J, and gummy candies). However, be aware that the stores are NOT sufficient to fully stock an expedition. We had planned out meals and brought our own food, which turned out to be a wise move. When we were feeling cheap, we could pick up enough ingredients at the grocery store to make our own breakfast or lunch while in town.
There are farmers on the island of Great Exuma. Occasionally, they put up produce stands in town. If we had carried some cash and a sharp pocket knife, we could have been snacking on fresh tomatoes or papayas that were picked ripe.
After eating one so-so dinner at Eddie's Edgewater restaurant, which had been recommended to us as "the place locals eat," we set out to find something better. Several people told us the Fish Fry is the #1 place to go when you're looking for a fresh seafood dinner at a fair price. It's basically a series of shacks on the beach in Palm Bay, within walking distance of where we stayed at Hideaways. The first time we wandered through the Fish Fry at night, we were a little intimidated by the ramshackle appearance of a dozen or so vendors, where locals where hanging out drinking beer and playing dominoes. It wasn't apparent how to close the gap between us tourists and a great meal. The next night though, emboldened by the recommendations of several people we talked to, we went back and found two Bahamian ladies working their alchemy over a large, smoking grill sheltered in a grove of Casuarina trees. They served us a piping hot plate of Grouper fillet in a light broth; included were sides of a vegetable pasta and a green salad (a heavenly rarity) with dressing. Peter and I were so delighted by the flavors that we went back and ordered another dish (each took 20 minutes, made to order), this time with a whole Red Snapper cooked in a foil pouch with sliced onions and a seasoned sauce. We slurped our way through leaving nothing but the fish head and bones, and left with the satisfaction that we'd finally experienced the best deal in town. Each plate was only $12, and the fish had likely been caught that day. We were told the Fish Fry really gets hopping on Friday nights, and Charlie's shack offers karaoke on Sundays.
People in the Exumas, both native Bahamians and imports from elsewhere, are refreshingly friendly.
By Day 6, our fifth day on the water, I was without exaggeration very, very sick. I was coughing uncontrollably, and my throat was so sore that I only swallowed when necessary, and had to consciously psych myself up first. I'd had several rough nights trying uncomfortably and unsuccessfully to sleep in the tent. I'm generally happy to be in the backcountry, but when I'm that sick and sleep deprived, every little challenge becomes a big one. My long hair becomes a liability when exposed to wind and saltwater, clothes and drybags were perpetually wet from the salt and humid air, sand got into everything, my electronics (camera and GPS) were starting to fail. Everything just seemed like a huge pain in the arse. Peter would wake up and go bounding up the hillside to watch the sunrise over the ocean, while I was back in the tent struggling to put in my contact lenses with dirty, sandy fingers, and scoping out a private spot to go to the bathroom (it's those times I resent being a girl). I took massive amounts of over-the-counter drugs, trying to relieve the symptoms, and though they helped a little it was clear my illness was only getting worse. It had started before Christmas, and I hoped it was just a cold that would go away on its own. But I couldn't shake it, and was concerned that it had become some kind of infection. Strep throat or pneumonia are bad things to have in the wilderness, and I didn't want to wind up requiring a boat ride or airlift back to civilization just because of some darned virus. The first reasonable opportunity we saw for treatment was a Clinic noted on the chart, in the small village of Little Farmer's. We made our way there, and I managed to call Blue Cross to ask what expenses would be covered if I happened to find a doctor. Brenda and Tasha, the ladies who run the small grocery store, invited us onto the porch for a plate of fried shrimp and greasy fries. Tasha told us about the settlement and their big festival in February. She immediately recognized my misery, and told us the clinic had been closed because of hurricane damage. A nurse only visits the island every week or two.
The roofless and defunct clinic on Little Farmers Cay, next to the town's desalination plant.
Then Tasha (she preferred I call her Trina, because our names rhymed) ducked into the store to return with a small bottle of Benjamin's Balsam, an herbal cough remedy from Jamaica, and (hallelujah) a full 6-day course of Amoxicillin. She had been to Nassau for the holidays, and had just recovered from a similar illness herself, so she made sure to stock up on medicine before returning to the island. Despite my repeated insistence trying to pay her for the medicine, she refused and gave me a big hug. After a few days of regular dosage of antibiotics, I felt almost normal by the last two days of our kayak trip, and was able to enjoy the paradise that had been hard to appreciate before.
Feeling somewhere between recovering and reincarnated.
On Day 7, which is when we had to turn around and head back east, we stopped in a shallow bay on the west tip of Big Farmers Cay, because it looked like a nice spot for snorkeling and lunch. Up on the rocky point (called Prospect Point) was a big, blue house, round with windows on all sides. As we scoped our landing spot on the beach, a woman came over and introduced herself as the homeowner. We had just watched as her husband launched a pretty wooden row boat and set off for a paddle, but eventually he came back and joined our friendly chatter. His boat, as we instantly recognized, was a hand built Chester Yawl from a CLC kit, which got us started on a whole new line of conversation. They told us they had bought the house unfinished, and did all the work themselves to build it completely off-grid with solar power, water collection systems, and other green features. The guys bonded over construction details, the women found birds and yoga in common, and they invited us up to the house for a tour. They offered us hot showers (yep, that off-grid system works like a charm!) and we traded life stories. They are from Vermont, but having sold off a successful business they are busily establishing their second home in the Bahamas, which they share in a partnership with another family. We left reluctantly, grateful for their warm hospitality and hoping to see them again at a future CLC Okumefest. Peter and I agreed in all seriousness.... If everyone was as nice as this couple we randomly met in the Bahamas, the world would be a much better place.
Off-grid house on Prospect Point, Big Farmers Cay
On Day 12, we reluctantly had the hotel desk call a cab to take us to George Town airport. The cab driver showed up with a big SUV, dressed in shirt and tie, a wide smile and ebullient personality. He turned up the radio, and noted the music artist as Basil Smith, a local, playing a lively Calypso type song "Exuma Sweet Like Dat." Then he gave us a CD that he'd copied from the original. Search around for Basil Smith and you can find YouTube videos of his band playing at the annual Bahamian Music & Heritage Festival, which happens in George Town in March. We recognized the stage they played on as the same one where the townspeople had erected a Christmas tree, and where we'd hunkered down during a rain storm.
Exuma is a small place, with a lot of pride and a irrepressible spirit of celebration (read: they like to party, and don't need much excuse). Bahamian culture struck me as very laid back, to the extent they almost don't care. For example, take the Christmas tree, decorated on the stage in the main town square. It was nicely shaped, and anchored to the rafters at the top so it stood straight and tall. But looking underneath, the trunk sat abruptly on the boards; it hadn't been provided any water, so naturally the tree had dried up, turned brown, and was quickly dropping needles. Lights had been wrapped around the tree, and strung along the perimeter of the pavilion. But several strings of lights weren't illuminated, small bulbs were scattered on the ground, and nobody had taken interest in fixing the oversights. Bahamians try... but they're not going to try too hard, or go too far out of their way. Don't worry, be happy.
Bahamian attempt at Christmas spirit
Out Island Explorers is the only game in town for renting kayaks for a multi-day expedition. Dallas and Tamara are energetic and very knowledgeable, and will happily provide you with whatever level of support you need for your trip. Peter and I tend to be exceedingly self-sufficient, so we brought everything except kayak gear (which is all included in the rental price anyway), white gas for our Whisperlite stoves, and wag bags (some form of waste disposal is required, they discourage digging cat holes on these otherwise pristine islands). We had done a lot of preemptory route planning via the outfitter's excellent Google Map, but of course our plans were modified for the conditions of some strong winds the first few days, and my being sick almost the entire trip. Dallas and Tamara have two small boys (Joss and Emit), and one parent is sometimes off shuttling Sea Pearl sailboats while the other is trying to manage all the kayakers AND the kids, so give them a break if they seem distracted. They know their stuff, and will let you be as coddled or as independent as you like for your expedition.
Our boats were both Necky models - Peter had a Looksha IV, I paddled an Eskia - with rudders and spacious hatches that stayed respectably dry. We were issued Seals nylon touring skirts, perfectly functional, and PFDs very much like the ones we use at home, equipped with whistles. The Euro style paddles were made by Aqua-Bound, typical fiberglass touring designs, and we were given one spare paddle, one pump, and one paddle float to share. The equipment was all purpose-built for touring and hassle-free, exactly what I would want and expect for this type of trip.
Phone: (256) 365-5686
Web site: http://www.outislandexplorers.com/
Google Map: https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=21 ... 5,0.590172
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Out-Isla ... 7966012383
FYI, for those who've traveled to the Exumas before, Starfish Kayaks has been taken over by Out Island Explorers. The previous owners are still around and Starfish still exists as a company, but they only do guided day trips. Much of the equipment and setup is exactly the same as before, though the boats and gear are updated as needed.
Maps and Charts:
Out Island Explorers provided us with an excellent chart book, made of waterproof paper, protected in a plastic map case. They marked it with available campsites, resupply stops, and great snorkeling spots, and reviewed our route. This is the chart book, you can buy yourself one ($60) or just use theirs.
We found this Waterway Guide chart too, which is a lot cheaper ($15). Unfortunately I ordered it too late, and it didn't arrive before our trip.
http://www.waterwayguide.com/shipstore/ ... cts_id=175
This online tool produces high-quality charts of the Exumas, and also comes as an iPad app ($30). We're cheap, so Peter took some screen shots of the area, stitched them together in his CAD program, and printed them for hardcopy reference.
Out Island Explorers created an excellent Google Map, useful for planning. We also exported the waypoints to a GPS unit.
https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=21 ... 5,0.590172
Unless you're going all the way to Staniel Cay, which is quite a haul, don't expect many resupply opportunities. Little Farmers Cay is a small village where you can get water, and they have a tiny store for things like canned goods and toilet paper. The resort at Cave Cay and a few private yacht clubs may be persuaded to give you water also. Best advice is to carry what you think you'll need, and not depend on refills.
Do NOT try to stop on islands marked as Private. Some of the locals will be friendly, but many of the islands are owned by the rich and famous, and some of them can be quite elitist. Musha Cay in particular, owned by magician David Copperfield, has a reputation for wanting to maintain its extravagant illusions without intrusions by lowly kayakers. Of course if you're interested in joining the privileged, Musha Cay rental rates start at $37,500 a day for up to 12 persons with a 4-night minimum. Goat Cay and its beautiful house are owned by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Johnny Depp, Nicolas Cage, and (so it's rumored) Kevin Costner are their neighbors.
Wanna buy an island?
I have an iPhone with AT&T service, to which I added an international plan before our trip (a mistake since I barely used the phone, it would've been cheaper to pay for a few roaming calls). Other than in George Town, the only time I got a cell signal was in or within line-of-sight of Little Farmers. Mostly my iPhone stayed in a protective waterproof case, inside a dry bag. It might have been useful for games at night, except the battery tends to drain much faster than it can be recharged via solar power.
Both of us brought VHF marine radios, but there are NO weather channels in the area. Predicting the weather is NOT EASY. At best, you can scan the talking channels and hope for some chatter among boaters that might give you a few clues.
Best web site for getting a marine forecast (on the rare occasion we could reach it):
http://www.bahamasweather.org.bs/index. ... astcentral
Dallas and Tamara, from the outfitters, are happy to take phone calls anytime and give you whatever information you need.
We stayed in George Town for a total of 3 nights, 1 upon our arrival and 2 at the end of our trip.
Mrs. Marshall's Guest House
Phone: (242) 336-2328
Web site: http://www.bahamas.com/place/7177/marshalls-guest-house
About $100/night, cash only (no credit cards)
My friend Hank McComas had planned an earlier trip to the Exumas in March 2008. Knowing he's a cheap traveler and would have found the most inexpensive place in town to stay, I looked up the name of the place and made sure he didn't dislike it too much, then booked our first night there. The accommodations are very basic, but the beds were comfortable, the shower worked fine, and everything was clean. Air conditioning available but not needed. Mrs. Marshall is super nice. They only take cash payment, and there are no online reservations -- call them to reserve by phone, which I think rings at the bar of the attached restaurant. The location is convenient, a few doors from the Exuma Market grocery store and across the street from Scotia Bank's ATM.
Mrs. Marshall's Guest House
Hideaways at Palm Bay
Reservations – Toll Free (US & Canada): 1-888-396-0606
Front Desk: 1-242-336-2787
Web site: http://www.hideawayspalmbay.com/
$140-395/night, depending on accommodations. Online reservations, credit cards accepted.
For the tail end of the trip, I wanted to stay someplace different and perhaps see other parts of the island from a new perspective. Among the limited choices, Hideaways was recommended by the outfitters, it's where most of their tour guests stay. After reviewing the options, I booked a reservation there for 2 nights. They have everything from large beachfront villas to regular rooms, which are priced accordingly. I got the cheapest room they offer, which was a nice size with a comfortable bed, large and functional bathroom, kitchenette (microwave, fridge, coffee maker), and a breezy porch with a table and chairs. Hideaways is relatively new, very cute, and the best part is that even the cheap digs are built up high, so everyone can see the water from their rooms. They have a restaurant on site called Splash, where you can sit indoors or by the pool overlooking the beach. We had a mediocre dinner there for way too much money, breakfast was a lot more reasonable. They offer a free shuttle to town, sit-on-top kayaks for guests, and free wireless. There are no stores or banks nearby, for that you have to go into town.
The cheap digs, Hideaways at Palm Bay
On the way down, we flew on Delta from DCA through Atlanta and on to Nassau, then connected with Bahamas Air for some island hopping through Rock Sound and finally landing in George Town. Bahamas Air only flies turboprops, and you board the plane by climbing up stairs from the tarmac. I actually find the smaller airplanes are more comfortable, and we both enjoyed the great views of the Bahamas, the water about a million shades of blue.
Going back, we took a direct flight on Delta from George Town to Atlanta, then connected back to DCA.
Biggest hassle, on international flights they still make you claim your luggage when you cross the border, and re-check it after you go through Customs. A total pain, considering they didn't even glance at our bags before we gave them back. Just make sure you've got enough layover time to get through the red tape.
Holiday fares are always more expensive than other times, but we flew round trip for $527 per person. It could have been double that price had we insisted on leaving right after Christmas, but fortunately we had some flexibility in our schedule. The cost is undoubtedly cheaper during non-holiday months.
Bahamian dollars (BSD) are almost the same value (within pennies) of American dollars (USD), and the two currencies seem to be used interchangeably throughout the Exumas. You might pay in USD and get BSD as change. Even the ATM will ask you which currency you prefer, so if you get USD and don't spend it all, you'll be less likely to go home with useless Monopoly money. Not everyone takes credit cards, even some of the hotels and restaurants, so keep some cash on hand.
Here's a story Exuma: Island-hopping in the Bahamas on the Fox News site.
"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."
Joined: Thu Jul 08, 2004 11:32 am
Location: Pasadena, MD