Friday, September 11, 2015

Classical Kayaking...

 Last season, one of our guests referred to our Necky & Wilderness System Kayaks in a way that offended me at first, but then after consideration I realized it was actually quite a compliment to the boats themselves. At least, that's the way I'm taking it ;)
He said, "Oh wow, you guys have some Classic Kayaks!" Typically, when I hear something like that, I want to jump to defense with the reasons we don't have brand new boats every season, and why our small operation works extremely hard to keep the boats we have in operating order, but it doesn't matter. What matters is the first impression people see when they see the boats, but what matters even more is how well these boats function.
 We inherited all of our kayaks except for two doubles we purchased last season. The company started in 1999, and many of these kayaks were brought down here a few years after that. So yes, technically, we do have CLASSICS in our fleet, but that's because they are fantastic boats that give you the biggest bang for your buck.
 We repair the bungie cords, which get tortured in this tropical sun, we replace the neoprene covers regularly, we fix bulkheads that get damaged from folks sitting on top of the deck, we fix buckles, rudders, and many more parts. We have even made repairs to the actual hull when they are drug along the razor sharp limestone shores, or when they accidentally slip off the kayak trailer and drag on the road.... you get the idea, these boats get their wear and tear, wear and tear, wear and...
 As our company gets older, we hope to get wiser and figure out the ways to keep our gear new and up to par, but in the meantime, we will do our best to maintain what we have been blessed with and keep it up to speed for your kayaking, sailing and camping needs.
  If you, however, are in the market for a kayak for your own paddling...these brands definitely come highly recommended from our crew down here in Exuma. And no, Necky & Wilderness Systems are not sponsoring this post... I wish they were though! Any reps reading this??? I'd love to chat :)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Keeping Things Dry, Like They Should...

 When you spend a lot of time on the water, you need as many waterproof gadgets, bags, containers as you can come by because some things just can't be replaced all the time, and sometimes you just want to keep things dry. Whether it's towels and clothes, food, electronics, books, camping gear, whatever... it's nice to have some reliable gear to keep it dry.
 I am always making sure my kids know how to recover from capsizing in these little sunfish sailboats. It's a very important lesson and someone has to the teach them ;) It has nothing to do with the fact that I'm the weak sailor in the family. {please tell me you're getting all that sarcasm in there} You won't see daddy capsizing unless he's going out of his way to do so. Regardless, it's a good lesson for them them learn. But man did I put my waterproofing to the test yesterday. I had my nice Nikon camera on board with me and my smartphone (that costs more down here on the island than I care to share with you all--it was a Mother's Day surprise or I probably wouldn't have it!).
My camera was bundled up securely inside this SEAL Line Baja Bag 10L. One key tip on these kinds of bags that we see people make the mistake on quite often is that you have to fold the first fold of the top black seal to black seal (like the photo in the collage in the top right corner). If you don't, then you aren't really sealing it and water may leak in. You want to compress most of the air out of it then fold it black seal to black seal, then roll it down a few more times before clipping it at the top. Now, when you're packing items in these and then putting them inside a tight cockpit on a kayak or something small like that, then you want to squeeze out all the air you can and squish it down as compact as possible. 
Check often for tears in the seams or on the bag itself. Most of ours get damaged from rocks puncturing tiny holes in them. The shoreline of the Bahamas is made of very sharp and jagged limestone, so when you pull up to a beach and gently toss your bags up on the shore, it only takes one little sharp point to stab a hole in the bag. Once it gets that initial hole, it spreads and rips pretty easily, and of course leaks. You can see from above that we have a lot of these bags, they are our preferred brand and size. The 10L & 20L are the best ones for the kayaks, anything bigger is too big, and anything smaller doesn't really give you that much space to store things in anyway. My big DSLR camera fits great, with room for a soft cloth cushion around it in the 10L size. 
  Also being put to the test with my capsizing yesterday was this Pelican 1060 Micro Case Series. I had my smartphone and money inside the case. We like this size case because it fits the smartphones, as well as other little items, keys, cash, chapstick... things you want to keep handy throughout the day. These cases are great, but when they get really old and the powerful seal gets worn, they do leak, so keep a close eye on them, just like the bags.  It is also a good idea to always check the seal for tiny foreign items like sand and dirt, and it never hurts to actually take the soft rubbery inside completely out and clean it properly after it has been in the wild for a long time.
 These items were all submerged in a couple feet of water for a few minutes. I corrected the boat, but it swung right back over and flipped again on me. At this point, my 7 year old was getting a bit annoyed with me, I think, and decided to go jump in daddy's boat for the tow back to shore. I don't blame him. I would have too, if I could. Ah, the joys of being a grown-up.
Needless to say, I checked my valuables as soon as I could to make sure they were dry, and I was very pleased... not a drop inside either the bag of the case! Product approval :) 
 We were not paid or solicited for any of the information provided here. If you click on the links above for the individual items, it will take you to the items through Amazon Smile for the Exuma Foundation, a non-profit organization here on the island that helps the community in a BIG way. Portions of your purchase through Amazon Smile would go to support their organization.

Thanks for following :)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Relocation Part 3: Surviving vs Thriving on the Island

Sorry this post is a little later than planned... our internet has been down for about 4 days and counting now. Right now, I'm hijacking a feed from my neighbors while they are out surfing :) We still have our cell phones, but we're about to head into Tropical Storm Erika, so I'd rather not burn through all my data just yet.

Communicating to the masses from one screen (or book or whatever form) to the next is a wonderful thing at times, but a horrible form of communication at others. You are often left wondering what the receiving end might be 'hearing' and if that was your overall intention to begin with. Humbly I ask that you understand, I am by no means an "Expert on moving to Exuma" or an expert on anything for that matter, and I am well aware of that. I have my opinions like anyone else, and that is all I'm expressing here. Take it with a grain of salt, or sand or whatever you fancy.

This is the final post on our Moving to the Island Series. We've covered: 
Now, this is about Surviving vs Thriving the Island! All too often we'll hear tourists that have been here for a few short days saying things like,
"Oh yeah, I can totally get used to this. I'm gonna open my own 
beach bar and just live this slow-paced island life! It'll be like a vacation all the time." 

All you need to do is look around for the locals that are giving each other the 'here we go again' looks to see who really lives here and who doesn't. Exuma isn't an easy place to live for many people, yet it is paradise to others. The trick is digging deep and asking yourself which side of the fence you may fall on, and what you are looking to get out of Life on the Island.  

While we, personally, choose to live here, there are many living on this island that do not have the luxury to choose, or the option to pack up and move and many of them do feel trapped. There are some, on the other hand, that are quite content to be on their little rock and living a peaceful life. It isn't easy all the time. Remember our little quiz on the last post?? I think the shock of the inconveniences and lack of "stuff" is a really hard pill to swallow, and sometimes that in itself is enough for people to runaway from this place. 

By "stuff" I mean:
-modern conveniences (drive-thru banks, 24-hour shopping, easy online ordering, public transportation,etc)
-technology advancements (reliable high-speed internet, online shopping through the Bahamas, email for businesses, online community info, etc)
-shopping (NO stores like Target, Wal-Mart, Sears, Home Depot, Kroger, Sams Club, Best Buy, etc)
-entertainment (no playgrounds, splash pads, movie theaters, bowling, arcades, sports teams, etc)
-dining experiences (no fast food or chain restaurants, only local owner places and local cuisine, etc)
-sports associations (no real leagues for baseball, soccer, swimming, karate, gymnastics, dance, etc--just small parent led groups with a handful of kids for best case scenario)
 and many other things that may come to mind...we simply don't have it.

Compared to towns in the US, Canada, Europe and even compared to Nassau (the capital city of the Bahamas), Exuma is lacking in many areas. For starters, we don't have the money or population to maintain most of that "stuff". Next, the handful of people you find around the island that are actively doing things, supporting it financially or lending their time and energy to make the clubs happen and organizations run are spread thin trying to do too much so they just can't do anymore. Finding people to step up and take the lead is hard. Perfect example, our main "city" on the island of George Town doesn't have a fire engine. A town in the northeast US donated 3 fire engines to the island, but the island needs to raise the money to get them here and for the firehouse. One of the smallest settlements on the island, Barraterre, is the only settlement to do this so far. It's hard to get the island as a whole to really Work Together!

I understand there are many seasons in our lives that we are simply trying to survive. We're not looking for bells and whistles, but just that little light at the end of a long, dreary tunnel. Whether you're a mom to a newborn baby (or 4 like my friend Leigh is right now) and going through the sleep deprivation season, or the sweet grandmother that is battling with Leukemia (or maintaining remission like my mom is right now) or the dad who lost his job because the company downsized and is trying to figure out how to support his family... or whatever tough season you may be in... there are times to merely survive. I don't believe the place you call home should be something to just survive. 

As a kid, I remember feeling very torn with each move we made. You get so excited to be going somewhere new, and for a while all you can see is the positive for the new place and negative for the current place. 

 "Oh, I'm so glad we won't be shoveling 6 inches of snow off the car every winter anymore" 
 "I can't wait for that warm tropical weather!"

Then, just before you move, as you're saying your farewells to friends, family, your home and community, that's when you start to truly appreciate what you do have there and what you will miss.

"Man, I didn't realize we had so many friends here that have been with us through all this!"
"How on earth is Gracie going to survive without her best friend?"

Next thing you know, you've arrived to that NEW place and suddenly you're overwhelmed with not knowing where the best grocery store is, or who the most reliable mechanic is, or which neighborhood is the safest. It's tough, anyone that has moved will tell you that moving is tough. Moving to an island is no different. You get here and then you can only see the negative.

"Oh my word, it is ALWAYS hot here, does it ever cool off?"
"I can't believe milk cost that much, how on earth are we going to eat?"

Thriving on the Island of Exuma is no different than thriving in the small town of Wakefield, Kansas or Deming, Washington or Jacksonville, Alabama (shout-out to some old stomping grounds). You have to make an effort to make it home. You have to get out and familiarize yourself with the community, meet the people, get involved, learn some local ways and appreciate them.

There is a history of distrust from Bahamian people to many foreigners that come to their islands, buy their land and open businesses or even just build their nice beach homes. Typically, foreigners in the Bahamas are viewed as very wealthy. Due to the fact that the Bahamas can make money off of foreign investors, they have increased the cost of nice beachfront, hilltop and ocean view property. Few natives can afford such property, so they see the foreigners as someone coming in, taking their land, and spending a couple weeks out of the year here.  It's a love/hate relationship, because the wealthy beachfront properties that people can rent for the week or month by the thousands is nice because it brings in visitors to the island, folks eat, take tours, buy liquor, rent cars, and generally help keep us all going down here with tourism. But it is also very frustrating because you see this incredible home on this incredible piece of property that would be amazing to live in (not just vacation in), and many locals are stuck back 'in da bush' with no view, no breeze, swarming with mosquitoes, and squeezing large families in tiny homes.

I would like to remind anyone building homes here, current home owners, native Exumians, Bahamians from other islands, long term visitors, anyone living here.... even if you're only on the island a few weeks out of the year, or simply following a loved one with their work

Don't stay shut up in your house, in your own alternate-reality or dwelling on what Exuma doesn't have or always doing everything on your own. You won't last long.

Locals will always have a hard time accepting you into the community if you can't reach out to them, but more importantly, we all need each other to really thrive. I'm not saying throw wads of cash at them, sure that helps sometimes if you're in a position to help financially, but I'm saying volunteer your time and skills to help make OUR community better. It belongs to you now too if you are living here (home owner or not, long term or short). The foreigners that are LOVED all over the island are the ones that you see out impacting the community. It's a small island. Everyone knows who helps and contributes and who doesn't. There are tons of ways to HELP!!!!!

-in the schools and after-school programs
-teach the kids basketball, karate, yoga, dance, baseball, track & field, piano, guitar, art, photography, golf, tennis, swimming, sailing, computer skills, cooking, baking, sewing, design, READING!!!!! (so many kids struggle with reading down here), etc
-pack boxes for food distribution, bake goodies for that neighbor up the road who is taking care of 13 grandkids and 4 nieces and nephews, donate food to the distribution, etc
-help your other neighbor install plumbing for an indoor bathroom, help repair schools, etc
-help head up a fundraising committee to organize getting the fire truck to the island

If you want specific contacts for certain programs that are already going on... just ask around. We'll help, folks at the stores around here are full of information, the Ministry of Social Work, Exuma Foundation.... the info is out there, you just have to look for it!

When we first moved to the island, Dallas and I worked for a high end resort. Part of our initial training in the company was driving home the point that we could not tell a guest "No!" No matter what they asked us, the answer could not be "No". They may ask, "Is it going to snow today?" and we'd have to say something like,
"It's not likely, but I'll look into that for you" {insert unamused emoticon here}.  And funny note about that particular hotel... they left after about 4 years down here. The word NO is healthy folks. Sometimes you just need to hear it. In order to thrive here, you have to be okay with hearing that word at times, and you need to realize that money can't change all your problems down here. Even if you can afford that part for your car, it may be half way around the world and it will take time to get here, even expedited. And the guys working at BTC (telephone company) may take a little bribe to come check your internet faster, but ultimately, someone else on a different island or somewhere else needs to do something before it will get fixed. So you wait or change your plans... just be flexible!

You live in Exuma because it's different! It isn't like every other place in the world, and you take the good with the bad. Your kids are safe running around playing with their friends and you don't fear for your life every time you go to the food store wondering if some crazy person is going to follow you home and hold you at gun point. You get to spend TONS of time boating, playing at the beach and exploring the ocean around you. An ocean that is crystal clear, full of life and so unbelievably beautiful that you have a hard time describing it to others. You live here because the simple things in life are still precious to you, like having a job that allows you to spend more time with your family than at the office. Whatever your reason is for being here, you must dwell on what you're gaining by living here and not what you think you're missing or doing without. 

You're considering moving to Exuma, you've heard some info about living on the island, how to really make the island feel like home, now it is ultimately up to you to make it down here! Just remember Exuma is a REAL island, where REAL people live and work REAL jobs to survive. And we have to work pretty hard too, it's not a vacation all the time!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Relocation Part 2: Living on the Island

Alright, so we've considered a few of the things you want to keep in mind when you're physically moving to the island. Now, let's take a look at some things to consider about actually Living on the Island!
I just typed up an entire blog post full of prices of groceries, a little bit of info on the utility companies and some really dull topics like that. I was practically putting myself to sleep, so if you're looking for that info here, you won't find it today. Take 2...

I am working under the assumption that if you're trying to move to Exuma that you have actually been to Exuma. If you are seriously considering a move here and you haven't spent any real length of time here... Step 1 is come and visit, and try to do more than just 'touristy' things while you're here. 
Let's take a little quiz shall we? (write down your answers)

1) If you can't grab a Triple, Venti, Half Sweet, Non-Fat, Caramel Macchiato on your morning drive to the office from the Starbucks, will you:

a) cease to exist  
b) be okay for a few days, but after that, somethings gotta give  
c) probably be fine, I don't drink coffee, or I brew my own

2) It's 5:45pm on a Tuesday, you are about to start dinner. Say you're fixing spaghetti and you realize you forgot to grab tomato sauce (or Prego or Ragu, whatever you fancy), and the stores are closed (or closing in minutes and you don't have time to get to it--Shop Rite stays open til 6pm, but let's say you live out of the 10 minute time frame it may take you and you can't get there). Will you:

a) be completely at a loss since you can't run to the nearest Publix and pick up your missing ingredient anytime of day, and proceed to throw a little hissy-fit
b) be bummed, but just go eat out at the nearby Fish Fry because this won't happen often (*unless you're anything like me and my scattered brain)
c) give your neighbor a call, after all you just loaned them flour last night, and if they don't have it, you'll just figure something else out for dinner
How are you doing?? Ready for another one...

3) The new Bond movie just came out in theaters, and you have just got to see it, will you:

a) hop on the next flight out because Bond is the best and you pre-bought tickets months ago, and there is no way you're going to miss this!
b) head down to the aforementioned Fish Fry and hit up Charlies, he's sure to have a pirated copy there that you can get your hands on...never-mind that it's illegal! (It'll be right there beside a copy of the newest Star TRACK --no lie)
c) be bummed, because you really want to see it, but you can wait until it is available on iTunes... even though that means you may have to wait a few months.
4) Your fancy car breaks down, and the mechanic on the island has to order a part, that will most likely take a few weeks (being optimistic) to get here. Will you:

a) go rent the nicest car on the rental lot because there is no way you are bumming rides from someone or driving a vehicle that's less than top notch
b) try to find a car you can borrow or rent for a few days because you just never know when you may need to go somewhere
c) lace up your favorite walking shoes and stick out that thumb like the rest of 'em when they need a ride and 'got no wheels'. Humble yourself and beg your friends for occasional rides. It's only temporary, right! Right?  RIIIIGGHHTT???

5) You are riding on a boat and heading out of a cut to do a little diving, because if you're going to live on an island... that's what you'll be doing ALL the time, right? {excuse me while I giggle a little behind your back}, you hit a wave and it throws you up in the air, and you land really badly on the boat and there goes the blood from multiple spots on your legs and chin. Closer inspection says, yeah... probably need stitches. So, you turn the boat around and head to the clinic, but wait, the clinic is closed... it's after 5pm on a weekday and/or it is the weekend. You call the number scribbled on the paper taped to the door and you wait for the doctor to get to you. She was up early with another situation, so she was a asleep when you called. It takes her a little longer to get to you than you think it should take. She finally gets to the clinic, which is still the old run down little pink building on the loop heading out of town, because it's 2020 and the 'new hospital' still hasn't opened {hot topic around here}. You are taken into this rinky-dink room that is probably not really all that sterile, lie down on the table and the doc begins fixing the cuts. You get about 5 stitches in your chin (after getting a blast of a little numbing agent), another 4 in your leg and some meds for the recovery and the bill is $50 (and this is high because you're not Bahamian). You head home because the day in the boat is kind of over after stitches. Will you:

a) go home and book a flight out the next day so you can go to a 'real' doctor somewhere off the island and make sure things were done properly
b) go home appreciative of the care you received but begin researching medical planes, because the next time something like this happens you will be flown somewhere for your medical care
c) go home and feel pretty happy because you got ALL that for $50 (less than some co-pays elsewhere), the doc did a pretty good job from what you can tell, and consider yourself really lucky that you didn't break anything, because a break means you have to fly to Nassau to get it corrected.

6) Last One: You're sitting down to watch a movie on Netflix (because it's a good night for internet and the speed is working well), the power goes off for the 6th time that day. Will you: 

a) Use your cell phone to call and place an order for solar panels, because this just isn't acceptable
b) Check into rewiring your house so that these surges won't keep destroying your electronics
c) Hope that your tv didn't just get fried (AGAIN), light a few candles, grab up a good book and just chill (or sweat) because you want to savor every bit of energy and cool air that you stored up before the air went off (if it happened in the summer time) If it's in the winter, you're straight because you've already got the windows open!

Alright, how did you do? If you answered "A" to any one of those questions, I would strongly discourage you from moving to Exuma. Visit all you want, but don't expect to be happy living here. "B" answers are need to really dig deep and think if this is what you really want. "C" answers should be just fine, because everyone of these scenarios has happened to us and we are surviving just fine. You may not always LIKE some of the stuff, but you'll be able to handle the curve balls thrown at you.

Exuma can be a blast! So don't think it is all inconvenience and frustration. We obviously love it here! If you are fortunate enough to have a job that you love that gives you some flexibility to do what you want, it can be a great place to live. We get to spend a ton of time on the water with our work and that is priceless! We don't get to pack our bags and fly all over the world when we want because we simply don't make that kind of money. Once or twice a year off the island is about max for our family at this stage. I really don't know how some native Exumians have lived here for so long if they don't enjoy the water. Many don't know how to swim so I can safely assume they don't spend much time in it.

We don't have any chain restaurants, and very few inexpensive eating options, All the places to eat in Exuma is another post in itself, but you will find a lot in common across the board. Lots of fish, peas-n-rice, fried chicken, BBQ ribs, macaroni and similar foods. You won't find a Chinese, Mexican, Suishi, Italian, or too many other options outside of Bahamian Cuisine. We had a sweet little Chinese restaurant that only lasted about 4 months :( Sad day in deed when that left us. 
You won't be doing any shopping at Target, Wal-Mart, Sears, Home Depot, or anywhere like that down here unless you're shopping online. And even that can be tricky to get the things down here. (go back and check out the first post). You're shopping takes place at places like Top II Bottom, Smitty's, Darville's, Tropical Accents, Sandpiper and A.I.D, to name a few big places!

It takes a lot of patience living here, and you have to let go of a lot of little and sometimes big things. You have to be okay not living exactly like you would if you were living somewhere that you have access to things easily. There are inconveniences, but if you keep a good perspective on your surroundings and how the majority of the island is living, you will most likely be able to see that you too are very blessed and have a lot to be thankful for. 

You do make some sacrifices, but they aren't all bad! You'll have to tune in to the next post about "Thriving vs Surviving the Island" to hear more about that stuff though :) 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Relocation Part1: Moving to Exuma

I was asked recently by a few different people for some information on moving to Exuma. It seems like a fairly popular topic of discussion lately, so to make it a little easier to digest, I'm breaking it down into 3 posts. If you're not looking to move here, I'll be back soon with something else that might interest you. And if you're really wealthy and buying your own beachfront villa on Hoopers Bay...then this post won't really help you. We're working on small budgets around here :) The post will be broken down like this:

I moved a lot as an army brat, but I've only ever lived on one island (Great Exuma). I definitely don't have all the answers, and I know that my way may not necessarily be the best way... but it worked for us ;) Or maybe it didn't... I'll let you know that too!

The first step in this move, or any move, is deciding that you want to go. For some this decision is quite easy, and others may struggle a little more. As a seasoned mover, from the army upbringing, the moving part didn't scare me. After all it was what came after living in a place more than 2 years.. right!?!?! I'll be totally honest with you here, the first time we discussed moving here, I (Tamara) said "No way, not gonna happen!" We were about to get married at the end of our final semester in college, and I said "I'll still marry you, but if you want to live in Exuma, you'll have to go without me!" Great start, huh??? :/
Faith in the Lord is a big part of who we are, and if you're making a big move you will need faith in something for sure. Faith in the place you're going to, faith in the new job, faith in your spouse, faith in your independence, faith in... get the picture? A few heart-to-hearts with my mom, lots of prayer, a trip down the aisle to the man I love, and a quick honeymoon later and we were in the truck hauling most of our possessions down to South Florida for the next mailboat heading for Exuma.
{Talk about a whirlwind of a final semester in college!}

We've made two moves to Exuma and one from Exuma. Our first move to Exuma was right after we were married. It was just the two of us and our sweet fat cats. We weren't moving on a company's dime so we tried to do things as affordable as possible. Another decision you have to make is how much of your stuff you are going to move. Are you going to carry everything with you on the plane when you come down? Or do you plan to bring more items, bulkier items such as a car, furniture, boat, tools, etc?
If you plan to bring everything with you in your suitcases, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1) Check with the airlines to see what their weight and baggage fees are and keep in mind whether or not your bags are checked all the way through to your final stop or whether you'll have multiple bag fees. Grab your scale and pack them to the max! I wish for a Hermoine Granger Bag all the time when we travel :) 

2) As a visitor to the Bahamas you are entitled to $100 worth of items that you can bring in duty-free. As a Bahamian Resident, you are allowed $300 worth of items twice a year (have receipts ready for the forms at the airport). Believe it or not, we had a friend of ours who just found this out last year and he's 21 and has lived here his whole life, so I'm throwing that out there for anyone that might need to hear that! **Non Residents can stay in the country for up to 6 months before they have to leave and then can come back in again. 

3) Friends Good Friends are usually more than willing to bring items with them when they come to visit. Take advantage of this as much as you can because it is a life saver. I'll pay for checked bags all day if folks will just do the physical part of hauling things here for us. It is so helpful! My mom & sister never come to visit without checking as many bags as they are allowed and bringing down things for us. Sometimes it is the most random stuff too. This season, we had some return guests coming from Canada (shout-out to Dermot & Denise) and they brought us waxed dental floss and an alarm clock for the boys room, that needed BIG numbers. Shoes, clothes, specific beauty items, special candy, etc. You never know what you may be in need of or craving, and ordering online makes it so easy. 

For our guests, family and friends that bring loads of things down for us when you come, we THANK YOU so very much! You may never fully know how much it means.

4) Lastly for the air travel, it's okay to come down with a little at the start then figure things out. For instance, how long you'll be here, what housing setup you'll have, what you need, what you can or can't get on the island, etc. Though most of this would be helpful to know before you decide to MOVE here, you still may be surprised at the 'filter' you see things through once you actually get here and start living daily life on the island. I WISH I had done this our first time around... would have saved a ton of money and made things so much easier on us.
If you plan to ship something down, the only boat that comes straight to Exuma from the US leaves from Port Everglades in South Florida called SEACOR Island Lines. Although anyone that has been on the island a while will still call this G & G Shipping... so don't get too confused! You have other options if you go through Nassau (the BIG City), but then you still have to get it from Nassau to Exuma using the Fast Ferries (said as I fling up big air quotes). Each boat charges their own fee for transporting things so it can add up either way. Plus you have to get your shipment or items to South Florida, which is another cost in itself. I highly recommend ABF for this. We've used them twice and were very pleased both times.

As I mentioned in our post on experience recently, every item brought into the Bahamas gets a duty tax applied to it. Even our cats, which were free, still had to have a value applied to them in order to pay duty. Oh, and speaking of pets... you have to have proper travel documents and vet records when traveling with pets too, so be sure to check out the necessary information so your furry friends don't get held up in quarantine. 

For the items brought into the country, it basically breaks down like this: 

"the cost of the item + shipping to the boat (in FL)+ shipping on the boat (or plane) + a brokerage fee + a customs fee + a duty tax= the big fat total"

And lots of running around to get paperwork from this place, to take it to the next place, to take care of the payment, then you take it to another place, pay them, take it here, there.... needless to say, it's a bit of pain. However, it's the only way to get some items, and you gotta do what you gotta to do live where you live! For a local broker that can help you navigate this tricky field that is constantly changing, we recommend Saeed Morley, he's a great contact to have.
I can give you a few more tips on actually shipping items down here if you are interested, but I won't go too much into that right now because that could be a post all by itself :P

In order to work in the Bahamas you have to be a resident, have a work permit or own property valued at $500,000 or more. There are multiple ways to go about getting these obviously, but many of them are very costly, and it is very hard for a foreigner to come down and just work a regular job down here. Which is good for the Bahamian people, so don't get too bummed over that fact. It's hard to find a lot of information online about some of this stuff, but they are slowly getting better at adding more information online so just do a little digging. Just make sure you are looking at an official government page before you 'bank on' the info being accurate (and even then... it's best to pick up the phone and call someone). Here's a good start place for this topic though!
This is most definitely not a complete list of things involved in MOVING TO EXUMA, but hopefully it is a good starting point. Next, I'll be discussing what it's like actually living where stores close at 5:30pm and you can't run to the nearest Starbucks for your favorite drink, or to a {Insert Your Favorite Big Name Store} or {Insert Your Favorite Chain Restaurant Here}. Go ahead... insert either of those, and I can promise you it isn't here, because we don't have anything like that. But that's not why we live here, and I'm guessing that if you're considering a move to Exuma, that won't be among your top reasons of wanting to come here either!

Stay Tuned...

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What experience do I need?

I plan to have frequently asked questions answered on this page soon, when further explanation comes in handy. We had someone recently ask us on Instagram the following:
"What kind of experience would be beneficial to have to do some of the tours?"
 First, we have a few types of tours:

1) Guided Kayaking (multi-day and half day)
2) Guided Sailing
3) Self-Guided Rentals

I will link and suggest places to get training and experience at the bottom of this post.
Guided Trips:

For starters, if you are going on one of our guided kayak trips, then you need very little experience. Kayaks are pretty easy to learn on the fly, and we will be right beside you to help with all aspects of the trips from packing, paddling, navigation and more.

Guided sailing trips are a little different. We design them so that you will be sailing your own sailboat, and we go along in the powerboat. To do this kind of trip you need at least one person on each sailboat with Skipper experience. You need a Skipper to:

-be the boss on the boat, this person calls the shots and should be able to single-handedly sail the boat or be able to give clear and direct instructions for the rest of the crew to assist them in sailing the boat

-man the tiller, you are responsible for knowing how to steer the boat, when & how to tack or jibe, when to reef the sails, when to raise and lower the leeboards, where to point the boat based on the wind, how to safely navigate the seas to avoid collision with rocks, boats, strong currents, docks, reefs, & other unforeseeable objects

-anchor the boat safely and securely at camp each night; the last thing you want is to wake up with a boat that is dragging into rocks or out to sea

If you really want to learn how to sail on a guided trip, then we will need to restructure the trip so that you have a guide with you in the sailboat. This kind of trip may vary slightly from a regular trip.
Self-Guided Rentals: 
Whether you are going out paddling or sailing for a few hours, or going out for a week or longer, if you are doing a self-guided rental, you need a little more experience. You will be responsible for the safety of the gear, securing it at the beaches, navigating safely, and so forth. If you break it due to misuse then you are responsible for paying the cost of replacement.  And just FYI, to get things to the island we pay:

the cost of the item + shipping to the boat (in FL)+ shipping on the boat (or plane) + a brokerage fee + a customs fee + a duty tax= the big fat total

So you are pretty much guaranteed to pay double the retail cost of anything you buy in the States or Canada. Example double kayak, about $4,000 {yikes}.

More importantly, however, is the safety of YOURSELF and YOUR GROUP! You need to be able to paddle or sail safely, navigate areas (read the chartbooks and/or compass), make smart decisions on areas to avoid and waters that are unsafe, and be able to use your head out there. For instance, if there's a big crossing on the chart that you know is coming up, and there's no where to get out of your kayak along the way, you need to judge the weather, tide, and currents accurately to insure the safety of your group. Or if you get out there, and it's too rough, be smart enough to know that maybe you should turn around and head back instead of pressing onward, just to be safe!

Most areas that you are paddling and sailing in are pretty mild and easy going, however, there are some areas that you can get in trouble really quickly if you aren't smart. We will do our best to go over all these areas with you on the chartbooks before you head out, but it is your job to listen and make the calls out there. And there will be some instances that we cannot foresee that you need to be prepared for. Your safety is the most important thing out there to us. Gear can be replaced, it may be expensive and it may cost you extra if you damage things, but it can be replaced. You obviously can't! Be comfortable with your responsibility and have confidence in your skills so that you have one less hurdle to overcome out there.

On a physical note however, if you're signing up for a week long kayak, sailing and/or camping trip, it might be a good idea to put some time in on the water. Loosen up those muscles and make sure you won't be too sore while you're out there. A little soreness is a sign of a good trip ;)

For training and instruction, you can always go to a local outfitter and get some time paddling, familiarizing yourself with being in a kayak and floating around. A loaded kayak will be a lot less tipsy than an empty one... so keep that in mind. We can also recommend organizations such as ACA (American Canoe Association) for training and certification--if you want to go that route, or ASA (American Sailing Association) for sailing.

If you know of a great paddling or sailing club in your area, could you please leave notes for others in the comments here?

I hope this helps to explain what kind of experience you need to do one of our trips! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to comment, email ( or call us (242-336-2246)!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Exuma Park vs. the Southern Exuma Cays-- Which Option is Best for Your Trip?

So you’re thinking of visiting the Exumas to do some paddling, sailing or sightseeing.  When you look almost anywhere online for information you are finding a lot of information about two things: the swimming pigs and the Exuma Land & Sea Park (ELSP).  
Big Majors Spot/Swimming Pigs (near the park)
Because of the overwhelming information on these two subjects a lot of people have the impression that the Staniel Cay/Land & Sea Park area is where all the paddling is done in Exuma.  The truth is, the Staniel Cay area is a very small part of the entire Exuma Cays.  And the entire Exuma Cays chain offers many hidden secrets and fantastic adventure opportunities just waiting to be explored.  
Bock Cay area (Southern Cays)
For the purposes of this post I will be referring to the cays that stretch from Barraterre to Big Famers Cay as The Southern Cays,  and the area from Staniel Cay to Warderick Wells as The Park.  

First, the stats:

The southern cays cover an area of 25 miles, host about 40 cays, and one Bahamian Settlement - Little Farmers Cay.  Of the 40 cays, 21 are private or leased, 10 are developed.
Normans Pond Cay (Southern Cays)
The park covers an area of about 40 miles, host about 35 cays, and one Bahamian Settlement - Staniel Cay.  Of the 35 cays, 21 are private or leased and 18 are developed.  
Big Majors Spot/Swimming Pigs (near the park)
By rough estimates, the southern cays are 52% private and the park is 60% private.  

But what is the most important aspect of a peaceful kayaking vacation?  Seclusion.  The most frequent thing we hear from people reaching out to us about paddling in the Exumas is “We want to be somewhere isolated.  Somewhere where we will not see a lot of people and boats.  We want to be on our own.”
Brigantine Cays (Southern Cays)
The development in the cays is what most people are wanting to avoid. You are looking for your own uninhabited cay to call your own, with nobody else around.

The Southern Cays are 25% developed.

The Park is 51% developed.

So why is the Staniel Cay/Park area so popular?  We may not be able to fully answer that question, but if I were to guess I would say a large reason would be the massive increase in the Swimming Pigs popularity.  Although the pigs have been on Big Majors Spot for over 20 years, it certainly seems that their popularity has skyrocketed in the last few years, probably because of the increase in social media and the influx of easily accessible pictures on the web.  In my opinion, coming to The Exumas Cays just to see the pigs would be like going to watch a movie and walking out after the previews and missing the feature presentation.  Except to even get into this movie you have to navigate past about 50 anchored boats, dodge jet skis and tour boats, and share the pig beach with a few dozen other people.  

Does that sound relaxing and isolated?
Compass Cay (edge of park)
 The second reason for the popularity of the Staniel Cay area: The Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park.  Now when you hear of a national park that is protected from fishing and development you think of endless deserted beaches, no houses, and coral reefs teeming with fish and wildlife.  And usually you would be right.  

While the ELSP (Exuma Land & Sea Park) was the first national park in the country and the protection it has provided for the fishing population is to be applauded, it is also the center of much hypocrisy and governemnt greed and is therefore almost 50% privately owned.  The paddling area of the park stretches from Cambridge Cay in the South to Warderick Wells mid way up the park. 

Inside Rocky Dundas (at the very edge of the park)
 Anything farther than that forces the paddler to cross “The Wide Opening” which can be a dangerous paddle, and forces them far far north into the cays where help is even farther away and you are probably closer to Nassau than Exuma.  That leaves paddlers with an area consisting of 10 cays to explore: Cambridge Cay, Bell Island, O’briens Cay, Soldier Cay, Pasture Cay, Little Halls Pond, Halls Pond Cay, Osprey Cay, White Bay Cay, and Warderick Wells.  Of those 10 cays you can camp on 3, Cambridge, O’Briens, and Warderick.  Of the remaining 7 cays, 6 are private and developed and one is inhabited by iguanas and landing is prohibited.  White Bay Cay actually has a resort being built on it!  The ELSP also requires park fees for camping and campfires are prohibited.  

Diving near the Sea Aquarium in the park
Are you are looking for a quiet area to paddle?  With such a high percentage of developed islands and lack of camping options, how can that area be the park?

Lets compare the Southern Cays.

The general paddling area for the southern cays is from Rolleville to Normans Pond Cay.  This area consists of 21 cays, 12 are campable, 3 are developed.  So based on the area you will actually be paddling in the Southern Cays vs. the park, the southern cays are 57% campable vs the park which is only 30%.  

The southen cays are also only 14% developed vs 60% in the park.  Based on these stats you are far less likely to run into another person while paddling in the southern cays.  There is also the issue of price.  Transportation to Staniel Cay from Barraterre for two starts at $1000 one way and goes up depending on how far past Staniel you want to go.  So if you add on the park fees of $5 per person per night, a two person two single kayak rental goes from $680 in the Southern Cays to $2730 for a paddle in the ELSP.  
Big Farmers Cay (Southern Cays)
When it’s all said and done, is a rental that is 4 times more expensive, has a significant increase in traffic and development, and generally a more difficult trip to organize, worth it to see the swimming pigs??

And here’s a little known secret...there are swimming pigs in the southern cays as well!  
Liter of baby* pigs just across from Rolleville on Great Exuma (Southern Cays)
*Disclaimer: the baby pigs do not stay this cute and tiny!

Feel free to ask any questions below that you would like to hear answered that you might think others would like to know as well. We're happy to discuss this issue further because it is a hot topic in our inquiries :) We hope this has been helpful to some of you out there!