Wanderlust has my passport in shreds. I’ve travelled to the Cook Islands to hang out with pearl divers in a Manihiki lagoon, to Ireland to sleep in castles and to Molokai to visit a leper colony. However my latest adventure is one that earns a top spot in ‘the damnest things I’ve ever seen’.
The Exuma’s are a chain of islands stretching for some 120 miles. There are 365 islands….you can visit a different one ever day of the year. There are more powdery white beaches than you can count in a life time and water so clear it makes gin look polluted.
My destination was Big Majors Cay, home of the swimming pigs. Yes you read right swimming porkers that live in paradise. Pigs in a (beach) blanket. Several of my Bahamian friends told me ‘There’s nothing there except pigs and a beach, so why go there’? Nothing there….! If that means no humans, roundabouts or malls that’s music to my ears.
Departing from Ft. Lauderdale my wife and I were the only passengers on a nine-seater Caravan -Cessna to Staniel Cay making a stop at Fresh Creek, Andros to clear immigration and customs. Here we had our only bad Bahamian experience. The customs officer had a chip on his shoulder instead of epaulets. Few flights land at Fresh Creek so I guess this bored official decided to flex his authority muscles on us. As we departed from the small aircraft there was no ‘hello’, ‘good day’ or ‘welcome to the Bahamas’, just a sulk that gave me the impression we had disrupted his nap. The Immigration lady was much more professional and courteous and thanks to Miss Maggie who operates the small airport bar we departed from Andros in a jolly mood. Miss Maggie had no ice for our rum and coke but she offered a gracious Bahamian welcome.
There’s nothing much on Staniel Cay, but that’s the way I like it. Local artist Bernadette Chambers rented us a small, cozy cottage and made arrangements for the lease of a 17-foot Whaler. A boat is a must in the Exumas. There are so many human-free islands to explore and it’s the only way to get to Big Majors Cay.
We had just landed and I was ready to cruise.
The Atlantic side of the islands was blowing 20 knots, yet on our lee side the sea was smooth as polished steel. The water was so clear our vessel seemed to be floating on air and I had a gratifying smile on my face. There’s nothing that gives me more pleasure than being on the sea with no specific destination, no plan and no cell phone. I have lived most of my lifetime on tropical islands, I have ‘beachcombed’ with vengeance, seeking pleasure wherever it is to be found – and I have been happy, enjoying a felicity unknown to the average right – thinking mortal.
Within swimming distance from Staniel Cay is Thunderball Grotto. It’s nothing more than a huge hollowed out rock that looks like iron-shore from the outside. I say hollowed out because it’s actually a cave and the only way to enter is to free dive about five feet swimming amongst thousands of tame, colourful tropical fish waiting for a handout. Once in the cave it’s a sight to see. The ceiling of the cave is dotted with holes allowing the sunlight to shine through creating an underwater laser effect.
Several early James Bond films and Disney’s ‘Splash’ had the honour of filming scenes here. I found the place amazing. I didn’t want to leave, however the water was a bit chilly for someone who usually dives south of Havana. Back in our vessel the blazing sun quickly warmed us and we made our way towards Big Majors Cay.
My wife is a devout animal lover and she would not allow me to go further unless we had some pig food. I lost the argument and back to Staniels we went. As we beached our craft I met Mr. Persaud from Guyana, he is the local school principle and teacher at Staniel All Age School where there are a total of nine children, all very courteous and excited to show me their computers. Though educated on such a far away island I was flabbergasted with their knowledge of computer lingo and most embarrassed at my lack of it.
Mr. Persaud had advice on where to get pig food and with the setting sun we decided to save the pig island trip for the following day.
Most folks don’t recycle biodegradable garbage, they do however at Staniel Cay Yacht Club where the leftovers are bagged and handed out to tourists who then deliver it to Big Majors Cay. The following morning I went to the back kitchen door and got my fair share of pig food, and with seagulls following close behind we made our way to Pigs Paradise.
From the moment they heard our boat engines the pigs came running from the bush. There must have been at least twenty of them in shades of sunburned pink to tanned brown. They galloped down their very own private beach, a beautiful beach that most developers would kill for, and then they dove into the crystalline sea towards our boat.
Swimming porkers, I had no idea pigs could swim. I tried to imagine what they would taste like. Sea salted pork that waddle in sand instead of mud, porcines that eat coconuts for desert. 300 lbs swine’s that swim better than the average tourist. And why aren’t the sharks here having a porky buffet? It was all a mystery. I was overwhelmed by it all. Others may say: ‘What’s the big deal, swimming pigs?’ Well I’ve already said it; I see bliss different from the average right thinking mortal.
You see these pigs are living my dream. They have their own tropical island, they swim and eat in a gin clear sea, they don’t have to wear clothes and they are not ashamed of their obese figure because they don’t have to keep up with the Joneses – there are no Joneses. There are no humans on their private Eden; the few humans who do visit are their servants delivering leftover steak, lobster and caesars salad from the Yacht Club around the bay.
I was told that there were some hundred pigs on the island including several baby piglets – it seems they come out in shifts. They gorge themselves and then sleep in the shade of a coconut tree while another set of pigs greet the visitors – and will gladly pose for a photo in exchange for a discarded hamburger bun or stale potato chips.
Over the next few days we lunched at nearby Sampsons, Compass and Foul Cays – all have marinas, margaritas and fat cheeseburgers. I was most impressed with the friendly Bahamians in the Exumas and of course loved the Bahamian music that was broadcasted on every sound system on every island. During our week stay we kept all our left-overs and every day we anchored off Big Majors Cay to feed our piggy friends.
The day we were to depart Staniel I noticed on a map there was a round-about close to the airport. A round-about? ‘Oh no, can’t be.’ I had to check this out. To my delight the one and only Staniel Cay roundabout is nothing but a collection of coral rocks in the shape of a heart – how charming! I can imagine how much money their Public Works Department saved on that.
At the tiny Staniel Cay airport we waited for our flight back to Lauderdale. My wife who is always a fidgety flyer was praying for a safe flight on the small single engine aircraft. I had a few private words with the tiki-gods myself;
‘Please, please. If I’m ever reincarnated bring me back as a big fat porker, a citizen of Big Majors Cay, so I can bask in the sun, swim in the Caribbean Sea, be served by tourists and eat to my hearts content. I want to be a pig in a blanket – a beach blanket..
IF YOU GO
For more information on Staniel Cay and the Exuma Islands find it on Google. For accommodations check the Staniel Cay Yacht Club or Staniel Cay Cottages.
When not travelling, G. Nowak, also known as the Barefoot Man, performs at the Reef Resort, East End, Grand Cayman. See www.barefootman.com