The colour of the waters of the Exuma Cays in The Bahamas are such an extraordinary turquoise that they have their own brand – Exuma Blue. The chain of 365 jewel-like cays that run south from Nassau for more than 150 miles to Great Exuma, are peaceful, quiet and largely undeveloped. The fine sand is white and powdery and the water crystal clear. It’s a magical place. David Copperfield, Johnny Depp, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw all have private islands. They don’t invite us to visit and we leave them alone. There’s no paparazzi down here and the tourists are spread out thinly.
We arrive at the tiny George Town airport on a weekly Air Canada direct flight from Toronto. It’s only 1730, but it’s after dark when the cabin doors open and the scent of warm tropical air is a blessed change from icy Canada. A short taxi ride takes us to Grand Isle Resort in Emerald Bay. In the Caribbean the sun rises early. I’m on the upper level balcony of our two-story villa looking out over Exuma Sound, drinking a cup of tea (I always travel with my own pack of Twining’s English Breakfast Tea) and watching the waves break on a not too distant beach, as the sun comes up. Between us and the water is the 17th hole of the Greg Norman-designed championship golf course, and the Marina at Emerald Bay. I can see a dozen sailboats now, but by the end of the month there will be hundreds more stopping by on the passage south. Our golf buggy awaits in its own garage. It seems lazy, but we cannot resist driving the two hundred yards to the Palapa Bar and Grill for breakfast. I can take the buggy off the grounds to the local liquor store, which is well stocked, but not to the grocery which is about a 10 minute cab ride. We have a huge kitchen in the villa, plus a six seat dining area, so it seems foolish not to plan some meals there.
The pool is not busy, and we settle in for some serious sunbathing, walks on the long white sandy beach and snorkelling on the shallow reef. As if by telepathy, the staff ask us if we would like a cocktail, at the exact moment we were feeling the thirst. Rum punch is excellent and the ice and water are safe, coming from a nearby desalination plant. Coconut trees loom heavy laden over our heads and the pool attendant will happily chop the top off a green coconut to quench our thirst. This is how we unwind for several days.
We dine out some nights. We favour Bahamian food and hitch a ride with a charming young couple from Boston, who have a rental car. Big D’s Conch Stop is a simple place but the cracked conch is to die for. Another night we taxi to Catch a Fire, part of a small development. The owners are ex-pats from the north of England and the food is excellent, but the real reason for visiting is to catch the sunset. Our taxi is ten minutes late and we miss the best of it, but the orange and golden hues of the sun reflecting on the clouds as it slips below the horizon make a theatrical backdrop. Former Formula One driver Eddie Irvine flies his private jet to his private cay near George Town, but has chosen to turn a former gas station and dock into the Exuma Yacht Club. The Italian themed food is delectable. Eddie table hops and we shake hands. For a multi-millionaire he’s surprisingly quiet. Later on a Friday night the DJ gets going, the hot music throbs and the hot bodies writhe.
We make a full day excursion north through the cays. We sit in the shade of the bimini top in our fast boat as we skim at up to 40 miles an hour across the limpid waters, sheltered from the ocean rollers by sandy cay after sandy cay. Captain Andrew from Four Cs is a wonderful tour guide and makes the whole day fascinating.
First stop is to feed the iguanas. Bahamian rock iguanas are feisty little dinosaurs, endangered throughout the islands and protected here. We feed them fruit and salad but don’t get too close.
Next we swim with the feral pigs. This is something I’ve not only never done, but never even heard of before. How can I resist? What’s to say about the experience, except they are much bigger than they looked in their photos. I jump in the water with four fat pregnant sows at exactly 12 minutes past noon on December 12, 2012. It’s one way to celebrate 18.104.22.168.12.
Lunch is at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. Diane misheard the name and was expecting a pack of King Charles Spaniels to meet us at the dock. She is disappointed. The only dog is a lazy yellow lab, sleeping under a palm tree. However, the drinks come quickly and the food is generously served by an enthusiastic staff.
We have breakfast one day with an extraordinary young couple. Alex and Lisa are travelling round the world to find the perfect place to get married. They’ve had dozens of ceremonies in North and South America and as far afield as Tahiti, but haven’t found the perfect spot yet, so they’ve more adventures to come before they tie the knot legally, which they relate on their 2people1life website. Naturally, they’re here for an exotic Bahamian wedding.
Late in our week, we meet Peter Nicholson, an Ottawa developer who has bought a bunch of the 78 suites. Although we are using the resort as a hotel, we could also own a unit to keep for our exclusive use or put in the hotel scheme. Peter points out that he’s selling the units for about half what they were worth three years ago when the crash came. We look at a few. Like ours, they are beautifully appointed and well worth the price.
Seven days are quickly over. As we leave we meet the photography crew from Sports Illustrated who are here to shoot the celebrated swimsuit edition for 2013. Apparently the models are arriving tomorrow. Rumour has it the swim suits will be painted on. What will we miss?