December 29, 2009

Cat Ppalu, Northern Exumas, Bahamas

While I have spent many years in the Bahamas, it wasn't until Thanksgiving week last month I had the chance to explore the Northern Exumas. Accessible only by boat, the ideal way to do it is by an extended stay on a live-aboard vessel.

In this case, it was via the Cat Ppalu, a 65 foot catamaran, on assignment to do some promo images. Sleep, eat, dive and explore - a four man crew, ten guests, six days on the water, what could be better? Exploring the northern cays is a rare experience. Isolated and essentially uninhabited, visited only by the most dedicated travelers, they offer a taste of the Bahamas reflecting the essence of the true Bahamian island life.

The elements included the indigenous Bahamian Rock Iguanas on the Allen Cays and Leaf Cay, Schooling Horse-eye Jack along with toothy sharks and fearless Black Grouper on Danger and Amberjack Reefs, the protected areas of the Exumas Land and Sea Park, trails through the shallow hills and valleys of Warderick Wells, a former drug smuggling plane in just ten feet of water off Norman's Cay along with a true history of pirates, buccaneers and a full roster of other ne'er-do-wells.  Ahhh, the islands!  Even given a week packed with activities, I barely scraped the surface.

My hands-down favorite dive site was Jeep Reef off Hall's Pond Cay. Named for its signature WWII jeep (which has to have been sitting on the bottom for at least thirty years) - ridiculously overgrown with corals and sponges, but with frame and wheels still showing - the entire area is one of the healthiest reefs I have seen in years. Located on the southwest side of the cay with a max depth of 30 foot, subject to high current flow and diveable only at slack tide, the reef benefits from a great flow of nutrients and it shows! High profile healthy coral heads, a varied selection of large and colorful sponges, great fish life - this is an ideal shallow Bahamian reef.

Don't miss a stop at the Lost Ocean Blue Hole on the way back to Nassau. Surrounded by low profile coral heads, she is 150 feet across with that classic bell shape, 160 feet to the top of the debris pile and sloping down to caverns snaking off from the sides at 200 feet or so. A perfect open ocean blue hole!

One week was insufficient, I'm looking forward to my next trip.

December 24, 2009

Eleuthera, Bahamas - Lighthouse Point

There are many hidden corners in the Bahamas, one of the reasons I love working there. So many islands, so little time - that is one of the time worn travel sayings. But, here, it is actually true.

This time around I was in Eleuthera at Cape Eleuthera, a fine resort, shooting a fam trip, a gathering of various folks who sell travel. I was there to document the activities, both above the water and below the surface. Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side (an unusually strong west wind was blowing) so underwater time was limited, a blessing as it turned out.

The blessing was this, a road trip to Lighthouse Point, located at the very southern tip of Eleuthera. Several people had mentioned this spot to me, often with different names, always with the highest recommendations. "You must go there, it is the best!". This time, I listened.

Once off the main road, getting there entails a torturous thirty minute drive over a path that is more potholes and gullies than road. The reward? One of the most gorgeous Bahamian beaches one could imagine, powder soft sand stretching forever, this along with a long spit of limestone cliffs that define the Bahamas. The stratified limestone structures reflect the very creation of the islands and include a sublimely beautiful sea cave on the west side. It is a trip well worth the effort and one each visitor should endeavor to undertake.

While a short day trip is fine, preferable for most people, there is much to be said for a longer stay for the more adventuresome.

As traversing the road in the dark is ill-advised, perhaps a tent and an overnight camping trip would be worthwhile (with sufficient provisions, of course, vendors are non entities). The sunrise to the east illuminates the beach and the cliffs with the perfect light and the afternoon sun to the west is simply unbeatable. But, a note of warning, just take a few precautions. Sun screen, aloe gel and bug repellant are essential as both the sun and the sand fleas can take their toll.

So, in the end, would one want to undertake this adventure? Choose between an evening in a fine resort or a solitary night spent under a star-studded sky, the edge of the sea lapping at your doorstep while you are wrapped in the embrace of the Bahamian salt-scented air. It is a matter of personal taste.

It does not matter how you choose to approach Lighthouse Point. If you visit South Eleuthera, put it on your must-see list.