The compact commuter plane, packed with locals, landed gracefully at Marsh Harbour International. As I watched the crew push the stairs across the tarmac to the door, I knew this was not going to be a vacation; it was going to be an experience. A friendly gentleman sporting 18-inch dreadlocks held the terminal door open and proclaimed with a thick Bahamian accent, “Welcome to Abaco, man!”
We’d rented a two-bedroom suite in the only hotel on the island with promises of a beautiful, relaxing vacation in an unspoiled, tropical paradise. We could step from our room onto the soft, sandy beach framed by sparkling blue water.
We were six and a half in total: My mom and dad, my sister and her husband, and my husband and me (large as a beach ball as I was 7 months pregnant with our first child). It was 1988, before cell phones, GPS, or Instagram. This was Abaco before it was a tourist destination, when it had only one stoplight, one restaurant, and one hotel.
That first night, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at the hotel’s thatched-roof tiki hut, which was kitted out with a large barbecue pit and picnic tables. Tropical and charming, the food was fresh, simple, and delicious.
Our first day we rented a boat, and my brother-in-law, Eric, took the helm. Maps are my husband Chris’s forte; he was in charge of our destinations. The boat agent showed us which islands could be dangerous. They were private and owned by people we didn’t want to encounter. Okay, we could avoid those. Maybe...
Our first stop was a quiet cove with water sparkling in the Carribean sunlight. In the distance was a lone fisherman in a small row boat. We dropped anchor and jumped in the cool, turquoise water. Suddenly whap, whap, whap -- something hit the water, sending splashing sprays into the air. What was that?
Whap, whap, whap. Someone was shooting at us! They were not aiming to hit us, but they were making sure they were close enough to get us to leave quickly. While my family piled into the boat, I struggled with my beach-ball belly. Whap, whap, whap. My family was heaving me onto the boat. I noticed the lone fisherman had vanished. I think Eric hit the throttle while my feet were dangling in the air and I was face-first on the floor of the boat. Welcome to Abaco, man!
Once we’d recovered from our close call, we found a secluded island and circled several times to ensure it was uninhabited. After anchoring the boat, we carried our lunch and snorkel gear to a deserted, gorgeous beach.
Imagine trying to put on flippers, in the water, with a buoyant beach ball strapped to your tummy! Snorkeling while 7 months pregnant is not graceful. After I found my balance, Chris and I swam out to watch the pretty fish go by. Peaceful, right? Wait, what was that? I saw a shadow out of the corner of my eye. It was dark grey, and fairly large. I spun around. Well, more like bobbed around. I could see something long and narrow in the water, but I couldn’t make it out. Was it circling us? I bobbed again, totally consumed with fear.
It was circling, watching us with one penetrating eye. In my panic, I jumped on Chris’s back, shimmied all the way to his shoulders, flippers flying and beach-ball belly notwithstanding. Chris was trying to throw me off; he was grabbing my legs, pushing me away. In a brief moment of clarity, I realized the water was deep and he was literally in over his head. I had him pinned under the water. I went down, belly up, making a spectacular splash and scaring the big fish away.
What was that menacing fish? A large barracuda, so not quite the shark my panicked mind was envisioning. Welcome to Abaco, man!
Midweek we set up an excursion to Grand Bahama for some casino time. We chartered a six-seater airplane. Chris, who has no flying experience, was the copilot for the one-hour island hopper.
Once we arrived, we wandered the casino and gambled a little. We were contemplating our next move when our limo driver frantically corralled us insisting we go now! He hustled us to the car, sped through the city streets, and reached the airport as the sky became dark and ominous. We squeezed in the small plane as fat droplets of rain plopped down on the windshield. No sooner were we in the air than the rain started coming in sheets, the wipers frantically trying to keep up with the deluge.
I was pretty panicked since the pilot was wrestling to see where he was going while keeping the plane level. Thankfully it was a short trip back to Abaco. A local man in an old pickup truck drove us back to our hotel. The storm pounded all night. In the morning, the hotel’s tiki hut was trashed, the beach was wave swept, and the electricity was out, but the air smelled fresh and clean. Just another day in Abaco, man.
What do you do at night on an island that has no electricity? Well, we joined the locals at a beachside tiki bar for drinks, reggae music, and wild dancing on the moonlit sand. It was a fabulous party. I was, however, the only sober one at the end of the night, which meant I was in charge of navigating the dark island roads back to the hotel. Thankfully, oncoming traffic was not a problem as many of the locals just curled up near the bar for an overnight nap.
Eric is an artist. He adored the beautiful, large conch shells scattered on the beach. He collected a dozen of these 10-inch, spiky shells. He put them in the bathtub for safe keeping, with plans to wash them and take them home. Unfortunately, after a full day of beaching, we returned to the suite and were smacked with a wretched stench. Stuck in the tub, in the non-air conditioned room, were twelve dead conch! Eric didn’t consider taking the conch creature out of the shell before abandoning them in a dry tub.
We have many great memories from this trip, including the harrowing ones that bring some of our liveliest memories back. Rather than deterring me from travel, our trip to Grand Abaco Island ignited my love of adventurous, intrepid traveling. Welcome to Abaco, man!
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