Thursday, 26 January 2012

Days of disovery

We arrived at a place so beautiful it caught me off guard. I'm not sure why I should be surprised by its beauty, it was a crescent beach flanked by mounds of dense vegetation, like many others in the Bahamas. But this place had an aura of distinction about it. 
Perhaps we felt differently about it, because we knew that Hawksbill Cay is uninhabited, and as we pulled into its quiet, protected bay we realized we were going to have it all to ourselves. Hawksbill lays within Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, a protected area that provides a safe haven and replenishment area for the wildlife native to the Bahamas. Fishing or collecting any fauna or flora is strictly prohibited (dead or alive). In fact they ask that you neither take nor leave anything behind. Because of the fishing ban areas surrounding Hawksbill Cay are rich in wildlife and subject to poaching. We think we witnessed a couple of cruisers in the act. Approaching the bay we saw that another boat was anchored in it, but just as we eased toward it, it began to stir. A drenched young man, fresh out of the water, was scrambling around on deck to lift the anchor and the boat left promptly after, ignoring our friendly waves of acknowledgment. 
It was their quick escape that made us suspicious, but we couldn't be certain what they were up to so we gave it no further thought and relished the idea of being the only occupants of the island. 
Once on the hook we left Rodeo and Katarina cradled in the tranquil cove and made our way to shore. Ever since my parents left Nassau, a few days earlier, we have been enjoying the company of our dear friends, Kathryn and John. In their 60's, these two have the verve of a couple of teenagers and they infect us with their love of life and each other daily. Excited, we pile into their dinghy and head for the beach, eager to explore it. Advancing water has pressed it into a crescent, lapping away at the soft, creamy sand. It rises out of the sea, spreading before us on a gentle incline and disappears into dense shrubs and palm trees that run deep inland, rolling over a hill far on the other side of the island. On either side, the land flanking the cove grows higher, thicker, stretching its welcoming arms around the anchorage. The view is breathtaking. Kath and I jump around, embracing, screaming in excitement: "This is it! This is it!" 
Next we ventured over to a sign that informs us about the park's rules of engagement. We are to stay on the path, "taking nothing but pictures, leaving nothing but footprints behind". We respectfully make our way inland, weaving through a network of heavy ground growth and short palms that remarkably sprout from the dry, inhospitable Bahamian soil. Once we reached the hill, the path turned into a porous rocky face we scaled to reach the east side of the island. There the open ocean trashes against powdery sandstone cliffs, carving out what looks like a moonscape into the face of the easter shore. 
We spent 3 fun filled days in Hawksbill Cay snorkeling, kayaking and exploring the vacant island. One of the paths led us to crumbling ruins of a Loyalist plantation, high up on a ridge, occupied now only by hermit crabs and curly-tailed lizards. After satisfying our explorer fix we eased Rodeo out and away from this extraordinary cove, and set out to discover what secrets other Exuma Cays may hold. 

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