Monday, August 20, 2012
Bimini Blast: Our Staycation Part 1
I love it when people come to visit because it means we get to play tour guide and tourist. Although tiny, the islands of Bimini have an eclectic history and culture. We spend most of our time under the water, so exploring topside is always a blast. The best way to get around Bimini is either by bike or golf cart, so we made good use of both options as we set out on our “staycation.”
Dennis and Shari arrived and we hit the ground running. We stopped at Al’s Conch Stand, a rare treat because they are never open. We had negotiated a time for lunch the night before, but the cook had yet to crawl out from the debacle of the previous evening. We toasted their arrival to the island with a delicious nectar called Goombay Smash. This coconut rum and juice concoction is one of our favorites and we recommend to anyone visiting the Bahamas.
Al’s is conveniently located next to the water taxi and we hopped on board to head to the north island. The water taxi runs between the two islands fairly consistently, most of the day. Sometimes you wait a while if the driver is having a drink or had to run home for a minute. The quick trip across is always an adventure because you never know who is going to be aboard or what is going to happen.I love the idea that we take a boat to get to the,” big city.” Sometimes it can be an inconvenience, but having to take a boat to get to the grocery store is pretty awesome. The colors of Bimini are vibrant and with friends in tow, I found myself appreciating the details. The brightly painted bougainvilleas along the fence have bloomed. There are conch shells decorating a newly constructed gate and the small side streets are lined with possibilities.
We immediately trekked up the hill and headed to Sherry’s for lunch. The more Guinness that Sherry drinks, the longer it takes to get your food, but wow, can she cook! The brightly colored shack has a hand painted bar menu and as for food, well you just have to ask what they have going that day. Sherry works in a tiny kitchen and only has one small deep fryer. To appreciate how inadequate this is one must understand that EVERYTHING gets fried on the island. She labors away and cranks out food at a pretty impressive pace. Conch, snapper and lobster are in season and fresh, so we offered advice to Shari and Dennis on the menu items. We opted for ice cold Kaliks, the local beer, as we stuck our feet in the sand and enjoyed the blue ocean that drips off the beach. Very quickly we too were dripping as the humidity was fierce and sweating is more of an accessory than a bodily function in the Bahamian summer heat.
We walked down to Big Game to get our beach cruisers and hit the open road. We headed off with no plan and no limits, just living, “young and wild and free.” The island is small, but there are lots of little gems tucked away. In my travels I have found that most destinations require a bit of perseverance to really find the heart of a place and not just the tourist traps. I would say that sweating your ass off on a beach cruiser shows perseverance, no? It is also a good way to work up your thirst for a local libation when you make a pit stop. Our standard biking expeditions involve precariously balancing cans of paint, groceries and other supplies, so this was a nice change of pace.
Normally puppies are not part of a tour, but with some very cute potcakes ( dogs that are bit of everything mixed in the pot) on the island, it was a must. Duncan and I had spotted them on a trip to the hardware store earlier in the week and I was desperate to get back. I kept my slice of Bimini bread from lunch so that I could have a treat for our new friends. We made a quick stop to visit the lone goat that calls an abandoned yard of cement his home. As I called him, we realized that he was blind. He moved toward the sound, but didn’t even flinch as I waved the Bimini bread through the fence. We finally connected and he seemed to enjoy his treat.
Next stop Porgy Bay for some puppies. They came running, disregarding the trash that they were investigating. Apparently Bimini bread was a good choice, as they devoured it along with our attention. Their little collars are made of rope and they both have pretty pot little bellies. Good to see dogs that are a little chubby on the island as food and care can be severely lacking. Walking away was nearly impossible, especially when they run after us. I am pretty sure that this was one of the highlights for everyone.
After the puppy patrol we headed all the way to the end of the island. Bimini Bay Resort is at the very tip of the north island and we like to show people the damage that they have caused. Seeing piles of dirt being shoved into the lagoon tends to have a more dramatic impact than just talking about it. The resort is changing the island drastically and there are many battles waging to try and protect the natural wonders of Bimini.
As we cruised along, Duncan and I did our best tour guide impersonation with explanations of local heros, hijinks and random facts. Bonefish Ebbie’s place, Ansel’s boat shop, The Dolphin House, the hardware store, and various bars and bakeries.
We made our way to Stuart’s Conch Stand, so we could taste a bit more of the culture. Stuart’s is a Bimini icon and the myth, the man, the legend, Stuart himself got us our Kaliks with a smile. His face is worn with sunshine and life of hard work. The piles of conch decorate both sides of the stand and we moved outside to watch the guys cracking conch. The conch pistol is considered to be the local Viagra and we made sure that Dennis and Shari both tried a sample. I think it tastes like low tide, but people seem to enjoy it. With 2 or 3 pistols ingested each, it was time for a sample of conch salad. The open stand sits over the water with the shades of blue flowing past. We appreciated the breeze as we enjoyed the food, friends and ice cold drinks. The atmosphere was filled with laughter, the good old boys sharing stories of times passed and the essence of the island. It was something straight out of a movie. Moments like these are some of my absolute favorites. This is not your prefabricated and packaged cruise ship tour of the Bahamas; this is raw and real.
The afternoon slipped by and we returned to the South island for cocktails while wallowing in the ocean. The waves were a little aggressive, so the easy lounge turned into a keep the cups upright survival course. Fresh coconut and pineapple coladas eased away the heat of the day. Dinner was cooked on our little grill as we reminisced about the glorious day we have just had. The next day we headed off to join the dolphin boat for the week, an intermission to our land adventures.
Duncan left for a shoot at the begging of the week, so I took on the sole responsibility of tour goddess. We had a new addition to the group, as Walt joined us for our exploits. Walt was a dive student of mine 5 years ago and returned for another underwater adventure. We wasted little time and found ourselves back on the water taxi with the North island as our destination. We decided to ease Walt into the island life and made our way to Big Game for some cocktails. The outdoor bar called our name and we waited as the bar tended blended Goombay smashes and rum runners. Fun noodles floated in the pool, so we had no choice but to put them to good use. I was allotted two in an attempt to keep my spider bitten knee high and dry. I failed epically as I tried to do this and hold a drink. We giggled and floated as some local kids offered to wash our boat. I wish I had a boat they could wash. Walt participated in a cannonball contest as we sipped our tropical concoctions and relished in the island life. This was my first time stepping into the Big Game pool. Despite living on the island, Dunk and I do not luxuriate and lounge much. We toasted him and stated that a repeat performance would be necessary.
The afternoon once again slipped by slowly and we headed due South. Walt and Dennis went to rent a golf cart as I prepared dinner. Local fish, peppers, onions, plantains and tomatoes wrapped in tinfoil and baked in the oven. The boys returned with a fresh pineapple, 2 bottles of rum, sodas and coconut milk. Guess that meant we were having a party. We laughed about the dolphin debauchery of the week and the cast of characters we met. Dennis tried his hand as mixologist and whipped up some concoctions.
The next day Dennis, Shari and Walt headed off for a dive and I settled in to do some work that I was desperately behind on. They returned 2 hours early as apparent “boat issues,” cancelled the second dive. I made the executive decision to head north for round two. Walt picked us up and off we went. We rented a golf cart instead of bikes and once again set off to find some trouble or hope it found us. Cocktails for the warmup at Sherry’s seemed to be the obvious starting point. Shari and Sherry shared an ice cream cone before Shari decided she needed her own. The guys had a bit of bromance on the beach before we pulled them away to continue the tour.
I did the quick run through Bimini Bay before stopping at Stuart’s once again. This time we opted for the lobster and conch salad with cold beers to wash it down. Walt negotiated with a local for a clean conch shell to take home and tried his first conch pistol as Shari and Dennis laughed like old pros. I think Dennis snuck another one in when no one was looking. Maybe he had plans we were not aware of? Walt made his presence permanent as he inked his name on the bench. Another glorious day at Stuart’s.
I grabbed a box of Ritz crackers at the grocery store along with supplies for dinner before puppy time. We found the mischievous duo tied up this time and, “Stinky,” their owner explained that he didn’t want them getting in the road. Most dogs in Bimini are outdoor pets and they have rope for collars and leashes. Our news friends are named Buster and Sunshine. Stinky is a proud papa and he let us give them some loving and a snack. They were less partial to Ritz than they were to Bimini bread, but eventually munched away. Walt secured them to their house as we parted ways.
Our next stop was to visit the goat, which we affectionately named, “Stevie the Wonder Goat.” We called out to him and he made his way to us. His owner scooped him up and flung him over his shoulder. He then places his sunglasses on the goat for a picture before lugging him off down the street. We heard some unpleasant noises, so we rode away praying that we will still see Stevie on our next visit.
We stopped our for absolutely necessary visit with Hotness. Corvell is a voluptuous local lady that sells souvenirs and makes the best conch fritters in all of the Bahamas. We hired her to cook at our rehearsal dinner and she was nothing short of amazing. Walt, Shari and Dennis shopped for goodies and we all walked away with a few items; I with the most amazing shirt! Hotness gave us each a beer coozy and even made sure to send one to Duncan. We departed as she asked if Dennis had a lady at home because she was going to make her jealous. Hotness puckered up and attached herself to Dennis’ cheek and made him blush. I am guessing that was the absolute trip highlight for Dennis whether he will admit it or not.
Our final stop was at one of Bimini’s movie claims to fame. In the last scene of Silence of the Lambs Hannibal calls Clarice and says he is having, “ an old friend for dinner.” This was shot in Bimini and the phone is still there. We each borrowed Shari’s fedora and did our best reenactments for photographs. A perfect way to end the day.
Back at home I took Dennis down to the fish table to teach him how to pound conch. He was a born natural and our conch was pounded to perfection in no time. This mollusk is tough and pounding is necessary to tenderize it before cooking. I wrapped the conch in tin foil with peppers, onion, tomatoes, plantains, coconut milk and lime juice. A rogue potato had been lost on the ride home at the hand of Walt’s erratic driving. In his defense, the cart did only have two speeds; stop and go. The potato was recovered and served up much to Walt’s delight. More cocktails and a fabulous dinner with friends. I rocked my new shirt and we settled in to more laughs about the dolphin debauchery.
To Be Continued: ( Yes, there is more)