Five years ago
Almost every island in the Bahamas makes some claim or the other to Christopher Columbus. Last year, Linda and I, had attempted to track down the Columbus monument on Long Island. We never made it.
It is widely believed that Christopher Columbus in 1492, during his first voyage to find the New World, landed on San Salvador island in the Bahamas and gave it it’s name. For a long time, Cat Island was thought to be the island where Columbus landed. Maybe because until 1925, Cat Island was known as San Salvador, while San Salvador was known as Watlings island, bestowed by an English colonist of the name John Watling who resided there in the 17th century. The name “San Salvador” was officially transferred from Cat Island and given to Watlings Island in 1925.
I had hoped to make the flight to San Salvador the day before our departure, so we would have sufficient time to explore the island and track down the Columbus monument. But we had changed our plans and decided to join the group the following day for the flight to San Salvador. It was also the date of our departure from Cat Island and we expected to get to Nassau to spend our last night in the Bahamas.
San Salvador lies slightly south east of Cat Island, a short 53nm away. All those planning the day trip had already left ahead of us. Linda and I departed Cat Island after checking out of Fernandez Bay Village, and headed east for the 30 minute flight to San Salvador.
Transportation to explore the island was limited. There were only a few bikes available for rental and the other choice was to persuade a cab driver. Within walking distance from the airport is a Club Med, Columbus Isle, an all-inclusive resort that offers views, plenty of water activities and food. A few us decided to walk down to the ClubMed instead.
After an hour on the island, we departed San Salvador and headed towards the Exumas, my favorite archipelago of islands in the Bahamas. The Exumas comprise of 360 islands and the entire island chain is 130 miles long. Although there are 14 airports in the Exumas, most are restricted, with only 4-5 of those accessible to pilots.
To truly experience the beauty of the Bahamas, one has to be a few hundred feet off the ground. The greenery of the islands, interspersed with the white and pink beaches, and the vibrant azure hues of the ocean amidst the clouds and the blue skies all forge an unforgettable panorama that remains etched in one’s memory long after. Many people make it to the Bahamas for a weekend or week long getaway to relax, and enjoy the innumerable water sports offered such as swimming, snorkeling, diving, fishing and many more. For me, the lure is the flying. A few hundred feet above the earth, amidst the untouched natural beauty of the islands, resplendent in all it’s colors, waiting to be seen and savored.
One legend has it that a few sailors dropped off some pigs on Big Major Cay (in the group of islands known as the Exumas) with the intention of returning to cook them. They never returned and the pigs survived by eating food dumped from passing ships. What ever the legend, pigs still inhabit the beach and the beach is often known as “Pig Beach”. Many tourist boats make it there each day, and people swim with the pigs and feed them.
Last year, I had missed the flight to Staniel Cay (nearest town closest to Pig Beach with an airport) with the group since we had already made other plans. Those who had visited last year, enjoyed it so much, that they were ready for some repeat action. In order to get to Pig Beach, it is necessary to rent boats at Staniel Cay and make the short boat ride.
After breakfast, in a well orchestrated departure, 8 aircraft of different performance capability ranging from C172 to the Twinstar, departed in tight sequence from New Bight airport and headed straight for Staniel Cay, a short 30 min ride away. To allow for sufficient spacing and safety, all aircraft were organized to fly at 1,000ft at 110 knots.
As we landed and tie-down the aircraft, the boat rental agency was already there in golf carts to shuttle us to the marina to pick up the rental boats. Packing 20 people in 3 boats we were off in no time headed for the Pig Beach.
It is interesting to see the pigs (some of them really huge) lunge into the water and head straight for the arriving boats. We had packed left over food ready to feed the pigs. Sometimes these pigs can be very aggressive and even bite your hand if you are not too careful. Within no time the food was gone and the pigs retreated, disinterested in pursuing us.
After a brief sojourn on the beach, we headed for the Thunderball Grotto made famous by the James Bond movie “Thunderball” where a underwater chase seen had been filmed. We anchored in place so those with appropriate gear could snorkle into the cave of the Grotto. The currents were pretty severe, so not everyone opted to snorkle.
We headed back to the boat rental to return the boats, and walked the short distance to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for some lunch before heading back to New Bight. There is no fuel at New Bight, so a few of us made a slight detour to Exuma International for fuel, before making it back just before the airport closed for the day.
All in all, it was a delightful trip!