Finding Mr. Ray and Mr. Sun!

(If you have seen Finding Nemo, you will know what I mean by the title….)

__________________________

One cloudy sunless day at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, we went to meet the sting rays. This was Day Six of our 7-day Holland America cruise.

At first, I was hesitant to do this activity, because, Steve Irwin.

But we needed to have an excursion otherwise we would go crazy after the previous day spent at sea with absolutely nothing done but eat, read, lounge, exercise a bit, eat, read, nap, repeat. It certainly made for a very “relaxing” (read, boring) day indeed!

Stepping foot on Holland America’s private beach was much welcomed even though the weather wasn’t cooperating that day. I can still appreciate the fine white sand and the turquoise blue waters despite the overcast skies and slight drizzle. In fact, out of the other beaches (Grand Turk and St. Thomas) we have visited, this one tops it all. I think it was because there was more beach here, stretching all the way to the tip of the island so it didn’t feel as crowded. But then again, this was a private island so you don’t get other cruise ships docking.

IMG_4581.jpg
Half Moon Cay
DSCN0737.jpg
The MS Westerdam from a distance

Upon signing our life away waivers for the sting ray activity, we waited for a few minutes for the group to converge and then we were herded to a waiting safari-like truck where we were brought to the other side of the island. This was where most of the water sports were done since it was in a lagoon with no beach but lots of rocks around instead. The sting rays were corralled further up the cove.

After a brief safety orientation, we were given floating vests and water shoes. We brought our own snorkeling gear for sanitary reasons. And then off we went down the dock where our guide was waiting for us.

DSCN0764.jpg

Oh but the water was sooo chilly! Everyone was taking their own sweet time descending down the steps trying to get acclimatized to the temperature. Once we were in the water and fully submerged, it was okay, tolerable the least. Dang, the lack of sunshine!

So we snorkeled for a few minutes (I was trying to stay away as far away as I can) just watching the rays and the fish swim by before we were all called to the shallower part of the lagoon where we could all stand in chest or waist deep waters, depending on how tall or short you are. We were asked to form a circle while the “sting ray guy” was standing in the middle. He babbled another set of instructions and gave us some information about the sting rays he was in charge of. Because of his thick island accent, I could barely understand him plus the fact that we were surrounded by at least 10 or 15 sting rays, my mind just simply focused on watching these creatures while I froze in place.

DSCN0773.jpg

He told us to touch them from the top and to avoid their tails and to shuffle on the sand when walking. Later on, he warned about getting a “sting ray hickie” when feeding them.

DSCN0784

Because the sting rays knew him, they started converging en masse, excitedly flapping their wings and some of them even splashing the surface! I was excited and petrified at the same time. Every time a ray’s wing or whatever body part touches my foot or ankle or leg or worse, thigh, I emitted a loud screech-like giggle that my hubby gave me weird looks. I was the loudest I believe because some one said I was having so much fun that they enjoyed looking at me. What the?!?

 

DSCN0783.jpg
A shark reportedly got its tail
DSCN0808.jpg
That is too close for comfort. 

One ray liked my friend a lot that he tried to climb up her back while I felt another’s tail brush my thigh. It had rough little sharp spikes and I was afraid I would get a rash or a little scrape from it. Thank God I didn’t get anything!

DSCN0792.jpg
Keeping an eye out on THAT long tail
DSCN0814.jpg
No Steve Irwin stunts here

After a few minutes of observing and touching them, I did not, because they were already all over me (their skin felt velvety smooth), it was feeding time. The sting ray whisperer gave us another round of instructions on how to hold the squid the right way. The ray’s mouths are located on the underside of the belly so they would have to suction the food from below.

The guide went to each and everyone of us, standing beside us and showing us the right way to do it, guiding our hands lest we panic and forget all the safety instructions. There were a couple of squeamish folks who gave a tight grip on the squids and were having a back and forth battle with the sting rays. That would have been a sting ray hickie right there. I was lucky my squid got sucked to the ray’s vacuum mouth quickly, without incident. Phew!

DSCN0823.jpg
A ray showing off. Or maybe he was just hungry. Take note, squids on both our hands.
DSCN0816.jpg
The sting ray whisperer touching the underbelly

We spent about an hour there and by the time we were done, my fingers were looking like dried prunes. Yes, it was still cold. It was a great experience for every one. The kids enjoyed it most especially, an educational experience for sure.

I just wished it was a sunny day!

Bahama Mama!

The quickest and easiest way to go to the Bahamas is on a cruise. Of course, you can also fly there but cruising is more fun and leisurely  specially if you go with a LOT of people.

Image

There are several cruise ships that visit this island nation daily making tourism its number one income generating economic activity.

Did you know that Bahamas comes from the Spanish word Baja Mar which means “shallow waters”?

Image

Made up of more than 700 islands and islets, you can find your own little paradise somewhere. Bahamas is well known for its beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters, the world famous luxury resort and casino, Atlantis Paradise Island, that ever popular beach drink, Bahama Mama, believed to have originated in the Bahamas region, pirates, braided hair and conch fritters.

Image

Bahamas has a long standing violent history of piracy (the name Blackbeard ring a bell?) that it was turned into a British settlement to help eradicate the pirates and stop the attacks. Notice the pink and white buildings in Nassau? Those are all colonial influenced from back in the day. All the other buildings look picture pretty as well with all the pastel colors.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Most cruise ships dock at Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas or at Freeport at Grand Bahama island. Carnival and Royal Caribbean, the two cruise ships I’ve been on both dock at Nassau.

Image

You instantly get that island vibe right away as a local band greets you with live Caribbean music as you walk through the immigration building.

Image

From the port, once you exit the main immigration building, also brimming with local vendors and souvenir shops, you get swarmed by taxi cab and tour operators all offering you a “good deal”. What a good deal is, I have no idea because we never did any locally operated excursions.

We only participated in one excursion in the three times that I have visited and that was the Paradise Island and Sightseeing Tour by Royal Caribbean. The highlights of the tour included visiting the Queen’s staircase, Fort Fincastle, Fort Charlotte and a brief stop at the Atlantis Resort.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

The Straw Market right off Bay street, about a good 5 mins walk from the port is THE place to buy locally made souvenirs. From tshirts, hand-woven straw hats, bags, wood carved figures, magnets and other little touristy things, you can find just about anything and everything under the Bahamas sun. Test your haggling skills here as it is highly recommended!

Image

Image

A little past the Straw Market is Junkanoo beach, a local public beach. It is about 10-15 mins walking distance from the cruise ships. If you get tired of all the touristy things and just want to chill and relax, this is the place to be.

Image

Convenient and accessible, you can either rent lounge chairs and umbrellas for $10-$15 or bring your own towels and beach mats and simply put your things down and lay on the sand. There are local vendors selling drinks and food and public toilets can be found nearby.

Image

Image

The waters are so clean and inviting and crystal clear. The sand is white and sprinkled with little rocks and broken corals and some sea glass which didn’t bother me at all as it is as natural as it can get. Most of all, this is a FREE attraction!

Image

Image

Another interesting fact that I found out is that the flamingo is the Bahamas’ national bird. For some reason, I thought it was Florida’s …I see Flamingos everywhere in Florida from shirts to garden decor. A popular tourist attraction is the Ardastra Gardens and Zoo where you can see the flamingo show. I personally did not visit this attraction but a few friends of mine did and it is great for families and kids.

I probably would not come back to the Bahamas anytime soon but if there was one single reason for me to go back, it would be Junkanoo beach. There are other beautiful beaches too but because of its convenience, I would easily pick this one over the others.

Image