Live Like the Locals: 3 Ways to Get to Know Your Destination Better

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Over the days we spent on the small island of Exuma, we met a variety of locals who helped us see further into the lives of the people living there. I fully believe that the only way to really get to know a place is to live like the locals as much as you can! Go to the same restaurants and bars as them. Go to the same local events as them. And most of all, talk to them!

Restaurants and bars

Upon arriving in Exuma, we began to hear two names tossed around quite a bit: Fish Fry and Chat N’ Chill. Both were pretty catchy and fun sounding names, so we decided to give ’em a try. Fish Fry ended up being one of our go-to places for grabbing a bite, and Chat N’ Chill made for one relaxing, or should I say “chill” afternoon! The latter was more of a tourist destination, with far less local/tourist interaction than Fish Fry. We did engage in a nice conversation with the water taxi driver on our way to Chat N’ Chill, as we were the only passengers in the boat!

 

Fish Fry was a little rougher around the edges, and on each of the multiple times we came, we encountered a different friendly Bahamian. The first person was Cat…or “key-at,” which is how it sounded to us. It took him actually spelling out C-A-T for us to understand! He paints signs for resorts, restaurants, and shops around the island. My favorite part of our conversation happened when Aunt Liz spotted a rat, and Cat says, “Oh, that’s just Mickey.” Upon which we looked at him strangely, asking if Mickey visited the bar often. (Which he evidently did!) We also talked to Buzzy, a locally-famous sailor who won the sailing regatta we watched. At a downtown hotel, Peace N’ Plenty, we chatted with the owner, Doc, who had worked there for 30 or 40 years. And these are just a few of the extremely welcoming people we met.

Local events

When you go to local restaurants and bars, you hear about local events! Even just going to the grocery store you might find a bulletin board where flyers advertising events are hung up. These events are great ways to experience the local culture, and besides meeting locals, you can meet fellow travelers!

There were two events that we went to on our trip: the New Year’s Eve party at a casual resort, and the Bull Reg Regatta at Fish Fry. The New Year’s party was open to tourists and locals, and there was a good mix of the two. We even saw my dive instructor Jonathon there! I also got pulled into dancing with a group of twenty-something-aged tourists from different cities in the U.S. who had most likely mistaken me for being a bit older. At the regatta, we talked to multiple people, and learned more about sailing and racing in the Bahamas

 

Talk! Chat! Engage in a conversation with a local!

This, above all, is the best way to get to know a place. Whether you’re standing in line at the grocery store, having some food and drinks at a local bar, or just walking around the streets, you can be sure there will be an opportunity to chat it up with a local. And chances are they will be happy to talk to you, so don’t think that your tourist status changes anything! And in addition to the insights into local culture, you will gain information and recommendations about places to eat, events, and things to do while you’re there! Talking to locals completes the circle: you first talk to someone and get a recommendation, then you go to that bar/restaurant that they recommended, where you talk to another local and hear about an event, then you go there and talk to yet another local, and hear about yet another bar! It works great and is the best way to get immersed in local life.

Sailing the Bahamian Way: Ridin’ the Pry

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On the very first day we went out on the dive boat with Dive Exuma, I noticed the beautifully painted wooden sailboats that were moored near the dock by the dive shop. They were definitely racing boats, with their names streaked across the hulls. When Jonathon, my instructor, saw us admiring them, he told us about the upcoming Bull Reg Regatta, an annual sailing race that was going to take place in a few days. We learned about “ridin’ the pry,” which refers to the outrigger boards for the crew to sit on to keep the boats from tipping over. It was like hiking out on steroids. We immediately decided we wanted to go watch the races, and he told us that Fish Fry was the best place to watch. Fish Fry was a local hangout made up of colorful shacks, all bars and restaurants, located along the shore a ways up the road from town. We had already heard the name thrown around a bit in the few days we had been there, so we figured it was a pretty happening place.

A few days later, the morning of the regatta, we decided to go down to one of the shacks that served as the hub for sailors on the island. The race was advertised to start at 9, so we came down around 10, expecting that 9 meant about 10 in Bahamian time! There were no boats racing, so we chatted with a few locals to find out what was going on with the regatta. We found out it was postponed until the next day, in hopes that the currently-howling winds would calm down a bit. 

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One of the bars at Fish Fry

We came back the next day to find that the races were on! Locals gathered at the shack pictured above, chatting and drinking beers at 10 in the morning, and waiting for the races to start. The start–wow! The one minute horn went off, and the eight or so boats were still sitting anchored with sails un-hoisted! Aren’t they going to get ready? The race is about to start! I was thinking. But then, when the horn blasted to signal the start of the race, bam! Within 5-10 seconds, all of the boats had their anchors up, sails up, and were racing! I couldn’t believe how fast they got moving! And when they did, we found out just how big of a thing sailing was in the Bahamas. The locals were about as bad as Americans watching football! They were pointing out the window of the open air bar, yelling “red boat!” and “Long Island boat!” …And that was about all we could understand through their thick Bahamian accent and the fact that there were about 6 people talking over each other. I had no idea how they could even see what boat was ahead, let alone which boat it was (if it was the red boat or the blue boat, etc.), since by then they had sailed far from shore, and all you could see was their graceful white sails. When they came around the mark close to shore, we were able to see better, and watched as the crew scrambled out onto the pry. It looked incredibly fun! Buzzy, the son of Bull Reg, who the regatta is named after, won the races. 

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On our third to last day on the island, we came back to Fish Fry (which by then was our 4th or 5th time there), and tried to find a sailor to take me out as crew. My dad and I were talking to some men, and we asked if Buzzy was around. They all started laughing, and soon we figured out that we were talking to Buzzy himself! He told us he had to put his two boats on a barge the next day to take them to Nassau for another regatta, so he might not have a boat to take me out on. We said we’d meet him down at the dock after our dive that day, but when we got back the barge was already there and they were getting ready to load the boats. So, I never got to sail, but that’s just one more reason for me to come back again!

5 Reasons Why You Should Learn to Scuba Dive

It’s fun! – Learning to dive was definately one of the best experiences of my life! I’ve been snorkeling ever since I was a little kid, and I absoulutely love it. I’ve wanted to try diving for a while now, and I was always certain I would love it even more than snorkeling – and I was right! If you like swimming or snorkeling, diving will be twice as fun! It might be a little weird or scary when you first breathe underwater, but I quickly got used to it. By the second dive, everything just clicked and it was amazingly relaxing and easy!

You’ll learn something – I used PADI’s eLearning program to do the classroom portion of the course, as well as Dive Exuma (the island’s local dive shop) to do my required dives to become a certified Open Water Diver. The only surprise was how much classroom work I had to do on eLearning! You had to learn a bit of the science and technical part of diving, understanding the pressure increase as you dive deeper, and using a dive table to plan your dive time & depth. It was pretty interesting stuff! I am glad that I had to learn it because it made me appreciate diving even more.

You will get to see a completely different world underwater – My favorite animals have always been sea animals (dolphins and turtles). Diving in the Bahamas let us get close to sea turtles, sharks, and various species of beautiful fish and corals. Unfortunately, no dolphins. The shark dive we did was at a reef about an hour long boat ride from Exuma to a spot off the shore of Long Island. And it was incredible! We descended to a sandy bottom about 40 feet below the surface, and were immediately encircled by reef sharks. They weren’t scary at all, and were quite small, only about 6-8 feet, and as my instructor Johnathon encouragingly said beforehand, “If they bite you, you’ll survive. You’ll just have a big scar!” We also visited 2 blue holes (one diving, one snorkeling), which are quite literally just big holes in the sea floor. They are like caves, with circular openings and steep walls. Some are deeper than others, for example the Angelfish Bluehole that we visited with the dive group was about 90 feet deep, with the surrounding sea floor only about 25-30 feet. There are so many things underwater that you just can’t experience without scuba diving, and for me, that alone is why I wanted to learn.

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It opens up job and travel opportunities – I (obviously) want to travel when I’m older! Even before learning to dive, I fantasized about being a dive instructor at different locations around the world, spending every day underwater. And besides teaching, there are tons of cool group dive travel opportunities as well! You can find fellow divers on PADI’s ScubaEarth website and go on dive trips to places all over the world, with divers from all over the world! Just in the few days we spent with Dive Exuma, I met two divers from Austria, one from France, and two snorkelers from Italy!

You can help protect our oceans – When I went to the Grenadines two years ago, the coral there was not in great condition. Most of the corals were “bleached,” where the color is gone and it appears dead. It was really sad because it didn’t used to be like that! You can read more about coral bleaching here: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_bleach.html  Being a diver, you can get involved in marine conservation projects to study the damage being done, as well as play a part in working to reverse the direction that our oceans are going in. Debris is also a big problem, and as a diver, you can help by picking up trash and other objects, or by checking out organizations like Project AWARE, an organization that teams up with PADI to clean up our oceans. Visit them at http://www.projectaware.org/

 

 

We Found a Haitian Shipwreck!!

New Year’s Day, 2017 was a day of unexpected discoveries! That morning, my mom and I were trying not to step on any snails living in the tidepools of the rocky shoreline by our adorable pink house in Exuma, when we saw a backpack full of clothes. Shrugging it off as nothing interesting, we kept walking. But then we found another backpack. And another! Up farther we could see a deflated grey dinghy with yet more clothes and backpacks strewn around it. There were lifejackets, some of them ripped and stuck in the branches of little shrubs, as wells as dozens of packages of crackers. We realized we had stumbled upon a shipwreck! At this point we were looking for people, or bodies even, thinking that if the people in the wreck were alive they would’ve collected their stuff, not left it for some tourist to find on a morning beach walk.

We continued to explore the shoreline, and found a total of around 10 backpacks! One of the backpacks was full of a young girl’s clothing, with jeans in a size much smaller than my own. There were packages of crackers, packets of water, toothbrushes and other toiletries, and the thing that really helped us piece things together—a book called “Parle Anglais Rapidement,” or “Learn English Fast.” We already suspected this wreck was from either Haitian or Cuban refugees, going off the contents of their packs and the small size of their boat, but this little book showed us that whoever was on this boat spoke French, meaning we were probably looking at a Haitian shipwreck! Inside the soggy book there was a picture of three women that had been transferred like a temporary tattoo onto one of the pages. The whole thing then became kind of eerie to look at, as we wondered if they had died at sea or if they made it to shore and their stuff washed up later.

The next thing we found confirmed it all. After searching each pack for some sort of identification, Aunt Liz was the one to finally find a wallet inside one of the backpacks! Just as we thought, it contained a couple of ID’s proving that they were Haitian. There were some other papers in the wallet as well, but even with our limited knowledge of French, we couldn’t quite tell what they said. So we rushed back to the house to tell the others and get out Google Translate. We determined one document was a “declaration of loss,” which we weren’t sure was a death certificate, a missing persons document, or what. My dad and Aunt Carol wanted to see the wreck too, so I went back with them to look at it again. This time I walked a little farther from shore and found a second wallet! Again containing a Haitian ID, as well as Haitian, Bahamian, and American money. I yelled to my dad to come look, and together we walked farther from shore and found a little road. Along the dirt road my dad found another backpack and a Bible (written in French), and I found a big plastic cooler with silverware, twine, tape, and other supplies in it. On the beach in the other direction from our house, there sat small sailboat that was also full of clothes. We found that a couple days ago, but simply thought it had wrecked in the hurricane that came through a couple months ago. We weren’t sure if the Haitians had come in the dinghy or the sailboat, but either way, the boats were far too small to fit 10 people comfortably. The more we found the sadder it became, trying to imagine how desperate these Haitians must have been to risk their lives trying to make it to another country in a boat suited for only about 4 people!

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Back at the house, we called the police, but since it was New Year’s Day, they didn’t answer. Onike (the house rental lady) said they were probably recovering from a hangover from the previous night! The next day, after still not hearing from the police, we met our neighbors, who had just moved in to a different rental house down the beach (in the other direction). We mentioned finding the wreck, and told them how the police never did come. But they did…or tried to. And they scared the bejesus out of our neighbors! Our new neighbors told us how men in military uniforms, with army boots and guns over their shoulders came to their house the previous night—yes, at night, in the dark! The family asked if they could help them with something, and in all serious tones, the men replied that they were looking for a cottage called Sophia’s Rest. Of course, since that is our cottage, our neighbors replied they didn’t know of a Sophia’s Rest, and the men went away. The road between our cottage and our neighbors’ had been washed out in the hurricane, so that made it slightly harder to get there, accounting in part for the police’s mishap.

After meeting our neighbors that morning, we went to the police station to drop off the wallets and give them directions to the right house. They must have come to our house when we weren’t there, because after that we didn’t hear any more about the investigation. We did find a business card for a Haitian minister, and we are thinking about emailing him. We take for granted the freedoms we have and the comfortable lives we live, and often forget how lucky we are in comparison to people like those Haitians that risked their lives to get out of their country.