Thank you, Brian and Joyce, for bringing us to this place!
Remember the Swimming Pigs and how we envied them? Living on a beautiful tropical island in the Bahamas, right on the beach, doing nothing all day long but chill and swim gracefully in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, nobody bothering them with grills or machetes, boats bringing them free food right up to the beach? Well, careful what you wish for, they say. All this happened to us too: the perfect island, the beach paradise, free food floating right up to us. We now know exactly how those pigs feel (this has nothing to do with Miyazaki’s films) and it is so good that we began envying ourselves. But let me explain.
Food in the Bahamas is a problem.
In the settlements on the little islands there are small grocery stores with very limited selection of foods which are up to 4 times more expensive than the same products in the U.S. because everything is imported from the U.S. with an added transportation cost. Moreover, the stuff comes once a week by the mailboat and often we have to wait till Wednesday, when the boat usually brings supplies, if we want to buy fresh tomatoes or apples (if we are near a settlement at all).
We knew this and so, before leaving USA, we stocked up the boat with canned and dried foods, pasta, flour, and rice and we hoped to be catching lots of fish. Still, after about a month and a half we finished most of our supplies, and rice became our main meal, with or without fish depending on luck.
A few weeks ago Brian and Joyce, our friends and ex-neighbors (great people!) from back in Canada, sent us a message: “Guys, we will be coming to the Bahamas on a cruise ship. We’ll be spending a day in Half Moon Cay. Let’s meet up!”
Sure thing! At that time we were just about 30 miles away from Half Moon Cay. And so, we check the weather, wait for a few days for the best winds to cross from Great Guana Cay to Little San Salvador, and after a day of slow uneventful sailing we get to the anchorage in front of the small private island owned by Holland-America and Carnival cruise lines, Little San Salvador.
We arrive in the evening exactly one week before Brian and Joyce’s ship, no rush. We are the only sailboat in the anchorage. The beach is perfect: white sand and palm trees, little colorful cabanas, a wooden pirate ship. The island is private and everything is set up for the cruise ships’ crowd. There is no settlement here, no houses, no school, no shops. We drop anchor on the far north side, trying to stay away from the resort facilities; we are not even sure if we are allowed to be here at all. But we kayak to shore and we meet the manager of the island, Anthony, and he is happy to have us around, no problem, man, enjoy!
The next morning a cruise ship like a huge white ice-cream cone arrives and unloads about 3 000 (that is three thousand) pink, fat, drunk, loud, hungry tourists, mostly Americans. We think: horror, how are we to survive here for a week? Until we discover the Island Grill Buffet.
It’s lunch time and the cruise ship people lying on the beach, starving, are being directed to an enormous buffet set up behind the fake pirate ship. We casually follow the hungry crowd pretending we are passengers from the big ship. And there it is: haven on earth (food heaven, that is).
Burgers, hotdogs, grilled chicken, ribs with barbeque sauce, grilled fish fillet; five or six salads and side dishes (I am talking about green salad, cabbage salad, macaroni salad, shrimp salad, potatoes with Dijon mustard, baked zucchini, steamed broccoli, corn, beans, couscous with curry…); little cakes for dessert; and mountains of cut and whole fruits: watermelon, honeydew melon, pineapple, mango, grapes, apples, oranges, pears, kiwi, papaya, strawberries…
We stuff ourselves until our bellies cannot take it no more, we pause for a few minutes, and then we stuff ourselves some more until we are about to explode, and we even stuff the small camera backpack with a bunch of fruits and burgers for later. But we now feel not only stuffed but also guilty for steeling food from the cruise ship. Until we observe with horror how they deal with the leftover food after everyone is done eating. The trash: half-eaten burgers and whatever the three thousand people had in their plates and didn’t eat, goes in garbage bags and is being burned on the island. And the leftovers from the buffet: food left uneaten: perfectly good burgers, chicken, ribs, salads, side dishes, cut fruit, desserts, is being dumped in huge 20 gallon red buckets with lids, to be brought back on the ship and thrown overboard when they pull away from the anchorage. Because, they say, they cannot serve lunch food for supper, nor can they give it to the local staff on the island, about 40 permanent Bahamian workers. Company policy.
It is a great waste, if you ask me, so much good food dumped in the sea for the sharks to feast on, while people everywhere are starving or paying a dollar for an apple. And there are so many more issues besides wasting food that are wrong with those cruise ships corporate giants… Pollution, tax evasion, exploitation of workers from third-world countries, etc…
At least we felt better; not as if we are steeling food, but rather saving it from the dumpster.
The ship leaves in the early afternoon, and the island is only ours now; not a single soul on the beach, silence restored. We swim, we go for a walk exploring the interior, the fields and pastures where a few dozen horses, some goats, and a donkey named Ted are being kept.
We visit the little camp where the 40 permanent island workers employed by Holland-America live in trailers, away from the tourist facilities, and they invite us to the community kitchen for supper. It’s wonderful: local Bahamian food: fish in tomato sauce, rice and beans, freshly baked cookies. They have a community cook who prepares food for everyone. These are the workers who clean the beach after the cruise ship is gone, who maintain the private beach-cabanas painting and cleaning them, who guide the horseback-riding and swimming-with-stingrays tours. I ask them what they think of the wasting of food from the buffet and they too don’t understand it but don’t want to say much, as they don’t want to jeopardize their employment. How about pigs, I suggest. You could raise pigs for free with so much leftovers. But the pigs will stink and the tourists will not like it, they say sadly. Even the goats and the horses we keep all the way on the other side of the island. No, the leftovers go to the sharks. Company policy.
The following night Ivo cannot sleep.
The memory of the buffet and the uncertainty of tomorrow keep him wide awake. Will a cruise ship come again? Will it bring us food? He spends the night sitting on deck, awaiting with anxiety the arrival of a big white ship.
Sure enough, the next morning, another cruise ship drops the hook in our anchorage and the buffet scene repeats. Every day a cruise ship arrives and every day we join the tourists for lunch. And in the afternoon we enjoy the silence; and in the evening we make a small fire on the sand to heat up some leftover burgers.
Thus, a week passes.
We now feel like this is our private island and when Brian and Joyce finally arrive, we welcome them and show them around. It is such a joy to meet old friends away from home, in such a beautiful setting!
Their ship, Carnival Fantasy, is the one with the craziest crowd. Mostly young people, everyone drunk, dancing in the sea. (Holland-America ships are like floating senior’s homes, less people, quiet well-behaved crowd.)
When Brian and Joyce leave that day, we are sad. We have no more reason to stay here… But a series of fortunate events cause us to stay one more memorable week.
To be continued…Share