The Islands Man

by Aaron on January 21, 2011

Well, we’re back Stateside after completing our journey around the Caribbean Circle. The last legs of our flights in the States were met with cold temperatures, strong headwinds, a hairy landings. All of which seemingly said to us “get your butts back to the Islands.”

After departing Colombia we made our way to Aruba and were promptly met with people that spoke English and with people that were wondering what three 20 somethings were doing coming from Colombia.

After busting out the drug dogs at the airport, making Patrick undress Charlie Banana, and some intense questioning they finally realized we weren’t Pablo Escobar reincarnated.

Aruba looked like a fun place to check out(minus the high prices) but we were only there for a pit stop on our way to the Bahamas. We had originally planned on extending the route further east towards Grenada and the Virgin Islands.

The leg to Grenada would have been a long one so those plans were dashed by a headwind that could have caused a gas shortage and forced an emergency landing(unannounced) in Venezuela. Having seen what arriving without notice can do in Colombia(a US ally) we decided that doing the same in Venezuela(definitely not a US ally) might actually result in the airplane seizure we had just avoided.

So North to the Dominican Republic it was. The change in plans meant roughly 330 nautical miles over open ocean.

There was something eerily exciting(at least for me) about dawning the life jackets and getting the preflight briefing from Patrick about how to deploy the life raft in case we had to ditch in the open ocean.

Not that I wanted to ditch, but floating on life raft in the Caribbean for a few days waiting for rescue has an odd appeal to me. I’m a sucker for an adventure I guess. And that definitely would have been an adventure within an adventure if you will.

Anyone who’s ever flown a single engine plane knows there’s always a chance the engine can fail and be forced to ditch or emergency land. As the saying goes “there’s pilots who’ve had an engine failure and there’s pilots who will”.

I’m one of those pilots who has yet to have an engine failure.  Fortunately, on this open water leg of the flight, Charlie Banana lived up to his robust reputation and delivered us perfectly into Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

We refueled there and headed on to the Bahamas. I’ve been to the Bahamas before(Nassau) and as preconceived notions go I wasn’t expecting too much of an adventure there. Everyone speaks English, they accept the dollar, and it’s a relatively “tame” country in my book.

It turns out, as should have been expected, the Bahamas are much much more. The island chain that is the Bahamas spans hundreds of miles across over 600 islands and cays.

It’s not just Nassau. I’ve traveled enough to know better than to stereotype a country based on a short visit, but guilty as charged.

We arrived that afternoon in Great Inagua. It’s a big Island with a small population on the Southern tip of the Bahamas.

We arrived expecting your standard conveniences with the Bahamas. An ATM, some good conch, and a place to stay. We were happy to find two out of the three.

The missing link was the ATM. Having spent most of our cash previous to landing we weren’t far off from being stranded on Great Inauga.

We had just enough money to refuel the plane with some change left over to find a place to sleep and eat. We decided we could figure the rest out later and used the remaining hour of daylight to do a short flight around the Island.

We flew low over the coastline, by the lighthouse, over flocks of pink flamingos, and around the town. By the end of the evening it was apparent that more than a few of Islands 1,000+ residents had seen Charlie Banana making the rounds as they asked us with a thick Bohemian accent “oh you were in dat plane man?”.

After scoring what appeared to be the only “motel” on the island and frequenting the only open restaurant(where we found some much needed and delicious conch) we decided to venture to the local hangout with our last $20.

Given the island was so small in population there was only one place to be. We found it at a house turned bar called Angie’s. The people on Great Inagua were amazing. We all had a great time hanging out, dancing to the local music, and attempting to do the “rake n’ scrape” with the locals.(a form of dance where you scrape the ground with your feet similar to a bull about to charge).

As Patrick said to Alex and I “we’d managed to infiltrate the party quite well”. I chalk that up to the vibe of the islands and it’s friendly inhabitants willing to entertain.

The next day it was off to Exuma. The Exuma’s are an island chain within the Bahamas and to describe them as spectacular wouldn’t do them justice. The clarity of the water made it difficult to tell from the air if the water was 1 foot deep or 100. The water was simply clear, bath tub clear.

The white sand beaches, trees, and blue holes added to scenery as we arrived. Upon landing we realized we didn’t have enough time for another exploration flight so we decided to head over to the Chat N’ Chill. It might be the coolest place to hang out on the planet.

It’s a bar/restaurant accessible only by boat or water taxi where people from across the islands(and world for that matter) come to, well, Chat N’ Chill.

We brought all our filming gear with us, including the QuadCopter, and managed to meet half the 100 people there who were curious what we were up too.

There were boat captains(a la Captain Ron), Bohemians, Old Man and the Sea Characters(who haven’t slept on land in 45 years), and a smorgasbord of travelers and boaters from across the globe.

After an afternoon of filming, shooting the breeze, and soaking up the island sun and spirit we knew this was a place we could get used too.

The next day we headed out for States. But not before landing at some random island runways along the way. After navigating the customs and paperwork we’d experienced in some of the countries along the way it was good to taste pure freedom and be able to land at literally any airstrip that struck our fancy.

The Bahamas are an amazing place, and after seeing only 4 of it’s several hundred islands, it’s one I plan on returning too.

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