Not a Florida vacation, but not a far hop. Review from Jan 26th, 2011.
Freeport was our first port of call after leaving Port Canaveral, Fla., on the Norwegian Sun and the morning dawned overcast and windy with a threat of rain. We’d spent a very stormy night at sea and I was crossing my fingers that our kayaking trip at the Lucayan National Park would not be canceled. Luckily our trip was still on schedule and it wasn’t long before our shuttle pulled up in front of our ship to pick us up. (Official review here)
It was about about a half hour drive (on the wrong side of the road — at least from an American standpoint) to our outfitter, Grand Bahama Nature Tours, where we transferred into the two vans that would carry us and our two-man kayaks to the launch site at Gold Rock Creek.
In the photo to the right you will see our guide, Ricardo, sauntering up to the van. Ricardo was fun, entertaining and knowledgeable about all aspects of our tour. Almost immediately upon leaving the outfitter’s, Ricardo stopped the van on the Casuarina Bridge (photo below) over the Grand Lucayan Waterway and told us about the history of the area. In mid-sentence Ricardo stopped and turned to his passengers and asked in a very serious voice, his Bahamian accent clear, “I don’t mean to alarm anyone but is anyone experiencing any difficulty breathing? Any shortness of breath? Tightness of the chest? Light-headedness? Dizziness?” After a quick tally of “no’s” from the group Ricardo continued, “Because let me tell you, this-is-the-second- highest-point on the island! I’m scared right now.” And with that the van erupted in hysterical laughter.
Within just a few minutes we were all safely launched in our kayaks and paddling into the heart of the mangroves. Our safety briefing included more of Ricardo’s humorous side. “If you fall out of your kayak, don’t panic! Just stand up! It drives me crazy when I have a tourist try to drown himself in a foot and a half of water and then I have to get out of my kayak, wade over to him, snatch him up by the collar and shake some sense into him! Just stand up man!” Ricardo is the best!!!
Paddling through the mangroves was easy and relaxing. The water was clear enough that you could look down and easily see fish and oyster beds along the bottom. The mangroves were beautiful and a refreshing change from the scenery in northwest Florida. Ricardo was quick to point out plants and animals of interest and even pulled us all together to tell us stories about the Lucayans and the “walking trees .”
We arrived at the take-out spot and boarded a hand-pulled wooden ferry. Once across the creek we headed down a boardwalk and path to famous Gold Rock Beach and the film location for Pirates of the Caribbean. There weren’t any pirates around when we arrived but their was a nice picnic lunch set up for us to enjoy. After downing a quick bite we strolled the beach for about an hour.
After we left the beach we took a short nature walk back across the mangrove swamp on a wooden boardwalk. Ricardo stopped several times to tell us about different plants and their uses in everything from medicines to love potions. After completing the nature trail we crossed the street to check out the Lucayan caves.
Ben’s cave was an especially interesting highlight for me because 1) I love caves and 2) I love geocaching and Ben’s cave happened to be an earth cache that was on my list of places to see. Ben’s cave is more of a cavern now and part of the roof had collapsed at some point allowing in much more light than when it was first discovered. We carefully clambered down an aging metal staircase to stand on a wooden boardwalk while Ricardo told us about the history of the cave.
From Ben’s Cave we took a short walk over to the Lucayan Burial Caves. Within these caves the remains of several Lucayans were discovered in a few feet of water. Also discovered was a new class of crustacean named Speleonectes lucayansis.
After a full day of fun we loaded back into our van and Ricardo drove us back to town, but not before teaching us more about the island and it’s people. We all had an awesome day and I think everyone will agree that Ricardo made it extra fun for everyone. Next time your in the Bahamas be sure to look up Grand Bahama Nature Tours and ask for Ricardo. We sure will!!!
If you enjoyed this article you might also be interested in the 9 minute video that I took while kayaking the mangrove swamp. In this video, Ricardo shares with us the unique history of the mangroves and the first Lucayan people.