When our builder poured the concrete for the driveway at Sand Nickels, it was quite a production. The driveway itself had to be cut through rock and then graded. Afterwards, a great amount of concrete was prepared and then poured. After much labor, time and cost, the smooth workmanship was obvious. That is with the exception of some unplanned paw prints that made their way into the equation. I already knew who the culprit was, ACE!!!! That was his name, Ace! What was this?
The dog of a nearby neighbor had wandered on to the newly formed concrete and indelibly left his mark forever. After some time and months of staring at one another, Ace and I became good companions. He would vigilantly watch the property, patrol the boundaries and loved to join me for my morning and evening strolls on the beach. He loved swimming on Hoopers Bay and even enjoyed barking at the resident turtles that swim there. In return, he was loving and loyal. He, I would come to find out, was a Potcake. What exactly is Potcake, I asked myself.
The Bahamian Potcake is a local desert that is served at local festivals and special events. It is made of fried dough and has a creamy inside filling. Not really, but it does sound appetizing doesn’t it? Actually, the Potcake is mixed breed dog that has been indigenous to the Caribbean for centuries. Specifically, the Bahamian Potcake can be found on New Providence, the capitol of the Bahamas, as well as throughout the family islands. As of 2014, it is estimated that the local Potcake population on New Providence was about 15,000 and an additional 15,000 located throughout the family islands. The Potcake is actually a designated breed. The Bahamas achieved full independence on July 10, 1973 and several years later, our friend the Potcake, was designated the Royal Bahamian Potcake.
After spending any time on Exuma, you will see these dogs on the side of roadways as you travel from one location to another. Their name originates from the Bahamian staple of Peas and Rice. When cooking up a batch of a congealed Peas and Rice mixture, the cooking pot used will ultimately be left with a thick cake on the bottom of the pot. The remains of the cooking process. This is what the older Exumians from years past would feed to the stray dogs that originally wandered on their property and ultimately came to stay. Hence the name Potcake.
The Potcake is actually a very resilient animal as it is not negatively impacted from the parasites, diseases that ordinary breeds require vaccinations to fend off. While most have become quite adept at dodging automobiles, this is still their number one cause of death. They are very intelligent and are capable of being trained to sense for narcotics, guns and also have been utilized in Arson investigations, capable of sensing accelerants. Additionally, as 7% of the Bahamian population suffers from Diabetes, Potcakes have been trained to effectively alert when negative chemical reactions are taking place in the human body, acting as a form of insulin monitoring device, where such a costly mechanism is difficult to afford or to maintain.
They are very loyal and loving animals and also act as very good security guards for their adopted owners. This why they were encouraged to stay on landowners’ various properties in the past as they really like to bark and alert when intruders were noticed. Do be cautious when encountering adult Potcakes however, some can be aggressive and some do carry diseases.
Just last month I was in Exuma for a couple of days, sneaking in between rentals for a couple of days to rewind and relax. I was outside playing a Ring Toss game on the beach with some local friends when I heard what sounded like a kennel just up the hill. Apparently, my neighbor who lives there part time had come across a new litter of puppies, eight in total, that she found under an abandoned car in Little Exuma. They, in turn, had been abandoned by their mother and my neighbor had rescued them. Several people had pulled up their sleeves and built a small pen to house the overly excited group.
Upon seeing the group of puppies, I immediately volunteered to drive to Exuma Market and purchased two large bags of Puppy Chow. But what would she do with all these puppies? Perhaps she could relocate them to a Cay up North of Exuma and have them swim out to people who come from distant lands to take their selfies with them?
The Potcake has been the subject of stories and songs, becoming an accepted part of Exumian life and folklore. There is a growing trend to salvage these wonderful animals and many have been adopted both locally and abroad, throughout North America and other parts of the world. If you have an interested in supporting the Potcake, the Exuma Humane Society located in Bahamas Sound 18 is a great place to start. They coordinate foster homes, adoptions, neutering and veterinary care for the uncared for when necessary. The number is 1.242.557.8838 and they also have a great facebook page.
As for Ace, he relocated to Nassau, in New Providence, with his owner when she moved for an employment opportunity. And as for the gaggle my neighbor rescued, all have been adopted, three went to North America and one to England. The rest were adopted by locals including a police officer.
So next time you see a stray dog on Exuma, think about this. Now you know. By the way, if anyone refers to you while on Exuma as a Potcake, it is not necessarily a compliment.
A DAY AT THE BEACH
Funny thing about paradise is it does have a price. Yes, both monetarily and otherwise. As a dear old Ex-English Patriot friend of mine once told me some years back, Exuma is a place that demands a certain amount of patience. She was correct. My friend and her husband have lived on Great Exuma since the 1960s and now consider England their second home.
Running a rental property in the Caribbean can be challenging and also very rewarding. Sand Nickels has hosted people from almost every continent of the world and also has provided a back drop for honeymoons, special birthdays, anniversaries and others who simply wish to reset and retool. Exuma is the attraction, we just provide a place to call home while there.
That being said, we have a fantastic group of local professionals that keep the property in tip top shape. From groundskeepers, landscapers, house cleaners, maintenance personnel to electricians, plumbers and carpenters. Lest not forget pest control, air conditioner maintenance and generator maintenance. It is a team of local talent that serves to provide the quality that I always searched for when staying at rentals throughout the Caribbean. They are also our friends, I am proud to say. The salt air and sand while charming, can take a quick toll on a beach house and it must be constantly be maintained.
When we envisioned Sand Nickels, it was with the idea that we would build a small place on a calm beach for us to retreat to when the world became a bit overwhelming. After being introduced to the local culture, we very much fell in love with Exuma. We decided to share the experience with a friend or two and eventually it became a rental property. I must confess, there are many times throughout the process I thought what exactly have I gotten myself into and perhaps a condo in Florida would have been good and finally am I drinking too much?
It is really a quite a simple concept: 1) Fly to island 2) Find land on beach 3) Build house 4) Make libation 5) Consume. Repeat number 4 and 5 if and when necessary. As most things in life, this project came with a few wrinkles. Additionally, if you plan to do this with a significant other, a true testament to your relationship.
After the architects, local construction permits, local electrical permits, local plumbing permits, local engineering permits, local environmental permits, actual construction and final habitability approval, you are done! Well, sort of.... Okay , lets buy some furniture and oh yeah appliances. I guess we could use a stove and a bed. Problem being, there really are no such places on any Exuma cay to buy such a “ting.”
Therefore, next step, purchase everything you need state side and ship it over. Actually, just get on line and have Amazon send it over. Even better, purchase everything on line and with free shipping you are in fine shape. Yes, they do not ship there and I once sent a Christmas card in November to a friend in Exuma and it arrived in May of the following year. I sent it express. No, you must purchase everything you think you may use and send it to a shipping company in Florida. The items can be trucked, mailed or driven there in your car. They in turn will collect your items, segregate them and hold them for the shipment. Once you have determined your shipment order is complete, they will pallet and shrink wrap your various items. They will also inspect for any hazardous items.
After this is complete, they will place your items in a cargo container, assuming you have ordered and sent enough material (which you will as you will certainly be saying to yourself, “hell I might as well send two or three garden hoses as I’m doing this already). Keep your receipts and have them organized and sent to the company. Prior to shipment, I strooooooooongly recommend a customs broker on Exuma. You see, when the shipment arrives, the Bahamian government will charge a duty or tax on most things being brought in.
This may demand a tax rate of up to 85 percent for a given particular item. So you have bought the item, paid for its transport to Florida, paid for it to be segregated and palleted and then shrink wrapped. Paid to have it shipped to Exuma and then unloaded. Then you get to pay the Bahamian taxes. In our case, we had sent down some cleaning supplies . That prompted a Haz Mat alert and the shipping personnel then proceeded to open up the boxes and other various items to locate the suspicious can of Raid. These items were then further segregated for Haz Mat shipping. The then now opened items had to re boxed and re palleted and re shrink-wrapped, at a nominal fee of course. Oh wait, you need a mattress, just buy one at Costco correct. Now lets truck that to Florida. Or hey, I will just bring that book shelf that my mother gave me, it was from Grenada, where my uncle lived. Now I just have to have that trucked to Florida . It’s sounds really chaotic, I suppose in retrospect it seemed so, however it really was very smooth and professional, but expensive.
I had read and spoken with some friends in Exuma about items being damaged when shipped. One claimed an entire couch was inexplicably broken in half. We crossed our fingers. Everything arrived in tact and undamaged. A huge shipping container was taken off the ship, placed on a trailer and hauled by a semi to our house. If you have ever driven in Great Exuma, you know that always is a spectacle. There it was unpacked by yours truly, my wife, several local friends and two dear friends that flew down with us to help do this. Their payment would be a beautiful island respite in September while unpacking a box or two.
The unpacking went a great deal quicker than we planned, as our friends on the Exuma side had already made entry into our house the day before we arrived and unboxed every item and discarded the boxes outside upon our arrival. All that remained was putting things where they belonged. It only took a day of the four days we had budgeted. 2 days to play and thus reward our traveling companions for their commitment and also great for me as I love to show off my island Exuma.
We drove to Coco Plum and then headed the opposite end of the island to feast at Santana’s. I arranged a private tour with my friend Evviee (SHOUT OUT) at Island Boy Adventures to do the Cays trip. By the way, Evvie has also since opened up Island Boy cafe in GGT and the food and place is awesome (SECOND SHOUT OUT BOY!) I had also been watching a small TD (Tropical Depression) called Irma just off the coast of North Africa. It was present when I left the states but was far off and still a TD. Having grown up in the Caribbean and Florida , I knew a little about following these curses. But this one was different, just strange.
As we placed the very last item in a drawer, the BBQ on the main deck was up and running, it was 5 pm, the sun was setting, you could hear the ocean and the Kalik was ice cold!!! It had been another beautiful day.
I flipped on the news upstairs on the TV and saw that this TD Irma thing had turned into a real THING and had done so very rapidly. My friends were leaving the day after tomorrow and we were leaving the day after that. That was the day this THING called Irma was projected to hit the very spot I was currently in, watching TV and grilling fresh Lobster. Yes it could change direction, but it was big and moving fast. It started to look like it would be a wrecking ball, Category 5 plus, a monster!
Evvie called and said if we still wanted to head out tomorrow for the excursion that was cool, but as the potentially most damaging hurricane in history is forecast to hit the day later, he thought it prudent that I should be getting my “f ing ass” off the island, as he so calmly put it. As my friends already were booked to leave the day prior to the potential annihilation , I hung up with Evvie and consulted with some close Exuma friends. We all thought it best that me and my wife leave as well, if we can. You see the generator was not in yet and a prolonged power failure would be a certain. Also we had not provisioned for such an event and the grocery and hardware store shelves were becoming increasingly empty by the minute. We were invited by several Exuma friends to share their places should we not be able to get off island.
My wife decided she wished to ride out the storm at Sand Nicklels. She explained this to me in great detail as I was confirming our booking from Exuma to Nassau, Nassau to Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Lauderdale to Birmingham, Birmingham to Chicago and Chicago to our state side home. I recall locking the front door of the place I just spent 2 years of planning, money and most of all passion and emotion putting together. We literally just placed the last item on a shelf the night before and now I am shutting off the water and may never see it again. It was so not right and potentially short lived and outright unfair. Sounds corny now.
I think we literally caught the last Sky Bahamas flight that morning to Nassau. While waiting in Nassau for the second leg of this world tour of connections I had secured, we saw the first victim of Irma on a television in a lounge, the tiny island nation of Barbuda. It was absolutely apocalyptic. I looked at my wife and we both could not speak. We caught our next leg and also confirmed that my stateside friends had arrived in Atlanta. Irma continued in short order. Places I have lived and visited were decimated, The British Virgin Islands, the United States Virgin Islands, Cuba, Puerto Rico... you know the rest of that story. The Exumas were spared because of a “wobble.” Some sister Bahamian islands were not near as fortunate and still to this day are suffering.
I suppose the lesson learned is from the Exumians themselves. They are not super people that are oblivious to storms, they prepare for the worst and hope for the best. But their message is well taken. Rather than fearing for tomorrow and they appreciate today. A thought process that is something we all could use a bit more of in our daily outlook. This I have learned.
Sand Nickels and Exuma has survived Three Major hurricanes to date and Exuma has dodged several others. She has stood strong and defiant and in a sense, so has Sand Nickels . One day I shall bring those two stateside friends back for their day at the beach!
“There is a funny thing about living in paradise” (Magnum PI ca 1980). Okay, so it has been several years and time for a bit of reflection. The silence from my end has been purposeful and intended. She is beautiful, resilient, strong, humorous and at times unreasonable. That is my very humble opinion of my Exuma. She seems to hold different realities for different people. The more I discover here, the less I realize I know. I suppose that is life in general, but Exuma specifically. She has a peculiar manner of pissing you off while also making you laugh, usually met with the comment “of course, why wouldn’t that happen or not happen.”
When we decided to set an anchor here, it was with the intention of having a second home and an escape from our daily annoyances. Our island in the sun so to speak. It has turned into an education, and an ongoing one. Taught by the people who live here, work here, vacation here and split time here. This blog is dedicated to them and hopefully will shed some additional insight to those who wander here and dream.
IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS
I write today’s entry from my stateside home. The temperature here is 18 degrees and this is Fahrenheit . This means it is cold. Being the victim of the latest winter storm, I have been abandoned at home on this Sunday as I was unable to make the trip to the airport due to the road conditions. The flight I was booked on however, is merrily making its trek to Great Exuma with at least one empty seat, sans me. It was only a short planned stay, a quick turn around, in between rentals, a Sunday to Tuesday. Three days to run some errands, check on the property and touch base with some friends.
Owning a rental property in paradise sounds like such a Jimmy Buffett cliche song doesn’t it? We can just make one up, right? “As the snow melts on the wings of the plane the sounds of waves and conch frying warms us up! (Insert a chorus with steel drums please).” But it didn’t really start out to be a rental property it just sort of turned into one. More on that for another day.
Imagining the same flight I have taken so many times, the Delta from ATL to GGT! A surprisingly small plane for such a noble and profound destination. Envisioning the crowd at the terminal in ATL anxiously surrounding the gate in anticipation of their island destination. Many people loudly and excitedly discussing their respective lodgings, tour plans, and secret tips they have to one another. They hail from near and far, some virgins, some locals returning home and others who have made this journey previously. Yet we are all almost unreasonably enthusiastic to get “there” and get “there” NOW!!!!
The maddening demand on “now” and “instant gratification” is clearly a product of other places and other worlds and is distinctly NOT characteristic of the Caribbean, Exuma most definitely included. This mind set would be best served if left back far at ones’ home and well before the airport gate that is simply named GEORGETOWN. The boarding is always fairly chaotic, we all nervously gather around the agent’s desk eyeing our opportunity to seize the opportunity to get on the plane exactly when our Zone is called or perhaps just before.
A smile always comes to my face when those few determined passengers who aggressively disregarded the very strong admonition from the gate agent that their carry on bags will not fit discover that their carry on bags actually will not fit. People then begin to anxiously prepare to begin their relaxed and laid back adventure by exclaiming they are now on vacation and then line up near the restroom to disrobe and shed their winter apparel. Others seem more relaxed and unmindful of their surroundings, I suspect I am guilty of being somewhere in between.
As the flight sails further off the mainland of the United States one cannot resist the spectacle of the Exuma Blues. The vast archipelago of other worldly blue shapes and colors masterfully painted on a canvass called the ocean that offers the entrance sign to the Bahamas and ultimately, the Exumas. Personally, I am still in awe, regardless of how many times I have witnessed this, and I must confess that I still take a photo or two if I happen to be near a window seat. Uncertain as to what I will do with the countless I have already collected, it just seems like one is obliged to document this time and time again.
Just prior to landing, the air stewards begin to hand the requisite boarding forms for Immigration. Assuming you are not Bahamian, IT IS ONE FORM PER PERSON. AGAIN, ONE FORM PER PERSON. Do not let anyone tell you anything different. There are no electronic kiosks. There is no global entry. You need your passport. If the forms are not handed out on the plane, they will be made available plane side upon arrival. As I type this, I feel the angst of the crowd on the plane anticipating the landing and Immigration process. Then, I smile again as the plane lands and I confirm that the Exuma International Airport is exactly how I left it. Welcoming with an almost unreasonably bright yellow small building and the coconut trees swaying in the breeze of the exhaust coming from the plane.
Walking down the steep stairs of the airplane to the ground, the warmth of Exuma hugs you tightly until you begin to perspire a bit and I know then that I am in fact home. Having made the trip so many times before, I engage in pleasantries with the airport personnel on the ground as only one could do in such a pleasant and wonderful place. “Hey Hey, ya back? Man, gud to see ya! Welcome home boy.” A short single file walk lead by our fearless leader to the small absolutely charming terminal brings us to Immigration reminding me of the time I encountered a couple on their honeymoon who continued to exclaim they would be staying at the Marriott. The Immigration officer pleaded with them to understand that there was not a Marriott nor anyone named Marriott on Great Exuma or in fact anywhere in the Exumas. They insisted until the soon to be wife looked at me and asked, “Where are we?” At first I thought she was being coy and sarcastic until I realized that they were in the wrong Georgetown. They had intended to be in Georgetown, Caymen Islands. But again another story for another time.
People are being reprimanded for using their cell phones and so forth while surrounded by signs that state “No Cell Phone Use.” The crowd shuffles through Immigration and then several steps to collect checked bags and several more steps to clear Customs. The process has worked and continues to work, quite efficiently I must add. The Exumians are polite and stern here and they should be. They are responsible for the security of the airport and island and those who they allow to enter. I am always amazed at the few people in every group that choose to treat them with disrespect and as though they were entering a ride at a Disney World theme park. Please understand, this is a different country and there are rules and customs that should be respected and no, you are not entitled. The Bahamians can be cavalier at times but that is their decision, you cannot expect or demand otherwise as you are in their country. As I have witnessed, people have been denied entry and escorted back to the same aircraft they just disembarked for a really quick turnaround, in my opinion completely justified.
After clearing Customs, two unassuming opaque glass double doors await. It is in fact a gateway of sorts... as the sun reunites with you, the smell of salt air and color explodes your senses. Locals converse loudly with one another and laughter quietly plays in the background among the native birds and sounds of dominoes being aggressively played. It is here and now where I seem to forget to ask what time it is and specifically where I am......I am just “there.”
But for today, these are simply cloudy memories and thoughts as I sit near a fire place wondering when they may clear the roads....
We have been in a bit of a holding pattern since our last trip down to check on Sand Nickels in May. We are still waiting on our order from the states to get put together and sent down to Exuma. Our builder has been busy though working on the driveway and other outdoor projects while waiting for the rest of our shipment of interior materials. It's a lot of concrete! Also looks like our neighbor's dog may have come by for a visit to check out the progress!
It's been quite a week in the Bahamas. First the FIFA Beach World Cup kicked off in Nassau. Exuma itself was buzzing with activity as well. The annual regatta is under way, an Exuma island tradition. Also the music festival Fyre began and ended all in one day. It was a debacle as festival goers posted all over social media. Hopefully some at least got to enjoy the unspoiled, pure beauty of the Exumas as it's meant to be enjoyed.
Speaking of beauty, Sand Nickels exterior paint is complete. It's the "beachy" feel we were hoping to capture.
The interior walls are done. The "slips" (air conditioning) are installed and electrical work is complete. We went back and forth on whether to use "slips", single unit air conditioning that is installed in rooms, or central air. We have stayed at several houses in the Caribbean and the slips seem to work best. They save energy and cool quickly.
We are using a lot of wood for the upstairs ceiling and balcony ceilings. When complete, they will have an washed wood look (pickling). All balconies will have lights and ceiling fans. Should be a nice place to relax and enjoy the view.
Although the balconies will be a great place to relax, we wanted to add a little more outdoor living space. So a deck was necessary.
We are now awaiting a boat to bring our tiles, fixtures, etc. for the interior. We decided on having a local carpenter custom make our kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Hopefully progress will commence shortly. We can't wait!
It's mid March and our roof and cupola are complete. We chose a light almost white roof to compliment our exterior paint color. We went back and forth on the exterior. We wanted something that was a true Caribbean cottage, something fun! I love the colors of West Indian homes and how they reflect the beauty, culture, people, and place. We decided on a blue / green teal. I think it will even look better as the sea air "ages" it. A true Caribbean cottage, an accurate reflection of Exuma: bright, smart, clean, and welcoming.
We visited the work site in February for a quick trip to put eyes on the project and meet with our builder to discuss upcoming work. We wanted to take our own pictures of the progress, but the view was clearly the model subject.