“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....