Great Inagua, Bahamas – Bird Sanctuary!

April 18, 2017 – An  Island Tour Day, Like No Other

Casper finally responded to Mark’s inquiries the night before, around 6 PM. He set up a tour for us at 8 AM.  We hauled butt and were anchored up, running both motors at 2400 rpm, and reanchored within 45 minutes, outside of Matthewtown Harbor, just in time for sunset.  We felt pretty good about the precision of it all. Three other monohulls were already in the anchorage and they were moving around with the half knot current and surge.  Mark dove on the anchor to make sure we were set, given the prior experiences we had in the area. Thankfully, we hooked in on the first try.  The night was the roughest experienced so far on this island due to surge and current.  Both Mark and Angie were popping sea sickness meds and didn’t sleep.

Again, we dinked into the harbor and hooked into the granite boulders.  There now is another Haitian wooden boat tied up to what is left of the ripped up docks and concrete seawall.  On the previous trip, we watched Haitians steal the trash barrels off of a vacant lot, toss them on their boat and take off. It left us feeling exposed to a potential theft.  While Angie scampered up the hill to make sure we would not miss our ride, Mark hauled trash to a barrel near the dock office.  On his way back, he was followed by the Haitian boat captain who was asking for money.  “You have everything. We have nothing. Give me $5.”  Mark declined. However, the guy would not stop and kept following.  We told him we didn’t have any money. He asked us to write him a check.  “We don’t have checks.”  The persistence put us both on edge. At that point, we both felt uncomfortable leaving our dinghy for how many hours while we were on our tour. We envisioned it be stripped and “gone missing” while we were away. It is our only way back to Uno Mas, which you can see, anchored just outside the harbor. It also made it pretty obvious, that we were not going to be on Uno Mas for the duration of our tour, and easy pickings to anyone.  (Again, maybe having purple with yellow flames on everything isn’t such a good idea anymore. It makes us stand out like flashy tourists.)

We have been advised to never give in to being fleeced.  However, the alternative could be a lot worse. Mark decided, to tell “Oscar” that we would give him the $5 when we get back from the tour. We would be able to go to the bank and have the money then.  “What time would that be?”  “We don’t know.  As long as our dinghy is here when we get back, we will be able to get you the $5 then.”  The guy was adamant about us telling him what time to meet him for the $5, which we could not do.  He was getting very agitated.  We finally worked it out that we would meet Oscar at a job site that you could see from the marina, with the money, sometime that afternoon.  “I will come get you, if you do not show up. ”   Well, the threat was not taken lightly.  It could mean a variety of things. None of them ending well, in our minds.  The whole ordeal put a damper on the day.  Would we show up and still have a dinghy?  Would we show up and still have a boat?

Meet the Millers, and Colin
Meet the Millers, and Colin

Meanwhile, around 9 AM Henry stops by in a mid-sized SUV while were dealing with Oscar.  He knows about picking us up for the tour but he doesn’t have the right type of vehicle to go all of the way “out there.”  “Colin will be by to pick you up.”  O-K….Colin arrives in a jacked up full sized van around 9:45. He needed to still make a few stops, pick up a package, drop the package off, and there were other passengers already inside.  I assumed it was his family and he needed to drop the kids at school.  Nope. The Millers (A grandma and her 2 grandkids) were visiting from Nassau for a few days and were on the tour with us.  We settled in and had a comfortable chat.  They were not visiting family. They just decided to take a few days and visit Great Inagua, since it is the 3rd largest island in the Bahamas and home to the flamingos, the national bird.

Along the route, we picked up a lady walking down the road.  She worked at the salt plant but the employee bus had broken down.  So, we dropped her off along the way. The security guards at the plant would not let Colin drive her up to the building because he did not have prior authorization to be in the facilities.  Since 9-11, the security for any docks that have cargo ships going to the USA is very restrictive.  The cargo ships were heading to Georgia after being loaded.

Salt Plant, GI Bird Day Salt Mtns - GI Bird Day

Our tour took us around the salt ponds for the salt plant and through marshes. Colin used to work at the salt plant so had answers for the questions coming from the back of the van (us) . It was an overcast and drizzly day, and not great for photos.  However, we did see from afar, flocks of flamingos, rosette spoonbills, ducks, and cranes, but no boars or donkeys.  Great Inagua is the only island in the Bahamas that has the flamingos’ natural habitat.  They have over 60,000 birds in their flocks. There is a game warden (Casper) protecting the flamingos, but his truck has been broken down for quite some time.  It seems that the locals like to go flamingo wrangling and eat them.  This is now a faux pas with the Bahamian government. Casper is supposed to drive through the area a couple times a day looking for poachers. People like to kayak through the salt pond mangroves, and you can do guided fishing tours in the salt pond marshes and waterways as well.

Salt Ponds, GI Bird Day

Yep, there are flamingos out there, somewhere
Yep, there are flamingos out there, somewhere

We stopped by someone’s house with a local “bar” built off to the side, and had a turkey sandwich, chips, and soda for a late lunch.  Since we were on the “bird” tour, we talked Colin into driving around, looking for the rare Bahamian Parrot. The only other place they are found is in the Abacos.  However, the ones on Great Inagua live in the trees, and the ones in the Abacos live on the ground. Lucky for us, the parrots like the trees in town and Colin knew exactly which set of trees they would be at. We dropped off the Millers at a cute, nicely painted and landscaped 3 – 4 cottage rental property.  It was the only place we saw that looked like it would be nice to stay.

Rare Bahamian Parrot
Rare Bahamian Parrot

We had Colin drop us off at the local grocery store.  It looked like the mail boat (cargo ship) came into town.  They had a lot of frozen foods, but still no fresh veggies or eggs.

Old Morton Garage Ruins In Town
Old Morton Garage Ruins In Town

Morton Garage In Town #2, GI Bird Day Church in Town, GI Bird Day

We walked back toward the harbor, wondering if we would have a dinghy and boat. It was there and all our stuff was still inside!  Mark walked up to the jobsite to give Oscar his $5.  He was up on a scaffold. Mark asked if he wanted him to give the $5 to the guy working the cement mixer for the stucco?  Nope. He scurried right down.  All work stopped on the jobsite as everyone watched Mark give Oscar the money and a bottle of water we had been carrying around.  Mark fist-pumped him, and said, “Respect.”  Then, turned around and walked away, wondering if he was going to get mugged on the walk back to the main street.  Angie stayed on the roadway near a corner where she could watch Mark at the jobsite and also run to the main road, in case she needed to get help if something went wrong. Thankfully, it all turned out ok.

Next, we needed to get 45 gallons of fuel for Uno Mas which would  have the tanks fully topped off for our upcoming passage.  The seawalls were ripped up and had rebar sticking out of them. We decided to jerry can it all in.  It took 2 trips and about 2.5 hours. The guy who holds the key for the fuel pump could not be located. He doesn’t trust anyone else with the keys.  While we are waiting, “Kevin” and buddy decide to walk down and talk with us about religion, politics, why we don’t have kids, the poor economy on Great Inagua and what it used to be like when the salt plant was in its prime. He also became upset about the fact that we did not hire HIM to do the bird tour.  He saw it as Colin taking money away from him; even though, Kevin was already out, doing a fishing tour that day. Sometimes it is hard following the logic.

The 80 year old barer of the keys showed up 2 hrs later with a stogie hanging out of his mouth and rap  music blaring from the truck stereo and grandson in passenger seat.  While filling our 5 jerry cans, the old man decided to leave and find US dollars for change.  His grandson wasn’t pleased when Mark told him we had to take the first load of jerry cans to the boat, put it in the tanks, and then come back for another load.  He thought we were trying to stiff him.  Kevin pointed at Uno Mas and said, “He is right there”, pointing to Uno Mas in the anchorage. “He isn’t going anywhere.”  Everyone was very aware of who we were and what boat we were on.  We hoisted the jerry cans down an 8 ft embankment with a rope, with Angie catching them and wrestling them into the tender.  She stayed in the dinghy, holding it off the rocks and rebar. The 25 gallons of diesel was loaded into Uno Mas and another 20 gallons filled up and loaded into the tender. The barer of the keys was waiting for us when we came back for the 2nd load (a bit concerned that we hadn’t paid for the 1st load). 45 gallons of diesel cost us about $297.  Glad everyone standing around got to witness Mark paying cash for it. The guy owed us $3 in change, his trip into town for change wasn’t very productive.  We didn’t want to wait around for it, so he gave Mark a Cuban cigar instead.

By the time we were finally back on Uno Mas, there were no other boats in the anchorage outside the harbor.  We didn’t think it would be a good idea either to hang around, with half of town knowing that we were using a lot of American cash today, especially Oscar and the Haitians.  The fleecing had left us with concern about being robbed in the middle of the night, so we decided to head even further North and anchor in Man O War Bay, by the salt plant, 15 miles of motoring directly into the wind. The Haitian boats don’t have motors and don’t sail very well into the wind, so we should be safe from them for the rest of our stay. We had scoped out the anchorage while we were on the bird tour and it looked flat.  When we motored in there was one other boat in the anchorage. Seas were calm with little surge, compared to every other place we’ve been on this island, there was high security from the salt plant just a radio call away, and there was a cell tower, so we could use our Bahamian data.

We arrived  at dusk, anchoring on the outskirts of a reef which was further away (200 yards) from the beach than we would have liked.  We did not trust our eye sight to read the water for coral heads with the sun going down behind us.   It ended up being a pleasant end to an interesting and long day.

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