Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Park It! (Part Two)

Bonefish Ponds National Park #2

There are four national parks on New Providence, the island where Nassau is located, although I'd stretch that to five, if you count Clifton, where I went snorkelling twice and saw the undersea sculptures. I set myself the goal of getting to all of them, aided by my sister-in-law, who not only had a car but is also an avid birder.

When we were at The Retreat (as mentioned here, I asked the girl behind the desk for details about two other parks I had seen on their website: Bonefish Pond and Harrold and Wilson Ponds. We weren't given much information about the former, and in the latter, we were told that it was closed, but no reason was given.

Not surprisingly, that encouraged me to do a little digging and find out how to access them: I enjoy challenges like that and the fact that we had driven close to both but had seen no signage for them only made it more fun.

Bonefish Ponds was an amazing place: a brand-new paved road leads to a small parking lot in the northwest corner of the park, and then onto the boardwalk out to the observation deck.

Bonefish Ponds National Park #1

Above a 360˚ panorama I shot, looking back at the parking lot from the boardwalk: click on the tiny thumbnail to see it in all its glory. The tide was running out when we got there, and we were able to see the red mangrove shoots up close and personal as the level of the water dropped.

Bonefish Ponds National Park #3

There's another access point to the south-east corner which we visited a couple of days later, although there wasn't all that much to see: the highlight of going out there, however, was the flock of glossy ibis we saw on the way. Wish I could have gotten my camera out faster!

Harrold and Wilson Ponds #1

And then there was the challenge of Harrold and Wilson Ponds: I explored the BNT's map to find the boardwalks at the northeast and southwest corners, and then we drove out. Lots of herons and egrets, but it's easy to see why the southwest part of the park has portions of the boardwalk closed: the invasive cattails are as tall as I am!

Harrold and Wilson Ponds #3

Once again, a small, simple photograph doesn't do this place justice, so we found the hilltop overlook on the map at the other two areas a couple of days later, and I shot this panorama (above) of the area.

Primeval Forest #2

Something that continually surprised me on these expeditions was the excellent quality of the maps at the individual parks, but apart from finding Primeval Forest, the last of the parks on the list, there was virtually no signage on how to get to them. Had it not been for Google Maps, where I plotted out all the waypoints before importing them into my trusty Garmin eTrex 20 GPS, most of these adventures would have been a lot more complex.

The biggest reason why Primeval Forest exists is because the landscape is mostly karst, which made it virtually impossible to be developed in any way. You drive down a small backroad to the large BNT sign, park, and follow the wonderful route that's been laid out. Great signage, even a circular staircase that takes you inside one of the deeper features, and even though you're not that far from the airport, you feel transported back in time.

Ironically, after I took the picture of what is considered the oldest tree on the island, this mahogany (below), we visited the ranger in his little cabin to sign the guestbook and buy a shirt to support the BNT: the photograph on the back of the shirt is identical to the one I took.

Primeval Forest #4

Monday, 28 December 2015

Adventure on the High Seas


One of the advantages in being somewhere for an extended chunk of time -- five weeks, in the case of this trip to The Bahamas -- means you can have a great number of different adventures without feeling rushed. My niece's husband now runs his own boat charter service, but for awhile, he worked for Powerboat Adventures, and arranged for me to join their day-long trip to Allen's Cay and Ship Channel Cay.

Our first stop was Allen's Cay, where you could get off, pick up a long, thick skewer and a handful of grapes, and feed the endemic (and endangered) Bahamas iguanas: they are actually pretty tame, and know the sound of the approaching boat. Still, you need to use the skewer to feed them, and anyone with a brightly coloured pedicure was warned to dig their toes into the sand in case an iguana mistook a toe for a grape.

Feels like a wet suit

Then we headed off to their private island, Ship Channel Cay, for the rest of the program: it was a trip where you could do as much or as little as you wanted on the island. I was more interested in the drift snorkelling than feeding the baby Atlantic manta ray (Manta birostris). One kid got stung, but he'll have a story to tell for the rest of his life....

Ruddy Turnstone

And then there were the birds: a nice flock of non-breeding ruddy turnstones (Arenaria interpres) kept us company on the beach, and I saw several other species that I was unable to capture with the camera. Our lunch was a great whopping hot buffet: just what I wanted when I emerged from the water. It was a grey day, sadly, but at least they ran the trip: it had been cancelled the two previous days because of high winds and rain.

mmmm lunch #2

Humans and rays weren't the only creatures fed: here is a lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) devouring a vollyball-sized lump of fish guts and heads -- the same fresh fish filets we ate at the buffet, in fact.

After lunch, there was a demonstration of conch salad-making which I passed on: instead, I grabbed another Sands beer (although I wish they had had High Rock or my personal fave, Strong Back Stout) from the open bar, climbed up to the observation deck, pulled out my journal, and wrote until we were summoned to board the boat for our return trip to Nassau -- I was the last person on board. I could have spent a few days there: there was a trail up to the top of the "mountain" I would have liked to hike up, but my surf shoes weren't appropriate for that, and to be there without the others would have been the sort of break I needed to have had more of on this trip.

There's always next time, right?

Drift snorkling

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Park It! (Part One)

Water on fan palm

One of the places I went to the last time I visited Nassau was The Retreat, a national park as well as being the headquarters of the Bahamas National Trust, which runs their national park system. The main attraction of The Retreat is the huge collection of palms from around the world, gathered by Arthur and Margaret Langlois, who owned the park when it was a private landholding.

Chenille plant

(And they have lots of other tropical plants as well, including this Chenille plant Acalypha hispida: while it isn't a Bahamian native -- it's from Oceania, in fact -- I think it's pretty cool, and is a member of the Euphorbidae family, which also includes the crown-of-thorns and pointsettias.)

Zombie palm

But the palms (hundreds of different ones!) are the real attraction here, with some species like this Zombie palm Zombia antillavum (above), which is endemic to Hispaniola, although more in Haiti than the Dominican Republic, from the Americas, but also the Red Sealing Wax palm Cyrtostachys renda (below), also known as the Lipstick palm, native to Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo.

Red Sealing Wax Palm

There are lots of cool pathways to take at The Retreat, one of which passes by the original well that fed the main house: it's not in use now, and has the most interesting well cover: given it's probably 3 meters across, I tried to think up a way to rig up my camera to take a shot from overhead, while I pretended to be caught in the spider web.

But my tripod just didn't cut it. Next time, I'll have to find a small drone, I guess.


Saturday, 26 December 2015


Lasqueti Press #4

Ever since I was in Nassau four years ago, I had kept my sights on coming back to work with Sonia Farmer at Poinciana Paper Press: it took longer than I thought, but it finally happened.

Lasqueti Press #5

Sonia's studio is tucked away in downtown Nassau, and it's really lovely, with great access, lots of light, tons of type to look at, and a little sign press to do smaller runs (plus a lovely C&P that needs work but which can crank out copies with an elegant mechanical ballet).

Lasqueti Press #8

Day 1 consisted of me showing up with a haiku about the conch (Lobatus gigas), and we looked at various faces, tossed around some ideas about possible images to go with it, and just generally talked about the wonderful world of letterpress. After setting the type, Sonia mixed up the most beautiful pink ink to print it with, and we did that on some Strathmore 130 lb. medium watercolour paper, as well as some coloured pieces of her handmade paper.

Lasqueti Press #10

Sonia also had a spare linocut block in the shop, and I borrowed her tools, spending the next day finding a suitable image, then transferring it to the block before carving it out. We were both pleased with how it looked when it was inked up with yet another custom blended ink (this time it was black, with both blue and white blended in to make a cool dark grey), and set about printing it onto the scraps of paper Sonia had in her drawers.

Lasqueti Press #11

Once they had dried, I experimented with both watercolour pencils and crayons to give life to the shell, and proceeded to finish off the edition of seven by signing and numbering them when they had dried from the colouring. What a fun time!

Lasqueti Press #12

Wednesday, 9 December 2015


Snorkling #1

Back when I was a teenager and had done all my lifesaving qualifications, I looked for something else to do in water, and signed up for snorkling lessons, as I was too young to be certified on SCUBA. I had the opportunity to go on a couple of free dives after that, but Calgary wasn't then, and isn't now, on anyone's list of great dives, and apart from a few vacation trips, I hadn't been in years.

Snorkling #2

But the opportunity arose to go visit BREEF (see here) and I was able to resurrect my old training. Was I ever glad to go!

Snorkling #3

About the only downside was not being able to take my new camera: Canon doesn't even make a dive-housing for mine, and even if I could have found a third-party one, it would have been as much as the camera itself. Instead, I grabbed one of those little Fuji underwater film cameras -- from which these pictures come -- and while it's better than nothing, it still doesn't capture the adventure as much as I wish it did.

Snorkling #4

But it did whet my appetite to do more, and I've looked at picking up a cheap digital camera just for such wet adventures in the future. What I spent for the disposable camera and developing the film and scanning it onto a CD, and the extra time I took to manipulate the images to make them sharper and less "blue," is about half of what I can buy something for.

Plus it gives me an incentive to come back and have more underwater adventures. It's also good for things like kayaking and boating: two other watersports I want to do more of as well.

Snorkling #6

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