I can now happily strike an item off my 'Bloody Stupid Things To Do In Life' list.
Fall Off A Galloping Wild Horse.
For a few short days, Krissa and I, Jen and her MK, Kate, Stan, Biscuit, Chris and Heather were on Eleuthera and Paradise islands in The Bahamas.
Lightly tanned, slightly grazed, and flying home in a mild Vicodin daze, I saw New York hove into view on Wednesday afternoon in a dusting of murky white and dark grey. This morning fat white flakes were falling outside our bedroom window, greying out the morning and making it hard to wake up. It's weird that I've been sort of happy purely at the unusual nature of both New York's winter slush and Eleuthera's December sunshine, regardless of how pleased I was to see either of them. Differences make me happy - new, different, unusual things.
Beyond that, of course, sun=great, snow=arse.
We arrived at Nassau International airport on Saturday afternoon, and while the Paradise Island contingent taxi'd off to luxury, cocktails and complete normality, honest, Krissa, Jen and MK and I took a bloody ripoff taxi around the corner from Nassau International to Nassau Exclusive. Still, now, after a safe journey, I cannot believe that I have, in my life, chartered an aircraft and survived, rather than appearing in one of those tragic 'Promising young people die through air crash, also persistent gnawing by hammerhead sharks' news stories.
Our pilot wanted to keep one door of the two-prop Piper open...because it was The Bahamas and it was hot, naturally. Once airborne he kept up a jovial spot of radio banter with the nice-sounding lady in air traffic control, and also the pilot of another plane coming from Eleuthera, who he pointed at grinningly when we passed in mid-air. The sea was vivid green and blue, with sharp and volcanic-looking brown ridges of rock marking the edges of reefs.
Eleuthera is approximately 110 miles long (although defining 'long' gets tricky) and only two miles across at its widest. We are talking severely stringy here. The airstrip were aiming to land at took over a significant proportion of the width of the Island. We landed and were handed a rental car without paperwork, without signing anything, without having to prove that any of us could drive. When we unloaded our bags one of the two ground staff asked, 'You the people rentin' the car from Hilton?' (Hilton being the owner of the car) and when we said yes, they gave us the keys. We drove off in search of our villa, with the Atlantic waves breaking fifty yards to the right, and the placid Bight of the Bahamas lapping little coved beaches a hundred yards to the left. Low, scrubby vegetation covered the island, with the occasional tall palm breaking the lines of the windswept canopy and sudden hills of brown rock.
The sky at night was incredible. You could see the creamy clouds of the Milky Way against a backdrop of brighter stars, and shooting stars were common. There was only one street light at the next property along the road, and we roundly cursed it, but I've only been two places where the stars have been even close to being that beautiful; the High Atlas mountains in Morocco, and a little village in the Alpujarras, south of Granada in Spain. Breathtaking. Walking back from our only restaurant dinner on the first night, we saw something really phenomenal - a bright blue-green shooting star, fast and seemingly low, leaving a pale white trail. It was so bright that at first I thought it was a flare, but it shot past so quickly, so straight and so silently. I instantly started babbling about the formation of free radicals (giving the green-blue colour as they burn up) in astral bodies and stuff which, despite the near total darkness, meant I could sense the odd looks from Krissa, Jen and MK. It's weird. I only learnt about it last week, in a 'Science And The City' podcast through iTunes, featuring Bob Park. I'm looking into reporting the shooting star..and according to a couple of websites it looks like it might have been a fireball. A once in a lifetime thing!
Two days of dreamy deserted beach exploration, snorkelling and rum ensued.
The snorkelling was perfect. Entire galaxies of fish, echoing the night skies, hung over weed and coral-covered boulders, tiny transparent jellyfish, harmless, slowly swept along. Tortoiseshell-camouflaged grim-mouthed fish avoided us, large flat blue fish were more inquisitive and stuck their heads out of their boltholes if we floated above them for any length of time. Sea cucumbers lolled on sandy floors. Starfish clung to rocks. And then, as Krissa and I were thinking of turning back because the sun was getting low, in the blue murk I saw the silvery-white outlines of an unmistakable shape. I freaked out and yelled at Krissa before powering away with my flippers in the opposite direction. I told Krissa.
"Manta Ray. Big one."
"I want to see it."
I had been so enjoying the little voyages into random snippets of memory (among them realizing that I knew what a Sea Cucumber was, a fact which up until that point had been utterly useless) that I panicked when I saw the size of the thing, with its wings moving slowly...and I'd forgotten that it was vegetarian. We swam back for a little while, but there was no sign of it.
This is all very easy to write, I bet you're thinking, with Google to hand. But seriously - I went through a phase, at about the same time as reading the James Herriot books, of reading all the Insert Animal Name Adventure books by Willard Price, and, geekily...books of Natural History, filled with pictures and facts about animals from all over the world. What can I say? I was 12. I had a long time to wait until Girls.
On our way back to New Providence Island we stopped off at Harbour Island in the North of Eleuthera prior to catching the ferry. Krissa used to ride horses a lot in Africa, so when she spotted horseback riding on the beach, she was excited. I confessed being a little scared, but thought I'd give it a go. Galloping unwittingly through the surf on the back of a schizophrenic mare, one of my stirrups snapped and off I went. I have a big graze on my forehead and my left arm is only just beginning to work properly again. If you're reading this before taking a holiday to Eleuthera and Harbour Island, take this as a warning - don't trust Robert and his horses. Krissa is a veteran horsewoman and she fell from her totally unresponsive horse twice. The horses, we learned from a local on the ferry, are taken from the wilds of south Eleuthera at very young ages by Robert, and while they're completely devoted to him, are not trained at all and virtually wild, taking their cues from the actions of the other horses in the manner of a pack (the unridden horses broke out of the stable and came and joined us), rather than reacting to their riders. Bad news, generally.
The ferry from Eleuthera to Nassau was a boat identical to the Southampton-to-Isle of Wight Catamaran, which made me feel very odd indeed. In half-waking moments I thought I was about to see my parents.
Beset by insect bites and bruised by ballistic activities on the beach, Krissa and I bowed out of the last night's reuniting fun in Nassau and slept.
The plane back to New York left on time, after I spent an agonising forty-five minutes slowly passing through all of the US immigration hoops (hopefully for the last time...my Green Card should be on its way soon).
And this morning there was 4" of snow on the ground in Queens.
Photos from the trip to follow...they'll probably get uploaded into Flickr over the weekend.