Friday, August 29, 2014

Last Friday Night!

I am humming the Katy Perry tune "Last Friday Night," as I type this.  When I say last Friday night, in this case I don't mean the one just passed, I mean THE one, the last Friday night in Bermuda.  Bermuda is a very social place, and the town of Hamilton livens up every single Friday of the year.  The entire night is dubbed "Happy Hour," as the crowds gather to say Hello to friends and Goodbye to the workplace for a few days.  Whether people are putting on a bit of Ritz at the bigger hotel outdoor courtyard happy hours, going to the local pub, taking a sunset booze cruise on the Uber Vida, or going clubbing....everyone usually saves up some energy for Friday night.  And many adventures, legends, and fond memories come out of Friday nights in Bermuda.  So, there was a bit of pressure on how should I spend the last ever Friday night of my Bermuda years?

We tossed around a couple of ideas -- should we take the Uber Vida?  A free cruise, beautiful sunset, always a great evening....but sometimes a line up and usually standing room only.  Should we do a traditional happy hour -- start at the Newstead or Princess and pop by the Lemon Tree (I love that name), Coconut Rock, Hog Penny, Port of Call, Flanagans, etc?  We had chatted about how to have a nice, fun evening where everyone could sit, relax, talk...someplace not too crowded, not louder than us, something kinda special but not too crazy.  And what we came up with was to rent another boat, "The Sally Bum Bum."

This would give us at least 2-3 hours out on the water, a fabulous view of the sunset, we had loads of room for any food and drink we wanted to bring, and it comfortable seated the whole group.  It also had a great stereo system for our know you are doing it right when the Uber Vida gives you a cheer from all hands on deck when you go by.

And so we gathered the available crew for a final farewell.  We had aboard the faithful crew from Flanagan's.

2 parts Scotch

"no paparazzi"

all smiles here

A few people to represent BHB.

A few expats who had expatted or repatriated, plus a new guy who just landed on the island.  Meg and Marek just happened to be on the island for the farewell cruise even though the US is home to them now.

One captain, who seemed to be quite happy with his temporary fun crew.

And a toucan.  Yes, a toucan.  In retrospect, I think it's fair to say that any Friday is going to end in the category of notorious when a toucan shows up.

And so off we sailed, with an assortment of beverages, food, and some items that were a combination of food and cocktail (we call this yukaflux), and no real plan.  Into the sunset we went, past the area known as paradise lakes, and past a couple of places that always catch my eye, such as this island that houses an old military cemetery (always strikes me as strange to build a cemetery on such a hard to get to place)....

....and this other island which for some reason that remains unknown to me after years of quizzical inquiry...what I call "Sheep Island."  If anyone ever finds out why....please tell me.

There was no need go schedule any entertainment -- we tend to be the entertainment most of the time anyway.  So we had no problems entertaining ourselves.  The toucan alone kept us going for a little while, but there was also some swimming, some dancing which with one innocent leg placement on the boat railing digressed into some blackmail worthy photos for most on board (think poledance as a theme).

The not so rare McGregor fish

The Toucan Rodeo Queen Annemarie

And so the last Friday night we sailed off into the sunset with a chorus of laughter and 80's music, and that was the sunset of my Bermuda social life, literally and figuratively, among the warm smiles of Bermuda friends.  Can't ask for a better last Friday than that!

Almost.  Then the boat docked and we hit front street....although we didn't last too long!

hog penny once more

starting to look a liiiitle sketchy, like most Bermuda Fridays!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The last thing on the Bermuda Checklist

Still  back on the Sand Dollar in Castle Harbour, there were a few other creatures enjoying the day.

So while we had the boat "parked" on Castle Row, or anchored as those with even the most basic of nautical vocabularies correct me with when I say parked (but I like the sound of it), I did not go swimming in those gorgeous waters with the rest of the crew.

Much to the fascination of  Captain Mark, I was simply fascinated with the longtails that kept buzzing the boat.  As you have all heard over and over, getting a satisfactory longtail photograph has been on my Bermuda checklist for 5 years, and much time and energy has been spent on less than satisfactory attempts.  But while checking Castle Row off the to see list, I was given my best ever opportunity to check "Longtail photo" off the now very short list that remained to be done on my time in Bermuda.

The Longtails gave me many angles and many chances to get a photograph I would be happy with, and while it took some going with the fast speed of the birds, the many lines and ropes I was trying to photograph between, and the gentle rocking of the boat on the waves.  There were a lot of slightly blurry shots that were oh so close, but I got a few that left me very very excited.  Apparently my description that "they were so close that in one of the pictures I can see longtail bumhole!" may be one of those things I never live down.  And so, I will stop trying to use words and just let the pictures do the talking.  Enjoy my shots of my favorite Bermuda icon....mission accomplished!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Castle Road

Going back to that trusty old Bermuda map, there are a couple of places that one cannot access by scooter.  For example, if you look in the top right corner, you will see Castle Harbour.  Floating alone out there on the south side of it is a little chain of islands, including Nonsuch Island -- a nature preserve that people are not supposed to access without a conservation officer in tow, and Castle Island, which if you look carefully is basically a little cannon sign on a tiny island all by itself.  This was one of my final must see quests of Bermuda.

This is easier said than done of course.  I emailed some of the conservation guides about going to Nonsuch Island as a volunteer worker even.  No one replied.  I got the number of the person who in in charge of Nonsuch Island tours from the Aquarium, but she never answered or returned any phone calls.  I finally decided to find a way to get there by boat.  But there are no tour operators that go to these islands per se.  The closest thing I could find was the boat rentals at Grotto Bay Hotel, where I could rent a paddleboat, or a small motorized boat that I had no clue how to operate, and get myself out there.  This did not sound like a good idea.  So the only logical thing left to do was to charter a sailboat.  I started making calls, and through a great stroke of luck I was put in touch with Mark Whayman, Captain of the Sand Dollar.

I grabbed this picture from his website and I highly recommend you book a day or two on his boat.  To start with, he is accommodating and actually merged two groups together to make it more affordable.  He tailors the cruise to what you want -- it can include dinner, lunch, or you can pack your own.  He is super knowledgeable about the area.  And he is a heck of a nice guy.  So if you want a day on a boat, look no further.

As the days in Bermuda were fading fast, Siobhan and I decided to just rent the boat at any cost and see that last little mystery patch of Bermuda.  Alien was free to join us that day, and Mark brought along a family of four that he met in St. George's the evening before which made the day very affordable -- and so we were set for a day of sailing, snorkelling, and laying eyes on some new spots.

Mark picked us up at the public dock in the ritzy Tucker's Town area of the island.

He "scooted" out to get us on a little skiff.

And regretabbly I was taking pictures of the wrong boat while in the skiff, so I didn't get a photo of the Sand Dollar, but it's a sailboat and so is this, so this will have to do.

Not long after setting sail, some rum swizzle was handed out, which was included with the cruise.  So was beer.  That was a nice bonus on a hot day.

Captain Mark apologized for being a few minutes late -- the water was apparently a little rougher than expected.  We were going to learn a little bit about that later at Castle Harbour, but he was being modest, he made very good time considering the conditions outside of the harbour.  As it turns out, Castle Harbour is about the prettiest place I have ever laid eyes on.  It flat out puts the rest of beautiful Bermuda to shame.  The first place we stopped to snorkel was at Nonsuch Island, across from Cooper's Island.  The water was crystal and clear, and longtails were flying about.  Nonsuch Island is a fragile breeding ground for cahows, and Bermuda is the only breeding spot in the world for this rare seabird, so we minded the signs and did not go aground, and I hope everyone complies with this for the sake of the cahow.  Then we set sail and took in a whole lot of beauty around Castle Harbour.

There is also a lot of history.  There are several old fortifications, and the fort on Castle Island, formerly known as King's Island, is the oldest fortification in the new English World, and the only one of Bermuda's fortresses to have ever fired on an enemy -- it fired 2 shots on a Spanish ship in 1612, which fortunately turned tail....because the armoury only had 4 shots in their total arsenal at the time.

On this day in particular, there were also a lot of waves of the larger nature.

This made for a fun ride, and a lack of photographs in the channel, because we were on the front of the boat, holding on for dear life, shreiking with joy like on a roller coaster, and getting soaking wet and we rose and dove into very large swells.  Titanic crossed all of our minds.

Alien and Siobhan, back in calmer water, noticeably wetter, and happy as two kids on a roller coaster
Noteably, there were not very many other boats out....actually I think zero was the count, so we were extra glad for captain Mark, who proved extremely confident and competent, and made this trip happen for us on the last possible day we could all make it.

The main reason I wanted to do this trip was to see first hand the little castle on the rock -- you can see it to the right if Siobhan in the picture above.  Or you can see it these next pictures below.  I was disappointed to learn that this is a replica of the original, and as such, it is private property that I could not access as I had hoped.  Apparently it serves as a guest house on the main property.  I would quite like a night in a castle on a private island, so I expect these are some very popular rich people.

As an aside, I think I gained a few more smudges on lenses and sensors on the wet passage through these islands, but it was well worth it!  One we got to this point, however, it was smooth sailing. We dropped anchor and enjoyed the warm, still, clear waters around the isles, while the longtails danced in the sky above. There are more stories and pictures for another day, but will end this blog saying it was honestly one of the best days of my island life.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Map

One thing every tourist and new resident to Bermuda needs is a copy of the old bus map.  The bus service has stopped giving out this map, but you can usually get it from the tourist center at the ferry terminal in town.
This trusty little map lets you know which buses will take you to where you want to go, but more importantly, they list a lot of little sites that you might otherwise never notice or hear of.  I used to get one whenever I had guests in town, and used it when I was new, but I had not actually studied it for quite some time until Siobhan pulled it out of her backpack on one of our adventures.

After that we used it quite frequently -- where should we go next?  What's that green spot, must be a park, let's go check it out.  Cannon indicates fort, tree indicates park, houses for historical buildings, lines for bridges and railway trail....obviously the lighthouse is a lighthouse, and all sorts of interesting little script that may or may not warrant a drive, like the "memorial rubber tree."  I think I missed that until just now actually.  Anyone still in Bermuda feel free to go get a picture of that if you can find it and post below!

Of course not all of the little roads are listed, in fact, even some of the bigger roads are not, and so finding Abbot's Cliff was a bit of a mystery to me.  Hint, directions are in the Abbot's Cliff blog, but that little park seen in green on this map is actually just a sign on a patch of grass about 2 feet bigger than the sign that says "Abbot's Cliff."  The green spot is a bit misleading in that case.  Chalk that up to the charm of Bermuda!

 Another great reason to travel with the map is that it doubles as a disguise.  We learned while sitting at a cafe that if you have the map in plain site, you are magically transformed from ex-pat to tourist, which sometimes has the perks of a brighter smile and friendlier service!

So, if you are new to Bermuda, or just visiting, pick one of these up as soon as you can.  I grew quite fond of Siobhan's little map!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Funny As Folk

People are funny.  We set patterns and parameters and kind of stick to them.  In Bermuda, there are a few of these that apply to our beautiful waters as well.  For example, Bermudians say they don't go in the water until Bermuda Day, the long weekend at the end of May.  "Only tourists and the Canadian expats go before that," I have heard them joke before.  To be fair, after a few years of the island, I wasn't going in before the water temperatures warmed up in June this year either.

Another quirk that I noticed is that behind the airport there is a long stretch wide open grass running along an ocean channel.  You will often see people pulled over on this stretch of grass, picnicking, relaxing, fact I once say a shirtless man in the back of a red convertible playing his heart out on a saxophone to an audience of zero there.  I have sailed through the little channel from St. George's to Dockyard on the Sea Sun.  But, I have never seen anyone in the waters in this channel.

I have often wondered if the wreckage of a 1952 Havana Air crash lies in this channel, or perhaps just beyond it in the open waters on either side.  Back then, flights would stop in Bermuda to refuel.  In this case, the flight was from Madrid, Spain to Havana, Cuba.  After stopping for fuel in Bermuda, the plane exploded shortly after take off.  37 people were killed, 4 people survived.

Wherever it is, it joins the 150+ shipwrecks in the area as casualties of the Bermuda Triangle I suppose.  Today, however, this little spot of Bermuda is a calm an serene spot, where many lucky homeowners overlook the water.

The waters were cool and inviting, so I figured....why not.  I was wearing flip flops anyway, so i rolled up my pantlegs and waded in.  Suits me just fine that no one else uses this stretch of ocean.  It gave me a great place to cool off and take some quiet photos....the best places are often those that are overlooked by others