Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Laughable Labeling in the BAHAMAS

cruising life
Holy Shit Pepper Sauce:  Funny name, phone number
and serving suggestion.  That’s it.
Confession time:
Even as a kid, I considered packaging labels, even on aspirin bottles,  worthy reading material.  I read them with a discerning eye, (“Mom, did you know this ‘fruit juice’ was 10% fruit juice, not 100%?”) geekily living up to my despised childhood nickname, “Dana Logical.” 

Fast forward a bit.  In college, writing “Color’s Role in Packaging” was my second favorite term paper (the first was to take a Victorian author and put them in a modern setting and predict how they’s react – I wrote on“John Stuart Mill’s Response to Male Strippers in His Home Town” which earned an uncommented but solid A from my prof).  My degree?  Advertising, with a minor in marketing.  What better way to indulge in my nerdy desire for clear communication?

Fast forward a bit more.
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Tinkyada pasta… purchased because it was gluten-free.
Unusual packaging color and graphics style
for pasta.  Pink?  Cartoon bunnies?

Long, long ago, I tried oodles of hot sauces in a single “sitting” without a single sip of refreshment at a “Fiery Foods Festival” in Albuquerque.  It was not a masochistic act; merely practical.  I love hot, spicy food.  My goal was simply to find the best hot sauces, with a minimum of interruption.  Besides, I didn’t want to jostle a beverage working my way through the throngs to sample these fiery liquids.

In the process, I made a surprising discovery (other than it’s tough to taste-test with a numb tongue)….  The best looking packaging more often than not encased mediocre to bad hot sauce.  If, on the other hand, the packaging was boring or even inept, the hot sauce was far more likely to be excellent – hot, but but still flavorful.  That is the heat didn’t obliterate the flavor, but enhanced it. 

My theory? When it comes to hot sauce producers, there are cooks, or there are marketers, but rarely the twain shall meet.

Over the years, as I’ve continued to sample hot sauces, for the most part, that packaging generalization has held.  If I can’t try before I buy, I assume that if I wanted to buy hot sauce just for a joke, sampling is a moot point.  If I want to buy it to eat, if it’s cheap and ugly, I might give it a go without a sampling. I will not buy hot sauce just for the packaging if I plan to enjoy it.

cruising life
Tinkyada’s packaging: “Promising a delightful eating experience.”
When I saw “Holy Shit Pepper Sauce” in the isolated Ragged Island’s Duncantown, it didn’t surprise me Marjorie said she was selling it for a friend who makes it.  Marjorie splits her time between Duncantown and Nassau; my bet is her friend’s from bustling, touristy Nassau.  It’s the perfect joke gift.  I bought it with that in mind, with the intent if presenting it with my hot sauce packaging theory -- to treat it like a Barbie of hot sauces – better looking than tasting.

Despite Holy Shit Pepper Sauce’s flashy labeling, this Bahamanian product is definitely not States-sales-bound.  The only info on the package is a teaser “Taste De Island” the “Holy Shit Pepper Sauce” product name, a phone number and a serving suggestion (use on soup, stew, chowder, [conch] fritters, souse, conch salad, etc.).  What’s missing?  Who made it.  Where they are.  Volume.  Nutritional information.

Once in a while, an atypical Stateside package pops up.  Seems it’s most likely to happen when the product originates out of a non-English speaking country, especially if it’s Asian in origin.

That’s how I came across Tinkyada’s pink-packaged pasta, a gluten-free rice-based pasta that in theory is from Seattle, but screams out Asian origin. 

For one, most pasta packaging comes is flat, bold primary colors – school bus yellow, tomato red, or maybe cobalt blue.  Letters are thick and bold, solid like a zesty pasta sauce.  Pink is a color used for Pepto Bismo, not for food packaging, certainly not for pasta.  Nor would pasta package designs tout cartoon bunnies.

But, unlike most gluten-free products, Tinkyada is cheap, like Asian rice flour as opposed to Bob’s Red Mill or just about any other “mainstream” gluten-free product.  Frugally, I take the extra time to read the labels, and go for content and price, regardless of whether they’re mainstream or offbeat.

Still, I can’t deny being further amused by TInkada’s hyperbole.  Not only do they definitely not pay for top quality translator, they must also save some corporate overhead by not lawyering up on their marketing content reviews.  No “Just the facts, Ma’am” lawyers I’ve worked with in 20+ years of marketing would allow claims like “Promising a delightful eating experience.”  Lawyers don’t like it when ANYTHING is “promised.”  Heck, I had enough time getting approval on basic product differentiators, like quality.  I can’t imagine their reaction if the words “promise” and “experience” were used for packaging or promotion.  Violent shaking?  Tantrums? The lowering of a large gavel?  Volcanic explosion?  Hysterical giggling while they roll on the ground?  A hard state with a barely restrained eye roll?

By the way, Tinkyada pasta was quite good.  Maybe my hot sauce packaging theory extends well to other food products; at least of the packaging is inadequate or amusing.

What’s the funniest food packaging you’ve seen?  Did you try the product?  If so, how was it?  What’s the biggest letdown you’ve had from especially well done food packaging?

Location Location
April 29, 2014 BAHAMAS.  We’re now in Hatchet Bay (N25.20.962 W76.29.253), Eleuthera; headed North toward Spanish Wells.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Healing Hole of Rock Sound, Eleuthera

cruising destinations, cruising activities

Belying past “hard to find” complaints, Ocean Hole
was well marked!. This sign shows Rock Harbour Bay
in the background.
Hot weather. Cool but not cold placid “blue” swimming hole set in limestone.  A short walk from where we dinghied in from our Rock Sound anchorage.  We were in, literally and figuratively!

We were not alone.

Eleuthera’s brackish Ocean Hole is inviting, all the way around.  Nice pathways, covered gazebo, rock rim bordering the entire Ocean Hole, well done educational signage on native trees, and placards on wildlife, geology, history and culture. 

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Ocean Hole is a popular hangout spot with locals
as well as visitors.
The swim area included a ramp down, steps, a ladder, two life rings and a rope climb back up.  The water was a mystical jade green, transparent enough at the surface, but quickly turning opaque as the walls plunged over 600 feet down.  It’s believed to be connected to the ocean, but as yet even Jacques Couseau’s been unable to pinpoint where.

Fish clustered near the swim access area, used to visitors feeding them.  We obliged.  There were grunts and sargent majors in profusion, plus angelfish, tangs and more.  Our crushed tortilla chips caught their attention, though we’re relieved the fish didn’t rush or bop us or our snorkel masks.

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Most of all, it’s a great place to swim, and…
In addition to feeding the fish, I happily fed myself; nibbling away on some ripe tamarind pulp, which tastes a lot like tart dried apricots.  No one else seemed interested in harvesting the tamarind, so I felt no guilt in taking the few pods I did.

Snorkeling the entire diameter of the hole, I was pleasantly surprised at how clean, and relatively litter-free it was, particularly for such a popular spot.

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Feed the fish and…
Rumor has it, Ocean Hole’s waters are healing.  We can’t say yea or nay, but appreaciated a refreshing swim in a beautiful spot on a hot day.  Not at all hard to understand why it’s one of Eleuthera’s top attractions.

Location Location
April 28, 2014 BAHAMAS.  This blog post is a recent retrospective of Rock Sound, Eleuthera (N24.51.820 W76.02.814). We knew the wind was due to take a page from “Rock Around the Clock;” in a short span of a few days it would at some point blow from just about every point on the compass.  There aren’t that many places that are comfortable on a boat throughout, and very few in Eleuthera that are both safe and comfortable when the wind blow in from the West.  With 360 protection, Rock Sound Harbour was a great place to ride the cycle out.  We spent 5 days there.

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Feed ourselves from the tamarind tree at Ocean Hole park.
We’re now in Hatchett Bay (N25.20.962 W76.29.253), Eleuthera; our 4th anchorage on the island.  We’re working our way slowly back to the States for work and shelter over hurricane season and expect to explore Eleuthera a bit further in the mean time as well as the Abacos.
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Looking across Ocean Hole from the not very high
“high point.”

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bahamas’ Long Island -- Road Trip

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Long Island’s Dean’s Blue Hole Wes C. Skiles
photo for National Geographic
While in many places the BAHAMAS’ Long Island coastline is quite pretty, we decided to blitz the island in a day.

Long Island, ironically, is not the Bahamas’ longest island.  At 110 miles long, that honor goes to Eleuthera; Long Island, comparatively, is 80 miles long.  Both are long, relatively skinny islands, often less than a mile across and never more than a few miles wide at their widest, running mostly North to South. 

In any case, taking in large stretches of land isn’t practical at the pace of a walk (about our boat’s pace, at 4-6 knots), all the more so when our boat isn’t or can't anchor anywhere near where we want to explore terra firma.

For a reasonable $56, we rented a car in the island’s capital, Clarencetown, which is at the lower SE side of the island.  Most of these islands sport one main road, so it’s pretty much impossible to get lost.

cruising activities, swimming, cape santa maria long island
Bump-bump-bumpy narrow dirt road to
Columbus Monument.  Took us about
15 minutes to drive in.
When we first visited Long Island last year, we entered further South, where we “surfed” into remote well protected Little Harbour on cresting waves through an excitingly narrow anchorage entrance fringed by rocks.  Thus, having “been there, done that,” we headed North in our rental car. 

cruising activities, swimming, cape santa maria long island
Long Island Columbus Monument Cape Santa Maria viewpoint.
Photos can even begin to do it justice!
Our first scenic stop* was at Dean’s “world famous” Blue Hole.  Per Wikipedia, Dean's Blue Hole is the world's deepest known blue hole (a term for water-filled sinkholes with the entrance below the water level) with an entrance below the sea level. It plunges 663 ft (202 metres).  Aptly, Dean’s Blue Hole is the host venue for an international free diving competition in November.  Though we’ve scuba-dived some cenotes in Mexico before, our interest in Dean’s Blue Hole was far less ambitious – we knew it was really pretty and it struck us as a good spot for a short, intriguing swim.

cruising activities, swimming, cape santa maria long island
Channel below Columbus Monument joining
the Atlantic to Long Island’s flats.
Unfortunately, the morning was so overcast, after a quick look, I resisted my usual shutter bugging, figuring when later the light would be better, and we’d tuck in there then, on our way back.  Instead, check out this National Geographic photo from photographer Wes C Skiles.  

Many folks may consider living aboard a sailboat romantic,.  Since we do that every day, for us, road trips are a romantic respite.  Our next stop was a deserted beach.  ‘Nuff said.

Wayne was interested in retracing the Calabash Bay Long Island BAHAMAS road trip I took last year with friends Jose and Char of Atlantica, as he didn't join us then.  Considering our Lonely Planet Bahamas Guide was (and is) still missing in action, we’re guessing permanently, it was North, so that seemed as good a plan as any.

cruising activities, swimming, cape santa maria long island
Long Island flats adjacent Cape Santa Maria.  They stretch back
far more than this photo indicates.  Again, the photo
hardly does the view justice.
On a whim, we picked Columbus Monument** at Cape Santa Maria as our Northernmost point.  There is little North of that on Long Island.  We didn’t expect a long, narrow, bumpy dirt road to it.  Thanks to Wayne’s careful driving, we made it, unscathed, despite our decidedly small and definitely un-four-wheel drive transport.  There were rope guides to the trail top as it was a tad steep, but still a short, easy lope. 

The monument 's** Cape Santa Maria ocean overlook was breathtaking!  Sure, going from Little Harbour to Calabash Bay last year we sailed past this area, but this was ridge point provided a fabulous aerial view. Without fear of running aground in these beautiful coral strewn shallows, we could enjoy their beauty safely from afar.  The sun graced us with its presence, highlighting the water in a gem like mosaic of clear-to-the-bottom turquoise, and sapphire to cobalt blues. 

cruising activities, caves, road trip
Thanks to this map, we found
the Stella Maris cave.
From there, a channel connected to a long, wide stretch of brilliant turquoise shallows.  While the catch-and-release sport of bone fishing offers zero appeal to me – I fish to eat, not for fun – I could see the draw simply to travel these gorgeous waters on a flats boat.

It was time to head back toward Clarencetown.

Our next stop was Stella Maris Resort’s party cave, bats and all.  It was a bit of a wild goose chase.  We had to stop a couple times for directions, though along the way stumbled over some some lovely Atlantic seaside properties through the sprawling Stella Maris Resort.  Eventually we found the caves.  Ultimately with no party in situ, Wayne was a bit underwhelmed, and is far less tolerant of bats.  I find them fascinating.  He views them as flying rodents, and of course is not too keen on the dank accompanying stink of bat guano.

cruising activities, stella maris hiking
Long Island’s party cave on Stella Maris Resort.
At this stage, we were pretty hungry.  We stopped at the seaside beach restaurant  Jose, Char and I ate at (@ Deal’s Beach?).  I ordered what I thought was a $5 cheeseburger with (~ 1/3 cup) canned mixed veg, and Wayne settled for a “completely forgettable” flour-less chicken and fries, as the chicken Caesar on the menu was unavailable.  Wayne paid the check and we left, a long 45 minutes later, nearly all of which was spent waiting for the food, though we were the only customers at the time.  I later found out my “$5 special” (per the restaurant’s white board) >1/4 lb burger was at least $12, and our total bill for this profoundly unsatisfying meal was $35.  We could come up with far better ways to spend our time and money!  “You’ve spoiled me,” Wayne complained.  “Your cooking is so much better as well as a heckuva lot cheaper!” 

cruising activities, stella maris hiking
This jaunty pirate astride his mock boat
looks ready to party in the Stella Maris Cave.
The lunch reinforced our “Aha!”  regarding this year’s cruising cuisine.  Overall we are not that impressed with Bahamian fare.  With a few exceptions, like Nassau’s Potter’s Cay conch salad (click here for more about that) and meat patties (click here for more about that but I consider them more Jamaican), we find most Bahamian food to be fatty, bland and overpriced.

We stopped off at a museum, but decided it wasn’t worth paying an entry fee after our overpriced lunch.  We moved on.

A local touted Lochabar, an alternative blue hole to Dean’s.  Foolishly, we sought it out…. After much searching, we couldn’t find it.  We regretted not returning to Dean’s for a refreshing dip after a hot afternoon drive, but there wasn’t enough time to do that and return our rental car on time.

If we had it to do over, we’d pick up some food at a local supermarket, enjoy it more, pay less, get it quicker and swim Dean’s Blue Hole, whether we were lucky enough to catch some more sunshine there or not.  Or if we were to eat out, stop at Sea Breeze in Salt Pond.

cruising activities, cruising destination, beachside restaurant road trip
The view was pleasant, the food disappointing, slow
 and expensive at this Long Island seaside stop.
Our take?  Long Island has some charming historic churches (watch for a future post on them) and scenery. It’s an okay place to do some light reprovisioning and laundry, and offers some intriguing places to get wet.  Columbus Monument is a pain to get to, but worth every bumpy minute for the viewpoint.  Still, if not for its convenient stopover location for otherwise long passages (from Georgetown to the Jumentos and from the Raggeds to Rum Cay), we’d be just as happy to give Long Island a miss.  If we were exploring it with fellow cruising friends or befriended some locals, or loved sport fishing, maybe we’d feel differently.

On the other hand, after places like the BAHAMAS Exumas, Jumentos, Ragged Islands and last year’s Caribbean leeward and windward islands (especially Guadeloupe, St. Barts, Barbuda, Saba, British Virgin Islands (BVI), St. Martin, Puerto Rico especially including the Spanish Virgins, we’re pretty spoiled. 

Long island BAHAMAS, Dean’s Blue Hole, blue holes, sinkholes, cenote, cruiser destinations, cruiser activities, provisioning, road trip, local food

*We also always get in some provisioning when we rent a car, but nothing interesting enough to note in this post.
**It's believed Long Island was Columbus' 3rd "new World" stop.

Location Location
April 24, 2014 BAHAMAS.  We’re in Eleuthera, Rock Sound (N24.44.044 W76.14.451) though this blog is a recent retrospective to our road trip on Long Island, two weeks prior.  We're ready to take advantage of tomorrow's prevailing winds to sail rather than motor (aka "burn dinosaurs") to Governor Harbour, Eleuthera.  Our goal is to return to the States late May or early June to work and replenish our cruising kitty over hurricane season.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Flamingo Cay Cave, Jumentos (very short video tour)

This made our trip to Flamingo Cay, Jumentos, BAHAMAS worthwhile.  The cave is easily accessible by dinghy and marked on Exuma and Raggeds Explorer Charts.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bizarre Bahamas Botanicals

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Giant flax-like plant at Buena Vista,
Jumentos, Bahamas; estimated height
~20 feet, width at base ~9 inches.
Surreal seed pods, astronomically large asparagus-like stalks, strangling aphrodisiacs, quirky contrasting textures, determined invaders rooting in the oddest places…. Flora fascinates me. 

Can I tickle your fancy with a few of these, seen in the Bahamas?

Cresting a ridge at Buena Vista, we came across a stalk reaching easily 20 feet up, with a base of at least nine inches.  The stalk looked a lot like a gargantuan asparagus -- I felt Lilliputian.  Its ample base of long strappy, spike-tipped leaved, radiating out from the stalk, reminded me of the New Zealand flax in my parents Sacramento California backyard.  They also remind me a bit of century plants, or the silver sword plants seen atop Maui’s Haleakala volcano rim.

Cacti are not that unusual.  In the Bahamas, poking out of soft sand, in the same vicinity as coconut palms rather than in a desert, cacti feel out of context. To me, it’s akin to a bride wearing a black leather, spike-studded choker to accessorize her filmy white wedding dress.

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Cacti at Flamingo Cay,
Jumentos, Bahamas.
Large leaves of silvery, velveteen do not seem to belong on the same shrub with bouquets of stiff star-shaped little white with red-violet-tipped flowers that look like they were cut from Styrofoam egg cartons then got a sassy French manicure in reverse.

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Silver velvet foliage offset with waxy white and
red violet starry flower clusters on Rum Cay.
Anything that can sink its woody roots firmly in saline impresses me; especially when it must also survive not only regular tidal flows, but hurricane force wind and waves.  Mangroves not only flourish in that harsh environment, they provide a rich protective forest-like structure for an amazing array of wildlife… from slow moving snails and their larger hard shelled cousins, the conchs, to zipping turtles (yes – amazingly – turtles can be fast!) to breeding grounds for sharks and rays.

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Solo red mangrove shrub taking root
in the middle of Hog Cay’s tidal flats.
It was oddly amusingly ironic to find Cat Island’s two most famous historic stone churches invaded by “delicate” impatiens flowers and vibrantly hued wandering jew plants.  Both were taking root in fine line foundation cracks in both New Bight’s fabulous hilltop Hermitage monastery, and the Anglican church in Old Bight.  Tough characters, and, apparently, irreverent.

More assertive is the love vine, sprawling its mostly leafless, landscape choking tendrils more profusely than a hairy scalp overdosed on minoxidil.  It earned its name by offering its services as an aphrodisiac, according to a Bahamian historian who discussed local folk medicine.

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Impatiens flower and
wandering jew plant
working its way through
The Bight’s churches
on Cat Island.
From aphrodisiac plants, we move on to the next cycle of (plant) life… seed pods.  On Stocking Island, the splitting seed pods reminded me of little birds, mouths agape, waiting for momma bird to stuff them with regurgitated nutrition, whilst they build their strength to eventually take wing.  The spiky seed pods on Rum Cay contained innards like little eggs, snugly seated in a nest.

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Love vine choking out vegetation on
Great Guana across from Farmer’s Cay.
Feel free as well to fill us in on your favorites -- all the more if so there’s a photo or story to illustrate what it is about them that intrigues you!

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Fuzzy splitting seed pods
on Lee Stocking Island.
Oh, and if you liked this post, watch for a future post on the most amazing travelers of the plant kingdom,,, sea beans.

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Spiky seed pods, Rum Cay.
Wanted!  Helpful Bahamian Botany Experts!
If you can put me in touch with any Bahamian botany experts or are one yourself, any help finding out the common and scientific names and origins of these peculiar plants would be much appreciated!  Otherwise, check back in a few months, as I will research this when my internet access is more ample in the United States.

Location Location

April 21, 2014 BAHAMAS.  We’re in Eleuthera, Rock Sound (N24.44.044 W76.14.451).  The deep harbor here offers 360 degree storm protection, and excellent provisioning. We expect to hunker in the anchorage here for several days, with some land travel.  Then we'll sail off to some other Eleuthran harbors for a week or two, then head up to the Abacos.  Then it's  back to Florida for hurricane season and working... somewhere until November, when we set sail for the South Pacific.  At least, that's the current plan....