[ Warning: The some of the contents of this blog post are a little graphic. If you get queasy easily, maybe skip this post]
My family’s favorite travel destination is Abaco, Bahamas. Abaco is a chain of out-islands far away from the touristy crowds in Nassau and out of reach to cruise ships. For a week, my family will go boating, snorkeling, fishing, and beach hopping all across the island chain, hitting our favorite spots at Elbow Cay (pronounced “key”), Tiloo Cay, Green Turtle Cay, Manjack Cay, Guana Cay, and others. These islands are made up of 4th and 5th generation Loyalists from the Revolutionary War, their family names prominent on boat businesses, ferry companies, and grocery stores. I just experienced my 11th trip to this hidden paradise, so I thought I would reminisce on travel stories from the past!
Because Abaco is small and unadvertised, many commercial airlines do not fly there. The smaller airlines that do only fly out of Florida, so our trips begin there. Once in Florida, we connect on a no-name airline as paying passengers. While these trips may seem boring from the lack of Non-Rev stress, some of my best stories come from these 6-60 seater aircrafts. Stay tuned if you are interested!
Yes. You read the above statement correctly. The airplanes that fly to Abaco range from only 6 seats to about 60 at the maximum. Talk about a tiny plane! One of my earliest trips to Abaco was on a 6 seater, and I vividly remember walking up to the plane and sitting down facing the back of the plane with my mom sitting directly across from me facing the proper way. That was a fun flight!
Back in the olden days (early 2000s), Abaco’s airport on the island of Marsh Harbor was the size of a studio apartment in New York City. Ok, that may be an exaggeration, but it was a little house looking structure, with one room where you walk in to find the gate agent. They had three gate agent stands, but no designated gates for any flights, no air conditioning, and one snack bar with flies zipping all around. If you arrived to the airport early, you had to wait outside on the benches, for that was the only seating area available. This may not sound bad at all, however the Bahamas gets pretty hot and muggy, and when you have food poisoning, it feels like you’re in hell.
When I was 13, I got food poisoning the morning we left Abaco. Food poisoning in it of itself is awful, but add a 30 minute ferry ride, a 15 minute cab ride on unpaved roads, and a 4 hour delay at a tiny airport with no AC, and you have a slumped over 13 year-old Kelly with a bag of melted ice held to her forehead. The worst part was, I never threw up until we landed back in Florida. At that point it had been 9 hours of a nausea and pain and I couldn’t take it anymore- I upchucked all over my seat as I stood up to leave. I felt immediately better! However I felt bad for the cleaning crew that day…
One of the most popular airlines to fly on to Abaco is Bahamas Air. It’s notorious for late departures and top-notch straight outta flight school pilots. Sounds great right? One year, our flight was delayed 2 hours because of a patch of thunderstorms settling over Florida. After the storms cleared up a little bit, we were cleared to depart from Marsh Harbor, so we were all thrilled. We got on the little 45 seater and took off to 10,000 feet. Everything was all fine and dandy until the flight attendant’s voice came over the loud speaker and boasts, “Well folks, you are so lucky they cleared us to fly! On our last flight, we almost died. Literally. Our plane got struck by lightning I think. It was CRAZYYY”. All of a sudden everyone’s pretzels fell out of their mouths and hands clung to the armrests of their seats. The rest of that 45 minute flight was full of so much tension that you could hear a pin drop, even with the loud hum of the engines. Can you imagine sitting on an airplane with no way out and the flight attendant telling you that the last time this plane was in the air it almost crashed? How comforting is that!?
A couple times my parents decided to fly into Nassau and connect from there to the out islands of the Bahamas. These connections sometimes meant staying a night at Atlantis, which my siblings and I loved as kids.
Atlantis is one of those places where one night is enough- all you can do there can be done in one day. We don’t even really consider it “the Bahamas” because the island is flooded with tourists and cruises. The Abaco Islands form a little oval with each other, one side made up of the main island, Marsh Harbor, and the other side is a chain of smaller islands (like I mentioned before). On the outside is the open ocean, but on the inside is The Sea of Abaco, where most of our boating adventures take us. The Sea of Abaco is too shallow for cruises to go through, so none of the islands have been contaminated with that many tourists. Woohoo!
One time on the way home from Abaco, we had to connect through Nassau. Because it’s a bigger airport and a more popular destination, there are more opportunities to people watch. At this time, back in 2008, my family and I were obsessed with Adult Alternative artist India Arie and her song “video”. When we connected through Nassau back to Atlanta, she and her band happened to be on our flight, sitting in the row across from me! When we deplaned I stood up with my mom and told her how much I loved her music. Her guitarist was with her as well, and gave me one of his lucky guitar picks with his name engraved on it. This was definitely a moment I will never forget.
My parents always enforced a strict sunscreen policy on our trips. Because we stayed for 7-10 days at a time and spent all day everyday in the sun, we had to re-apply constantly. I started going to Abaco when I was 6, so imagine the stress my parents endured of maintaining our sunscreen supply. One of the best inventions was the Rashguard, a sun-shirt that you can wear underwater and dries quickly, but also acts as a protectant from the sun (and sunscreen).
About halfway through our 2nd trip to the Bahamas, my sister (who was about 13 at the time), was on the beach with her friend all day. My mom had come outside and asked Lauren if she had sunscreen on and replied, “No!”. Two minutes later my mom came out, handing Lauren her Rashguard and walked back in the house to hang out with the other adults.
5 HOURS LATER
EXT. GREEN TURTLE CAY, GILLIAM BAY BEACH
Lauren, do you have sunscreen on?
I see you aren’t wearing your Rashguard.
INT. VACATION HOUSE, BEDTIME
CU on Lauren as she lays in bed crying because her back hurts so much. We see that her skin is as red as a tomato and has now bubbled over.
It hurts, Mom! I can’t sleep!!
Mom walks to shower and proceeds to soak three towels, then lays them on Lauren’s bed for her to sleep on.
What does this story have to do with airplanes? Well you know how when you get sunburned, a couple days later your skin starts to peel? Well imagine getting the worst sunburn of your life, so bad that you have bubbles all over your skin, and then about three days later your entire body begins to peel. The timing is perfectly aligned with your flight home away from paradise. And you are sitting next to your little sister, (me), and once we stand up to leave the plane, she sees your skin all over the seat and yells, “EWWWW LAUREN YOUR DEAD SKIN IS ALL OVER THE SEAT”, loud enough for all to hear.
This was yet another time I felt bad for the cleaning crew.
Lessons learned from all of these flights? Just because you are traveling to paradise, does not mean your travel time will be paradise as well.
En route to my 11th trip to Abaco, I got to sit next to my boyfriend. Thankfully, nothing crazy happened on this flight. This trip was the exception to my statement above: sometimes, traveling to paradise can be paradise, especially when you get to experience the islands all over again through fresh eyes.
We won’t be back in Abaco for a couple of years, but I will never forget that view from 10,000 feet in the sky looking down on turquoise waters and lush green islands.
It’s Better in the Bahamas,
The Fly Girl