In every paradise, there is always a catch. In the Garden of Eden, it was a tempting piece of fruit. In my case, it’s sharks, 16 of the hungry critters, to be exact. I’m sitting on a dock on Staniel Cay (pronounced “key”), ready to embark on a weeklong sea kayaking trip in the tropical paradise of the Exumas. The sharks’ dark outlines cruising through the crystal-blue water below give me pause.
“Don’t worry, man,” a local says with a strong Rastafarian accent, sounding more like a reggae song than a reassurance. "These nurse sharks won’t hurt nobody … we go swimming right up to them, man.” Swimming right up to them is not in my game plan, although I do feel better seeing the locals in the water unconcerned about their presence. I’m learning what the Exumas are all about: relax, don’t worry, be happy.
I have joined a sea kayak trip run by Ibis Tours. Bardy Jones, the owner and a friend, is our chief guide and appropriately so. He has been guiding trips in the Exumas since 1988, and nobody knows the Exumas better from a sea kayaking point of view. We will be paddling double Folbots, breakdown kayaks that also can be sailed and are, as I found out, very efficient in the Exumas.
The Exumas are part of the Bahamas, located 220 miles southeast of Miami. This archipelago consists of 365 little cays (one for each day of the year) that form a sinuous chain of sandy islands stretching for 90 miles amid aquamarine waters. Depending on the wind direction, kayakers can paddle on the lee side of the islands to avoid rough water. This far offshore, the ocean, not the land, is the dominant weather factor. Trade winds can blow nonstop, never dying down at night like typical Baja diurnal winds.