Saturday, March 22, 2008

Day Five

Today we woke up to rainy weather! A big shame because we were planning to go snorkling, but the water is hard to in when it's rainy and overcast. We hope it clears up tomorrow so we can go one last time before we leave!

In the morning, however Austin and I went snorkeling on our beach where the water is shallow with Chelsea, Jesse's girlfriend, as a guide. Our mission was to find echinoderms for Austin. Once Chelsea pointed out the sea urchins to us, we could suddenly see them everywhere! The most common kind is brown with white needles. We mostly saw these and a few baby Spiny Urchins, which are the blackish kind with very long needles. Austin and Chelsea then found a very uncommon urchin called the Pencil Urchin, which has few, very wide spines. It was an exciting discovery!

In the afternoon Jesse and Chelsea took us on a hike to the highest point on the island where there is the foundation of an old Spanish fort. This was truly "bush whacking." Jesse carried a machete up front, and it was obvious the trail is not traveled often! There were many things to watch out for like vines that trip you and all kinds of needle bushes. The worst enemy was the poison wood trees, which have a distinctive peeling bark, but the young ones are sometimes difficult to identify and often in a convenient place to grab onto. The itching doesn't start for several days after the exposure so we won't know if any of us got it until we are back in Vermont! The other enemy was the rain which was light but made the limestone slippery. The entire island is made up of this stone from the ages of coral reef depositing calcium. Over time the rain has turned the stone into swiss cheese, which is responsible for the giant blue holes as the rutty surface. There are holes everywhere of all sizes, some that look like tiger traps and others that look like a nice place to put your foot in and break your ankle! It was a shot path but needless to say it took a long time to travel! However it was wonderful to see the view when we reached the top of the island. You could see the rest of the bush on the western side of the island, and too bad it was overcast; otherwise we may have seen the ocean on the other side!

The moon is full tonight and we are going to the festival to see live music, eat food, and celebrate with the locals. The Back to the Island Festival is held to celebrate friends and family coming back to their native islands for Easter weekend. It is smaller in comparison to the Homecoming festival in June, so I hear, which is held just for an excuse to go home and celebrate! But we are so lucky to be here this weekend and see this festival, however small!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Day Four

Early this morning, our friend Manny from the other night came over with a box of plants that the natives have special uses for. This was to help Maggie with her Ethnobotany project. He had a lot of useful information for her about the plants, but a little bit more about information about Jesus! (Also very interesting, if not related to botany).

We had plans to go snorkeling at the ocean reef this afternoon, so some of us who wanted practicing snorkeling (everyone except the experience Billie) went out at the end of our own beach where there is a man made jetty. We saw a puffer fish, a sharksucker (very unusual sighting), our first live conch, a live sand dollar, and most exciting, several sting rays! This all on our own beach!

After lunch we went on our real snorkel adventure, with guides Rogi and Jesse. Our first stop was at an oceanic blue hole, which was blowing out a strong, warm current. We saw some beautiful fish, and some brave souls dove into the hole itself. Rogi went looking for some conch for us to take home and eat, and he came upon a very unusual and exceptionally beautiful mollusk, an Atlantic Triton's Trumpet. It was at least a foot long, a pointed spiraling shell with an ornate mouth. Austin got to see his first sea cucumber for his echinoderms project, also found by Rogi. It was a "Donkey Dung" sea cucumber, and you don't need a description of what it looks like! We also got to hold a brilliant red sea star, an excellent subject for Austin's project.

At the bigger reef we saw lots of Elk Horn coral which has become rare in the Bahamas, and is very beautiful. Among the coral there were hundreds and hundreds of species of fish, which we are trying to account for in our reef fish guide. We got to sea some barracuda and a little ways of Jesse spotted a sea turtle.

Rogi collected about 15 conch, most of which he found roped together in clumps. Some one who had been collecting them had forgotton them there. Some of them were already dead, but the ones that were salvageable Rogi took home and conch salad for us. This is fresh conch tomatoes, peppers, onions, and lemon and lime juice. It was delicious! We took it with us to the Adam's Family Restaurant where we ate more native food even more delectable than the night before. The biggest excitement of the meal was "crawfish" (spiney lobster) tails. Betty was very excited for this since she has never had the lobster even though she's been visiting Andros since 1984!

The moon is almost full tonight and the water is glittering into the horizon under it. It will be full for the festival tomorrow night, which hopefully we will have energy to enjoy after our day of more snorkeling!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Day Three

Today we helped clean up the high school grounds by picking up garbage. They don't have much recycling here and there seems to be a problem with littering. We tried to get the high schoolers involved with the clean up and about 10 to 15 of them got gloves on and helped us find the worst litter spots. We had a good time talking to them about what it's like to be in high school on South Andros. There is only one high school and there are about 170 students, grades 7-12. We also got a tour of their garden and greenhouse and were given some vegetables to take home.

Later we went on a tour of the blue holes in the island bush. Our guide was wonderful! She had lots of information to share with us. We learned about the medicinal uses of native plants and visited four blue holes. We saw termite mounds, some wild ducks, beautiful purple orchids, and got to explore a bat cave. At the fourth blue hole we had a lunch of crawfish salad sandwiches, sapadilli fruit, and fresh coconut juice out of young coconuts. Then we swam in the blue hole! The water was incredibly clear and we could see as much as 20 feet deep as though we could touch it with our toes.

After the hike we met up with our hosts who took us to the Straw Market where we bought hats and jewelry made by a native woman. After we were outfitted we went to dinner at Ezrina's where we were almost the only customers. The 3 course meal consisted of conch fritters, conch stew, fried grouper, and more fried conch! It was absolutely delicious and we applauded the chef (Ezrina) when she emerged from the kitchen. We have merrily returned home and are relaxing and preparing for our next day of excitement!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Day Two

Today was an amazing day! We started off with a little snorkling practice around some mangroves in shallow water. We could see baby fish hiding by the safety of the roots and some odd jelly fish that disguised themselves as clumps of seaweed on the sandy bottom.

After lunch we went to the Deep Creek Primary School to meet the children and tell them about what we're studying. The children had brought all of their chairs outside and were waiting for us when we got there. It was very intimidating! Each of us talked to them for a minute or two about our special area of study (Austin: Echinoderms, Maggie: Ethnobotany, Billie: Blue Holes, Johnathan: Coral Reefs, Elizabeth: Mangroves) and they asked us questions. Afterwards we talked to them casually in groups and starting taking some photos. This quickly gave into chaos as everyone wanted their picture taken and to take everyone elses picture! It was such a riot since we had about 5 cameras between us all, and kids were posing in groups all over the place. Soon someone got the idea to take down our addresses and all the kids starting racing to get all over our "autographs," which consisted of our name, address, phone number or email address. We felt like celebrities! We were warmly thanked by the teachers and hugged by half the students! It was unbelievably charming!

Later we had dinner with some friends of the Leopolds. An elder man named Manny came with two of his great grand children (who remembered us from school). He is 86 years old and claims to be the oldest man on the island. He had lots of interesting stories to tell us, but real and mythical.

I want to wrap up this entry because there is a bonfire on the beach happening outside and I don't want to miss it! Tomorrow we hope to have pictures up here!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Day One

Hello Burlington! We have safely arrived on the incredible island of South Andros. We were welcomed by 80 degree weather, bright sun, and many friendly locals. The home of the Leopold's is as serene as paradise!

Most of the day was spent recuperating from the long morning of traveling. We went for our first swim as soon as we arrived (the house is directly on the beach), and later we had our first samplings of native food.We had conch fritters, hog snapper, and peas and rice. Jesse Leopold's friend and partner, Rogey, who has lived on South Andros all his life, joined us for dinner and answered all of our questions about the island.

We are all ecstatic to be here and looking forward to our busy week. We have big plans for tomorrow and need to get our rest.