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Murky Waters

(by paula)

Our last real vacation was last November. In the Out Islands of the Bahamas. It was remote. I mean, really remote. Most of the younger inhabitants of the two islands we visited have left for Nassau in search of work, and the old people are all dying off so the "settlements" are disappearing. The homes are being taken over by the vegetation. Bushes, palm fronds and wild flowers grow now within their walls instead of children. The island is taking back its terrain.

The first island we stayed on was Andros. We met people there who had traveled all over the world to different dive spots and been down to over 150 feet under the sea, through caves, and with sharks. Scary stuff to me. When we told a few of the guests (including a 40-year career United Airlines pilot) what we were planning - to drive ourselves to South America, on our own, through yes…Mexico, they issued warnings and caution. Asked what kind of weapons were we bringing and rattled on about the terrible harm we would likely encounter. But none had actually spent much time in Central or South America. Unlike us, none have ever driven down there. And certainly none had been assaulted or mugged, nor did any even know someone who had been a victim of violent crime.

After Andros we went to Cat Island, and stayed in a beach house built literally in the middle of a huge mangrove. Almost 360 degrees of water - tidal mangrove marshes on three sides and the ocean on the other. Swampy is really the only way to describe it.

One day we decided to kayak from the house. The day had no wind, and it looked pretty buggy off the deck, so I expected the marsh to be murky, smelly, and full of flesh-eating mosquitoes, biting no-seums and…just muck. I really wanted to kayak but the thought of that icky water and thick moist air almost made us choose the hammocks as a better option. But we lathered up in bug spray, sunscreen and braced ourselves for a miserable slog.

We paddled 4 miles along coast, turned at the point and paddled hard to get to the mouth of the marsh.

As soon as we turned the point, what we saw wasn’t swampy, buggy water. It opened up to the most beautiful turquoise clear water I had ever seen. Clear right through, down to the sandy bottom. We saw bonefish swimming around tall healthy mangroves. It was pristine. As I pushed my paddle through the water it occurred to me that I almost didn’t come out because of what I thought the marsh would be like. Without ever having experienced it. And instead it was an afternoon I'll never forget.

Out there in the clear blue water I thought about the "experienced" men we had met on Andros who said our trip South was unsafe. Quite a few people have said that to us over the last year, actually. Mostly Americans who haven't spent any time down there.

I know that resistance, prejudice and fear come from a preconceived perception of reality. Not actual first hand knowledge. Unless you dive in and truly experience life, you'll miss so many beautiful things. Like the color of that water. Or all the amazing adventures on a long slow drive to South America.

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