by Nancy Bestor
This favorite story is from the archives, five years ago.
I’ve heard it said that life, like fine wine, only improves with age. If my recent trip to the Bahamas to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday is any indication, I’ve got a lot to look forward to. Three women friends and I traveled to the island of Exuma, south of Nassau in the Bahamas. Exuma is about 60 miles long and has 3700 full time residents. The sun shines almost all the time and when you exit an air conditioned plane, your glasses fog up and your shirt sticks to your skin in the steamy tropical air. We were lucky enough to have a two-bedroom condo at the Four Seasons Exuma to call our own for the week (sad to report, this Four Seasons has now closed. It is hopeful that another company will take this resort over soon.) Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom (oh yes, and Keira Knightley too) had recently stayed at the Four Seasons while filming scenes for Pirates of Caribbean 2 and 3. Rumor had it they were still somewhere in the Bahamas, and we were determined to find them if they were anywhere near.
Our group flew from Medford to Fort Lauderdale via Delta Airlines, then latched on to the lifestyles of the rich and famous, traveling by private jet from Florida to Exuma (on a much too short 55 minute flight). Upon arrival in Exuma, we took about two minutes to clear customs after which we met Willie, a 70-year old Exuma native, who would be our driver for the week. No Johnny Depp sightings yet.
Our first few days in Exuma were spent soaking up the sun and relaxing on the beach at Emerald Bay. With powdery white sand beaches, and warm, clear blue waters, it is truly paradise. The 200 room resort was only 16% occupied the first few days of our stay, so the two pools, steam room, hot tubs, work out room and long, lovely beach seemed ours and ours alone. We kayaked in the Bay, snorkeled in the waters, and worked out the kinks of life. We saw many beautiful fish while snorkeling, including a huge stingray, lobsters, an array of colorful fish both large and a lot of beautiful coral and shells. We did not see Johnny Depp (I even looked underwater).
On our third day in paradise we rode into Georgetown, the main “city” on the island, home of about 500 people, several restaurants, one school, and little else. We tried downtown to rent four scooters from a 28-year-old Bahamian named “Bobo”. When we arrived at the rental office, Bobo was not in, but a call to him told us he would arrive within 15 minutes. About an hour later, Bobo arrived with keys to just two scooters and three helmets. Apparently his car had broken down, and he had left the other keys and helmets in his car. We were in no hurry (island life you know), so Bobo said he would return in 45 minutes, and got a ride back to his car, where he could pick up more keys and helmets. An hour and a half later, Bobo returned, with keys and helmets for the four of us. Alas, only three scooters would actually start. Welcome to the Bahamas.
I had never ridden on a scooter or motorcycle before, let alone drove one, but with a short lesson from Bobo, I was ready to roll. We happily took the three scooters and rode about 30 miles south to Little Exuma, the “old part” of the island. Well out of the way, Little Exuma did not get electricity until the early 1980s and the roads and homes were fairly deserted. We continued on and had a great ride to Williamstown, the furthest town south on Little Exuma, and stopped for lunch at a roadside shack, Santanas. Still no Johnny Depp.
Dee is the proprietor of Santanas, which she named after her 19-year old daughter. The octagonal wooden restaurant is right on the ocean, with five bar-stool height benches around the outside of the shack looking right into the kitchen. The specialty of the house is pan-fried conch. Conch (pronounced conk) is readily available everywhere on Exuma, pounded into hamburger patties, deep fried in batter, or cooked Dee’s way, pan fried in light batter and served over mashed potatoes. We thought we had died and gone to heaven. With a few Kalik Gold’s (the Bahamas own fine beer, only 7% alcohol), we were feeling good about ourselves and just about everything else. Since we were still on the hunt for Johnny Depp, we asked Dee if she had seen any signs of him. She pulled out an album, chock full of photos of Johnny and Orlando. Johnny and Orlando at her restaurant. Johnny and Orlando posing with her mother and daughter. Johnny and Orlando getting off their boat at her dock. Johnny and Orlando getting back on their boat at her dock. Apparently several scenes had been shot just seven miles off Little Exuma, and Dee saw the stars many times. Jealously, but with full and happy bellies, we bid a fond farewell to Dee and motored back into town. There is something amazing about flying 45 miles an hour on a scooter on a virtually deserted road in the middle of the Caribbean. It was exhilarating.
A day-cruise on the Emerald Lady, a 63-foot catamaran provided us with another adventurous outing. On a normal day the Emerald Lady holds up to 60 people. But this trip was anything but normal and on our voyage it was just the four of us, and a crew of two. Jim and Antonio took good care of us that day, keeping our glasses filled with rum punch, and showing us the sights on the waters. We snorkeled, jumped off the front of the boat while it was sailing and grabbed on the stairs at the back to get back on, slid off the slide on the back of the boat, and ate another memorable lunch at the Chat and Chill on Stocking Island, another wooden shack restaurant. The specialty here was Conch Salad, with bell peppers, lime, and many more delicious ingredients that I can’t remember (could the rum punch have anything to do with my lack of memory?). Sadly, still no Johnny Depp (this I would remember).
Our last full day on Exuma found us in the pouring rain at The Coco Plum Restaurant and Beach, north of the Four Seasons. By the time we finished our delicious lunch of blackened grouper served over sweet potato fries, the sun was back to shining its tropical shine, and we spent our final afternoon wandering the beach and large but shallow bay looking for sand dollars, shells and Johnny.