24 April 2012

The edge of the world: a Blog Off post

Every two weeks, bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic in an event called a Blog Off. This week's topic is "The Edge of the World" and we're being encouraged to write about an event where we pushed past the boundaries of what we knew to be true at the time. Here's my take:

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The Bahamas is known the world over for a geographical feature it shares with just a handful of places around the globe, blue holes. The Bahamas' blue holes are essentially sink holes that lie submerged in salt water. In most of them, fresh water and salt water coexist in an uneasy truce. The salt water sits in a clearly defined and visible layer on top of the fresh water and diving into a blue hole is a really wild experience because you float between the two extremes.

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The photo above shows Dean's Hole near Clarence Town on Long Island, The Bahamas. Dean's Hole is the world's largest submerged blue hole. This aerial shot explains pretty clearly why they're called blue holes. Dean's Hole is 202 meters deep, that's 663 feet. The water surrounding it is at most a meter deep, so that's a pretty profound drop off.

Not too far from Long Island is Cat Island, a nearly deserted paradise I've been running away to for the last five or so years. I've written about it extensively in the past and I have a story to tell that dovetails into this Blog Off Topic perfectly.

This photo shows Fernandez Bay, the beach where I stay when I'm on Cat. The first arrow shows the location of the cottage that welcomes me back every time.


The second arrow points to a salt marsh and the location of an unmarked blue hole referred to as "Boiling Hole" by the locals because when the tide goes out it bubbles and gurgles and when the tide comes back in it forms a whirlpool over its entrance.

Kayaking in a salt marsh can be tricky.


In a kayak, you're sitting right on the water and it's difficult to get any kind of perspective on where you are.

This means that it's difficult to judge distances and it's hard to see underwater features until you're directly over them. Add to that skewed perspective that you're in one of the most hostile environments you can find and not getting lost becomes a huge priority.

Salt marshes are full of dead ends and the advice my friends and I had to work from consisted of "Stick to the deeper channels, watch the tides and look for a wide spot of shallow water." Deeper is a relative term because the water's incredibly shallow everywhere. Keeping an eye on the tides is vital because getting stranded in a receding tide is a recipe for disaster when outside help is non-existent. Monitoring the tides was important too because the only way to spot the blue hole was to watch for bubbling or a whirlpool.

After a few hours of looking for our blue hole, we realized that there were all kinds of wide spots of shallow water.

Here are a couple of shots of my friends and I taking advantage of being lost and putting ashore during that first trip back into the marsh.




Would that Boiling Hole were as readily identifiable as Dean's Hole on Long Island or any of the other blue holes on Cat. But alas, we were looking for the hardest one to find and I always like a good challenge.

After around three hours of paddling and exploring, we were about to call it a day and admit defeat. We couldn't find Boiling Hole and that was that. Everybody was exhausted, hungry and more than anything, thirsty.

I am more persistent than my friends I guess' because I insisted that we explore one more stretch of marsh before we called a day. By this time, there was a slack tide and I knew that if we were going to find that blue hole we were going to have to paddle over it directly. The slack tide too told me that we had to get out of there within an hour or we risked being stranded when the tide finally started to go out.

We were at the edge of the world and I wanted to reach just a bit past it to see what was there.

Within about five minutes we paddled over this:


We'd stumbled over the mouth of Boiling Hole.

Boiling hole drops around 100 meters straight down and the water surrounding it is at most 40 centimeters deep. It was the wildest thing to suddenly not see the bottom of the water after having scraped against it for the previous three hours.

Boiling Hole is connected to a spring and about five feet under the surface, the water turns into the best-tasting spring water you can imagine. Within seconds of our discovery, my party donned masks, snorkels and fins and our trek turned into one of the coolest things I've ever seen underwater.



The blue hole was some kind of an interzone and the salty parts of it were full of reef fish. The freshwater parts were filled with water plants that could never survive in the sea. There were crabs and other invertebrates that had evolved the ability to move between the two zones. I'd never seen an environment like it. That we couldn't see the bottom of it was a bit unnerving and knowing that if we stayed there for much longer we'd be sucked down into it when the tide turned made us hurry our exploration. Slaking my thirst while still underwater was a pretty wild experience too.

My friends and I were miles from other people and hundreds of miles away from modernity. Being back in that salt marsh provided a blissful isolation I've found in few other places. But at the same time, that isolation came at a cost. As fascinating as it was to explore that environment for the first time, it was uncomfortable and exhausting.

However, in the intervening years I've explored that salt marsh countless times and have been back to that blue hole frequently. I don't get lost back there anymore and it's a real thrill to guide people back to a blue hole that feels like it's mine somehow.

And now that I feel comfortable back there I can concentrate of paying attention to the lemon sharks, the green sea turtles and the mangrove jellies that call that marsh home. What's hostile to me as a Homo sapiens is welcoming to may other forms of life and it's a real treat to see the world from their perspective from time to time.

I pushed past the edge of the world that day and I'm a better man for it. Because of that experience, I can relate to other people's frustrations and fears better, I can understand my need to know everything better, and I can see how different organisms co-exist in an environment that completely foreign to my own species. Frankly, that's why I explore.

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As the day goes on, a table will appear here like magic. It will list all of the participating bloggers in today's event. Click on the links to see how other people approached this topic.





17 comments:

  1. This is my wife's idea of a perfect get away.

    Come hell or high water I will take her to a place like this some day!

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  2. Do it! It's easy to get to The Bahamas from the US and it's truly a world away.

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  3. What a well written post! You are an excellent writer!

    Your first marsh trip sounds magical, really. In our modern, hypersafe world, it is such a relief and a pleasure to find wild places like the marsh you describe. Ka'ena point on O'ahu was like that for me, and I cannot wait to go back.

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  4. Amazing story and equally well written! Sounds like a blast! I've never heard of blue holes before. What a wild concept. I'd never considered the possibility of fresh water and salt water being next to each other without mixing.

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  5. As a coastal person, I can vouch that salt and fresh water refuse to intermingle all the time. It's always interesting to see but it gets no better than in a blue hole.

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  6. Fabulous post. Love the photos, too! I'm living vicariously through your many adventures. I'm looking forward to some day kayaking through those marshes and visiting that blue hole (so amazing).

    --Paul, so sorry for the double posting. Google+ problems :( So please feel free to delete the other post.

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  7. Done and thanks Carmen. It's amazing that the Bahamas is so close to us but is further removed than most people can imagine. What an incredible country. Go! From where you are you can sail there in a day. If you need pointers on where to go and stay just ask!

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  8. Wow! What an adventure and you have described it brilliantly. Amazing photos, too.

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  9. Thanks Pat! It was a peak experience and as soon as @dogwalkblog proposed this topic I knew I had to write about it.

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  10. What amazing photos...This brought back so many wonderful memories of the islands. Thanks for another Amazing Blog Post! You are such an amazing writer :)

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  11. Thank you, The Bahamas is a magical place.

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  12. Wow, I was already craving summer, but moreso now that I've seen all those pictures of the gorgeous sunshine.

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  13. I see the sun every day and that place STILL gets me going. I can imagine that it must happen doubly for you.

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  14. Your experience personally gives me insight to the quest of European explorers and how they must have felt when they set sail to discover the New World. Thanks for sharing it Paul.
    -Brenda-
    P.S: Hopefully that doesn't sound odd. :)

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  15. Brenda,

    That doesn't sound odd in the least. And thanks, that's a high compliment indeed.

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  16. You are more than welcome Paul as it was intended to be one.
    -Brenda-

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