Panama Canal Cruise, Part 1: Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

From March 22 to April 6, my husband Dale and I along with both of my sisters and brother-in-law, took a cruise to traverse the Panama Canal. Of course, we stopped in other places along the way. We were on Holland America Line’s ship, the Veendam, one of their smaller ships. Our first stop was at Half Moon Cay, an island in the Bahamas owned by Holland America Line.

The ship didn’t actually dock at the island. Tenders, or shuttles, approached and came alongside the ship, where a ramp was put out for people to get on the boat. These tenders came and went, taking on and dropping off passengers at either end. They pulled up alongside right below our veranda so I could see how quickly they filled up. We were due at the Information Hut on the island at 8:45 a.m. for our walking tour, and I wasn’t sure we’d make it.

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From our stateroom, we could see that this elongated piece of land has an almost continuous stretch of white sand beach along its shore, where the water fades into turquoise with some dark patches where the reefs are. It’s bigger than it looks, but most of the activity takes place along a curved spit of land.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

KODAK Digital Still Camera
The tenders enter this canal and pull up to a small docking area.

By the time Dale, Elmer (my brother-in-law) and I (my sisters were scheduled to go later)  actually arrived at the island, it was 9:05, so we were supposedly late. The woman at the Information Hut at first said the nature walk had already left. I said, “Oh” and wondered what to do. However, then she called out to someone and we were sent across the plaza with another guide who led us to our group, which had not left and we sat down with about 25 other people to wait.

An open truck came along with seating for all of us. We filed on and the truck rumbled along a road to the beginning of the walking tour.

Our guide’s name was Shakeena; I don’t remember the name of her companion, whose main job was to bring up the rear. Shakeena was the one leading the tour. Shakeena and the other employees don’t actually live on this island; they travel 90 minutes by boat one way each day from their home on the island of Eleuthera, and return home again in the evening. So three hours of their day are spent traveling to and from work, a distance of 24 miles each way!20170323_142758

Shakeena first took us up a rocky path to see some ruins of houses from the 17th century that were now either rubble or merely standing walls. These had belonged to European settlers who arrived here often by being shipwrecked! With no means of escape, the settlers learned how to live on this land. They had no natives to teach them because the Indians of that area had already been wiped out by earlier settlers who had tried to use them for slaves and either killed them or brought European diseases which finished them off.

We came back down the rocky path and continued along a sandy path, where Shakeena stopped periodically to show us plants and what they were used for.
The 7-year apple is inedible,

 

KODAK Digital Still Camera
The 7-year apple tree

 

 

but sea grapes, smaller than regular grapes, taste OK but they are fibrous. Shakeena picked a few for us to try if we wanted.

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There is a vine that grows on other trees, called the “love vine” (above right). Girls wrap it around their waists to attract the guy they love.

 

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Tree covered with the “love vine.”

One tree is called “Farting Joe” because it has an edible fruit that looks like a bean pod and if you eat too many of them, you fart!

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The silver buttonwood is used for carving.

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She also showed us a sage bush. You boil the leaves 3 times to cure chicken pox. It only takes three days to cure it completely! She speaks from personal experience, having used it on her own son. The sage that grows in the Midwest, however, will not work for this.

Having forgotten my water bottle, I was grateful and relieved when we stopped at a shack for cold soda or water. We had to wait for a group of kayakers to leave, so we stood around the beach, where I saw some curious objects in the water. They looked like white blooms on the sandy bottom.

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Shakeena told us that these were actually a type of jellyfish – not the stinging kind! They lie bottoms up on the sand. She reached in and took one out to show us.

 

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This is the jellyfish right side up!

 

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When it was returned to the water, the jellyfish flipped over before joining its companions on the sandy bottom.

 

 

Finally the kayakers took off and we sipped our cold drinks and watched them paddle away.

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We also stopped at the Stingray Adventure area where people were snorkeling in a shallow cordoned off area full of these flat, shark-related fish. We watched them gliding along under the water, their long stingers trailing behind, except one – aa female they called “Stumpy” because her tail had been bitten off in a close encounter with a shark! Having lost her means of defense, she was brought to this safe area.

 

 

 

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Snorkelers reach down to try to touch “Stumpy.”

We also saw sea stars and sea cucumbers.

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Our last stop was at a farm, where a variety of crops and flowers are grown, including a local watermelon (smaller and oblong) as well as the type of watermelon we have in the U.S. It being only March, most of the food crops and flowers hadn’t grown much yet. I imagine it would have been more spectacular a sight if we were here in June. Even so, Shakeena and the farm’s proprietor showed us each plot and explained how the crops were grown (no chemicals!) and what they were used for. For example, some of the flowers are shipped abroad.

 

Below, a local watermelon on the left, the American watermelon on the right. Of course, the American watermelon will get much bigger, but the local watermelon is fully grown.

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When we got back to the starting point of the tour, we were told that it was a five-minute walk to either the left, for a barbecue lunch ($20/person) or to the right to return to the ship. We chose to return to the ship, but first I took a few pictures on the beach.

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After snorkeling in the afternoon at a reef offshore, there was time for shopping!

 

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Main plaza and shopping area

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2 thoughts on “Panama Canal Cruise, Part 1: Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

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