I had expected to see amazing wildlife in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, and I wasn’t disappointed! The giant rays playing under our boat, turtles, even the tiny hutia, which is the only native mammal to these islands – it was wonderful to see these animals thriving in the protected areas. But I was completely surprised and thrilled at the wildlife encounters on the next few Island south on the Exuma chain.
Staniel Cay is known for its posh Yacht Club, tiny airport, and proximity to the famous swimming pigs.
On a sandy beach, off Big Majors Spot, several families of wild pigs (and more than a few chickens) live a happy, beach bum sort of life. They walk on the beach when it’s cool, lie in the shade of the sea grape trees when it gets hot, and eat and drink like visitors to an all-inclusive resort. The eating is courtesy of boatloads of tourists who zoom in every day on power boats to feed the pigs, take photos, and yes – even swim with the pigs. ‘Cause these pigs have learned that little boats mean big eats, and in their competition to be the biggest porker, they’ve figured out that the pig who swims out to the tour boats gets first dibs on all the scraps.
In another example of how cruisers are different than tourists, we don’t want wild pigs, with their razor sharp hooves, anywhere near our inflatable dinghies. And with our questionable levels of health insurance, we are wary of their snouts and teeth. But that doesn’t mean we skipped the chance to motor in and visit the Staniel Cay pigs – just that we treated them with all due respect. (And we let the tour boats provide the food and the entertainment)
Apparently things are a little bit different on pig beach this year than in past years. Where they used to wander completely wild, now a pig conservation team provides drinking water, a bit of supplemental feed, and presumably some sort of pig veterinary care. In a way, I think that’s an improvement. People tend to love things to death, and last year several pigs were found dead, either from bad food, or from being given alcohol. A little bit of protection is probably warranted.
Good thing they warned us to beware of Big Momma Karma! We also received a tip that if the pigs were getting too close, and we felt threatened, just hold our hands out high and completely empty so that the pigs could tell we had no food, and they’d leave us alone. It works! Mike tried this once with a phone in his hand. Apparently Big Momma Karma can’t tell the difference between a cell phone and a candy bar, because she just kept on coming!
The pig keepers told us that Ollie is the sweet one. So I felt a little more comfortable getting up close and personal with this cutie. And of course, the baby piglets were adorable! But also shy, and not so interested in sticking around for photos.
After our visit to the pigs, we did explore the Island of Staniel Cay. There’s not much to it! But we did make the rounds through the tiny town, stopping in both the pink grocery store and the blue grocery store to see what fresh produce was available. I snagged two tomatoes, a bunch of green onions, and one small hot orange pepper. We cooled off with a well-deserved bushwhacker frozen drink at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, where we experienced another wildlife encounter.
When Sharon, on Z-Raye, said, “Let’s go see the sharks!” I thought that meant, “Let’s go watch the sharks swim around, looking slightly menacing and shark-like.” I had no idea it actually meant, “Let’s go watch dozens of sharks fight over bits of bait fish, throwing themselves out of the water onto a stone step to snap up the treats, and hoping a wave comes in time to wash them back into the ocean before they lose their breath.” Oh, I also didn’t realize it meant we could walk down those stone steps and get close enough to the nurse sharks to look into their little beady eyes, and to pet them. Do you blame me for not envisioning this crazy experience when invited to “see the sharks”?
Two little girls, presumably staying at the posh yacht club, had brought 8 boxes of squid to feed the sharks, and they weren’t scared of these ocean predators at all. It was exciting and nerve wracking to watch how close their cute little fingers and toes got to the pile of sharks. Of course, after we watched for a few minutes, and nobody lost a toe, we decided it was safe and that we wanted to pet those darn sharks ourselves. Although all fingers and toes are still accounted for, I’m not sure this really was completely safe. When I looked into those cold shark eyes, it was pretty clear that they didn’t care whether they ate squid or human toe for dinner, as long as their hunger and greed was satiated.
If you can’t tell, I was very careful not to leave those toes anyplace remotely within their reach.
Drew suggested sundowners on the beach, with the hope of seeing iguanas. It was quite a long dinghy ride to the correct beach, and our group of four buddy boats were the only people there. As soon as we beached the dinghy and Mike said “I hope we get to see some iguanas” they started appearing out of every rock outcropping and streaming down the beach toward us. Do you think people feed them? At one point about a dozen iguana had joined us on the sandy beach in quite a variety of colors and sizes. I didn’t know how cautious to be around these critters; I knelt in the sand to take a photo of one of the little guys, and he scrambled toward me so quickly, I jumped up in alarm.
They make the coolest tracks in the sand, sweeping their feet, with the tail track sliding down the middle
Eventually, I got comfortable enough to turn my back on one of the big daddies for a selfie. A very brief selfie – I wasn’t that comfortable!
Another beautiful sunset!