The Exuma Files is led by our Head of Expeditions Abbi, she recounts what it was like to take our second group of #ratracers on this incredible trip in May 2023.
As you fly to George Town to Nassau you get the first glimpse of the Exuma archipelago, the perfect clear turquoise water, the desert islands, the white sandy beaches and the sunshine. Then the acknowledgement of the distance starts to kick in, the length of the archipelago is vast.
250km is a long way, but this is a distance that will be carved in the memory for those who complete it for the rest of their lives. Our Rat Racers had been lapping up the Bahamian vibes before meeting the team for day one of the adventure. After briefings on the sun deck, a whole lot of kit faff and some kayak refreshers the team were ready to take on the adventure of a lifetime.
The route starts at Williams Town at the toe of the Exuma Archipelago, unlike the sunny weather we all dreamt of we woke up to grey clouds and rainstorms looming over head. The team were ready and raring to get started, David and Stuart prepping to run the full route, some of the group prepped for a mixture of running and walking. The first 15km on foot is mainly on the very quiet roads that wind through the shrub and bracken. The route then veers to the East to run along the Tropic of Cancer beach. A stunning location and a highlight of the foot section.
By the start of the bike stage, the heavens had opened. The rain became progressively heavier throughout the 55km. The humidity deemed waterproofs to be pointless. The first three guys smashed the bike in a very quick time, managing to find a local’s bar in Barretarre. Kirstin and Iain were ticking away the miles, Iain had a few minor mechanical problems before he was able to bed down into the cycling. Cath faced her fears on the bike route to overcome a huge anxiety hurdle and finish the biking route; she did extraordinarily well knowing that this would be the hardest of the challenges throughout her event. Everyone cheered her into the finish of this stage and celebrated her own personal achievement that day.
We prayed to the weather God's to be kinder to us for the start of our kayak stage and they must have been listening! An early start back up to Barretarre to be met by Dallas; owner of Out-Island explorers with our kayaks and kit ready to start the shortest day of paddling on the itinerary, this day is only 25km meaning we were able to have some chill time in the boats. After paddling for a couple of hours we stopped to explore, jumping into the water from the top of a collapsed cave. Extremely refreshing and an exhilarating thing to do before another 15km of paddling. Lingumvitae Cay is the perfect camp spot and a beautiful setting to bed down for the night. It took a couple of hours for the team to set up camp and nestle in for the evening. We cooked a slap-up feast of vegetable pasta on the camping stoves and sat to eat watching the sun go down. An idyllic end to the first day kayaking.
We wake up to the serene sound of waves lapping the shore and the first morning of ‘adventure’ toileting. In Exuma it is encouraged that the sea takes care of all our business. Instead of going to the toilet on land everyone goes to the toilet in the sea. After the initial shock the team started to compare their liberating experiences and the birth of the ‘sea-snakes’!...
Day 2 sees us paddling to Black Point Cay which is 35km away. That is a long slog in a fully laden see kayak but an epic award awaits our #ratracers...at Black Point there is pizza! This 35km section feels different to the other days on the water, as we follow a long cay for the majority. Instead of island hopping, it feels like following a coastline. A highlight was going past Jonny Depps private island. It is a stunning island with hilarious anti-trespassing signs, ‘this is not Disneyland, F@*k off!’. The pre-ordered pizzas were ready for us with a beer when we arrived. We thought we were hungry, but it didn’t even look like we made a dent in the 12 x 16” pizzas! We shoved them back in our kayaks to have as a midnight snack/breakfast. Another 5km to paddle before landing of Guanas Cay; an island where we would spend the night with iguanas. After their initial interest in us, they scurried away to the undergrowth, and we didn’t see much of them for the evening. We had to rapidly put up our tents as we had very little sunlight. Some members of the group found caves in the rocks to assemble their hammocks. The rest of us camped on the beach falling asleep to the rhythmic background noise of the ocean.
Day 3! Today we work up to our catamaran anchored about 300m offshore. An ethereal sight, it was great to know that further support crews had arrived and that we would have yacht support for the rest of the trip. We were able to offload some of our kit onto the catamaran, this was a relief to us, but we are not sure if the sandy stinking kit was welcomed onto the luxury boat! A short 15km paddle to reach Staniel Cay. Staniel Cay is the centrally located hub of the archipelago. The air strip and yacht club are popular with tourists as it is close to the famous swimming pigs and Thunderball grotto. We popped in for some well-deserved brunch and to watch the nurse sharks in the bay. Kayaking to the swimming pigs is a delight, other tourists arrive by motor boat. The pigs seemed to be intrigued with our mode of transport and came straight up to the boats. Soon they lost interest when they realised, we didn’t have any food for them. We landed on the beach to go and swim with them; the biggest pigs are massive! Quite intimidating when they are nudging you for snacks. We turned back to our kayaks to see some of the pigs scoffing down our kayak sponges! Probably not the best pig food.
A beautiful afternoon of island hopping before landing at O’Brians Cay. A stunning secluded bay with an idyllic camping spot. After setting up our camp we were picked up by the catamaran crew to head onto the yacht for G&T’s and a BBQ. A beautiful way to watch the sunset and to get away from the beachside sandflies.
Day 4 and 35km to tick off today. This always seems like a daunting day as it has been nicknamed ‘the crossing’. Although there are multiple crossings within the trip this is where there is a substantial gap between the islands. Today is the big 3hour crossing. Due to the tides ebbing and flowing we had a slower morning. We need to reach the Land and Sea Park HQ at 1pm only 10km away, here we would check in and take on the crossing. A leisurely breakfast and a snorkel at the coral reef and we were off for the penultimate day of the trip. Timed to perfection, the crossing went by smoothly, some currents and rips to navigate but we kept together as a team. We must have looked like ducklings following the line of the kayak guide in front. Halfway across we high fived the catamaran who supported us throughout the crossing. It was a relief to reach Hawksbill camp. Welcomed by the white sand and beers from the boat crew. A blissful end to a long day.
Our last day, only 21km to go before reaching our destination at Normans Cay. The fabled oxymoron: wanting the event to end but never wanting these days in paradise to finish. Today we had lots of ‘rest’ stops on sandbars and deserted island giving us all some time to reflect on the event. It is not like any other. It is hard but it is paradise.
Reaching Normans Cay is a highlight. Being passed a congratulatory rum punch and hugging the team is a joy. Snorkelling around Pablo Escobar’s sunken plane is the ultimate finish line experience and having a catamaran to drink cocktails on is a luxury. The perfect end to a brilliant adventure.
The only thing now left to do is relax and soak up the Caribbean vibes.
If you want to join us on this incredible journey entries are now open for May 2024 and 2026. All our adventures can be paid for using our interest free monthly payment plan, allowing you to split the cost of your bucket list trip.
Days: 8 days/7 nights
Total distance: 250km
Cost pp: $5950 USD
Includes: Accommodation, food, airport transfers, private catamaran support boat, kayak guides, all kayaking equipment