Wednesday, June 1, 2011


I've tried to include some pictures dispersed throughout the blog as I talk about the trip, but there were so many great pictures taken that I wanted to post some of the ones that didn't fit in the play-by-play. So here's a few moments captured on film from our trip. Enjoy!

This is the hang-out area of the lodge (note the pretty batik fabric)
The classroom where we had lectures

The lodge heading into the dining area

Uncle Charlie's Blue Hole
Before our 7am flight leaving Ft. Lauderdale to Andros
After we landed back in Atlanta after the trip (note the color change and I think Staci is in exactly the same pose!)


I've been back home now for three days, and I wanted to wrap up this blog with some reflections on my trip. Going to the Bahamas to study abroad was an awesome opportunity, and I am very grateful for the experience. I remember looking forward to the trip and being lost in the preparations, and feeling some trepidation about leaving my family and going to a foreign country with a group of people that I didn't know. I have to say that the group that went to Andros together this time bonded quickly, and I hope that we will all keep in touch now that we are back. Several of us went to lunch together yesterday after a study session at LeNoir, and we had a great time. I am very grateful for the new group of friends that I made while we were in the Bahamas.

While the goal of the trip was to study the ecology of the island, I received some insight into the culture as well. Learning about the ecology involves gaining an understanding of the culture of the people, because you interact with the locals at just about every place you go on the island. Our lectures every evening involved history of the island, local folklore, information about the economy, and interaction with the people of Andros. I had the opportunity to speak with many of the Bahamian people employed by Forfar field station, and I learned a lot about what it is like to live there.

Terpy is a Bahamian lady that runs a little snack and souvenir shop in the lodge every evening. She sells jewelry, snacks and sodas in her shop and she also will braid your hair. I let her braid my hair because it was so hot, and it kept my hair out of my face while we were on the boat. While she was doing my hair, she told me about herself, and about what it is like to live on Andros. She said that the price of gas is almost $7 a gallon, and that because of the difficulty of importing supplies, the cost of groceries and basic supplies are very high. One might assume that a small country like the Bahamas might have a lower cost of living, but that is not the case here. There is a lot of tourism on the other islands that inflates the prices, but the most influential factor on prices on Andros is its inaccessibility. The waters around Andros are very shallow, and bringing supplies is a very arduous task. Supplies must be shipped by barge, and that can be costly. Terpy supports herself and her son by making jewelry, braiding hair, and selling snacks to the students that come to Forfar every week. She told me about how she went to a neighbor's house to pick up pebbles to use for her jewelry, and she brought some sappadilla fruit to give to the neighbor's chickens. After they finished eating the fruit, the chickens kept pecking at the pebbles in her bucket looking for more fruit. I thought that was a funny story!

The people in Red Bays support themselves by making souvenirs and selling them. When we visited, I saw the most beautiful baskets, jewelry, wood carvings, and other souvenirs. They don't have shops, they just bring tables out in front of their house to display their wares. Some people even spread their goods out on their cars! Mrs. Marshall has a lot of her family that live around her on her land, and they all work together making baskets and hats and other items to sell. She also keeps hogs and land crabs to both consume and sell to support her family since she is no longer allowed to practice her bush medicine and midwifery. Early on, she planted an abundance of fruit trees on her land to provide food for them to eat and also to sell. Mrs. Marshall's family reaps the benefits of her foresight, and in turn take care of her in her advanced age.

Because of Andros' isolation and inaccessibility, the people that inhabit the island have had to adapt their way of living and culture to provide for themselves and their family. Most of the people live in homes that we would consider primitive. They do not have a way to borrow money to build homes, so they save up enough to build one section of a house -- such as the foundation -- and then stop construction until they can afford the next phase. Construction is very slow on Andros, but I imagine that debt is almost nonexistent.

While I learned a lot about the ecology of Andros and its wildlife and vegetation, I think I learned just as much about the people and culture of the island as well. Being immersed in the culture of Andros was very educational and fun, and I brought home with me a new understanding of this place and its people that I didn't have previously. Learning ecology in a classroom is great, but getting out of town and having such hands-on learning is so much better. I could learn about the plants and animals and fishes of Andros in a book, but being able to walk outside and study by looking at the trees growing natively around me makes it almost unforgettable. If you're considering taking a study abroad trip at Columbus State University, do it! It is a life-changing experience, and you will never forget it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Going Home

We got up at 4:00am. Why? Because apparently the power went off, which means our fan went off, and we all got hot. This was after last evening's Archie Story creeped everyone out. We were supposed to be in the taxi by 5:30, and I was thinking if we got up at 5, we'd be OK. But apparently Archie had other ideas.

We flew out at about 7am, and we got through customs and into the Ft. Lauderdale airport by 10am. Our plane to Atlanta did not leave until 5:45pm. So we had some time to kill before boarding for sure. I saw a couple of interesting sights while waiting.
I'm not going in there...
This is the arrival/departure screen at Ft Lauderdale. I'm worried.
So I picked up a book in the bookstore and read it while waiting for the plane. When it was finally time to board, I was really itching to get home. Kinda literally itching, there were tons of mosquitos that had a bite of me during the week. So after a two-hour flight to Atlanta, an hour and a half on the bus, I was greeted in front of LeNoir Hall by my hubby and my six lovely children. I'm so happy to be home, and I had a great time in Andros. This trip was really educational, I learned a lot about the ecology of Andros, and also about the people and culture of Andros as well.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 7

Today is our last day, we are going home tomorrow! We went out to Coconut Grove to complete our final project for this trip. We aimed to determine the population differences between inside the reef and outside the reef of several species of fish. My assignment was to count grunts, I saw two. The water was really nasty, it had lots of seaweed and debris. There was a lot of dogtooth limestone going in, so it was a bit of a pain. Austin, our Forfar guide for the day, showed us three different species of nerites that occupy the dogtooth limestone on the shores of Coconut Grove.

Then we went into Nichol's Town for lunch. A game of ultimate frisbee got started, so we stayed at the beach at Nichol's Town for a bit. I walked over to the local watering hole to get a soda, and it was the best grape Fanta I've ever had! A couple of local ladies ran the store, and they had a cat running around in there. I doubt our local health department would smile on that, but they (and the cat) seemed just fine with it.

Afterwards, we went to the grapefruit farm that the Mennonites run. I took a little nap in the van while everyone picked grapefruits. We went over to the bake sale that the Mennonites have every Friday, and I bought some cookies. They had honey, and lots of different sweets and breads. Everyone was really tired, so we headed back to the station to start packing and getting ready to go home.

We ate dinner and had a wrap-up lecture afterwards. Then we all went out to the campfire and Molly told us the Archie Story. Apparently Archie Forfar was a diver who built the field station initially as a diving resort, and then added on the field station. Archie may or may not have died in a diving incident, and Molly scared us all with several reported sightings of Archie's ghost. We all dispersed and went to bed expecting a visit from Archie, it made falling asleep a bit of a difficult task. We leave wicked early in the morning!

**It appears that I left my camera in the room when we went out, so I posted a picture I took of the local yummy soda that I bought from Terpy's Treats this evening**

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day 6

Brittle star
Spiny sea urchin
Furry sea cucumbers
We jumped in the van and went out to Money Point in time to catch it at low tide. When we got there, we walked out on the point and started turning rocks over in order to find any invertebrates that were trapped at low tide. Right away, we found several spiny sea urchins. I also found a brittle star and a banded star. Then I flipped over a rock and found two furry sea cucumbers. We were all hoping to find an octopus, but no such luck. We also did a beach clean up at Money Point. We are going to compare the kinds of trash we found from the clean up we did earlier in the week.
All the stuff we found
Garbage at Money Point
Morgan's Bluff
     After lunch, we went to Morgan's Bluff. The story is that Captain Morgan, a pirate/privateer, would take a goat up to the bluff, tie a lantern around its neck, and have it walk in a circle to mimic a lighthouse. Ships would then believe the passage was safe and crash on the reef. Morgan would loot the wrecked ships and hide his booty in a nearby cave, which we also visited.

Morgan's Cave
Uncle Charlie's Blue Hole
After visiting the cave, we went swimming in Uncle Charlie's Blue Hole. It is said that Charlie arrived from the airport, went straight to the blue hole to dive, and was never seen again. After a few days, they found him in an adjoining cave, and his family wanted to leave him there because they believed that's what he'd want. I enjoyed swimming in his blue hole. It's important to note that you do not want a blue hole named after you in the Bahamas. This island has so many stories and legends, it is really cool hearing all the local wives tales.

We didn't have lecture tonight, and we went out to eat at Hank's Place. It was good food and we all had a blast.
Sign at Hank's Place
More Hank's signs

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 5

Our schedule board in the dining room
Today was a no-swim day so we could dry out a bit. But after we got back, I jumped in with my snorkel anyway.
Atala butterfly

Racer snake at Atala Coppice
We went to Atala Coppice and saw the Atala butterfly. We also saw many of the same plants we saw at Maidenhair Coppice. Our guide spotted a racer snake and picked it up. When he handed it to me, it pooped all over, and it smelled so incredibly bad! We identified many of the plants we are supposed to learn, and then we hopped in the van and headed toward Red Bays. On the way, we stopped at a savanna/swash area and dodged the poisonwood to go check out saw grass and mud. Can you tell I like boat trips better than road trips?

Basket weaving at Red Bays
Mrs. Marshall
At Red Bays, we met several families that do carvings in mahogany wood, make baskets, sell sponges and other souvenirs. I bought three baskets (one for my mom, one for my grandma, and one for me!) and a carved bonefish for my dad. I need to buy a few more souvenirs for my kids, and I think I'll have everyone covered. We met Mrs. Marshall, a 96 year-old woman who was the bush doctor and midwife for the island of Andros until recently. When the new government took over, they told her she could no longer provide medical care on the island. She was not happy about that at all. She showed us all of the awards that she has been given for her service to the island and its people, and she was very proud of those. She also told us some stories about when she was younger and skipped school to go skinny-dipping in the ocean. She told us that she had 14 children! It was really exciting meeting Mrs. Marshall, she has been a pivotal citizen of Andros, and I hope that the government realizes what a treasure she is and allows her the freedom to practice her craft and to pass it down to younger generations as well.

When we got back to the station, I grabbed my snorkel and went out into the water. I forgot my camera, and I was really sorry. I saw a barracuda, some damselfish, and a grunt. After dinner, we had a lecture on invertebrates. We go to Money Point tomorrow to look for inverts at low tide.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day 4

Sea star at Saddleback

Today was another day on the boat. We went out to Saddleback Cay to look for sand dollars on the sand bar at low tide. I found several sand dollars, and a conch and a sea star. I'm bringing the sand dollars home, but I let the conch and sea star stay in their homes.

We took the boat out to North Pass -- or Turtle Reef as the Forfar staff calls it -- to snorkel a bit. It never gets old seeing the reef and all the fish and other creatures that live there. After a short snorkel, we went back to Saddleback Cay for lunch and our hermit crab project. We were trying to determine whether the crabs had a food preference, or if they just ate whatever we put in front of them. There were four groups, and our crab just wanted to be free. I think he did finally humor us and munch on some bread. I decided to just have a few crackers so that I wouldn't get sick snorkeling again.

Giant hermit crab
French angelfish
After lunch, we went to the oceanic blue hole at Rat Cay, and I think this was the best snorkel of the whole trip. We saw a giant hermit crab and a trigger fish. There was also a huge barracuda and a tiger grouper under a ledge of the blue hole. I got some up-close attention from a pair of french angelfish, and I snapped a picture of a donkey dung sea slug. Yeah, ew. Dr. Ballenger says this critter can upchuck his innards when threatened and then regenerate them. Poor thing, he already looks like a giant sea poo, he doesn't have much going for him. The blue hole is really cool, lots of fish hang out in there. The reef is alive with every coral that grows in the Bahamas.
Ew. Donkey dung.
Coral at Rat Cay
The next stop was the Three Sisters Patch Reef, but I sat this one out since the waves had once again given me that not so easy stomach. I didn't hurl today, though. And of course, they saw a nurse shark. The funniest thing happened at Three Sisters. Bill and John are snorkel buddies, which means they stay pretty close together and watch out for one another. Bill had already gotten in the water because someone had seen the shark, and he was eager to see it. John was still putting on his gear, and Bill was trying to wait for him patiently. John jumped up on the bow of the boat to hurry and get in the water, shouting, "Wait for me, buddy!" But his flipper got hung in the anchor rope, and he went flying face-first into the water. I think Bill almost drowned laughing. And John survived unscathed. We came back to the station tired, but excited about all the great things we had seen. We finished the second half of the mangrove project, and are still crunching data on that one.

We had some yummy barbecue ribs for dinner, and then we had a geology lecture. I am nice and sunburned and tired out of my  mind, so I'm heading to bed.