When Pigs Swim
A vacation within a vacation leads to a remarkable, gluttonous experience.
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas weekend. The Dalys certainly did, even in arctic Colorado temperatures that dropped to -19 degrees one night (brrr). But the topic for this week’s newsletter involves a much different climate. I hope you enjoy it.
My wife does a fair amount of work travel, often to some pretty cool places. From time to time, when she’s preparing for a trip, we’ll throw around the idea of her staying for two or three days extra days, and me flying out to join her for a quick vacation. It’s always tempting, because her airfare is already paid for, and every once in a while, we’ll even pull the trigger on it.
A trip she took to Miami, the week before last, was one such time. It was her first time to the Magic City, and I’d only ever been there long enough to leave and re-enter a Caribbean-cruise port over 20 years ago, so we knew it was going to be a new experience. But other than enjoying some warm weather in December, we didn’t have much of an idea of what we wanted to do while there. So, we did what many people do in such situations: Googled “things to do in (enter city name here)”.
We were given some good ideas — stuff that you’d probably guess: air-boating in the Everglades, fishing, beaches, seafood, parks, museums, shopping, etc. But the one suggestion that included imagery that dropped both our jaws was “Swimming pigs.”
I mention the imagery, because the phrase alone isn’t a lot to get excited about. While I didn’t realize pigs could swim (nor had I ever even thought about the topic), the mere notion of going somewhere to watch Babe kick around in a tank or pool wouldn’t have struck me as a particularly stimulating experience. But as you can see from the header photo above, we weren’t talking about a little pink oinker in a water enclosure. We were looking at something more… significant, both in size and scope.
The premise felt almost as exotic as the old Muppet Show skit, “Pigs in Space.”
“We need to check this out,” said my wife.
I was in complete agreement. There was just one problem that we soon recognized: the swimming pigs, and our newly realized dream of swimming among them in the crystal clear Atlantic along a tropical beach, weren’t in Miami. They were in the Bahamas.
You can imagine our disappointment.
But as we continued to plan our trip, my wife decided she wasn’t going to take no for an answer. With just a week left before she left, and couple before I’d be meeting her, she was going to find a way for us to swim with those pigs. She got back on Google, and after an hour or so, she believed she’d found the answer: a one-day “bucket list” tour the began at a small Fort Lauderdale airport.
We’d join a small tour group there on an almost two-hour plane-ride to Staniel Cay, a tiny island in the Bahamas. From there, we’d go to a marina and hop aboard a boat for seven excursions along some even smaller, surrounding islands. One of the stops: Pig Beach. We’d fly back to the mainland around sunset.
I had my doubts things would pan out. With the date of our trip quickly approaching, and the holiday season underway, I figured there’d be no Saturday-availability on the tour (the only day that would have worked out for us). But I was wrong. Our request to the tour company was quickly granted, we gave them our passport and credit card information, and we had things booked!
Our next stop was Amazon, to buy a GoPro for some water shots.
The Friday afternoon before last, I flew into Miami International, cabbed over to our hotel, got cleaned up, and my wife and I went out to dinner with some friends (more on that later). Early the next morning, we Ubered to the airport and piled on this bad boy:
“Piled on” is an exaggeration, being that each of us had only a small backpack, and that there were only two other folks on the twelve-seat plane: the pilot and an adventurous-looking, long-haired older gentleman who we’d be dropping off at a short airstrip on Andros Island when we went through Bahamas Immigration and Customs. My wife and I were the only tour members on board, so we figured we’d be meeting the others on Staniel Cay.
Before long, we were off.
I’d never flown on such a small plane, and was surprised by how smooth the flight was. After a little over an hour of mostly cloudy skies, we landed on Andros, took care of business, and were quickly back in the air. Soon, the sky was clear and the ocean below was blue-emerald. We landed on Staniel Cay, which was warm (in the mid-70s) and absolutely beautiful.
It wasn’t until we were carted over to the marina, and stepping onto a power-boat, that we learned that the rest of our tour group had cancelled (we assumed they were all from one party). For the rest of the day, our only travel companions would be the boat’s driver and guide. A private tour at the cost of a public one? We had no complaints.
From there we sped over to the breathtaking Thunderball Grotto (named after the 1965 James Bond film whose underwater scenes were filmed there) for some wading and snorkeling. It’s a beautiful ocean cave with lots of sea-life, and sunlight pouring in through holes in the rock dome above. Next came a very picturesque sandbar, where we found an amazing shell that we ended up bringing home with us. Then, we enjoyed an animal-interactive opener: swimming with nurse sharks at Compass Cay, which was pretty amazing in its own right, though not nearly as scary as it sounds (nurse sharks have very small teeth, and these ones were awfully friendly).
Next came the moment we’d both been waiting for. As our boat sped toward Pig Beach, we saw movement in the distance along the beach. When we drew closer and slowed down, a welcome wagon was suddenly deployed.
It was such an amazing sight, watching them swim (surprisingly gracefully) toward us. I’ve since shown the above video to a number of friends without first telling them what to expect, and their reactions (upon recognition of such implausible sea-life) have been a hoot.
My wife and I quickly slid into the ocean to join the swine as our guide kept them close to the boat with chunks of bread.
There were several dozen more on shore, which we soon met up with. The island’s smaller pigs stay closer to the beach, and the very young ones smartly don’t come into the water. And some of the piglets, when they’re not busy with other things, are pretty friendly to visitors.
Things got a bit chaotic a little later as other tour groups started pulling up to the beach, but there were plenty of snouts, swimming, snorting, and squealing for everyone to enjoy.
And being that my wife and I were the only members of our particular group, there was no pressure to hurry on to the next excursion. We stayed on Pig Beach for quite some time, hanging out with the porky locals and enjoying the ambiance.
Tourism companies like to cast the pigs’ origins as a bit of a mystery. These animals aren’t native to the Bahamas, so there’s some fun (albeit disingenuous) speculation that their ancestors may have been left on the island by sailors who never returned, or that they swam over from a sinking ship. But the real story is that farmers on Staniel Cay, years ago, brought the pigs over to Big Major Cay, apparently because of their rank stench.
Yes, they were stinky exiles… though — to be honest — my wife and I never noticed much of a smell (though there were certainly several “floaters” along the beach). But don’t feel too sorry for this vanquished crowd. Today’s generation of Bahama-pigs has it made. They’re surrounded by beautiful weather, land, and water, and they’re definitely fed well (especially by carrot-brandishing tourists).
We hated to leave our new curly-tailed friends, but we eventually did, and finished the tour… which included a nice lunch at the Staniel Cay Yaught Club, snorkeling at a sunken plane wreck, and a visit to Bitter Guana Cay (aka Iguana Beach, for similar reasons as Pig Beach).
The iguanas were certainly cool to watch, though they predictably weren’t as personable as the pigs.
We returned to Staniel Cay a little before four, having had an absolutely amazing day. 20 minutes later, we were back in the air and on our way to Fort Lauderdale. It was a great vacation within a vacation, and we still had a day and a half left to explore the very colorful city of Miami (and Miami Beach).
Oh, and those friends we had dinner with the night I arrived? They were none-other than national journalist Bernard Goldberg and his wonderful wife Nancy.
I’ve written for Bernie’s website for over a decade now, and have done work for him for a number of years. And though we’ve spoken countless times through email, texts, phone calls, and video conferences, this was — believe it or not — the first time we had ever met in person. It was a real treat.
The four of us had a great night of exchanging stories, and talking about today’s political and news culture on an outdoor patio at a nice Italian restaurant.
We couldn’t have asked for a better trip.
Happy New Year, everyone!
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done on vacation? Let me know in an email or in the comment section below.
Regular Features Will Return Next Week
Since Substack is telling me that I’m pretty close to the maximum email length (all those pictures), I’m skipping “Random Thought”, “Obligatory Dog Shot”, and “Featured Vinyl” this week. They’ll return next week.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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