Monday, December 30, 2013

Azamara Quest: A Gourmet Experience on a Glass Bottom Boat in the Bahamas

I couldn't believe this was our last day.  I couldn't believe that this time tomorrow, we'd be sitting in Fort Lauderdale Airport.  It had all gone so fast! But why spoil today by thinking about tomorrow? Better to emulate Xingxing and live in the moment. Buddhists spend their whole lives trying to do this, but for dogs, it just comes naturally.
Xingxing smelled land an hour before we dropped anchor off Cococay, an island owned (like Labadee in Haiti) by the cruise ship company.  He didn't want to use his box.  He wanted to go ashore. He could see the beach.  He could smell the dogs.  So he held it.
People don't come to the Bahamas for art, history or culture.  They come for white sand beaches, turquoise seas and snorkeling.  Cococay has these in abundance, plus a cute marketplace where you can buy the sorts of things you'd expect to buy in the Bahamas. So it sort of makes sense for the cruise company to have its own island.  (The next island over belongs to Norwegian Lines) Since I didn't think Xingxing would be much chop at snorkeling, we'd opted for a tour in a glass bottom boat. But first, he watered half a dozen palm trees and left an offering which I buried in the sand.
The glass bottom boat was quite different from what I expected. We didn't see many fish.  Mostly they were what the guide called sergeant-major fish (I would have called them zebra fish) swimming in schools.  But then we were told to prepare for "the biggest clown fish you've ever seen" and there he was! swimming beneath our boat.
Just talking about fish was boring, our guide told us.  Now, we were going to have an opportunity to get up close and personal.  Our "clown fish" brought a live starfish aboard.  Taken aback, we passed it from hand to hand.  It was definitely alive, and pissed off.  When we'd all had a look, it was tossed back into the ocean and we were presented with as living sea anemone, tentacles moving.  After he (or she) had done the rounds and was thrown back, we were given a crash course on the conch.  (It's pronounced, conk)  Five different varieties of conch were brought up for our inspection.  We learned how to tell a young conch from an older conch.  There are 27 varieties of conch in these waters, but only one is edible.  This one! said the guide.  We passed it from hand to hand.  Then we were asked, Who wants to taste it?
We demurred.  I mean, it was alive.  Five minutes ago, it had happily been doing whatever conches do, on the sea bed.  It seemed a shame to kill it, just for fun.
Not for fun, our guide assured us.  This is part of our diet.  This is part of our way of life.  This is our Bahaman culture!
He used a hammer and a skewer to extract the meat.  (At least, it was quick. I told myself the conch probably didn't feel a thing). Then he cleaned it, and sliced it into pieces.  They eat it raw, in salads.  Who wants a taste? our guide asked. Most of us did.
It didn't really have a taste.  It was tender, and chewy -- sort of like octopus sushi without the rice.
Our guide ate what was left, with gusto.  At least, I told myself, the conch didn't die in vain.
Back on shore, we walked along the kinds of beautiful beaches you only see in brochures, and finally made our way to the sumptuous barbecue that had been brought ashore for our delectation.  Then it was time for a bit of shopping at the Straw Market.  And another walk for Xingxing (who, like all men, hates shopping) before returning to the ship.

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