For Kayak groups 1 and 2, now on campus and working on their SCUBA certification, we challenged them with a different prompt from Orientation, asking them to consider which moments have been the most vivid and meaningful from their short time here. Enjoy these personal insights with more to come tomorrow. Kelly McCarthy
It’s raining. And I mean REALLY raining. It’s raining the kind of rain that chills you to the very core, even though only moments before I was sweating buckets paddling under the hot sun. We’ve only just brought our kayaks on shore, only just pulled out the tarp for us all to sit under, and here I am crouching in my soaking wet rash guard, my drenched soccer shorts and my sand-filled water shoes. Here I am with eleven other students balancing precariously on our life-jackets, or Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) as we call them here, to serve as a barrier between us and the ground should the lightening overhead actually hit our little place of refuge. We’re soaked, in case I haven’t made that clear yet. We’re packed tightly under the make-shift tent that our trip leaders made for us out of a tarp and some kayak paddles, shivering and getting as close as possible to stay warm and out of the rain (shivering? In the Bahamas? Is there something wrong with this picture or is it just me?) Rachel has been having us count the seconds between the thunder and the lightening to figure out how close to us the storm really is. All of a sudden, the thunder cracks. The loudest thunder I have EVER heard. It sounds like it is coming from all sides, just filling my ears with that incomparable thunderous noise. Without even thinking, I shoot my hand out and grab hold of the hand of the person next to me. She looks at me and smiles; asks if I’m ok. I just nod. It sounds like the clouds are angry with us. How dare we have left our cozy little campus and kayaked all the way out here? This is the cloud’s territory, not ours. It’s making that VERY clear as the thunder rolls on for seconds upon seconds, echoing endlessly. “This is the closest the storm will be, I swear,” promises Rachel. I force out a grateful smile. Crouching here with my kayak-friends, hiding from the elements, I feel so small. I’m truly at the hands of nature. But as I look around at the people around me (er… more like on top of me to be honest) I notice that everyone is sort of giving that same half-smile that I find on my own face. I hear some laughter from a boy a few feet away from me. Here in the midst of this intense thunderstorm; here in a totally new, unexplored place; now, after having kayaked for over an hour and a half, people are bonding. People are getting to know each other. I can feel the threads of each individual weaving to form a quilt of our own little community. None of these people knew each other just five days ago, and now here they are smiling and laughing and comforting each other in a time of excitement and fear. It’s a truly incredible sight. More incredible than even the sky that is exploding in a display of its wrath just above our heads. As orientation is coming to a close, I know that the next three months will bring some thunder, but also the laughter to make everything ok. I know that I will spend the next three months weaving my own thread into the colorful quilt of the larger community, and I can’t wait. Bring it on, thunder.
It was about 6:45 AM on my very first morning in Eleuthera, and I was already in the ocean. Snorkeling was a mild intro to the normally strenuous early morning exercise, and it was an absolutely stunning experience. The underwater blur that I was experiencing due to my cloudy mask drove me to the surface to clear my vision, yet again, led me to experience something that I know I will never forget: my first sunrise in The Bahamas. The sky and clouds were various shades of bright pink, centered around the glowing orange sun that was above the horizon. The black silhouettes of snorkelers more successful than me floated at the surface of the similarly black water. This sight was one of the most stunning things I had ever seen, yet it put me at a great peace. This unique combination of emotions is what made this experience so extraordinary to me, and though I have seen almost every sunrise since then, none have been as special as the first. I know that my first sunrise here on The Bahamas at the Island School is a memory that will stay with me not only through the semester, but for the rest of my life.
Slight Chance of Rain?
On day one of the three-day kayak, we had some very interesting encounters with the weather. The weather forecast had predicted sunshine all day with a slight chance of rain in the afternoon. Right when we left the beach at IslandSchool, huge grey clouds began to drift over us. We began to paddle to our first campsite, and were conscious of the clouds overhead. While we were nearing our campsite, we saw lightening in distant clouds that would not harm us. As we pulled into our campsite, it began to pour. We were all freezing. After taking all of our kayaks out of the water, we sat in the water to stay warm. A few minutes after we entered the water, there was a huge lightening bolt nearby, causing the 12 students to sprint out of the ocean to a safer location.
Our teachers told us that we needed to grab our lifejackets to sit on, and huddle under a tree for protection. As the cloud got closer, the time between the lightening and the thunder got closer and closer until there was practically no time between the flash of light and the boom of the thunder. Looking around, you could see the blank stares on the faces of all 12 students who were shivering to get warm. After a while of huddling under a tree and tarp, the weather finally passed over, and there was once again sunshine. Several minutes later, we all found ourselves in the water again, this time trying to cool down from the hot air temperatures. It was funny how we were using the warm Bahamian ocean to both warm us up and cool us down when we needed it. This drastic change in temperature is something I had never felt until coming to IslandSchool.
I arrive on Eluthera, this small pocket of land characterized by its vivid bright blue waters that seem so familiar and comforting from the time I’ve spent in The Bahamas growing up. Although this time it’s a little different, unfamiliar faces and this sense of anxious excitement surround me. I know these traces of unfamiliarty will soon become normal and faces of comfort and laughs, just with some time. We’ve just gotten back from our three day kayak trip, an experience that was hard and even scary at times but debriefing it once we arrived back on campus, exhausted and feeling dirty, we all realized the memorable moments that came out of this trip.
The first night of our trip was surely one that I won’t forget. Because of the intense rainstorm outside I couldn’t sleep in the hammock I had brought, so I slept on the floor of the tent with water streaming through the sides and sand covering the bottom. Waking up the next morning with a sore back, I opened the zipper of my tent to a beautiful sun striking the morning sky at 6:30 in the morning. I quickly forgot of my slightly uncomfortable night and took in this view of the morning sun streaming over onto the ocean and appreciated this incredible sunrise. The day continued on with as paddling through the ocean in our group of 15, a few unexpected rain clouds would occasionally creep up from behind and catch us in its path. Many of us would resort to sitting in the ocean as the rain fell down because of how warm it felt. The next night we camped out at a small little inlet on the coast. After many games of mafia around the fire, and several layers of bug spray, we all headed to sleep. I had fortunately been able to sleep in a hammock. As I crawled into the hammock I zipped up the bug net around me, seeking refuge from the hungry bugs. I fell asleep looking up through he bug net at the scattered bright stars and the shining moon.
After the final leg of our incredible journey through Rock Sound, we pulled into the IslandSchool harbor, and we were very tired. The joy of returning to civilization was found on the faces of every student, and though the trip was amazing, we were glad to be back. As soon as we made it to shore, we were put to work; cleaning kayaks, life preservers, etc. The longing for an ice cold shower and a chance to put on clean clothing was enough to finish the work as fast as we could, however. Finally, we finished our chores and were permitted to return to our dorm for some free time. The first thing I did was to travel to my favorite place on campus (that I know so far), the outdoor shower.
The outdoor shower outside of boys’ dorm is where I spend 1 minute every morning. Though I spend an abbreviated time under the cool, fresh water that is so rare here on the island, it is just enough time to remind me of the place where I am. The minute I have to view the vast ocean in front of me, as well as the mangroves teeming with wildlife to my right, shows me the unbelievable landscape that I am learning so well. This spot is one where I am able to spend a short time alone and feel completely relaxed. All cares slip from my mind as I cool off and watch the waves crash into the shore.
Wow. That is all I can say to sum up my time here at The Island School. New people, new experiences, different styles of food, and morning exercise all help to shape my idea of this different environment. I just came back from a 3 day kayak trip. Before coming here I’ve never been kayaking before in my life. I was really nervous on that 1st day because I knew kayaking involved a lot of arm strength, something I don’t have. So you can come up with your own conclusion as to how that went for me. It was definitely a wow moment. Also the mosquitoes and sand flies are unbearable in a, I want to rip my skin off and cut off my nerve endings so I don’t feel, kind of way.
The highlight of the trip for me was reaching the camp site and watching the sunset each night and the sunrise each morning. The most beautiful thing ever, it’s like your almost one with nature. Another highlight of the trip was getting closer to other people in my group and going through experiences like, swimming over a blue hole, seeing an octopus, snorkeling in the rain and kayaking in a thunder storm, even better. Although the trip had its ups and downs, I really enjoyed it, and the fact that I’m back at campus safe and sound makes it all worthwhile. Now I’m thinking “I kayaked three days, I can do anything I set my mind to.”
Here I am in CapeEleuthera, The Bahamas, snorkeling over a blue hole which I had never heard of before. We were taught how to free dive safely down into the hole which seemed to never have an end. I never thought that I would dive to depths that I went to. Going 25 feet down and seeing all of the fish is something that I though I would never experience. I had a very nervous and excited feeling when I went under a ledge and I looked up and wasn’t able to see the surface. After free diving I finally understood how diverse all of the life in the ocean really is.
Working with Sam, our group leader, really showed me how far I could push myself and do something that I never thought I would be able to do. He taught me so many things about how I could stay under the water for a longer amount of time by relaxing my body and remaining at peace which helped me enjoy seeing everything that the blue hole had to offer. The guidance regarding free diving that Sam offered me at the blue hole made that experience really special for me, and I can tell that the moment will stay with me throughout my experience at the Island School.
"Mafia at the Island School"
On our second and final night on the Three Day Kayak, K1 was situated at Poison Point on CapeEleuthera. After an hour long snorkel under a light grey rain cloud, the group gathered around the fire and ate a delicious meal prepared by our own classmates. Quickly, the sun disappeared into the sparkling crystal blue sea, and our only source of light were the aluminous orange and red flames coming out of the Casuarina tree pieces laying deep in the sand. Within the commotion of everyone sitting down in their crazy creeks and applying bug repellent, a significant moment arose. The start of Mafia. The group became silent as a fellow student explained the rules of the game. There were questions asked, and funny remarks thrown in to the mix. After a few clarifications the first round was underway. The chosen ‘god’ walked around the students and faculty who outlined the campfire. The moment that the ‘god’ proclaimed: ‘townspeople wake up’, stares were shot like bullets across the campfire, and minds were racing and attempting at determining whom the mafia members were. When trying to find logic to whom the mafia members were, there were many accusations. Some looked far too deep into the actions and words that were said, while others looked only at the surface to use as their evidence. Aside from the quick assumptions and questions, the whole group managed to find it hard to breathe due to the amount of laughter being shed. As soon as the first round was over, and a new wave of sand fleas flew in, the next round quickly began. Instead of the game being serious and intense, I found that three rounds of Mafia allowed K1 to grow as a team, bond as a unit, and most importantly allowed every member to realize that even though we were camping out far away from a campus, it was more than possible to have a better time than anyone had experienced up until that moment.
As I kayaked over it, I couldn’t really comprehend how deep the blue hole went. Even when I first came across it with a snorkel, it seemed like just a ledge of rock dropping off into the sand. But as I dove down and watched the schools of fish going in and out, the magnitude and depth of it began to strike me. The ocean floor around it was no more than twenty feet deep and pretty bare until suddenly a piece of it disappeared into a dark navy abyss. The most shocking part wasn’t the concentrated abundance of life or the ledges and darkness, but the extreme temperature change that occurred when I dove only five feet into it. The cold water emanated from the hole coming from what looked like nowhere the way the masses of tiny fish did. I looked over to see a jellyfish, twelve inches in diameter, and realized that two tiny, transparent ones were floating right before my mask and near my hands. For the longest time I just floated there, thinking about how deep it went and where it connected to and what lived in the darkness under the ledge. Looking over the blue hole was the most awesome experience I have had here so far in the literal meaning of the word; I was truly in awe.
The beach where we camped the first night was just how I had imagined it would be; powder blue waters, soft sand, and a sweet breeze. I was ecstatic to sleep in my hammock. For the past few days, being accustomed to northeast temperatures, I woke up early in the morning due to the heat in the dorm. Sleeping in a hammock on a beach with that breeze caressing me sounded like paradise. And I’m sure it would have been.
That night my group lounged by our crackling camp fire. We were satisfied from our meal and shadows played off our smiling faces. We discussed John’s question: “if you could have one meal, what would your last meal be and who would it be with?” I dreamed about pancakes and getting the dirt on my dad from my grandma. Then out of the darkness a squall hit. We dispersed in a hurry, all fleeing to our tents. I was bewildered. I shrugged my raincoat on and called out to Phoebe, Eunna, and Maggie inside their tent, to ask for entrance. Immediately several “yeahs” and “come on ins” were called out. I entered to warm smiles that seemed oblivious the rain and sand I was tracking in as an intruder. I wrapped myself in my sheet, put a dry bag under my head, and stared up at a wet rain fly that was slowly sticking to the inner tent. I pulled my rain jacket over my head and groaned with the other girls. My feet were itchy from bug bites, my skin was sticky without a shower, sand never felt so hard below my back, rain drops plucked on my raincoat, I was hot inside the humid tent, and I hadn’t brushed my teeth. I missed my bed at home. I missed my hammock and my breeze. But Phoebe rolled over and started talking about her dogs, Eunna took out her camera to capture the dreadful moment, and Maggie yelped about the water at her feet. I realized that I was not alone. I remembered Gray’s quote from circle “I’ve never been so wet that I haven’t gotten dry”. Then I realized I wasn’t in a panic unlike how I would expect. I was fine. I was more than fine. I was mostly dry, I had my sheet, I had some water, and I had these three other girls with me. I was good. I forgot about my hammock and drifted off to sleep.
We had just finished eating our lunch of peanut butter and jelly tortillas and were ready to continue on our three day kayak journey when we heard a huge crash of thunder and were immediately instructed to head back to the beach and assume our lightning positions. We all gathered around, crouched on our life jackets, freezing cold rain pouring down on us and waited for the lightning to subside. After what seemed like an eternity the thunder started to fizzle out, but we decided to keep on the side of caution and wait a little longer before heading out. We had been crouching for a long time and our legs were pretty sore, so some of us decided to make use of our time and get a little workout in. After we got the ok from the teachers to get out of our lighting positions we got together and participated in multiple sets of apnea pushups, which Chris Maxey taught us a few days before, and five minutes of planks which were painful, but fun at the same time. When the workout was over we rinsed of in the water, which was as warm as a hot tub, and headed out in our kayaks. It was from this amazing and somewhat strange experience that I learned one of the biggest lessons of my time at The Island School so far, and that is that no matter how bad a situation may seem you can always find a positive side to it and turn it into a good time.
Sitting around a campfire is not a new thing to me. I have sat around a blazing fire with close friends and or family talking and laughing having a good time. However I already knew the people I was enjoying these times with so everything was natural and comfortable. The campfire me and the other people in my kayak group built last night was one I will never forget. I left the IslandSchool campus still not completely comfortable with all my peers, for I had just met them not even a week ago, to go on a three day kayak trip. Throughout the journey we went through a lot together such as torrential rainstorms and extreme heat. We started making memories each day as we kayaked and talked stopping at one camp to another.
The reason this campfire was so special to me is because I felt like I knew everyone there for my whole life. Everyone was so nice to each other and helped one another when help was needed. The last night we were camping, half of us collected sticks and made the fire while the other half cooked the food. We all worked together to make a delicious meal. All of us were sitting around the fire in our crazy creeks eating our meal talking and laughing, even some singing, while the stars above us were the most beautiful stars I have ever seen. It was this moment when I felt completely comfortable with everyone around me and no one felt like a stranger to me, as they did at the beginning of the trip. This fire brought everyone together no matter which country they were from, and we all truly became good friends. This camp fire was different than the many others I have been around was because it was the moment which allowed each of us to come out of our shells and embrace each other as friends, talking about the memories we had just made.