It all started with the call of a swallow. My guide suddenly stopped, turning his head to hear the bird call and said, let’s go!
Following the rapid footsteps and explanations of Abaco Nature Tours’ Ricky Johnson, the fervour for seeing a local species quickly transfers to participants exploring the south end of Abaco Island.
As my group left the van quickly, we were directed to scan the skies, seeing a group of Bahamian swallows flying around a tree, and settling on the telephone wires above us. As we looked through binoculars at these birds, Johnson described their distinct plummage – green head, blue and black wings and a white belly.
Any form of travel can widen your horizons, especially the access to an educational experience that can't be duplicated in the classroom - as we roamed the south end of Abaco Island, I suspected this would be better than any science class.
Johnson continued to drive along a main road for another 20 minutes, when he pulled over and parked. As we stood on the edge of what we saw as a sinkhole, his description transformed it into one of the world's most unique geological formations.
A blue hole is a sinkhole - or better described as a vertical cave. Containing a combination of fresh water and saltwater, these caves go down hundreds of feet, especially in the limestone-rich areas of the Bahamas, with several found on Abaco Island.
Johnson explained that not only was a blue hole hundreds of feet deep, but it also had connected tunnels, while the transparency of the water gave this formation its name. Staring into the precipice, it hardly seemed that such a hole could hold so much scientific interest.
But before we went to view two more blue holes, Johnson wanted to show us an Abaco parrot. We drove into a residential neighbourhood, parking on the side of the road and encouraged to walk through the front yard with Johnson's assurance the owners wouldn’t mind.
Suddenly he stopped, and pointed out that leaves were dropping from a tree, not because of a wind gust, but because of parrots eating the tender parts of the leaves. He kept listening, hearing the faint squawks and sounds of the hidden birds.
As we slowly walked below the trees, we started to see parrots – each one a brilliant green, trying to hide within the leaves, with a red throat and blue wings. These parrots had recently been labelled as distinct and were soon to be officially proclaimed as its own species.
As we kept spotting more parrots, suddenly the whole group took flight, almost 100 green parrots soaring through the sky, heading towards the sea. Abaco parrots would soon leave the island to head farther south in The Bahamas to mate and breed, returning in three months to raise the young birds on this island.
Finding a few parrot feathers on the ground, we soon discovered two parrots had stayed behind, hiding in a tree. Feeling like we were intruding on a private moment, we departed, heading off to see two famous blue holes.
As we shared a copy of National Geographic Magazine, which featured an article on the Abaco blue holes, Ricky explained about the unique formations found within the cave, as well as the dangers of diving into these holes. Only scientists and specially-trained divers were allowed into the blue holes.
As we approached the last blue hole on our tour among the skinny pine trees of the Bahamian forest, we noticed a parked van. Our guide's voice rose with excitement as Johnson said one of the premier divers was at the blue hole.
Johnson left the truck quickly, with all of us right behind him. As we approached, Brian Kakuk, one of the world's best when it comes to underwater diving, emerged from the hole, having finished a morning training session with another diver.
After we took photos like papparazzi on a red carpet, he answered questions about the hole and his plans to help develop a national park to protect the Bahamian blue holes.
In my head, I couldn't imagine that I had walked into the middle of a Bahamian forest, seen a blue hole and met one of the world's best cave divers - especially after just reading the article in National Geographic featuring all these things. I'd also seen two distinct Bahamian bird species, as well been shown other unique plants during the tour.
Its become one of my best examples of why I travel (and why you should too).
Share and discuss this story with your friends
I'm a Toronto-based freelance journalist, writing about travel, design, cuisine and people who are passionate about what they create. I’ve written for newspaper, magazine, websites and blogs since 2000, love taking photos and happy to share what I've found wandering our planet.
Located: Toronto Canada
Likes: Pacific rim, Middle East, Caribbean, islands, pop culture, art, architecture, cuisine, photography