Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ascending the Queen's Staircase

Brian and I recently had the opportunity to travel to Nassau via cruise ship.  There are few caches near the port, so like Highlander, there could be only one.

We debarked the ship and wandered towards Bay Street, the main strip in Nassau. Bay Street is a lively place, to say the least. Sunscreen-saturated tourists pack the sidewalks.  Busses, taxis, and delapidated cars jam the streets. Pedestrians dart through traffic, but everyone yields when they have to. Normally, all of this busy-ness would make me heave, but Nassau redeems itself with aging, Colonial-style buildings and twisted banyan trees that grow in the least hospitable of conditions. 

Our first stop was at Athena Cafe, a quaint Greek restaurant located above one of Nassau's many jewelry shops.  We sat out on the balcony and watched the activity below while munching on hummus, pita wedges, calimari, and baklava.  Aside from the nourishment, it gave us a chance to get our bearings before venturing off to find the cache.

The Queen's Staircase is located about a mile from the port, as a crow flies.  I remembered from my previous visits that this trip would be mostly uphill, but I did not prepare myself for, well, anything else.  Brian's surgery last year left his legs pretty weak, so we decided it would be best for him to make this trip with the wheelchair.  This would have worked out quite well, had it not been for the horrendous condition of the sidewalks.  That is, when we had the luxury of sidewalks. 

On several occasions we just walked on the street, as far from traffic as possible (4 inches at most).  I was betting on two things: 1) The drivers here were used to tourists doing stupid things, and 2) they would feel some sympathy towards a person in a wheelchair and his trusty companion.  Number two was a serious gamble, being that there was clearly no ADA to regulate the condition of the walkways.  You know who else chose not to build sidewalks?  Spartans.  Their ADA was called the Baby Inspector.

A few near-death-experiences later, I saw what I was looking for - a huge white tower that I presumed was the Queen's Staircase.  It was actually the tower at Fort Fincastle, but I spent about 30 minutes wandering around and taking pictures.

Here's the thing, I forgot my GPSr.  I set it out the morning of our departure and left it in the drawer where I keep marshmallows.  I don't know why.  I found it there two weeks after we got home.  So, when I went to look for this cache, I was using the "save for offline use" maps and photos, which are only helpful when you have a really clear satellite photo.  Not so much in this particular situation.  Location feedback would have saved me a lot of time.

Eventually, I peeked over a stone wall and saw the real staircase.  After much dawdling, we wandered towards the staircase, visually scoping out possible locations and trying really hard to avoid all of the vendors.  I considered my options and decided to start at the staircase and work my way back.  But before I had the chance, a couple of tourists and a Bahamian tour guide were standing a few feet away.  I stared at my iPhone, trying to come up with a plan when the tour guide says, "Are you looking for the geocache?"

I looked up and grudgingly confirmed the apparently obvious.  He told me that he would finish his story and then show me where it was.  When I told him that I didn't want him to tell me where, he responded, "Look, I've seen a lot of geocachers destroy the plantlife here.  I am the custodian of this site and I cannot allow you to do that.  After I finish my story, I will tell you where it is without showing you." 


I put my phone back in my pocket and politely listened to him tell the story of the staircase and it's connection to Queen Victoria.  And when he was done, I tipped him, more for my guilt than for the quality of his story-telling.

The hint made reference to a banyan tree, and in true tour guide fashion, he told us a story about them as he lead us along.  It was totally worth it.  Something about him shielded us from the hoards of women offering to destroy "braid" my hair.  I imagine they regard him as some of kind of Godfather.

Then he took us to the cache.  I didn't really get the satisfaction of finding it, but I did get to lift a big rock.  Small victories.  Much to my surprise, the log isn't that old.  I guess this is a pretty popular one with the cruisers and the cacher who owns it keeps up with the maintenance. 

Here's another thing - I forgot to bring a pen.  Really.   I was getting ready to smash my finger with the big rock and leave a bloody finger print, but the tour guide noticed my predicament and produced a purple ballpoint. 

Then I signed the log, climbed the staircase (couldn't pass up the photo op), and we began the harrowing jounrney back to the ship.

I decided to go a different route, hoping the sidewalks would in better condition.  No such luck, although I suppose something can't be in disrepair if it doesn't exist.  I would like to say I was surprised, but by then I saw it as a badge of honor. 

Dehydrated and maybe a little sunburned, we made it back to our ship in one piece.  We left Nassau with our bellies full, a cache found, and a story worth blogging about.