Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Holiday 2009

Ok , any excuse to go diving, spend some time with good friends, get some work done and stay warm during the winter months and I’m in ….. Little did  I know about the massive arctic cold blast that hit the entire southeast  coast  including FL and the Bahamas this holiday. Heck, my wetsuit was the warmest piece of clothing that I packed! However, the average Bahama day at 53 degrees was still better than 33 in St Augustine .

My friend Karen Clarke  is the owner of  The Henry Thayer Company since 1999 and spends time between her home office in Ct and her other office in Freeport, on the island of Grand Bahama. Her son John Gehr, the VP of sales and marketing has moved to the Island full time with his family.  As avid outdoor enthusiasts, they love the  winters better in Freeport than frigid CT.  What a great life that they have all the comforts of a US business set up here. Thayers was started in 1847 and is world renowned for it Slippery Elm throat lozenges, dry mouth spray and pure witch hazel products that consumers from rock & roll groups to natural food enthusiasts love.  I met some industry friends over there – now that takes commitment …. Howard Kaminski, Alan Purcell, Sue Bennett, and myself felt the warm weather pulling us south.

Diving, is a key water sport  here and both Karen & John dive. The Atlantic ocean is 75-77 degrees this time of year but the air temp in the low 50′s combined with high winds made it very cold weather diving. I had to wear a skin under a 5 mill wetsuit. Surface intervals were cold and I was way out of my preferred warm water diving zone.

The diving however, was top notch – there were reef and nurse sharks on most dives with pristine coIndustry Friendsral formations and a 65-75 foot visibility. We dove with Unexso (The  Underwater Explorers Society, originally started by Jacque Cousteau in 1965), based out of Port Lucaya a large well organized dive organization with a terrific staff You can dive or snorkel with them or even participate as a ” bubble watcher” to get a feel for the boat Shark feeding dives, dolphin dives in the ocean without a pen, night  and cave dives are also options. Christine the head dive master and big boss, is a world renowned diver who tackles the cave diving expeditions while keeping the operation running  smoothly.  The limestone  rock produced many caverns,  similar to the Cenotes in Mexico … and little “Blue holes “  are common on many sites.  My favorite dive was Shark Junction, a 55-65 foot sandy bottom with independent  mushroom topped coral heads teeming with fish, rays, garden and moray eels  and of course reef sharks – at least 6 -8 on each dive.

Many of the younger dive masters  were interested in nutrition – they have a strenuous career choice – the diving is fun but putting  up with Tourists 24/7 and keeping their immune systems strong can be challenging. I did lose an Endangered species organic chocolate bar and some Betty Lou’s Almond butter and Spirulina bars to thTheo s wreck Jan 3rde hungry dive masters…..I may come back to teach a nutrition class when the weather is much warmer.

Free port’s beauty is really below the water surface  and with it people. The Island is 80 miles long and 16 miles wide.  The community is tight and friendly and you feel welcome here.  The online magazine The Bahamas Weekly co-owned by Robbin Whacell, another fabulous friend of Karen’s Robbin captured us all at the artistic and creative cuisine inspired Sabor restaurant  New Year’s Eve where we enjoyed a splendid dinner, fireworks and dancing under the stars. It was our only warm evening.  There is always something fun happening  in Freeport and Karen seems to know everyone.

Although this Island offers a flat terrain with an abundance of saw palmettos, pines and scrub trees … gardens are easy to grow.  The Garden at of the Groves is a beautiful tropical & lush 12 acre garden  with a fabulous cafe with healthy offerings…….The 40 acre Lucayan National Park, 40 acres is also a must see at ($3.00 per person or free with a national park pass for $50.00 per year).  You see some of the caves topside -like Ben’s cave and meander across the street and catch the local flora and fauna ending up on a deserted long beautiful beach where some of the pirates of the Caribbean was filmed.

When the weather returns to normal tropical weather you can kayak or tale eco-tours with Grand Bahama Nature Tours or take a horseback ride along the beach with Trikk pony Adventures-242-727-0131 HOLIDAY 2009 025We had an apartment  at the Bell Channel Marina and cooked in some nights. There is an Italian grocery store and a fabulous market called Thompson’s to buy your natural mainstays, produce and fish & meats . Our favorite restaurant was Cappucino’s owned by a talented & hard working Italian – Danny & Tony who also owns a beachfront casual restaurant called  that serves cuisine from curried chicken salad to spicy conch chowder. They cater to a large Italian market of visitors. We all agreed that  the food was better than most in NYC … Other favorites were a casual Greek place – Zorba’s and Agave, with exceptional homemade and unique offerings. Conch chowder is the island favorite and everyone has their own recipe … I am not a fan of conch but the hot soup & hot chocolate warmed me up after the cold dives.

The most inspirational person that I met was Karen’s mom – Helen who will be 91 years old on the 25th and can run circles around most of us. She is of Russian & Chinese heritage and has always taken care of herself, eaten natural foods, limited fried foods and refined sugars, no sodas or junk foods and takes a multi-vitamin. She drinks a little red wine, reads daily and loves to walk, knit, swim, garden and keep her mind active by participating in various woman’s groups. She Holiday 2009 009is planning on purchasing a new 4-wheel drive for her birthday!  How many people can say that!  She is one of my new role models. Truly delightful and a pleasure to be around. Karen has inherited some awesome genes!

One thing I learned on this trip was to appreciate everything that we have.  Starting off this New year on a day to day basis and thanking God for all of the little blessings that come our way daily. Yes I wanted to swim & kayak and not work which I ended up doing almost every afternoon …but my mind still cleared and I did get some rest around the diving and our apartment did have heat!

Good friends are rare.  Our natural products industry has so many  people who have grown up with this business and we are bound for life as we continue to strengthen old relationships and build new ones. We are all different – so what ?  We can all learn from one another and give thanks daily.

One of little gems that we discovered on the way to airport was a bakery named: “Praise the Lord”  The women inside is absolutely precious and was cooking an island stew that made my mouth water! ( note: you can’t take any food out of the Bahamas since you clear customs in Free port not in the US) … a few friendly local Bahamians were enjoying her hot meals …the bakery was only a small part of the shop.

These locals truly enjoy life daily. I was overwhelmed by the friendliness of the native people to us. They live simple, happy and fulfilling lives.  May we all take lessons from them. I am truly thankful for experiencing this culture and week with my friends.

Happy New Year to all of our readers and may the Joy of the Lord give you strength, happiness and prosperity this coming year.

In Continued health,

Sally Byrd

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