This was originally intended to be a very different blog, full of pictures of me frolicking in the water with wild pigs, hand-feeding iguanas on a deserted beach, parasailing over the Caribbean and flailing off a waterslide built to look like a Mayan temple. Then Hurricane Dorian happened.
The day my flight was leaving for Nassau, Dorian had taken a sudden and unexpected turn toward The Bahamas, and I had a stressful day of trying to figure out if I should still go and which of my many pre-paid activities it was too late to cancel, etc. Even in the worst-case projection, the hurricane wasn’t going to hit New Providence, the island I was headed for. In the end, my intuition told me I should go, but with a chaser of a hunch that the experience was going to be something different from what I had been expecting. I wondered if I was going to be performing some kind of spiritual service by going during this anxious time, rather than enjoying the expected pig-based fun in the sun.
I woke up early in the morning, tucked into a booth hidden away deep in a closed restaurant inside the Charlotte airport. Oh man, I think I was snoring. This is a bitch of a layover. I shuffled sleepily to my gate as the flight crew side-eyed us and loudly questioned under their breaths who in the hell these insane people were who were flying to The Bahamas.
Landing in Nassau, the sun was shining and the news said the hurricane had turned away from the islands. Yay! A text popped up on my phone saying that my parasailing booked for that afternoon had been cancelled anyway. Not yay. Hmmm.
I drove out to Clifton Heritage Park, which featured some old slavery-era Bahamanian houses and no staff whatsoever. Hmm. I carried on to Jaws Beach, where the locals eyed me suspiciously.
I was glad I’d rented a car, since now I could go hike in the Primeval Forest National Park and see some- Wait, nope, nobody’s there, gate’s locked, I guess it’s closed. Okay, back-up plan, I’ll go to the Ardastra Zoo and Gardens to see some- Nope, zoo’s closed, they’re battening down the hatches and hiding the animals in cupboards and closets in case the hurricane does come knocking. Huh.
As I drove around Nassau, I gradually became more and more acutely aware of how uncomfortable the energy on the island felt to me. At first I figured I just hadn’t slept as well in the airport as I’d previously assumed. But after a while that didn’t seem to be it, I wasn’t really sleepy. I’d been in a bit of a strange place the day before, feeling like I was walking around in a dream all day, which I figured was my system getting ready for my epic trip to Tibet next week. And at first I thought that might have something to do with how weird I felt in Nassau. But then weird turned to a feeling of deep heaviness in the air. And then a splitting headache. And then the powerful nausea. Woof.
I was mentally searching for a reason for what I was feeling. Driving around, I was dismayed by the contrast between the massive, ritzy self-contained resorts on the coast where millions of tourists cycle through and leave their money, and the poverty I saw the locals living in as I drove around the residential neighborhoods. There seems to still be a vibe of the colonial and slavery era in the air, wounds still left unhealed, and I wondered if the current mega-resort economy was energetically just a continuation of this dynamic. Were these resorts just modern plantations where the locals worked for minimal wages while wealthy foreign whites made all the money?
Driving through the poorest neighborhoods, it was hard not to pick up on the intense vibe of addiction, of people suffering deeply and looking for any way to not feel what they were feeling. Every glassy-eyed person I drove by and every billboard advertising liquor drove this home further and further. This was all making the vibe even heavier. My heart wrenched. Between the strange historical vibes in the air and my rapidly deteriorating well-being, I was eager to get something to eat and check into my hostel for a nap.
But neither made me feel better at all. In fact I felt worse. As much as it was a relief to find my hostel, nestled into a semi-questionable neighborhood in the center of the city, I just felt heavier and heavier. Oof. Laying in bed, feeling like a semi was crushing me into the ground, I suddenly had a clear vision that my prompting to visit every country in the world was not a whim of the ego as I had occasionally feared, but was, for lack of a better term, an assignment from spirit. I had things I needed to do in all of these places. And they weren’t all necessarily going to be fun. Hmm.
Partly in desperation, I mentally tuned into my guide Kobo Daishi and asked him what I was doing in the Bahamas. He said I was there to act as a transmuting flame. I received an image in my head of a huge funnel of light passing down through my body and penetrating deep into the ground. Ah. So I guess I’m here to do something about this heavy energy that’s thoroughly kicking my own ass.
Driving in the Bahamas is a unique experience. It’s the only place I’ve ever been to where you drive on the left, but you do it in American-style cars, so you’re also sitting on the left side of the car. This is probably easier for the average American driver since it’s only half as weird as the UK and Australia where absolutely everything is inverted like you’re in a mirror world. But if you’re already familiar with driving in those places it’s mind-bendingly confusing, as if you fell asleep behind the wheel in Boston and suddenly woke up driving down the street in London and oh my God, what the hell is happening?
Also, they give all the tourists a special yellow license plate just to let the locals know there are idiots in their midst.
The Bahamanians go out of their way to make this all more enjoyable by driving very unpredictably. Trying to decide if I should rent a car or not before the trip, I’d found some people online who argued that drivers in the Bahamas were crazy, and others who were offended by this characterization and argued that Bahamanian drivers are actually quite courteous. I found both opinions to be true, simultaneously.
Drivers weaved all over the place, the majority of the cars were severely jacked up, and I drove through the aftermath of a huge accident approximately once for every hour of driving I did on the island. One particularly spectacular accident I saw on my way to the airport early one morning involved a car wrapped completely around a light pole like a beer cozy. Countless roadside markers, dividers and light poles around town had been knocked down, seemingly recently. But, drivers also managed to be quite nice in unexpected ways, offering me the right of way in unheard-of situations and oncoming traffic frequently slowed down so you could swerve completely into their lane to avoid the huge puddle in your lane, etc.
The use of the horn in Nassau was hard to decipher. People honk the instant a light turns green, in case you were thinking about not reacting quickly enough. At one point I paused to puzzle out my way across a busy intersection governed only by a single flashing yellow light, an intersection which also happened to be engulfed by a sizable lake. In the rain. And in spite of the intersection being in that moment utterly full of cars from the cross-street, the car behind me took this opportunity to express their impatience with me via a wheezy honk, with such a dilapidated sound I thought it was the death quack of some kind of large, elderly bird. I might have been offended if it hadn’t been so goddamned funny.
I went through one roundabout where someone was laying on their horn for the entire way around the circle, which made me seriously concerned that they may have died behind the wheel.
And none of this even touches on The Bahamas’ strange prevalence of Nissan Cubes.
Muddying the picture further was drivers’ seeming total disregard for pedestrians, which pedestrians responded to perversely by barging confidently into the street with equal disregard for cars.
Just for spice, at one point, a rough-looking and possibly homeless man in camouflage pants rode past me on a very small, and very pink, little girl’s bike.
The more I drove on Nassau, the more I realized the craziness of the drivers was at least somewhat a response to the environment. Car or storm-battered stop signs pointed in ambiguous directions, making it a point of debate which street was supposed to stop at an intersection. Even some stop lights pointed in strange diagonal directions, causing me more than once to pause suddenly in an intersection, not sure if I had just run a red light, before realizing that stopping in the middle of the intersection was not going to remedy that crime in the least.
Some street signs had given up the ghost entirely.
Deciding that feeling like death warmed over is at least more fun when you’ve got sights to see, I headed off across Nassau on foot. The town was utterly abandoned as the locals hurried to get their poop in a group in case the hurricane did hit.
Much of Nassau had a strangely impromptu quality to it, like this bizarre solution for what to do with a loose wire.
I was fascinated to find pay phones, though most were empty shells only.
I found one still pregnant with phone!
Speaking of pregnant, protect ya tings, people!
Parliament Square celebrates The Bahamas attaining their independence from Great Britain in 1973.
Across town you can visit The Queen’s Staircase, a set of 66 steps carved into the solid limestone by slaves in 1793.
The steps descend into a bizarre narrow canyon in the middle of the city, limestone walls shooting up high around you on all sides. As I walked down the darkened corridor, an injured bird hopped slowly across the path in front of me. I stopped and experienced a moment of connection, tuning into the disheveled bird’s inability to fly and its struggle to survive on what food it could find on the ground.
The next morning I was up before dawn for my flight to Exuma to go swim with the pigs. I still felt like a teeming shore full of wretched refuse, and was curious how I was going to hold up to a whole day of snorkeling. After experiencing my near-drowning trauma coming back up in Belize, I’d spent the months since that trip going swimming nearly every day after work, testing myself, figuring out which scenarios in the water triggered my feelings of panic and putting myself in them over and over again until the fear was gone and I had built a base of unconscious trust that I can swim several different strokes, tread water, float, etc. It was a lot of hard work and not particularly fun at first, but the feeling of freedom and transformation that came from no longer having that weight hanging over my head made it all worth it in the end.
Of course, I needn’t have worried about how I was going to snorkel with a semi on my back, because my flight to Great Exuma was cancelled. Dorian had turned suddenly again and was slamming into Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, and though things were mellow on New Providence, every plane, bird and gnat the region was grounded.
Oh man, I so want to get out of here. I laughed out loud to myself as I played The Beach Boys’ Sloop John B on repeat over the car stereo as I drove across the island.
I still felt like day-old ass. There’s a mantra I’ve been working with for a while that’s about transmuting negative energy, and on the drive back from the airport in the early dawn light, I decided to give it a shot. What the hell, right? I began to repeat it over and over again as I drove. And gradually, but very tangibly, the weight and feeling of awfulness began to lift. The shift was dramatic. I spent the afternoon sitting on the porch as the rain came down sideways, and visualized light streaming down through me into the island, lifting everything and everyone there.
After a brief and hectic interlude where I received a text that my flight home the next day had been cancelled, then was booked onto a replacement flight that was leaving immediately, then got to the airport in a flurry to find my new flight was cancelled too just to be funny, I decided to drive a loop around the island, repeating the transmutation mantra.
The scene was chaotic as I drove around, the rain battering the island and the locals starting to bumper car into each other at regular intervals.
My favorite moment from the surreal drive was seeing a very wet stray dog calmly using the crosswalk to cross an otherwise lawless intersection in the pouring rain.
I stopped at a beach on each of the four sides of the island, repeating the mantra of transmutation and visualizing the energy sweeping through the island. As I did, I could begin to viscerally feel these flames of energy moving through the island itself. When I got back to the hostel, I sat on the porch and visualized the hurricane, pictured wrapping my arms around it and pouring love endlessly into it.
My experience has been that natural disasters are the Earth’s way of releasing all the negative energy the human race creates through our thoughts, emotions and actions. These are energetically like a poison to the planet as a living being, and without earthquakes, hurricanes, fires and tornadoes these energies would eventually drown the Earth. As I visualized pouring love into the hurricane, I could feel threads connecting back to every person whose anger and suffering the hurricane was transmuting. I could feel the love flowing to them, and the healing they were experiencing just from being seen and heard in that moment.
This whole exercise would seem to be very abstract, but it was shockingly visceral in the moment, I could feel the anger and suffering being healed in a way that my mind couldn’t question. Last year, when wildfires were burning through my home town in California, I was naturally worried that my childhood home would burn down. The fire was mere blocks away from the house, and much of the town had already burnt. I began to visualize the area around the house as I meditated, focusing on transmuting the negative energy there so that the fire wouldn’t be needed there. I repeated this daily, as my mom did the same, and in the end the fire progressed no further. Improbably, it just stopped short of the house and that was that.
Sitting on the porch in Nassau, I thought about how this could be a job in and of itself, a small number of people consciously mitigating disasters by working to transmute the negative energies everyone else was producing without realizing it.
I was sitting on the porch, visualizing this energy as an absolute deluge of rain poured down like a solid curtain of water. It was somewhat magical being able to sit outside in the midst of this without getting wet, the immense concrete blocks of the hostel allaying any concerns of imminent structural collapse.
Then, with a suddenness that is comical in retrospect but was completely disorienting in the moment, the wind shifted directions drastically and redirected the preposterous wall of water like a fire hose straight at the porch. Shit. SHIT! SHIIIIIT! I scrambled to my feet and flailed for my phone, being absolutely hammered with water like I had pissed off the LAPD by protesting for civil rights. In one deft motion I stood up, grabbed my phone, and pivoted toward the front door, which was only about five feet away. And in that same continuous motion, both of my feet shot out from under me on the suddenly mercury-slick porch and I was airborne. I flailed straight off the porch, coming down like Skylab falling on a day care center.
I was on the ground before I even knew what was happening, and scrambled to my feet to the sound of everyone inside the hostel simultaneously yelling “What the FUCK was THAT??” at the cacophony on the porch. I flailed through the front door like a tuna trying to fight its way into the cabin of a fishing boat, wet like clothed people should never be wet. And that’s when everyone at the hostel realized they had a special needs person staying with them.
I was up early the next morning for the replacement flight for the replacement flight for my original flight home. I said goodbye to the few friends in the hostel who were up, and this had already become a running joke since I’d said goodbye and left only to be shut down at the airport twice already.
I had a few hours before my flight, and the only thing that hadn’t been cancelled yet on the trip was my day pass to the Atlantis resort. Atlantis is Nassau’s biggest mega-resort, which was something I was vaguely offended by and completely not the kind of thing I usually do when I travel. But they have one of the biggest water parks in the world, and it seemed like a shame to miss the opportunity to ride a water slide that goes through a shark tank while I was on the island, so I had booked a day pass in advance.
Atlantis is on its own small island, just to make extra sure 99% of the tourists going to Nassau never have to actually interact with Nassau. I completely shot all of my driving-criticizing credibility by driving 100% the wrong way down a one-way street all the way to the Paradise Island bridge, but the Bahamanians were pretty understanding about this.
Atlantis was completely deserted.
After parking in an empty lot that may or may not have been for employees, and walking like Buster Keaton through the ridiculous sideways wind, I fought the front door of the resort slowly open, only to be told the water park was closed because there’s a hurricane happening, ya white maniac. Yep, kinda figured that, but the only way to get a refund was to show up in person because all the phones on the island had been down for two days.
Outside, it was raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock. All the traffic lights were out. I weaved my way through the flooded neighborhoods of Nassau, cursing Google Maps once again for taking me through the absolute most dangerous neighborhoods in town in the interest of saving two minutes.
The streets had quickly gone from “look out there’s some big puddles you should probably drive around”:
To “the whole street’s just water deal with it what are you doing outside?”
The vibration in the air was completely insane, the tension hovering all around was nauseating and thoroughly unnerving. Intersections were chaos and smashed cars were strewn all over the place. I weaved my way through all of this, trying not to grip the steering wheel too tightly and remembering to breathe. Rain blew sideways and then somehow upside-down. I’ve done a lot of crazy drives in inadvisable circumstances in my life, but this was shooting quickly into the top three.
Every street I drove through, I had to read the water like a Polynesian boatman, trying to discern what was beneath the waves and what side of the street was likely to have the shallowest water that my little Hyundai could make it through. The water had gone from a few inches deep to a foot or two deep in spots.
The twenty minute drive to the airport took over an hour in the chaos, but I’d somehow made it. Whew! I pulled up to the terminal, laughed briefly upon noticing that the in-airport Wendy’s had a drive-thru, and walked inside.
All flights cancelled.
Hrmm. Okay. Well, I’ll just have to hang out until the afternoon flights to see if I can get on one of those, no way am I driving another foot in this madhouse.
As if on cue, I suddenly remembered that all the clothes I’d been wearing when I took that header off the porch the night before were still hanging up in the bathroom at the hostel. Shit.
My favorite pair of pants and my Twin Cities Marathon shirt, which I paid for in blood, were among them. SHIT SHIT SHIT.
This was exactly like Bruce Willis’ watch in Pulp Fiction. Only there was a hurricane taking a shit in the bathroom instead of John Travolta.
ALL RIGHT GODDAMMIT I’M GOING BACK.
I grimaced as I climbed back into the car and headed back into the chaos of Nassau.
If nothing else, I had experience on my side, as I expertly weaved through the sideways rains and huge swells of water that had streets under them somewhere.
I breezed back into the hostel, grabbed my clothes, and said goodbye to my bewildered hostel friends for the tenth time.
Back out in the street, I was thinking this actually wasn’t that bad. I made it to the airport before, I can do it again. I was winding through the down-and-out neighborhoods with ease when suddenly Google Maps told me to turn right. As I began to turn, the car in front of me suddenly stopped, thought better of tackling this particular street, and made a quick u-turn. Huh.
I turned onto the street and was three-quarters of the way down the block when my car suddenly farted. Uh-oh, what- The water had swelled to two or three feet deep all around me and my car quickly decided “No Sir, I don’t like it.” With a gasp and a shudder and an anticlimactic sigh, the car died. The engine burbled and stalled and the car drifted to a halt in the middle of the lake that was also a street.
No no no no no.
Yes yes yes yes yes, my car replied.
Goddamn you, pants.
I sat in silence as the waves lapped against the driver’s side door.
I looked around. Yep. This is also the worst neighborhood in Nassau. The Bahamas have the #10 murder rate in the world.
I turned the ignition. PBBBBBT, the car blew a raspberry in response before going silent.
I got out and waded into the street to survey the damage. Okay, first thing’s first, I need to get out of the middle of the street. I put the car in neutral and began to push it toward the side of the road. It probably should come as no surprise that adding a few feet of water makes this much more difficult than normal.
After getting the car partially up off the road and into shallower water, it shifted directions and began to roll backwards over me. Okay! This is as far as it’s going.
I sat in the car and rolled my pant legs back down. I looked down at my hands and they were shaking. I wanted to throw up. I marveled at this since I’ve been in much worse situations before and things don’t usually get to me. But the energy on the island, the fear and angst was so intense it was like I was drowning in it. I sat still and took a few deep breaths. I turned the ignition.
I picked up my phone and dialed a tow truck. No answer. Next listing. No answer. Next. No answer. All the phone circuits on the island were down. I tried a taxi service. Nothing.
Do I just leave the car here? And start walking toward the airport until I see a taxi? I tried to imagine the conversation with the car rental people where I tell them I left their car inside a lake outside a tee-shirt store, and then just flew the fuck home. “The last time I saw your car, it was floating over toward the bay. Hang loose bro!” That might test how laid-back Bahamanians really are.
The elephant in the room was that I had done this before. Years ago I got caught in a flash flood in my own car and it had stalled out exactly like this. It turned out water had got into the engine and completely destroyed it. I’d ended up having to buy an entirely new engine.
I had insurance on the rental car, sort of, through my credit card, but I think it technically only applied if I was traveling for business. A totaled Accent was going to be a hell of a way to test if I could make this Bahamas sojourn somehow look like a business trip. Shit.
A car rolled up, through the lake.
“Hey man, ya stuck?”
Oh wow a Good Samaritan. I don’t know what he’s going to be able to do for me given the situation, but it’s really nice that somebody stopped.
“Don’t worry man, I got cocaine.”
“Coke! You need coke man! I sell you cocaine!”
“Ha ha what? Oh fuck, no man, I’m good.”
“You gotta stay up onna day like dis!”
He’s dead serious but I can’t stop laughing. He won’t take no for an answer.
“Nah man, thanks. I’m all set for cocaine on this trip.”
“I got 8 balls!”
After a hilariously long discussion he finally left. I sat in the silence and listened to the waves lapping up against the driver’s side door.
Two sketchy looking guys walked slowly past the car and I willed them to go be sketchy somewhere else.
I got a text on my phone that all the afternoon flights had been cancelled.
Even abandoning the car and walking back to the hostel in the sideways rain seemed like a sketchy proposition. I got out and rocked the car back and forth, hoping to slosh some of the water out of the bad places it had got into. I tried the tow trucks again. Nothing.
I turned the ignition, and it made a sickly dying sound that was somehow more encouraging than the last sound it had made. Hmmm.
Over the course of the next two hours of rocking the car and finessing the ignition like I was playing a bizarre orchestral instrument, eventually the car started making sounds that sounded more like a car and less like a horse drowning in snot.
And, on the one hundredth try, miraculously, the engine started.
I crept the rest of the way down the street like it was a no-wake zone and made it off of the street of doom. I was free! Before I knew it, I was at the airport.
Yes, the car did smoke and belch flames a few times on the drive to the airport but considering the circumstances I considered this completely acceptable.
There was no one at the car rental place at the airport, no one in the entire building in fact, which was both hilarious and fitting. I dropped the keys in the overnight box and got as far away from the car as I could before anyone could link me to it. I put on sunglasses I asked a taxi driver to take me to the closest hostel.
A few days later, I even got my deposit for the car returned to me. There’s undoubtedly an evil water demon possessing that car but that’s so not my problem now.
I lived the next few days in a strange in-between world of flights being cancelled over and over again and never being sure if and when I’d be returning home. I hoped it would be before I was due to fly to Tibet at the end of the week. That would be nice.
The saving grace of this whole situation was that the taxi driver at the airport had taken me to the nicest hostel I’d ever been to in the entire world. It was some kind of abandoned resort on a beautiful beach and they’d put me up in a huge dorm I had all to myself.
There are much worse things in life than working remotely from a beach on a tropical island you can’t leave.
My favorite story from the dream hostel happened the first afternoon, when one of the guys staying there brought his dog to the hostel. It was this adorable little mini-poodle, just the most ridiculous fluffy cute dog.
This other guy from Haiti who was also staying at the hostel takes one look at this dog and flips the fuck out.
He’s TERRIFIED of this dog!
This huge, imposing Haitian guy lets out this hilarious high-pitched voice that caught everyone off guard.
“OH NO SIR!! NO SIR!! YOU KEEP DAT TING AWAY FROM ME!! YOU ALL CAN LOVE DOGS FUCKING OVER THERE!!”
Oh my god! I mean, I felt for him and everything but these feelings were buried under massive quantities of laughter. This was the least threatening dog ever made. On Earth. I think his name was Mr Muffins.
At night, lightning storms would flare on the horizon like clockwork, lighting up the sky every few seconds all night long.
Was this glorious respite my reward for the energy work I’d been doing earlier in the trip? A little break from all the craziness? Abaco and Grand Bahama islands had been completely wiped out by the storm, so I wasn’t sure what impact was of the work I’d done. Maybe it helped prevent Nassau itself from being hit by the hurricane. Or maybe the storm could have turned toward the US and been much worse without that transmutation. In the end, knowing those specifics didn’t really matter to me. I’d felt the effect powerfully when I was doing the energy work and the experience had changed me, and changed both what I thought I was capable of and the meaning behind all the places these travels were taking me to.
After a few more days of being pleasantly stranded, the flights began flying again and I was drifting home over the Caribbean.
And after 30 hectic hours at home, I was off again to Taiwan, on my way to Tibet. Man. I should have taken that guy up on those 8 balls.