Chasing Pirate History: The Bahamas
Being an adult sucks. Bills, laundry, responsibilities, those are just a few of the things that seriously take the fun out of living- and lately, I've decided that it's time for a revolt.
Adult Monica (that's me) is indefinitely in a phase of paying back her younger self for making it through this far; and it's probably more fun as an adult than it would have been when I was a kid. While I may have to work, nobody is going to tell me not to eat a bowl of Lucky Charms in my office for breakfast or buy an ice cream cake just to eat the whole thing myself. It's glorious. But I decided to go one step further.
Some of you may not know, but I was obsessed with Pirates of the Caribbean and all things pirate growing up. So now that I have the means and ability as an adult, I've made it my goal to visit some of the filming locations from Pirates.
It was so hard to decide where to start. Luckily for me, the location scouts for the movie franchise picked places that are not only stunning, but also hold a lot of historical pirate value as well. After doing a ton of research, planning about 5 "drafts", and evaluating, I decided that there was no better place to begin my pirate journey than the land which was the haven for pirates from around the globe during the Golden Age of Piracy: The Bahamas.
The Bahamas are one of the best spots in the world for pirate history. However, history lovers who visit, get ready to be underwhelmed.
If you aren't familiar yet with the history of pirates in the Bahamas, let me give you a crash course:
When most people think of the Bahamas, they think of New Providence Island. It's perhaps the capital island of the chain, though it is only one of the 700 coral islands (some say 365 legit islands) in the chain. The Bahamas is/are huge. Only 30 of its islands are considered inhabited and 70% of the country's population call the island of New Providence home. The tourism industry in Nassau is a huge part of the Bahamian economy.
The capital of The Bahamas, Nassau, was once home to a democracy invented by the most unlikely of sources: pirates. You read that right. During the Golden Age of Piracy, Nassau became the capital of the Republic of Pirates under the watchful eyes of leaders like Henry Jennings, Benjamin Hornigold, Charles Vane, "Calico" Jack Rakham, Anne Bonny, and Edward "Blackbeard" Teach. They sought to form a democracy that was actually more fair that anywhere in the world at that time, and if you want to watch the entire thing unfold in dramatized fashion, I cannot recommend the show Black Sails enough.
The first settlement on New Providence island was in 1666. Four years later, there were already 900 people calling the settlement, Charles-Town, home. It was attacked by the French and the Spanish, and was eventually completely destroyed by the Spanish in 1684. After being rebuilt in 1695 and named Nassau, the settlement was again damaged by the Spanish and French. From 1703-1706, most of the original settlers fled the island.
From 1706 to 1718, Nassau became a haven for pirates. It was governed by a Pirate Code, which was in a number of ways more democratic than the existing governments in a number of other nations (though some disagree). The Republic of Pirates, as it had come to be known, had its own governors and Magistrate.
With the introduction of British Governor Woodes Rogers in 1718, the Republic of Pirates began to fall.
The Historical Version
One would think that in a place with such a rich history that's way more interesting than a bunch of kings and queens, there would be places everywhere paying homage. One would think wrong.
There are two main places in Nassau where you can appreciate the history of pirates in The Bahamas. There is a Pirates of Nassau museum that is the perfect place for kids, but pretty underwhelming to pirate history buffs (like myself). I was hoping to see legitimate artifacts with history traceable back to the Golden Age of Piracy- and while there were a few pieces, this was mostly just a family experience. Which is awesome if you have kids that are into pirates. But for two grown adults who wanted to take a step back in time, it was a bummer.
The second place where you can immerse yourself in Nassau's pirate history is The Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant (& Chocolate Factory & Cigar Factory & everything else). Supposedly set within the mansion that a pirate captain built, whether that story is legitimate or not, it's a historical building and completely magical experience. You can read all about that on my post about it.
There's actually a third one worth a mention: Blackbeard's Tower. There are so many competing instructions about where to find it, what it is, what it was, and who it belonged to. But regardless of what you think, it's a building from the the 1600s-1700s that has been left to rot. I could literally go on forever about it so I'm going to save that for another post if y'all let me know you're interested.
Anyway, there's another reason I wanted to visit The Bahamas, and that was for the location's significance within the Disney franchise Pirates of the Caribbean.
The Hollywood Version
What some (including the person who uploaded this to YouTube) apparently might consider the best scene of Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest was actually filmed in The Bahamas.
Supposedly that same location was also used to film the parlay scene in Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End.
Without your own boat and captain, good luck getting there (contact me through the contact page and I will give you all the advice I have). I sifted through every charter company near Little Exuma to find one that would take us to the cay- but short of $800 a person (which I am not willing to do) or going with a group of tourists it just wasn't going to happen. So I came up with an idea. Luckily, I had taken David with me on the trip. David can do literally everything. Including boating.
I got in touch with a really reasonable boat rental company just outside of Georgetown, and we rented a boat to take ourselves on the excursion. I DO NOT RECOMMEND doing this unless you are with a professional. David and I were prepared with maps, experience, and insanity, and that's how we made it
happen. (Actually, side note, when we got there the boat hadn't been working. The owner of the company needed to fix it, and David jumped in and got it done.
See what I mean by "obnoxiously good at everything"? Still wouldn't have traded that experience for the world either because it was hysterical.) No tour companies would have even gone out that day because it was storming on and off, so we were literally crazy for doing it- but we had limited time and we were GOING to see that island come hell or high water (literally).
First of all- there are two locations that sport the name "White Cay" in The Bahamas. They are in completely different directions. A good number of tour companies actually take tourists to the wrong one- but there might be good reason for it. The legitimate White/Sandy Cay that was featured in the movie is actually home to a critically endangered species of iguana. It's the only place in the world where you can find these little guys, and it's a delicate habitat that absolutely has to be respected or this entire species will die.
People everywhere said that the best time to visit was during low tide. I would disagree, and there's a few reasons behind that: With the tide being low, the closest we could get the boat to the shore was still about a quarter mile from the shore. That's a lot of walking. And while it was beautiful, it feels like a submerged desert. Having the sun beating down on you with no shade and never enough water makes it a trek. The part of the island that was used in filming is totally visible during high tide, so if you went then, you'd be able to moor the anchor a little closer, walk a little less, and see things as they looked on screen.
When you arrive at the island, it's breathtaking.
The white sand was truly unlike anything I'd ever seen. Each grain had been perfectly eroded over millions of years into a tiny ball, and the color of the sand was bleach white. It was powder soft, and laying on the shore looking out into the clear water was one of the highlights of my life. I meant to do an entire Disneybound outfit shoot, but it was too hot to run around wearing anything besides a bikini there, and I didn't feel like carrying clothes a quarter mile just to take a photo. So I did a little impromptu shoot with the bathing suit and replica Aztec gold pendant instead. Sue me.
Here's some photos where you can see the island used in the second movie and what it looks like in real life. It's been FIFTEEN years since the film was released (HOW OLD DO YOU FEEL RIGHT NOW), yet despite the brutal storms and tourism, this island still has some of the same visual characteristics as it had all those years ago. (I threw on some filters and adjusted lighting so you could see the resemblance more clearly, but all the bottom photos are from me!)
P.S.- See what I mean about the low tide?
The scenes filmed in the third movie dealt with a good amount of CGI- and given the nature of the location of that scene (literally just on a sandbar with no recognizable features at all) there was no way I could've figured out exactly which patch of sand on the island they used. My theory is that it was the side where we sat down and sunbathed for an hour, but given the nature of filming (in Dead Man's Chest they made this little cay look like it was just an offshoot of a massive jungle island), who knows. All that matters is that we were there- lol!
They also filmed a number of the Pirates scenes on Grand Bahama Island. However, the scenes filmed there were done in a studio with a giant open water filming enclosure. I figure (1) they might be in the middle of filming or might not accept visitors, and (2) it's literally just a tank. It's the same water as we're floating around in the other islands, so I didn't need to see a giant pool. Lol!
Yes, I am a complete and total nerd. But owning that and loving every minute of it literally makes life worthwhile. I decided that every year I'm doing at least one pirate pilgrimage until I feel like the history nerd in me is satisfied (so probably never).
Now... bring me that horizon (and join me next year in a new location).