EXUMA — We’re in the Exuma Cays, a 365-island chain within the Bahamas’ archipelago that draws snorkelers, divers and fishermen. Our captain Ray Lightbourn, is leading our group on a day-long excursion through the stunning, 120-mile-long necklace of islands. We’re and less than halfway through the cruise I already know that it’s one I won’t soon forget.
“Look to the right!” Ray yells, and simultaneously our heads swivel starboard to a scrubby islet. Squinting into the sun we make out stumpy legs and four pairs of large, leaf-shaped ears. As they get closer, we discern enthusiastic snorts and grunts as the animals trot purposefully across the ruffle of golden sand, pick up speed and launch themselves into the surf. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I’d never have believed it: an armada of pigs is paddling feverishly towards us in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.
Yes, swimming pigs!
No one is quite sure how the paddling porkers found themselves on Big Major Cay. Some say that the swine are shipwrecked cargo from a supply boat or brave escapees from a neighboring islet after their pen was destroyed in a storm. Cynics suggest that a nearby resort might have something to do with their sudden appearance on the island about 15 years ago. Today the ever-expanding family survives exclusively on the largesse of visiting boaters, devouring the food they bring and quenching their thirst from the freshwater pond in the island’s interior.
Drawn by the motor’s hum, the pigs circle the stern. Now I can see that they’re not the smooth-skinned, curly-tailed pink variety of nursery rhymes. In reality the “other white meat” is hairy, ranges in color from off-white to black and is considerably larger – and more fearsome – than you might expect; the adults probably tip the scales at more than 150 pounds.
Nevertheless, a few of us strip off and dive in to experience the Bahamas’ own Bay of Pigs. After all, when are we going to ever again have the opportunity – or inclination – to swim with swine?
Holding two buns overhead I slip into the water, and before I’m even waist deep, one of the determined oinkers is making his way towards me, an intimidating sight as he holds his pulsating snout high above the water, snorting loudly as he approaches. He snatches the bounty from my hand, and as he checks to make sure I’m not withholding any more treats, a rock-hard trotter connects with my foot. Oww! “They eat anything and everything – including fingers,” warns captain Ray. A couple of over-zealous pigs even try to clamber into the boat, and Ray tells us about the time he witnessed a pig flip a rubber dinghy, capsizing its startled passengers, pricey cameras and all. But the pigs make no pretense; they’re clearly in it only for the food, voraciously gobbling up all the hot dogs they can get their snouts on. And as soon as the last sausage has been scarfed they turn tail and head back to their island sanctuary. Our porcine encounter has been all too brief and perhaps more risky than we’d expected. But as we set off for the next chapter of our Exuma adventure, we all agree: it’s certainly been one swine day.