Word traveled fast. The Bahamas has international appeal, and soon people were coming from all over the world to see the swimming pigs.
“It was amazing, you know? We didn’t know it was going to be a tourist attraction so much,” Nixon says. “I’m happy that people can come and enjoy the swimming pigs. They don’t have anywhere in the world like that, you know?”
If there was anyplace that could entice hoofed creatures to go for a swim, it would be the Exumas. The sun is strong, the atmosphere is relaxed and the scenery is unrivaled. Sparkling “Exuma blues” blanket both sides of the horizon, running the gamut from jade to bright turquoise. There are 365 cays — one for each day of the year, as they say — all pristine and many uninhabited.
The islands have a cult following within the entertainment industry. It all started with Thunderball, the 1965 James Bond movie that was filmed at Thunderball Grotto next to Big Major Cay. The islands have also provided a backdrop for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, numerous television shows and too many advertisements to count. Celebrities including David Copperfield, Johnny Depp and Nicolas Cage, as well as husband and wife Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, own entire cays. Every resident of the Exumas has at least one impressive celebrity story. Even so, the swimming pigs often take center stage in conversation. They’re celebrities in their own way.
Despite the glitz and glamour they attract, these islands embody the benefits of the Bahamas in a virtually untouched atmosphere. The people are genuine, kind and welcoming. Golf carts outnumber cars on any island in the Exumas, and fish outnumber tourists. It is, quite simply, paradise.
This tranquility extends to the wildlife as well. The sea creatures are uninhibited and abundant. You can feed almost anything somewhere in the Exumas, from the stingrays near Stocking Island to the sharks near Compass Cay. The pigs command a special kind of attention, however. Maybe it’s the mystery of their arrival, or maybe it’s the sheer spectacle of farm animals living a life most people can only dream of deep in the Bahamas.
We packed up our Boston Whaler that day and said goodbye to the remaining pig, who immediately disappeared into the dense, green island to avoid the midday sun. In a matter of minutes, all was as quiet and as unassuming as when we had arrived an hour earlier. A couple in a kayak paddled by and asked us if we had found anything worthwhile on this quiet island. If it weren’t for the trails of hoofprints leading to and from the ocean, they never would have believed our answer.
HILLARY RICHARD is a travel writer who lives in New York. She loves all creatures, great and small.