Following my article on the Island Expedition association (December 2006), I received many emails or letters on this subject. All these people were shocked by their experience during their stay in the Bahamas. One of them, Emilie, sent me this text. Enjoy reading it:
Good morning, sir,
I came across your site by chance and in particular your letter of December 2006 "Caution with the Island Expedition Association" which immediately caught my attention!
Unfortunately, I felt like I was going back in time a few years...
To explain all this, let me tell you about my experience with them ....
TO REALIZE MY DREAM...
When she was 12 years old, a 16 year old girl living in my city, went to the Bahamas to attend a school at sea. Fascinated by cetaceans and the sea, I wanted to meet her and make sure that I would live the same adventure as her (which she said went very well) the following year.
I went to a selection course with other young people in Opio, we stayed for a week at the mother of the Popov brothers, Dragan supervised the course. Everything went well: in any case, I had only one idea in mind = to be selected and to leave at all costs to realize my dream! The only thing that could have alerted me was this rather "cool" way of living but it is this "difference" that can sometimes attract teenagers!
Here I am, proud to be selected with another Frenchman of my age and a Belgian girl of 17 years old with whom I had sympathized.
The race for sponsors began (my parents could not afford to pay me an expedition for an amount of about 50000 francs = equipment, travel, 3 months of expedition, correspondence courses, ...), all this with the support of my family, my friends, people from my city, etc....
TO END THIS BAD DREAM AS SOON AS POSSIBLE...
On January 2, 1995, at the age of 13 ½, I embarked in Toulouse, via Paris to join 2 other French people (the one I had already met and another one of our age), destination Nassau.
In spite of my eagerness and happiness to leave, I was almost immediately "disillusioned": at first I thought I would be overcome by homesickness, then by an anxiety to follow the 4th grade correspondence courses, etc. .... I was already exchanging a lot of faxes with my parents and my main teacher who encouraged me to live my passion and to hold on. We stayed 15 days in Nassau before embarking on board the famous "small sailboat" Sympatico and another larger sailboat rented by the association with the owner on board.
During these few days in the capital, I had to buy food sometimes with my pocket money, otherwise I ate mainly bread + peanut butter + jam (...) We sometimes passed by the beach to reach the big hotels: we took advantage of the receptions to nibble the small furnitures! When we had to leave, the 2 brothers ordered us to take only a few things, the other bags (also containing the purchases made in the capital) having remained at home...
The crew had to get as much free food as possible in the cargo hold (we got an astronomical amount of cabbage....) and this worried me as a "vegetarian" because otherwise, they only ate fishing (even lobsters in the Exumas Cays reserve!) and rice. Fortunately, I was mainly on board the big sailboat (and relieved because the sailboat was in better shape than the Sympatico) and the crew of Danish origin was nice and quite accommodating in every situation!
On February 4, we were supposed to do some 'survival' alone on an island in front of Long Island: the same evening, my group of 4/5 people came across some drug stalls in a cave. We got scared and went to join the other group and warned the brothers by radio on channel 16. We didn't know that the owners of the drugs had heard everything and the next morning at dawn we heard zodiacs coming in our direction: they wanted to "kidnap" us all. I got scared and had a panic attack, they negotiated to take only me, to bring me back to Long Island... Black hole.... I ended up in the morning with the brothers' mother in her hotel to recuperate and to witness the zodiac chases, the "hostage taking" of the others on the beach... Everything was finally settled (how?) with the brothers.
I don't remember if it was before or after this "incident" but it was the 1st time the brothers' mother talked to me about "acting out" => indeed, I was starting to bother! I had a lot of fevers for 4/5 days, then no appetite, then a stomach ache, then yellowing, etc.... I didn't know what was wrong with me yet but I felt like I was dying... And for them, I was acting!
I witnessed the meeting with a "pirate" woman who asked us to throw our film in the water in case we had pictures of her; a discussion of the brothers who were planning what to do with our money (...); the group that was on board the sympatico drifted for ½ days following a breakdown during a storm (we finally found them!); "pirates" supposedly stole the zodiac attached to the sailboat during a night near the wreck of the Polyxeni, I had an infection on a finger following a burn.); "pirates" supposedly stole the zodiac attached to the sailboat during a night near the wreck of the Polyxeni, I had an infection on a finger following a burn (caused by hot oil) not treated, etc.......
Once I arrived at the wreck, I negotiated to go with some of them to the Dominican Republic rather than stay with them, sick and scared! QUICKLY GO!
When I arrived in Puerto Plata, it was my survival instinct that guided me and saved me in spite of all these adventures. I contacted the insurance company so that doctors could repatriate me. In Santo Domingo, I left in the direction of Madrid/Barcelona to finally arrive at home at the end of February with a HEPATITIS!
EMILIE "BEFORE THE BAHAMAS" WAS NEVER THE SAME AFTER...
The 2 brothers rushed to send a discharge for what was happening to me (which my parents refused to sign).... I also saw my father getting angry for the first time at their mother who demanded that we pay the last month (March) even though I was no longer part of the expedition!
In short, I went back to school a few weeks later with my traumas, with a great disappointment of not having been able to live an adventure up to the expectations of my sponsors (to thank them in a way), and with the sometimes difficult judgment of others (article in the newspaper of the participant of the previous year who defended them, mockery of my classmates, rumors of the people of the city, ....)
I was always aware that there were much more serious things on earth, in other people's lives, so I preferred never to talk about it again...
I later received a newspaper from Nassau with the girls who were with me on the front page, pictured with my swimsuits (etc....) since they NEVER returned all my stuff!
I had nightmares for a VERY long time, because in spite of my maturity, my strong character and my resourcefulness, I must have been too young to take all that...
With this adventure that too often turned into a nightmare, you will understand that my passion for cetaceans and the sea has vanished, or at least, has been put aside... I continued my studies still close to nature, but on land to be less afraid of meeting old ghosts: I am a forestry technician.
But I didn't find a job in this branch: I am an "executive" in the food industry!
I have always hesitated to file a complaint, to denounce all the evil that has been done to me, thinking that maybe I was just unlucky and being afraid of the fallout! But I see that I am not alone... The fact of speaking again about this association makes me feel sick to my stomach and tightens my throat...
I don't know what will be the follow-up to my letter, what it will be used for, except to bring my testimony (my vision as a participant will complete your vision as a companion!) and to relieve me maybe also!
Thank you for taking the time to read a piece of my story, which has been buried in my memory for 12 years.
I think I'm now ready to get back into this adventure, ready to maybe one day return to my first love, cetaceans and the sea!
Good luck with this project.
Montreal, Quebec, Canada, April 2007.