Bahamamama!

Copyright: Elle Druskin 2011
Bahamamama!
I’ve just arrived in Florida but it’s raining so no beach today. Instead, we are going somewhere nearby, The Bahamas.

I’m a little prejudiced, but I think the Bahamas are great. The last time I was there was short stay of two nights because it was part of a cruise but I’ve been there under other circumstances too. The Bahamas have everything, great shopping if that’s your thing, and sightseeing, but most people head to the islands for the beaches and for good reason. The Bahamas are a touch of Britain and Africa with a splash of pirates in its past. Blackbeard and Anne Bonney were among the famous pirates who spent time on these islands.

These are the islands, or at least, supposedly, that Columbus first visited in the New World thinking he had found the route to India. Obviously, he took a wrong turn somewhere. During the 18th century, at least 20 pirates used Nassau as their home base. It was also during the 18th century that the slave trade brought Africans to the Bahamas and it is their descendants that primarily compose the people of the Bahamas today. Former British control of the islands, which are independent, can still be seen in the left side driving and for those who are interested in the American Civil War, Nassau was an important base for the Confederate blockade runners. Between the pirates, blockade runners and all the rest, these islands have had a pretty colorful history.

You can generally expect the weather almost always to be pleasant, a bit cooler in winter but still nice. You do have to keep in mind that this is the Caribbean and there is a hurricane season which you have to consider.
Nassau, the capital, is home to the majority of Bahamians. I always enjoy the pastel colored buildings; lots of pink ones and I just find them really pretty. In general, this is a laid back place with friendly people. While English most definitely is the language of the islands, it has a lilt to it and you might have to adjust to hearing it. Like most places, there is also local slang. Two words or phrases you might hear are:
Big eye—greedy
Gussy-mae- large sized Bahamanian girl (that’s a polite translation)
Let’s Hit The Shops
Just about everyone who goes to the Bahamas ends up doing some shopping. It’s kind of hard to avoid. I don’t know that the prices are that fantastic, you have to really check carefully but there’s plenty of shopping with all sorts of prices available. Some of the shops are, well, trashy, and others are very good quality.

Bay Street is the main shopping street in Nassau. If you are arriving by cruise ship, you can easily walk there. Just walk past all the ships parked at the docks—there’s always plenty of them, turn right, keep walking and you will hit Bay Street.

This street has some well known stores—Fendi, MAC, etc. Lots of perfume and cosmetics shops, jewellery, fashion, etc. The last time we were there, my Mom insisted on going to Del Sol; their merchandise includes tote bags, nail polish, tee-shirts, etc. that change color when exposed to the sun. I have a bag with a plain black and white picture on it but when I get outside, the picture starts to change and all sorts of colors appear in the drawing which always draws comments from people. It’s kind of cute. Same with the nail polish, it changes color once I am exposed to sun and then changes back again inside. Anyway, if you want to do serious shopping, head to Bay Street. If this isn’t enough for you, you’ll find more shops on Paradise Island and on Grand Bahama Island at the International Bazaar at Freeport.

Most tourists who are in Nassau for the first time will head to the Straw Market. I haven’t been there in years to be honest and I’m not in the market for straw goods but it is a place to come, browse, and possibly buy. One thing you must remember: don’t pay the asking price. You are supposed to bargain. Personally, I don’t like bargaining and this might because of childhood incident in the Straw Market. I was a kid the first time my family went to the Bahamas, and my sister and I wanted straw dolls. Why, I don’t know. And, like everything else, you bargain the price. This is my mother’s best sport. She lives to bargain, tells sellers their merchandise is junk, they should pay her to take it off their hands, walks away and they chase after her shouting “Madame! Come back!” I’ve seen her pull this routine all over the world. Then the serious bargaining starts. My sister and I were dumbfounded, my father so embarrassed, that he slipped the woman selling the dolls some extra money in the end which Mom knew nothing about. The point is, yes, bargain at the Straw Market. You or your tween or teenage daughter might want to bargain to get your hair braided around the Straw Market area too.

You should also visit Potter’s Cay which is a local fish market. You’ll find lots of fish and tropical dishes available. Local dishes are made from the conch which is a shellfish. You can order conch salad, conch fritters, conch chowder and sometimes, conch stew. Conch is pronounced “konk” by the way. Speaking of food, what should you try other than conch?

Bahamas Cuisine
You can find anything you like in terms of food here. If you insist on the fast food outlets, they’re available. If you must eat Italian food, French food or whatever, no problem but you should try at least some of the local food.

You’re on an island and like most islands, expect a lot of fish. Local fish that you might be familiar with are red snapper (I really like that one), yellow tail and grouper. Try the local fish stew which is usually made with grouper or the chowder flavoured with rum, lime juice and tomatoes. There are also local lobsters although I have never eaten them so I can’t recommend personally. Southerners should feel right at home with the fish and grits cooked with green peppers and onions which is often served for breakfast.

You can, of course, get meat but I have never ordered raccoon stew. Feel free to try it and let me know how it was.
Calorie Alert! You should try some of the desserts. I love anything with coconut so I’m recommending the coconut pies and tarts. You’ll also want to try the pineapple tarts and guava duff which combines the fruit in the dough and topped off with sauce that includes brandy or rum. None of these desserts is for calorie counters but you’re going to work that off in water sports, right? Or, you could choose to dance it off at some of the local clubs but you should know they have cover charges. Finally, there are indeed casinos in the Bahamas, so if you love to gamble, go for it! You won’t lose weight there but you probably will lose money if you choose to gamble. Chalk it off to entertainment and know your limits.

White Sand, Dolphins and Sharks, Oh My!
Okay, you’re ready to hit the beach and those Bahama beaches are beautiful with white sand and crystal clear water. Some of the cruise ships have arrangements for visits to cays or little islands that they own or lease, I don’t know which but everything is exclusive to their companies. If you are not on a cruise, you have your pick of beaches that are public. Many of the hotels have private beaches and that can be a problem unless you are staying at one of those hotels.

I am not necessarily recommending the ones around Nassau, I think there are better ones, but if you are in Nassau, there are a few that might be worth checking out. The Western Esplanade or Junkanoo Beach is an easy walk from “downtown” Nassau. Because this beach is frequented by tourists, they do have public bathrooms and change areas and there are plenty of snack places nearby. I have heard that this beach is not well maintained in the “off season” which is December-January so before you head there, find out before you are disappointed. It also tends to get extremely crowded during “Spring Break,” so I urge caution before you go to this beach or you might end up hating it.

If this is too crowded for your taste, and it might be, head down to Caves Beach. This is not walking distance; it’s a good 7 miles from Nassau and you won’t find public facilities like Junkanoo but it will be less crowded.

Personally, I think you would be far better off heading to Paradise Island. The first time I went there, it was still being developed but that was a long time ago and it has really changed. You can be pretty sure of snorkelling, boating and deep sea fishing excursions, diving, jet-skiing, kitesurfing/boarding (which I have not tried but trying to rev up the courage to do it) and there’s always beach volleyball going on somewhere. It doesn’t matter if you are experienced or a complete beginner at any of these sports; they will tailor things to suit you so give them all a try.

I am not a diver but I know people who are and they say there are shipwrecks to be explored and the coral reefs that are a habitat for the fish are fantastic. The fishing charters are usually 4 to 8 hours. I don’t think they can guarantee you a fish, but you’d have to be pretty unlucky not to come back with some. You can choose between shallow waters where there are likely to be more fish or go deeper. You might hook a shark but then how the heck are you going to fit that in a suitcase to take home? Yes, there are sharks in these waters; it’s their habitat. If you catch some nice grouper, I would be happy to cook it up for you but I’ll skip the shark, thanks anyway.

Keeping the Kids Happy
Traveling with kids means accommodating to some extent to their interests and at least some of the time, the things they want to do could be things you want to do too. So, if you are traveling with kids, you will probably have to go to the Aquaventure Water Park. It’s a jam-packed water park with its rides, paddle boats, marine life, etc. This place has around 14 or 15 pools, wave surges, river rides and slides. It also has climbing facilities and probably everything you could want to entertain kids at whatever age from fairly young children to teens. You should also visit Dolphin Cay and Dolphin Encounters. This might not only be for the kids; the adults will enjoy it just as much. Dolphin Encounter also has sea lions, or it did as far as I know.

Paradise Beach is both public and private. The Atlantis Hotel owns a strip of the beach but parts of it are open to the public so you don’t have to be a guest to use this beach. One of the nice things is the shade, with little huts to help avoid too much sun exposure. Cabbage Beach is also nice, a bit crowded at times and you can have lunch at the cafes near the beach.

If you are looking for a bit more quiet, you might try Eleuthera Island. It doesn’t matter where you are on Eleuthera, you are never far from the beach. A lot of people head there for fishing but you can sit back and loaf around the beaches which are white sand and sometimes look sort of pink. There are water sports and snorkelling and diving and again, the shipwrecks to explore but generally, this is a quieter island.
There are plenty of other beaches, islands and activities or quiet depending on what you are looking for on Grand Bahama Island. I think if you plan well, you can’t go wrong with a nice break in the Bahamas.

4 comments

  1. Anna Sugg says:

    OMGosh, you’ve made me want to head for the Bahamas. I’ve only been once and I just told my hubby two ago that the OCEAN was calling me. I live in the Rocky Mountain area and I get the calling once a year from the ocean. Love the oceans.

  2. elledruskin says:

    I love the ocean too! Check out the previous blog entries for some nifty beach vacation ideas.

  3. Randall Lang says:

    Hi Elle,

    Excellent information and well presented. Sounds ideal for someone in search of a drinking village with a fishing problem. I have been checking out the smaller islands to find a slow paced beach with local food and lots of local drink. A place where even morning coffee has an umbrella in it. Ah bliss!

    Randall

  4. elledruskin says:

    Hi Randall,
    I make no guarantees, all the blog entries are based on personal experience but these little details might help. Find your beach, sit back and relax. Enjoy it because I am sure we have all earned a break.
    Elle

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