It was a warm, sticky summer day on Grand Bahama Island. My husband and I, newlyweds on our honeymoon, had spent the previous day lounging on the crowded beach at our beautiful seaside resort. That day, though, the kitschy appeal of the tourist-centered Junkanoo dance performance had worn off, and we had already discovered that the vendor’s booths across the street were a dressed-up retail venue masquerading as an eclectic local market. Where was the authentic culture of Grand Bahama Island? We didn’t know, but we were determined to find out.
Therefore, sunburnt and floral-print-clad tourists though we were, we struck out on foot in search of the real Bahamas.
We quickly learned that Bahamians don’t do a lot of travel by foot. As we tramped down the side of the road for what seemed like miles, we received a mix of curious and concerned looks from passersby in cars. Finally, we found a fellow pedestrian walking towards us. “Hello!” Ben greeted him, “Do you know where we could find a place to eat?”
“Uh… Espanol, sorry,” the man said apologetically, shrugging. Ben looked at me, since I was the one who was supposed to know how to get around in Spanish. Unfortunately, my one semester of college Spanish was apparently also on vacation, and I only managed to sputter out one heavily accented word: “Comer?” The man smiled broadly, amused at my attempt. He gestured enthusiastically, helping us understand with Spanglish and hand motions that a place called Solomon’s was about ten minutes down the road. We thanked him and walked on, me a bit red-faced from embarrassment.
We discovered, upon arriving, that Solomon’s was a grocery store, not a restaurant. That was fine, because we could definitely find an English-speaker here to give us directions to a local place to eat. After staring in horror at the $10 boxes of Wheaties on the shelf, and imagining a life without cereal, we found an employee who told us how to catch a bus to a place called Sire’s.
We waited for a few minutes at the brightly-painted bus stop before a beat-up old minivan pulled onto the side of the road. We climbed in, handed the bus driver our $2, and asked him to take us to Sire’s. He was curious and a bit surprised, and asked us why we’d left our resort. When we said we wanted to see more of the island, he smiled. “Can you give any advice?” we asked. Could he ever! By the time we reached our stop, we were loaded with plenty of information and ideas about where we could go on the island.
If you ever go to Grand Bahama Island, be sure to go to Sire’s. That place serves the best fried conch I’d ever had. Of course, it was the only fried conch I’d ever had, but that didn’t make it any less delicious. The teen girl who served us giggled the entire time she was talking to us. I’m not sure if she was laughing more at our excitement about fried seafood or at my fear of the bees that wouldn’t leave my floral touristy clothes alone.
The next day, of course, we had to follow the advice of the bus driver. He’d given us directions to a quiet little beach in West End, far from the busyness of our resort in Freeport. Along the way, we found ourselves at the main bus junction on the island. Imagine our delight when we discovered a real market next door! This was the real deal—complete with haggling and fresh mangoes. We took eight little mangoes for $2, and went on our way to Paradise Cove Beach.
The difference between Paradise Cove Beach and our resort’s beach was incredible. At Paradise Cove, we were two of just a handful of tourists on a stretch of sand that seemed to go on forever. A red bar—named, incidentally, The Red Bar—was the perfect place to get some shade and a couple of conch fritters. Just off the sand, there was a reef waiting to be explored. Next to the bar, a series of tide pools teemed with marine life. Ah, yes. This was our happy place.
After lunch, sticky with mango juice and slathered with sunscreen, we chatted with the staff and decided to try a few activities. The activities at our resort had been cool, but we hadn’t been able to afford them. Heck, we couldn’t afford the Bahamas trip—we had won it in a raffle! Twenty bucks for a snorkel gear rental, though, was definitely in the budget.
A snorkel trip and a spear fishing excursion later, we had pretty much made friends with everyone on staff. And by friends, I mean Facebook friends, because that’s the only way you know your friendship is official.
If you go to the Bahamas, get out of the tourist scene and find some locals who have time to hang around and chat. There’s a different vibe to Bahamian culture that is unique to the Caribbean part of the world. Hang around with island people enough, and those of you from time-oriented cultures will feel your tension melt away. I didn’t even know I had so much tension!
The Bahamas is one of those places where time hardly seems to exist. The tide comes in, the tide goes out, and people live their lives. Time doesn’t control you in the Bahamas. It just sort of happens. We all need to live like that now and then. You can’t expect to find that in the touristy areas, though—get out of the flashy scene now and then to appreciate the true beauty of the culture of the Bahamas. You’ll find that it is more than worth it.