Nassau, The Bahamas
I don't think we had ever been welcomed into a country by a friendlier bunch of people. Everyone at the Bahamas airport was ready to sit down and have a chat, providing us with all the information we could ever need. I also don't think we had ever moved so quickly through immigration before - we were in and out before we knew it. Maybe the conversations by the officers were a ploy to make us forget how long we had been standing in line. If it was, it worked.
One taxi ride to downtown Nassau and we soon realised we were back in the land of everything expensive. Maybe that was why everyone was so happy - they knew how much money they were going to extort from us. We found the apartment we were staying at, booked through Airbnb. Close to downtown, near the beach and devoid of other occupants. Perfect.
The main street of Nassau reminded us of the Cayman Islands: colonial buildings, duty free shops, cruise ship passengers, touristy. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but it wasn't what we came here to see. We meandered through the shops, collecting free samples of rum cake in half a dozen of them. Like Cuba, rum was definitely the drink of choice, but here it was Bacardi rather than Havana Club. We stopped at a local supermarket that didn't look too flashy, but our basic food ingredients still cost us an arm and a leg. It was probably cheaper than eating out at every meal though.
Having a proper apartment all to ourselves was too tempting, so we skipped the Nassau nightlife (if there was any) and stayed in. Cable TV with English-speaking shows, free wifi, a home-cooked stir fry dinner and, of course, plenty of rum. It was fantastic.
Paradise Island was where the rich and famous stayed in impossibly large resorts, with their every need catered for. It was a tiny bit out of our budget range. We could afford, however, to walk around the island to see what all the fuss was about. We walked from our apartment, through downtown, across the bridge and onto the island, as it looked close on the map. Maps can be so deceiving. Luckily we could pick up more free rum cake to fuel our trek (there were a thousand different flavours of rum cake, so we never became sick of it).
As soon as we arrived, I felt like I was on a movie set. Neat streets lined with evenly spaced palm trees, pristine houses in an assortment of bright colours, every blade of grass in perfect alignment - it looked so phony. We left the residential area before we nudged something out of place and headed out to the beach: blindingly white sand, turquoise water, faultless. Even the beach looked fake, yet I was staring at it with my own eyes.
The beach led up to the famous Atlantis, easily the most opulent resort I had seen with my own eyes. I lost count of how many pools and restaurants I passed, but it seemed there was one for every guest. Baby sharks and stingrays swam in circles in an outdoor lagoon, the purpose of which was lost on me. Casinos, designer shops, a golf course, water slides - you would never have to leave. You would never even know you were in a different country. I didn't understand why people travelled all the way to the Bahamas to sit inside an artificial bubble that they could probably do in their own country for a fraction of the price. Maybe it was for the free rum cake.
As if we weren't going to visit the rum distillery while we were here. We held out until after eating lunch before walking up to the grand Buena Vista Estate. In a short, makeshift tour we learned just as much about their production of vodka as their rum. The vodka was made from sugarcane, and filtered through the pink local sand. I would love to say we tried it and it was amazing, but tastings were on the expensive side so we picked only one to taste. The lucky winner was an aged rum, which was decent but not mind-blowing.
Nassau's beaches weren't quite up to the standard of those on Paradise Island, but they were much less crowded and therefore more enjoyable for us. The water was incredible; I could not have picked a better temperature if I tried. We lived near the beach in Australia, but rarely went swimming due to the bone-chilling conditions outside of summer. If we moved to the Bahamas, I think I would spend every day in the water.
I was up early to go for a run along the quiet streets, everyone still in bed after a late night celebrating Independence Day. I returned to the house to eat breakfast with Danny, but he shocked me by going for a run himself. His first run on our entire trip. I think the humidity was a bit of a slap in the face for him, as he didn't last long.
What do you do when you're in the Bahamas? Apparently you go to the cricket pub to watch the Ashes. Well at least that's what we did. The pub was housed in a dilapidated, two-storey wooden building overlooking a cricket pitch, and we weren't the only ones there. I like watching cricket but I hate sitting still, so I stayed for a little while before leaving Danny to see more of the town.
I walked up to an overgrown fort on the hill, with absolutely no views of anything except the cricket pitch. The fort itself was basic and uninteresting to me (history buffs would probably enjoy it) so I left soon after arriving.
In the centre of Nassau I strolled past the baby pink Government House, climbed up the beautiful Queen's staircase to a different fort that almost provided views, wandered through the tourist village full of souvenir shops set up for cruise ship passengers (of which there were plenty - shops and passengers), tried my first key lime flavored rum cake (fantastic), and bought some veggies at a street stall (no supermarkets were open due to it being a public holiday). Much more productive than watching the cricket.
The afternoon was significantly untouristy. After eating sandwiches for lunch at the apartment we spent the remainder of the day watching cable TV and drinking rum with a variety of mixers. Danny cooked us up some snacks, including eggplant chips and corn fritters (it was a bit of a fat day for us). We even ate dinner at home, not being bothered to go anywhere. As soon as we had finished eating another man in the apartment complex invited us down to the pool area for a barbecue he was hosting. We had been here three days and already we were one of the locals. Everyone was so friendly in this country!
Everyone except our dive instructor. He was rude, arrogant, and nothing like anyone else we had met on the island. This dive trip was easily our most expensive, yet there was no assistance at any stage and no questions allowed unless all you wanted in return was flak. We stayed well out of his way to avoid the public shamings he was all too keen to dish out.
At least the dive sites were worthwhile. First up was a blue hole, a new experience for us. We followed the vertical walls directly down towards the sea floor. Little caverns extended into the wall here and there, housing lobster and lionfish. There wasn't a lot of sea life in the hole itself, but swimming in the shallows near the entrance to the hole we witnessed a couple of harmless sharks and a stingray.
The second site was a reef, and we were permitted to explore the area by ourselves. Another first: self-navigation. We were excited but a little wary that we weren't quite ready for this. We didn't venture far away from the boat but still managed to see more sharks and stingrays, plus barracuda, moray eels and plenty of schools of fish. In the end we surfaced almost exactly where we had planned to. Apparently we weren't completely inept.
That afternoon Danny found a brewery. I found more rum cake samples. We were both happy in our own, unhealthy ways. Walking back to the apartment we passed by the Junkanoo festival, a weekly party in summer to celebrate everything Bahamian. It was still being set up as we wandered through, but we scoured the market and food stalls that were open. Danny bought conch fritters that he had eagerly wanted to try, and was not disappointed. Most of the stalls sold the same foods (primarily seafood), none of which interested me at all. We left before the dancing and music started, with the aim of coming back later on that night to check out the action. It didn't happen. The pull of the couch was too strong for us, and we crashed on it with a bowl of popcorn. When did we become so old?