Grand Bahama Island: 53 Miles from Florida—only a three hour boat ride from Fort Lauderdale? No problem mon, it’s Bahamas or bust for us. I owe hubby a vacation like this, since a few years ago I made this non-airplane person sit on a plane for an eternity, with an eternal rum buzz, to get him over to my homeland of Hawaii, and the 747 dipped and swooped like a paper airplane in the trade winds to aim at the airstrip below the Koolau Mountain Range. Which stomach-dropping experience made me wish I’d consumed as much rum as snoring hubby in the seat beside me.
The hardest part about boarding the Balearia Ferry in Lauderdale was parking in the dark garage and waiting in the 6am cattle call, but we’d paid extra for “Economy Preferred,” or first class, or VIP or whatever, and we got to board first, go upstairs and drink flat champagne while we waited for the regular people to file on board. Hellya, we’re on vacation mon.
Three calm hours later, we see this:
Got a little ripped off when we were herded into a taxi van by ourselves to Grand Lucaya Resort, instead of sharing one with all the other people going to the island’s number one resort. 27 bucks, thank you, but I was hypnotized by the lady driver’s melodic patois, who told Hubby about the nightly shark feeding back at the marina at Pier One Restaurant, and I saw more 27 dollar cab rides in my very near future.
Shark feeding at Pier One:
Grand Lucaya is indeed a beautiful resort and we had an ocean view room, and there were several restaurants on the property, and we had a hotel $100 credit to charge around at all of them, and the service was wonderful for the Bahamians are professional and just damn nice, but the food, in general, was, EH. (But I am the Food Bitch. Can I be pleased? Read on, mon.) And I felt like I was traipsing around a Wal Mart-inspired cruise ship, what with all the happy captives sucking down 8 dollar sweet drinks and gazing out at the single beautiful view they would see their entire vacation. We did go on a great snorkel tour our first full day, but I was itchin to see the rest of the island. Not by tour.
Renting a car (it gets really good now): the transaction goes like this: exchange 70 bucks for car keys at night in the resort parking lot with one very friendly Hubert, the resort’s musician, who does a mean Sinatra. “Just return the keys to the front desk when you’re done, mon,” he smiles, without seeing my license or insurance or knowing our room number or where we live, or… Not that we could steal his car, but us Americans aren’t used to such simplicity.
Freedom! Is what I feel the next morning, driving out of the resort on the other side of the road. NOW I’m on vacation! I’ve left-road driven before, but with the steering wheel on the right. These are American cars, so it just feels wrong. I enlist Hubby to help me make sure I‘m on the correct—or wrong side of the road. “What? Scared? Where’s your adventure spirit?” Sometimes he’s a stick in the mud. “You’ll have fun,” I say, “I’m in charge now!”
First we cruise Taino Beach, just east of Grand Lucaya. Google this and you’ll see several resorts fronting a gorgeous beach. But a real-car drive through the area neighborhoods and you see who was here first: middle class and lower. Block houses (real people) within in walking distance to beach, beach and more beach. Many houses are ramshackle, but this close to the beach? I could live in a tent and be happy here. These people are lucky! It was very remiss of me to not take any pictures of the beach-front local bar-fried seafood shacks that made my heart skip a beat. We would return later in the day to check this out. Happy hour!
Hubby, “Where are we going?”
“No where, mon, be happy.”
We go to two places recommended to us: Garden of the Groves and Lucaya National Park to see the saltwater caves. For much of the day we feel like we are the only ones on the island. It is a “non-boat day,” meaning no cruise ships, so no crowds, and really, no other people, until we get way out to the “National Park,” where a tour bus has offloaded a group of milky looking folks not looking so fit to go down, and therefore back up the spiral stairs into the caves.
There are no convenience stores along the road, (there is nothing along the road but trees) and we are supremely thirsty, and I have the map and I know where I want to go. Saw it online before we left.
Hubby, “Where are we going?”
My two favorite words in the world fly from my lips: “Beach Bar.”
We cruise through a very well-off neighborhood along Spanish Main Drive, then see some more shacks, before landing at our destination in Mather Town (where there is no town): Margarita Beach Bar, aka Sip a Sands.
Air conditioning! Sand Floor! Expats! We hang here for a while. Love it. I want this to be my corner bar.
Drinks, conversation, a dip in the water, and we’re off to Taino Beach for more adventure. I’d been sticking to Sands Beer, the local brew—a tasty but light beachy beer, since I was left-driving with a wrong-side-steering-wheel car, but Hubby had consumed two margaritas, so my photojournalist took a break from picture-snapping once we got back to Taino. Again, no pics, ’cept this one I took with my phone of Hubby and bar proprietor Chris at the Gullywash Beach Bar and Grill, where we pulled up to join the two people we saw on the ramshackle deck from the beach road.
Hubby: “Where are you taking me?”
“You’re gonna love this, we’re going to drink with these two locals,” one of whom was Chris, Hubby’s soon-to-be new bro-pal.
And there we were, in the heart of local town on a non-boat day, just us minority whites and a few stragglers from the houses behind us no doubt, come in for a cold one and some conversation, surely amused by the buzzed ramblings of these Americans.
So everything is expensive here. A bag of chips is six bucks. Which would cure anyone of a chip habit. A gallon of gas: four bucks. A can of beer: four or five bucks depending on how close to the resort you are. There is no income tax, the only payroll tax is for medical care (What a concept), the island supports itself with only VAT tax levied on purchases, so ya got to deal with that. You’re on vacation, mon, just peel off some more greenbacks. Ok, so that’s out of the way, as well as knowing about the food on the resort. For good food go local.
Billie Joes on the Beach predates Grand Lucaya and is a short walk down the beach. (This was not a coincidence, I knew this before booking Grand Lucaya.) Our first meal and our last meals were here, where seafood is brought in fresh-caught every morning, the conch is sweet, the fry oil is fresh and clean and hot and all is crispy and yummy in the midst of this view:
and a lot of friendly, entrepreneurial spirit below us on the beach: want rent jet skis? A banana boat? Parasail? Want your hair braided? Buy some shells? (which Hubby Sharkman did)
I hear lots of this good local food stuff happens in Taino Beach too, but when we were there, it was a non-boat day, so the sandy sidewalks were pretty much rolled up. Just me, hubby, Chris and that lady on the porch.
So after dropping off the car keys on our driving day, we walked over to the Flying Fish in the Lucaya Marketplace. We’d been there our first night, cozy on a couch on their floating dock listening to a Canadian-Bahamian belt out eighties tunes (don’t knock it, he was good, and did a mean Bowie). The atmosphere was so cool-lounge-ish, with perfunctory service by tall handsome Bahamian men, just had to give it a go, right?
The Flying Fish Restaurant is like one of those places you want to go for Small Plates happy hour for five bucks a plate, only the small plates are 20 bucks. (You are on vacation, mon –right, that mantra). But the food is impeccable and beautiful and the roasted pork belly is wonderful and so is the hamachi tartare and we order smoked chicken wings for hubby because he doesn’t like “drizzly shit.” The service is so professional and friendly—have I mentioned that before? (We learned from our cabbie—Dion— that everyone in the Service Industry goes to a training school, I think we need this in Sarasota, so often I dread going out and parting with my money for mediocre-ness.) The Bahamians, on the other hand, make you love parting with your money, they are so nice. When we leave Flying Fish, we’re asked by a beautiful, smoky-skinned hostess if we enjoyed ourselves, and what brought us there to dine with them? Love it.
Our last day is eventful, a glass bottom boat ride with Reef Adventures to see the reef (and more sharks) one last time:
Our last great meal at Billie Joes, and we call Chris, of Gullywash fame, for our ride to the terminal. So we’re riding along through the industrial end of Freeport when a tire pops.
Hubby:”If we were in the states, I’d think someone was shooting at us.”
Chris: “Not in the Bahamas, mon.
A stranger stops within a minute,—that’s what people do in the Bahamas—and takes us all to the terminal. Chris helps us with early check-in and we hoof it over to Pier One for a few more pics and a few five-dollar beers. Chris gets a ride to his car, and Hubby and I are walking back to the terminal when a car stops. Window down, dark Bahamian man, “Hey, mon, it’s hot, wanna ride?” And we hop in, knowing it’s safe, cuz this is how they do things in the Bahamas, mon.
Yeah, it’s selfie…
If you go:
Balearia Bahamas Express: http://www.ferryexpress.com
G’s Car Rental: Hubert Gibson 1-888-832-6270 firstname.lastname@example.org
Freeport Taxi: Dion V Hanna 242-439-6550 email@example.com (if you’re special like us, you’ll meet his mom and ya might get some of the local drink: Gullywash)
Billie Joes on the Beach http://billyjoesbahamas.tripod.com/index.html
Flying Fish Restaurant: http://www.flyingfishbahamas.com/wine/
Pier One Restaurant: http://pieroneandeast.com/
Gullywash Beach Bar and Grill: Smith Point, near Taino Beach Richard “Chris Ellis”