Monday, February 11, 2008

Why We Cruise: Day Two

Tourist Economy

Tuesday morning we were docked at Nassau, New Providence Island.

It is a small island, but the capital of the nation of the Bahamas. The part of the island we were docked at was near Paradise Island; a little spit of land connected by bridge to the main island. They recently built a huge resort and casino here called the Atlantis. The resort holds what's reportedly the second largest aquarium in the world, (after one in Spain). The extravagantly rich and famous regularly stay here, (Michael Jackson reportedly spent oogles of money to reserve a section of the resort) and the rest of Paradise island holds vacation homes of several famous actors and other VIPs.

We got off the ship, and immediately wandered into a restricted area. I snapped this picture moments before the guards began to swarm.

Whoops, didn't see that little sign.

We were sternly but courteously guided out to the main entrance-way building. On the other side we were suddenly swamped with offers of cab rides, horse and buggy rides, and hair braiding. Lots and lots of hair braiding offers.

We swatted away their advances and made it into the center of town. Being a Tuesday morning, the city was alive and bustling with people going about their business, with lots of shopping bag and camera laden tourists sprinkled among the townies.

We checked out several stores and picked up a couple trinkets. I found a decent snorkel and mask I liked, after fighting off several high pressure sales pitches in a couple stores. The locals are very skilled and determined when dealing with the tourists. You need to be skilled and determined back, or you'll end up with stuff you don't really need. I probably wouldn't look too good with a hair braid.

It was time to hit the water. For a dollar you can get on the small crowded buses that are constantly going by, and get pretty much anywhere on the island.

We got on one and headed for Cable Beach, another hotel/casino/resort area, located a few miles from town on the northern coast.

The Cable Beach area is the main destination for tourists, though probably getting a lot of competition, now that the Atlantis resort went up. There are lots of restaurants and bars here, including a Hard Rock Cafe, and a very nice casino in one of the hotels. One of the older hotels, though still in fine shape, is at the moment being knocked down to make room for something even bigger and nicer. This is a major tourist destination in the Bahamas. Luckily we were here in the off season, so it there were minimal amounts of people and drunk American kids around.

We hung out there most of the afternoon, and I tried out my new snorkel among some rock shoals nearby. Incredible clarity in the warm water, and I found probably two dozen varieties of colorful fish, hanging about the coral covered rocks. I floated around among them for a couple hours. Amazing.

It was getting kind of late in the afternoon, so we packed up and headed out to the main street to catch a bus back. I decided on the spur of the moment to see if we could get back to town by going the other way, around the island, to see what was on the other side. None of the regular buses seemed to be going past Cable beach though, until we flagged down one bus that seemed to be headed in our direction. Or maybe he flagged us down.

Enter Doctor Willie

Doctor Willie was a former history teacher on the island, but found it more lucrative to drive the tourists around. He was apparantly done with his shift, and was transporting a young lady and child he knew when he saw us. We asked if there were any buses that could get us back to town via the long way around the island, and he immediately volunteered, he just had to drop off the young lady first. We climbed aboard.

A short time later the lady was dropped off, and Doctor Willie treated us to a personal full blown guided tour of the island. He first took us to the western end of the island, and rattled off the names of celebrities and other VIP's as we passed their homes. Most of the houses were shrouded behind trees or gated communities. Interestingly there was also an inordinate amount of huge houses owned by dentists, mixed in among the celebrities.

Doctor Willie was a talker. I mean non-stop, sometimes his voice cracked and he kept on talking. Everything from local history and politics, to famous people he drove around, to his brief stint as an extra on the movie Jaws III.

Definitely a charming fellow, I thought. Then we found ourselves driving down a side rode, that got progressively less paved and less populated, and eventually we found ourselves barreling down a dirt path, surrounded by vegetation.

Willie told us he just had to make a quick stop, and there was a friend of his, George, he wanted us to meet. Hmmm. This wasn't in the brochure. We pulled up to a small isolated patch of property deep in the tropic wilderness. There we found a trailer converted to a house, the yard strewn with hand made nick-nacks. It was the Bahamian version of a West Virginia deep woods mountain shanty.

He pulled up, turned off the bus, opened the side door, and honked a couple times. Stillness fell about us for a moment. The birds chirped outside in the wilderness, and a creeping suspicion began to take hold in the back of my mind. Kelly looked at me and whispered something I couldn't hear, but I could tell her senses were on alert also. I began surreptitiously taking pictures of the surroundings, just in case the investigators found the camera later. Keeping one eye on the open door, and slyly scanning our surroundings with the other, the name Van Der Sloot began uncomfortably springing up in my mind. Willie cut the silence and began talking again, directing us to the various hand made adornments and florishes George had decorated his property with.

A moment later George appeared and walked up to the drivers window, Willie introducing us as his new friends. They muttered something to each other, and George looked back at us and waved. We cheerfully waved back, but I continued snapping more pictures for evidence.

In a few minutes they ended their conversation, and Willie started up the bus. Me and Kelly smiled and waved at George again, and quietly sighed with relief. I don't know what happened there. I don't know if Willie regarded his buddy's house as some kind of tourist destination, and was expecting us to get off the bus and merrily tour the grounds. Maybe have a beer or something. I don't know what that was, but I was happy to be moving again. Maybe that's how they do things in the Tropics. We weren't in Kansas anymore.

We continued our tour, and went through the outskirts of Nassau. This was apparantly where most of the blue collar locals lived. Rich or poor, old or new, most of the buildings on the island are beautifuly colored in pastels. Willie said most of the buildings are formed from concrete mixed with conch shells. So even the unpainted buildings have a pastel hue to them.

We passed through some decidedly poorer sections of town, to view a cross-section of Bahamian life, as Willie called it.

Getting back into Nassau,we asked Willie to drop us off at the edge of the city. There was still time to do a little more exploring before we got back to the ship. We said farewell to Doctor Willie, and thanked him for going out of his way and giving us that interesting, informative, extensive tour.

We walked by the National Art Gallery, the wall outside covered in street art.

Then we came by a couple beautiful old churches.

Willie had said this type of tree is referred to by the locals as the Mother-in-law tree, due to the chattering noise the seeds make in the pods when the wind blows. He then became very serious, and told us he wasn't supposed to reveal that to the tourists.

The sun was now beginning to set, and we cut through an old graveyard, to save some time. On this island most of the graves are concrete tubs, with earth covered slabs laid over the top, or they're above ground crypts. I assume this is because of a high water table/ low elevation on the island. The graveyard looked like it had been filled up a long time ago, and has fallen into decay...

It was a good day on the island. We got back to the ship, and got ready for the night...


Mary E.Carey said...

The graveyard, sunset, palms against the clouds and ship photos are great. Also the rest. Love how the kids wear uniforms to school.

Tony said...

Thanks Mary. Just bear with me, only two or three more of these posts to go...I hope this isn't becoming a "check out my vacation slides" type thing, I know how boring that can be...!