A lesson in being disorganised - Nassau, Bahamas

Wed, Nov 28, 2007 8-minute read

Final thoughts on Eleuthera? Awesome. Such a beautiful island, great weather, incredibly friendly people and an altogether pleasant experience. Not to mention some of the best surf I’ve seen and ridden. Surfer’s Beach is a good spot, although James Point further up the coast is even better. If you’re looking for a surfari, then consider Eleuthera. And I’m sure the Surfer’s Haven would be willing to accomodate you. You’ll meet some fantastic people (my Facebook contacts are growing at a rapid rate!), you’ll inevitably sup some rum (beware the Bacardi 151) and have a very chilled out time.

The following may turn out to be a somewhat tedious diatribe of my failings as a competent globetrotter, it might show me up as being a bit foolish, or alternatively it may help some random person who find themselves in a similar situation. So feel free to skim over it quickly if it doesn’t fulfil your expectations of my usual humourous and engaging witterings. So moreorless, what follows first is a few words on travelling around the Caribbean. Job one was to get from Eleuthera to Nassau, with the plan to catch a connecting one way flight in to Havana, Cuba. The thing with Eleuthera is that, despite being barely 2 miles wide, is some 100 miles long. Which means getting anywhere takes time. Fortunately friends from the Haven had hired a car, and despite the airport being about 30 minutes in completely the opposite direction to the one they were heading, they were able to give me a lift to the airport for my 955am flight to Nassau from Governor’s Harbour. Here’s the first word of warning: if you’re flying BahamasAir and they tell you that they have a 1.5 hour check-in time, you’re well advised to adhere to it, heck, get there 2 hours early. I can’t vouch for the other airlines serving Eleuthera, but my 955am flight left 40 minutes early with the net result being that we arrived in Nassau before we were even scheduled to leave. We got there in time, with minutes to spare, I might add, so it all worked out OK for me, but it would be easy for other people to get caught out.

Following arrival in Nassau, my plan was to get the first flight out of there to Havana on Cubana. The plan was a one way flight in to Havana, and whilst there I was going to book a one way flight in to Cancun in Mexico. Unbeknownst to me (although it’s a warning I’ve heard on previous occasions) that without proof of your outbound flight from Cuba (or a Cuban passport) they won’t sell you a one way ticket to Havana and the surly Cuban desk clerks aren’t forthcoming with the help. Bugger. The opportunity for booking the flight in Nassau airport were, it seemed, nonexistent, so my only option to was to stay a night in Nassau and make my arrangements. No worries, a quick Google and a $25 cab ride later and I was at the cheap and cheerful Towne Hotel in downtown Nassau. First impressions are that it will definitely suffice, particularly as the $85 a night rate was by far one of the cheapest places to stay.

Hmm, a quick tangent. I’ve been using a lot of the hostel / hotel booking websites recently to try and find good (and cheap places to stay). One of the most helpful parts of those sites are that they generally allow reviews from past guests which can serve as an excellent indicator as to whether the hotel’s own description of their facilities is utter tosh or not. Now, the Towne Hotel hasn’t received particularly favourable guest reviews and it would have been easy to go elsewhere on the basis of said reviews. But my twin ensuite room with air conditioning, in-hotel bar and restaurant, talking parrot in the foyer, small pool, (unadvertised) wireless DSL and friendly staff belies those reviews and the nightly rate, compared with other places nearby. (That is, if I wasn’t alone, the rate would have been the same, and $40 a night each for a hotel in Nassau is pretty good.) My advice, therefore, is that wherever possible maintain objectivity and take the reviews with a pinch of salt. That is, my expectation of a hotel room is likely to differ drastically to those of others. OK, so the floor of my bedroom has what resembles the outline of a dead body on it, the air conditioning is so noisy that you couldn’t possibly have it on during the night (although it does drown out the noise of the street below) and the complimentary “continental breakfast” consisted of some dry toast and what looked and tasted like SunnyD, but nevertheless, it’s perfectly passable as a rain-keep-er-off-er (even though it’s not raining) and has a quaint Bahamian charm about it (despite the Christmas carols Bahamian reggae style.)

Back to the story. Rather than jumping straight on the computer and hooking myself up with the needed flight out of Cuba, I hit the laundry, a crazy place in a particularly dodgy area of town. On the way there I was offered every assortment of drug imaginable and on the way back was accosted by a toothless crazy gibberish-spouting man who punched me in the chest. But at the laundromat, I met a (admittedly crazy) local named Stevie who was drinking a bright pink slushie, which I was surprised to find out didn’t have any rum in. I felt certain he was going to try and sell me some gangia, or some smokes or his sister, but he didn’t. He talked incessantly, but intelligently about the issues of the day and how he doesn’t fear death because has made his peace with God. He then randomly gave me a gift of a silver American quarter. Big deal, you might think, but it is a rare one which is no longer in circulation, I believe. It was such a kind and unexpected gesture and I was fortunately able to reciprocate by offering him a shiny 50 pence piece. He was stoked by that and promised to bore a hole in it and wear it on a chain around his neck.

Back to the hotel and a beeline for the hotel bar was made, where I met a Kiwi guy called Mike. We sat and drank beer for a few hours, slagged off the Americans, got dinner, drank more beer and shot the shit ’til the early hours. It occurred to me early on that he might be, how can I say, a bit left-handed, as he was dressed in what can only be described as white cotton hotpants and after a few beers took delight in touching me on the shoulder. (It actually got me a little worried, as I’d had a similar experience in Eleuthera, where a guy in a bar asked me, in reference to the conversation about car batteries, if I’d like him to “juice me up”, which, needless to say, I politely declined.) But Mike didn’t offer me any such services and I can only imagine I was still a little traumatised from the battery-juicing experience.

Nassau itself is a pretty disappointing place. I say that as a cynical anti-corporate anti-tourist snob (despite being a tourist myself.) What I mean, simply, is that Nassau is a beautiful Caribbean island which has become overrun with every imaginable hotel chain, fast food outlet and enormous cruise ships. The place is full of pasty tourists which, it seems, the locals are taking pleasure in exploiting. I remember saying similar things about Niagara Falls, and there are comparisons with other places I’ve visited, such as Honolulu. The natural beauty of these places ought to be enough to draw the tourists, without all the added shit that now ubiquitously goes along with it. I’ve never really understood why someone would go to the Caribbean where the hospitality of the locals, fresh fish and Conch salad and native daiquiri’s are amongst the best in the world, only to stay in the 400 room Hilton, eat Burger King and drink Budweiser. Well, I guess not all people can be as worldly as me.

But Nassau has an uglier side, which it seems certain to have come about as a result of the influx of the corporate greed. In addition to the narcotics, I’ve been offered women and small boys, should I want them and Stevie told me of stories of people being murdered barely blocks from where all the tourists end up. My taxi driver to the hotel was an incredibly insightful young lady. I asked her if the likes of Paradise Island, Atlantis and so on had been good for Nassau. She said yes, since the tourist industry had created hundreds of new jobs for locals, but she felt the area had lost its island feel, since it now resembles any other big city, which seems like a fair evaluation (highlighted by the beauty of Eleuthera which remains largely untouched.)

This morning I booked my flight out of Havana into Cancun (not that I have any intention of staying in the resort of Cancun, for the reasons above), booked some accomodation in Cuba, only to discover that the flight to Havana tomorrow is full. So I’ll be “enduring” another day in the Bahamas. I say “endure”, since I really can’t complain about being here since, it is, after all, the Bahamas.

Even if the music in here is now a haunting panpipe rendition of Silent Night slowly sequing in to Joy To The World. Ouch.