Day 5: Nassau, Bahamas

Nassau is one of those off the hook experiences. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but what greeted us was a deluge of Bahamians who wanted our money; wanted us to go for a horse drawn carriage ride; a snorkeling excurion; a scooter ride around the island; wanted us to shop in their stores; eat at the restaurants; stop in for a beer. It was overwhelming. But, I can't blame them. Tourism is their #1 bread winner, so it only makes sense that they really fight for the tourists and really push their wares.

S and I headed off the ship early in the morning to explore Nassau; spending our first hour wandering around, away from the pier, through the shopping district in search of postcards. Making our way back onto the ship to drop off our bags, we ran into TSO who agreed to come with us and go on a two and a half hour guided driving tour of the island and also Paradise Island, where the famously, fabulously expensive Atlantis hotel is located.

Our driver didn’t really tell us much about the history of the island, but rather instead shared things he thought we needed to know about the island. From him we learned some things:
  • New Providence, the island which Nassau is the capital of, is only 21 miles long and 7 miles across and has about 200,000 people on it.
  • The poorest on the island live in shacks without running water or electricity, which cost about $100/month. Our tour guide kept pointing out that there are no homeless people on the island because even the poorest can live in these houses, albeit without amenities. The middle class can rent (what I presume were apts.) for about $500-600/month, or buy homes which cost around $50,000-60,000. The wealthy, are wealthy just like they are here, owning ridiculously large and ornate houses whose values one can only guess. 
  • People on the island don’t pay taxes, for anything. Once you buy a house, it’s yours, so people pay in cash.
  • Medicine is social. Doctors’ visits cost $10, visits to hospital $30, having a baby is $100. (Our tour guide says he calls his three girls his “$100 babies”).
  • The main industry is obviously tourism, followed by alcohol (rum is a big one).
  • Fruiting trees (like mangos) which hang over the street are fair game for anyone to pick from. Just can’t pick fruit from someone’s yard.
  • I’m sure there were some other things learned, but that’s all I can readily remember. Wish I’d had a notepad with me.
Our tour of Nassau continued with a ride over the bridge to Paradise Island, known for its good fishing waters (which also have great whites!!) and its famous Atlantis Hotel, which is this ridiculously lavish, beautiful building. We stopped in quickly for pictures and a quick walk through a small aquarium that is on the bottom floor.
Somehow earlier in our ride we’d gotten on the subject of conch (pronounced “konk”), being assured of 1. It’s amazing taste 2. The fact that for men it can “put lead in your pencil, so you can make lots of the babies. It’s better than Viagra!” I swear to God that this is what the tour guide told us, encouraging TSO to have some.

We stopped along a row of little lean-to-looking-huts, between the water and the bridge back to Nassau; and a bowl of conch salad was ordered for S and I to share. We watched as a man  minced green peppers, tomato, hot pepper (red, not sure what type), onion and the conch meat (freshly sliced from the HUGE conch shell) together with sea salt, squeezing fresh oranges and limes over the mix. The sterilization of our dishes and the washing of the food all happened in this bowl of water (that I was secretly praying was chlorine water).

I loved the idea of the “conch salad;” attracted to it by its exotic appeal (food native to the place I was visiting); summoned to it by a love of all the ingredients (though the conch was a mystery); trepidatious of what sickness I might get from the food, prepared in a modest hut, whose cleanliness might be questioned. And yet, I dug in and was so pleased by the flavors all tripping over each other, even enjoying the heat (I don’t do spicy well) of the mystery red pepper. I was surprised by the conch—a giant mussel—expecting it to be as soft as the mussels I'd had before. This was slightly tougher, which was also a surprise since the whiteness and cut of the conch looked like a gently cooked and small cubed chicken breast. All these mysteries and gloriousness came together into something I enjoyed with a local beer--cold cold cold on that hot day. Eating local fare with local beer, sharing the bowl with S and TSO, there was no where else I wanted to be in that moment. Life is good.


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