Like much of the world, the Bahamas has had to put big development plans on the back burner as the country rides out the economic recession. The largest project, the Baha Mar overhaul of the Cable Beach strip, was supposed to be up and running by now, but is years behind schedule. Bahamians have used this situation as an opportunity to spruce up existing properties and improve an infrastructure that was starting to show signs of age and neglect. Once the tide turns and tourism picks back up, the Bahamas will be better than ever.
…is still very British. From driving on the left side of the road (albeit mostly in left-hand drive cars) to tea parties to wig-wearing lawyers strolling into court, the Bahamas still has a decidedly British air about it. The country gained independence from England in 1973, but old colonial habits die hard. Young Bahamians learn British spelling in school, and the country still uses the Westminster style of government. That said, a constant diet of American media has had an impact on the country. Bahamians measure temperature in Fahrenheit instead of Celsius, and although the English gentleman's cricket is the Bahamas' national sport, you'll be hard-pressed to find a local who understands the game, much less plays it.
…is a playground for the rich and famous. With its near-perfect year-round weather, modern infrastructure and amenities, and proximity to the United States, it's no wonder that the Bahamas is a home away from Hollywood for many celebrities. Sean Connery, the original James Bond, lives behind the gates of the exclusive Lyford Cay community on New Providence Island. Johnny Depp owns his own private island in the Exumas, as do Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, David Copperfield, and Nicolas Cage, who also owns a home on Paradise Island. Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon got hitched on the grounds of her private Eleuthera estate; the island is also home to Lenny Kravitz, whose mother, actress Roxie Roker, grew up there.
…is many different destinations. The majority of the 5 million tourists who visit the Bahamas each year experience only Nassau, Paradise Island, or perhaps Grand Bahama. But with more than 700 islands, there's so much more to see and do. Each island offers a different flavor and none of them have the hustle and bustle of big-city life experienced in the capital. The farther south you venture, the slower the pace. Locals have distinct looks, dialects, and surnames on each island. White Americans and British settled in the Abacos and north Eleuthera, and their strong accents—putting an h' where there isn't one and omitting one where there should be—help tell them apart from expats. Long Island is home to a large "conchy joe" population, white Bahamians who might have had a black great grandpa. Tell someone you're a Knowles and they'll want to know if you're a Long Island Knowles or an Eleuthera Knowles as they try to place you.
…is getting spruced up. After 10 years of temporary tent quarters, the Nassau straw market's $11 million new home is finally underway. Bay Street, once Nassau's Madison Avenue, is on the road to recovery after years of neglect. The Lynden Pindling International Airport is now a modern gateway that truly welcomes visitors. And following a number of false starts, the multibillion dollar Baha Mar transformation of the Cable Beach strip is still chugging along. As Nassau continues to develop, the Out Islands remain untouched, preserving the quaint nature that attracts adventure travelers each year.
…is not part of the Caribbean. Even though the country gets lumped in with the Caribbean in glossy travel brochures and on cruise itineraries, it is not geographically a part of it. Rather than being situated in the Caribbean Sea, the islands of the Bahamas are in the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, more Bahamians have traveled to nearby South Florida than to the Caribbean. But from a cultural and political point of view, the Bahamas is aligned with the neighboring islands. The country is a full member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Bahamians will cheer on their Caribbean brothers and sisters in any sporting match.
…is worried about the environment. After an April 20, 2010 explosion, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig leaked huge quantities of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, near Louisiana. At the time of this writing, oil had not made its way to the Bahamas, but some scientists predict it could be headed to the northern islands, depending on water currents. For the most up-to-date information, visit the US Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.com), Bahamas Tourism (www.bahamascom), or check with your hotel.
What We're Talking About
Bahamians are passionate about their politics, and with a general election scheduled to be called in 2012, you'll be sure to hear opinions about which party will win, what the issues will be, and scandals that may or may not sway voters. The Bahamas adopted the democratic parliamentary Westminster system of government from England. As a member of the Commonwealth, there is a Governor General who serves as the Queen's representative. A Prime Minister leads the government made up of two levels of legislature. The upper chamber is called the Senate, with senators appointed by the Prime Minister in consultation with the leader of the official opposition. The lower chamber is the House of Assembly and members are elected by the people. Hubert Ingraham and the Free National Movement Party are currently in a third nonconsecutive term. The Progressive Liberal Party is the main opposition; Bahamians have never given fringe parties a second glance.
Even the most patriotic Bahamian will admit that the country's jewel—downtown Nassau—had lost its luster. Sidewalks and building facades were grimy with soot from nonstop traffic, and with the recent global economic slump, once spectacular stores had given way to tacky T-shirt shops or were left vacant. In 2009 the Downtown Nassau Partnership was formed to revitalize the historic city. The first initiative was a new home for the straw market that was destroyed by fire in September 2001. Also on tap are plans to make the roads that connect Shirley Street, Bay Street, and the wharf pedestrian-only.
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