Trip Report - Nassau and Hopetown

Sep 3rd, 2008, 05:44 PM
  #1  
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Trip Report - Nassau and Hopetown

I'm not sure I've ever seen a trip report here on the Caribbean Board, though I don't frequent it, so maybe I'm wrong. I'm going to do one, anyway. You can pass on it if it's boring to you.

Speaking of which I'm going to begin with the logistics end of this trip, which were a freaking nightmare. Please do skip to the second installment, coming along tomorrow or the next day, if all you want to read about is the actual trip.

Details: I and my SO and my daughter M were to fly on Spirit Airlines from Washington, DC, to Nassau on Thursday, August 28. We made our reservations through Travelocity, got a decent price, got our electronic tickets by email....all was well.

M was supposed to fly home from CA the afternoon of August 27 (with my ex-H, her dad) and spend the night in DC before she and SO and I took off for Nassau.

First glitch in plans: SO finds out his son wants to go with him to a concert the night of the 28th, which is right around his B'day, so SO calls Travelocity to change his Spirit ticket to the 29th (leaving a day after my daughter M and me). Travelocity says it does not have a relationship with Spirit that allows it to make changes to or cancel a reservation, that we have to do that directly with Spirit, which we do. So now, M and I are leaving on August 28 at 10 am from DC to Nassau and SO is following behind us the next day on the same flight. Or so we thought.

Meanwhile, M arrives at Oakland airport on the afternoon of the 27th with her dad, who gets out of the taxi, leans over to get his luggage, collapses to the pavement, hits his head on a large metal wastecan, gashes his forehead open, and falls to the ground unconscious. Ambulance, police, paramedics...the whole scene. Ex-H is not a well guy. On lots of meds (none of which I can name, unfortunately, when the paramedic asks to talk to me on my cell). Daughter is, as usual, a brick, convinces her dad he HAS to go to the hospital (he refuses for over 2 hours), goes with him to San Leandro, misses Jet Blue flight to DC she's supposed to be on.

We try to get her on the red-eye that night to no avail. Meanwhile, ex-H is in hospital where they're doing test after test. He decides after a few hours he's leaving against doctors' orders. Frantic cell phone calls all around, but no one can convince him otherwise. He leaves hospital, gets a hotel room, I arrange for son, newly installed in college half-hour away from San Leandro Hospital to spend the night with him. Daughter goes back to boyfriend's place to take a shower and get some sleep - I've now gotten her a flight direct from Oakland the next morning to Nassau - we'll figure out reimbursement from Spirit if that's possible later.

Up most of the night dealing with changing flights and hotels and Semester at Sea arrival times and my upcoming FF trip to India, which I have to get settled within a 72-hour period, and calls to ex-H and son to make sure all's ok. Get to bed at 5 am, up at 7 for my flight to Nassau.

At Reagan Airport at 8 am. Pouring rain, a real drownpour. Show my printout from Travelocity to the Spirit people and they look in the computer and say Sorry, you're traveling tomorrow, not today. I say no, we changed the reservations for ONE of the three passengers to tomorrow, but the other two are traveling today (only actually one is traveling because the other got stuck in CA with a near-dead dad and is now going to Nassau on another airline). Spirit says sorry, we have you booked tomorrow, not today, and the flight is full, actually overbooked by more than 5 people, and we're not allowed to even put you on standby.

What can I do? Spirit says call Travelocity. But I KNOW Travelocity has this thing where they can't change or cancel a Spirit flight, so it must have been Spirit that messed this up. But I call Travelocity anyway, and they are, bless them, amazingly responsive, even though they agree they could not have made a change in my or my daughter's reservation, that Spirit must have made those changes when my SO changed HIS reservation. But they get me on the line with the Spirit Airlines Supervisor, and guess what? I've had perfectly clear cell phone connections all morning long (been on the phone nonstop for two hours - plugged in twice to recharge my cell phone at the airport), and I cannot hear a thing this guy is saying. I run all over the airport, inside an out, lugging my bags and trying to find a place where I can hear what he's trying to say to me, but no effing way I can have a conversation with him.

OK, next thought...call SO and ask him to get on Travelocity and book me a new flight. He finds a good USAir flight for under $300 leaving at 2:15 pm with a connection in Fort Lauderdale, so that I'll arrive at 6:15 pm, just 15 minutes after M arrives from CA on her newly scheduled flight. Looks like we're going to end up together in Nassau after all, which is a good thing, since the Semester at Sea boat leaves tomorrow, and they don't wait around for folks!

I get my USAir flight. M gets her flight to Nassau. We meet at the airport around 7 pm (her flight is a half-hour late). We are incredibly crispy and overwrought, but here we are. Check into the Best Western in Paradise Beach - really nice little apartment for $145 a night with King bed, Queen pull-out sofa, kitchen, little "yard" out back, decent bathroom. We are so zoned out we can hardly talk. Then we make another really dum dinner mistake (but in truth, places should advertise what they're selling so zoned-out folks like us don't get taken for a ride): We ask at the hotel where we can walk for a quick bite to eat. We're told to go a few blocks toward downtown and will find a small shopping area, near the Atlantis resort. We find it. There's an Italian restaurant, Carmine's, with a menu (but with no prices). It mentions it serves "family style." OK, so....

We order two glasses of wine, a green salad, and one pasta dish - I think M ordered rigatoni with tomato and basil sauce. Out comes a platter of salad that, honest to God, would feed 12 people at my house, followed by a platter of rigatoni that would also feed 12 people. It's phenomenally mediocre, even bad. OK, our fault for being exhausted and fried from family stresses and bad airline juju and whatnot, but jeez...do you really just say "family style" when you mean that every entrée would feed a tribe?

We don't care, though. We're fueled and we've caught up with each other, and her dad's ok for the moment, and we've got a nice place to stay, and tomorrow she gets on a boat to travel around the world.

We go back to the Best Western and throw ourselves under the covers for a short but decent night's sleep. We'll deal with Spirit Airlines later.

And I do promise the rest will be actually interesting information about our little trip to the Bahamas.

Just had to get that off my chest before I wrote to Ombudsman.
StCirq is offline  
Sep 3rd, 2008, 06:19 PM
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Wow! I can't wait to read the next installment and certainly hope that your trip got better after that horrible beginning!
ishkribbl is offline  
Sep 4th, 2008, 03:13 AM
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We get lots of trip reports on this board, but we always want MORE, so thanks!!!

After that start, it has to get better! Can't wait to hear the rest.
Callaloo is offline  
Sep 4th, 2008, 07:53 AM
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(Warning for those who aren't familiar with my reports - I'm verbose. Skip if you get bored easily)

Nassau, August 29

After such a grueling commencement to our journey, M and I fall into bed in our spacious apartment and sleep, as the French say, like bones until 6 am, when it's time to get her and her 150 lbs. of luggage to the Semester at Sea ship. We shower, swill back some strong coffee, and do a last-minute check of her belongings (quite considerable: 11 envelopes with currencies, typhoid vaccine and malaria pills, water purification gizmo, various visas, 20 cans of 100% DEET, and other paraphernalia peculiar to a round-the-world excursion, in addition to clothing and books and DVDs and whatnot).

Seymour, the enormous, loud, toothy security desk man, has called us a taxi for 7:30, and in a bit of a spitting rain we take off for the 10-minute ride to the dock.

What had struck me last evening upon driving to the hotel from the airport, and what strikes me again this morning, is the similarity to Kenya, where I worked for a few weeks last fall...the sticky-hot air, the driving on the left on curvy roads lined with palms and bougainvillea and oleander, the steady tuneful beat of the music on the radio, the soft lilting inflection in the driver's voice, the loose flowing clothing of passersby, the scents of spice and coffee wisping through the cab window now and then...very reminiscent of my arrival in Nairobi.

There's the massive bright blue and orange Semester at Sea ship docked at Prince George wharf. There's the endless throng of young folks laden down with bags and queued up to get through security. There's the sun rising in a blood-orange sky, azure water lapping, seagulls screaming, taxis circling endlessly, hawkers touting hair braiding, bottled water, shells, bracelets, necklaces, tours to here and there. There's a buzz all around, a big buzz, the energy of 800 students emanating from the arcade where they are now lined up, spilling out over the entire dock area, infusing the place with laughter and anticipation and the making of new acquaintances.

Duct tape, hair straighteners, drugs, alcohol, tools, sharp things, and more...all must be turned over at the security desk. The kids are compliant, respectful. Nothing's going to deter them from getting on this ship!

I leave M to deal with the logistics and plan to meet up with her in a few hours. We need to load her up with granola bars and snacks, things that weren't worth lugging from CA. I wander around downtown Nassau to scope out where we can purchase such items and find a sorry little grocery store on Frederic Street. It has what we need, though, so we'll come back here. I have coffee and a bagel at the Olive Café in a shady arcade off the main street and watch the town come to life. I ask the waitress if there's a drug store nearby, but she doesn't know, so she stops a passerby and asks - yes, there's one right there, directly across the street. How did she not know that?

I don't like it here. I don't like T-shirt and trinket stores, I don't care for cheap souvenirs, I'm not interested in buying Duty Free rum, I don't want my hair braided, I'm not fond of having to watch the sidewalk to skirt pile after pile of horse dung, I'm not in the market for discounted Colombian jewels or pukka beads. I'm just not in my element in a place like this. So I go back to the hotel and read until it's time to meet M.

We buy as many boxes of protein bars and Goldfish and granola as we can carry. We share a hot fudge sundae for lunch because it's something we're pretty sure won't be on her menu for the next three months. She buys a bracelet, the first of a collection she intends to amass from every stop on the ship's route - something small and light and collectible. We laugh about how her arm is going to be covered by the time she lands in Miami in December.

Then we go on board, where there is an only slightly muffled frenzy of anticipation. Students happily and loudly lost in corridors, on decks, in hallways; roommates sizing each other up; guys checking out girls and girls checking out guys; two incredibly scantily clad girls already a big topic of gossip; parents and siblings gathering together for the final photo-ops; ship staff barking out instructions; joyful chaos everywhere. M takes me on a tour - she's already got the layout of the ship down. Her main concern is where she's going to be able to jog and keep in shape (she's an athlete and has forgone her final season of lacrosse to take this trip). But then she finds the Wellness Spa and gets all girly planning to have some kerotonin-based hair-straightening procedure done, along with an occasional day of massage and facial and manicure and pedicure. She'll figure out where to jog once she's all pampered, I guess.

Her cabin is really ingenious. I guess all cabins are, but I don't spend time on ships, so it's all new to me. She's on a lower level on the ship, and the water's not far below her window. Would creep me out a bit, but she's an old hand on cruise ships and likes the fact she made a deal getting a larger cabin in exchange for being on a lower deck. Her roommate's not there yet, but her possessions are, and M sizes them up to get some inkling of what this bunk-mate of hers is going to be like. All looks good in M's estimation.

Time to leave now. Parents must be off the ship so the kids can do a lifeboat drill before taking off. Lots of emotional parents here. Lots of tears. Not me. I've spent years saying goodbye to kids who were leaving or kids I was leaving behind on various adventures. M and I hug a big tight hug, and I'm off with a grin.

I sit on a bench under the wharf's arcade and sip cold water and read, waiting for my SO, S, who, if Spirit Airline has actually come through for him, should be arriving soon. There's a little open-air covered structure opposite me that seems to be some sort of facsimile of Speaker's Corner in London. There's a few picnic tables in it, and a microphone, and a man in a shiny brown suit is hollering into it while a handful of listless listeners mumble approval or disapproval. Eventually, the man just stops talking, and the listeners assemble themselves around one of the picnic tables and bring out a deck of cards and a bottle of rum. Within minutes, they are slapping cards on the table and yelling at each other, jumping up to punctuate their threats. In the hour that I sit there, they never stop yelling, beating their fists on the table, and shoving each other, but it never descends, as I fully expect it to, into a brawl.

Here comes S, looking jaunty and a bit dazed, the way he does when he doesn't know where he is. I run to greet him and we head to Señor Frog, for the ship is leaving in 10 minutes and we've been told that's where to go to have a drink and wave goodbye to the kids. It's loud and sloppy, full of drunk college kids from Georgia who are jumping off the bar's deck into the water right next to the big sign that says DON'T JUMP! We order Mai Tais's and position ourselves to wave goodbye, and there's the ship, tooting loudly and backing up with the help of two tugs. One long graceful turn around the harbor and it's on its way out the sea, its decks teeming with waving kids. We spot M on the upper deck and wave like crazy. Who knows if she can see us - it doesn't matter. The collective waving back and forth is all the goodbye we all need. And then it's rounding the tip of the island and headed out to sea, disappearing with a last wisp of smoke.
StCirq is offline  
Sep 4th, 2008, 05:11 PM
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Great part 2 report. Having an only daughter of a similar age I am afraid my last line might have been "then I sat down on the curb and sobbed once she couldn't see"!! From the answer you posted to another person about Abaco I have a strange and sad foreboding that things have changed there beyond my imagination in the time I have been away. I was also surprised and saddened about the "surly staff" comment as one of the true beauties of the out islands to me has always been the friendly, happy, welcoming locals who make our trips so wonderful. I am one of those who encouraged you to go to Abaco and am truly sad and sorry if I did give you the wrong advice- I have been there 7 times and loved it every time but the last trip was 2004.
ishkribbl is offline  
Sep 4th, 2008, 05:36 PM
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oh, ishkribbl, you didn't give me bad advice at all. We absolutely loved our time at Hopetown, as you'll see in my reports. Yes, there were surly staff, though, and as I'll no doubt mention in forthcoming journal entries, equal numbers of truly warm-hearted, helpful folks. A really mixed bag at the end of the day, though. But as a long-time world traveler, I've come to recognize that you can't make generalizations about much of anything until you've gotten to know a place like the back of your hand. It may be that it's been a long tourist season and they're tired. It may be that they've had a bad day. It may be that the guy before you was an obnoxious tourist who ticked them off. I'm always willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But no, not everyone was warm and helpful.
StCirq is offline  
Sep 5th, 2008, 03:45 PM
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I'm finding your TR very interesting so far, though I dread to read in your final posting that your Spirit Airline return ticket was cancelled because you didn't fly with them into Nassau! Looking forward to reading more about Hopetown, as it's a place not often covered in Bahamas trip reports.
ejcrowe is offline  
Sep 6th, 2008, 04:51 AM
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Loving this TR, St. Cirq! I came looking for news of TS Hanna's effect on the Bahamas, and decided to start reading your post. I am similarly verbose in my TRs (check my most recent one on Spain) so I appreciate the writing style.

Your dealings on Day 1 were heroic. Travelling is getting more and more difficult--at least the airline part is--it's a wonder we keep doing it. But reliving the pain sometimes makes it seem better.

Looking forward to reading the rest. Would love to know what they figured out was wrong with your ex-H.
ccrosner is offline  
Sep 6th, 2008, 07:53 AM
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Now that M is off to sea, S and I take a taxi back to the Best Western so he can unload his bags and unwind a bit, set the alarm for tomorrow, and pull back the sheets so we can crawl into bed as soon as we get home from dinner. We have a very early (6:30 am) flight from Nassau to Marsh Harbour.

Boisterous, opinionated, toothy Seymour greets us when we show up to inquire about a restaurant for dinner with a “How about that Obama?” To which we reply that we are fans, not completely without reservations, but we support him and think he will at least get our country moving out of the doldrums that we perceive ourselves to be in. Wrong answer. Seymour begins a rant of sorts, his Michael Phelps arms flailing and his face leaning over the counter into ours – WHAT are we thinking? We come from the richest, most powerful nation on earth and we think that an inexperienced man like Obama could possibly take charge and lead us? Well, actually, yes, we do, we say, but Seymour is appalled. He beats his chest. He tells us of his military service. He reminds us he is of African descent. He shouts at us that American must be STRONG! American cannot FALTER!

S, who is above all an extremely measured, rational, quiet person, puts up his hands with palms facing Seymour and says “OK, OK, we agree to differ, but about dinner…” Seymour relaxes and asks what we have in mind. We want good, local, inexpensive food, we say. NOT some tourist spot like Carmines and the places in the shopping mall down the street. Somewhere you would go for some good, plain, Bahamian fare. “The Poop Deck!” says Seymour. Sounds suspect, but we ask him to get us a taxi there, tell him we’ll continue the political discussion some time later, and head off to The Poop Deck, a 10-minute ride away.

It’s immediately disappointing. Generic décor, ridiculous prices, filled with Americans (which is fine, but that’s not what we asked for). There’s a wait of an hour or more and it’s already 8:30 pm. We leave and look around. Across the street is a rather unassuming place. There are no other choices nearby that we can see, so we take a seat there. I don’t remember the name, but it was pleasant enough, and the sweet waitress acknowledged that they just get the runoff from The Poop Deck and keep their prices modulated so as to hope to retain a clientele from that. We have decent conch fritters – S has never had them, and he thinks they’re tasty - and Kaliks, which is all we need, and the bill comes to about $40.00. We’re back at the Best Western, where Seymour has thankfully gone off shift for the night, and in bed by 11:15.

My alarm goes off at 3:40. I’m really, really good at startlingly early departures when I’m traveling, so I shoot out of bed with perky aplomb and get the coffee pot going, then go outside to marvel at the stars, which are stunningly sharp in the sky, and breathe in the salt air and assess the weather, which looks clear and breezy and light. S, meanwhile, sits up in bed with his legs straight out before him, a stunned L-shaped body topped with a head of black wavy frizz, mouth hanging open, and eyes popping out of his head à la Night of The Living Dead. He’s “awake,” but he’s not “there.” God knows, I dragged him to Paris last week for a long weekend, and then we had to go through this logistical nightmare to get here, and he doesn’t “adapt” as fast as I do to these travel situations, but I can’t help smothering a giggle as I watch this love of mine fumble through a few layers of consciousness to get to where I am – here, packed, ready to go to the out-islands…remember? I pour some black Jamaican coffee down his gullet, and in a few minutes he is mobile. We packed last night, so all we need to do is check the room and leave. Guess who checks the room and finds his cell phone charger halfway under the bed?

Our 4:45 am taxi is there on time. I must note that punctuality of taxis in Nassau is excellent, and I took a load of them in my short time there. I’m not used to that in many countries, including the USA. It’s to be balanced against the fact that the fares seem totally arbitrary (I paid $5, $10, $12, and $20 for the very same taxi ride within Nassau on this trip – I suppose it might have to do with whether the hotel calls for one, or whether there are other people in the taxi, or what time of day it is, but all in all it seemed a bit arbitrary). We drive to the domestic terminal at Nassau, a lovely drive as the sun rises, persimmon-colored, very slowly over the ocean, which we hug for much of the drive. There are loads and loads of men and women jogging in the dark along the road to the airport – what’s up with that? Is there a marathon they’re training for? Why are they doing this in the dark? Because it’s cooler? It’s not that much cooler than at, say, 7 am. Why at 5 am? But there are strings of them, all along the road. One of those Huh? Travel moments.

We get to the domestic terminal of Nassau at about 5:30 am. You know, I read and read on the boards about taking flights from Nassau, and I got this fear about not leaving enough time for flights out of Nassau – well, it’s SO true about international flights, but domestic flights – hey, you could show up 10 minutes before the flight and get on it. No problem, mon. There’s a lackluster security crew there and a few scraggly-looking passengers, but basically it’s a sit in the scary light of the waiting room and hang on until your flight is called thing, and you can hear the small planes right outside the window, and it’s very laid-back and simple.

Our flight’s a bit late. We have coffee and S wakes up a bit, at least so much that he can talk, which is an improvement. Our flight is called, we board, we take off just as the sun sears its way into the Bahamian sky – it’s beautiful. I’m a bad, scared flier; someone who travels as much as I do should not be saddled with this affliction, but I am, but this is a glorious flight. I don’t even mind the bumps…we’re going over turquoise waters and coral reefs and there are cumulous clouds all around looking like powder puffs and the morning is breaking and we are off on yet another adventure and I’m stoked and happy. S holds my hand because he knows I am skittish about small planes, but I’m OK. I can see the propeller out my window and it’s working, so I’m OK.

We land in Marsh Harbour….wet, dreary, lackluster airport. We get in a taxi and tell the driver we’d love to make the 7:30 ferry to Hopetown. He gets on the radio and tells the Hopetown ferry we’re on the way. It’s maybe a 20-minute ride. The taxi driver keeps in touch with the ferry. The ferry guy says he’ll wait for us. We arrive at the ferry landing at 7:35. As our taxi is pulling up to the dock, the ferry takes off. WTF? Excuse me, you MUST have seen us pulling up. Really, you must have. But the ferry takes off as we are sitting there. It’s impossible not to think that there is some element of nya nya involved here, but we are already jetlagged and decompressed, so we resign ourselves to an hour and a half on this jetty. The harbor shop opens up in a half-hour and we can get a coffee and whatever else and get on the 9am ferry. S lies down and sleeps on the dock bench. I wander around along the shore, then order a grilled cheese sandwich and devour it. Odd things for breakfast are one of travel’s treats. Slowly, the dock comes to life with various passengers, most of them workers headed to an out-island for a day of cleaning hotel rooms or bartending. A sign at the dock notes that a weekly worker’s pass now costs $60.00. Seems a bit steep, but as the regular fare is $12.50 each way, at least a discount. The ferry schedule posted at the dock, BTW, is completely different from the one I found online a few days ago, which is completely different from the one I see later posted at our hotel, which is completely different from another one I spot in a local newspaper. It’s an island thing, this randomness.

The ferry departs promptly at 9 am. The sky has gone from brilliant blue to black and back to blue again; squalls have come and gone on the horizon. Winds have picked up and died down. The ride is smooth, the ferry powerful, cutting through the waves with a determined push. In 20 minutes we are heading into the Hopetown harbor, the red and white lighthouse ahead of us and pastel houses all around. The ferry makes four stops; ours is the last, directly in front of the Hopetown Harbour Lodge. A man on a golf cart grabs our bags, and we walk up the steep stone stairways to the hotel, shaded by palms and flowering bushes. A plump and sullen Irish girl checks us in and hands us the keys to room no. 12, on the top floor. It’s the room, or an exact replica of the room, one sees on the website, decked out with a tasteful burnt-orange marine-pattern coverlet on the king-size bed, a balcony overlooking the sea with two Adirondack chairs on it, one aquamarine blue, the other bright orange, a small but practical bathroom, a small fridge, decent closet space, no tv (which is just fine), and a telephone. Very cozy, and the balcony is just lovely. It’s only 9:40 in the morning and we have all day and evening to wander and explore and, finally, relax.
StCirq is offline  
Sep 6th, 2008, 10:38 AM
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I am really enjoying your trip report! I wonder if you are going to meet M when she returns from the semester at sea? If so, I am sure you can get some tips here about good local food that would not be the tourist places many hotel employees would recommend. We found a place we liked called Traveller's Rest that is a simple place on the water but near the aiport and far from Nassau. We have overnighted on NP en route to other out islands but I do not care for Nassau or PI at all. If you do return you would probably like the other end of the island- like Compass Point maybe- for an overnight. Looking forward to your next installment!!
ishkribbl is offline  
Sep 6th, 2008, 06:58 PM
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Hi, ishkribble:

M's trip ends in Miami, so I won't be going back to Nassau to meet her (though I will meet her in Miami, where I assume I can find some decent, inexpensive food).

I'd go back to Hopetown in a heartbeat, though!
StCirq is offline  
Sep 7th, 2008, 04:03 AM
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I too am enjoying this trip report. I'm looking forward to reading about the Hopetown portion.

For folks looking for a good, local place, try the Bahamian Kitchen in downtown Nassau. Inexpensive and very good.
mymoosie is offline  
Sep 8th, 2008, 01:59 PM
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Wonderful report. I'm enjoying it very much, even though I have no intention of ever going back to Nassau and/or Hopetown.

I'm really more interested in France, so would you please give us guys on the Europe Forum another chapter or two on your Dordogne trip report; that is, if you can remember that far back.

nukesafe is offline  
Sep 9th, 2008, 06:27 PM
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Can't wait to hear the rest of the story!
ishkribbl is offline  
Sep 11th, 2008, 05:53 AM
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StC, I'm enjoying both trip reports.
The logistics of this one were anything but boring. You deserve a medal for coping with all the gliches but after such a rocky start I hope the rest of the trip was wonderful.
Please continue.
highflyer is offline  
Sep 12th, 2008, 06:18 PM
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StCirq- can't wait to hear the next installment! You are a great writer- is it your profession?
ishkribbl is offline  
Sep 13th, 2008, 05:30 PM
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Hi, ishkribbl.

I run a publishing company, and I suppose I'm a writer, of sorts. That is to say that I've had lots of things published over the years. But it's never been my primary profession. Hope it is when I retire, though!

More to come soon, I promise!
StCirq is offline  
Sep 14th, 2008, 01:09 PM
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S and I are in our bathing suits and on the beach by 10 am, the only ones there. A paltry, but apparently sufficient, half-dozen bright yellow beach chairs are lined up on the Lodge’s beach. The tide is fairly low, the water fairly calm, clear except for strings of seaweed here and there, incredibly salty to the taste, with a temperature around 82 degrees F. It’s our first time in the ocean together, and we’re downright childish about it, splashing and laughing and acting like the middle-aged fools we are. In between dips in the ocean we dry off in minutes in the hot, breezy air and read. S is now reading A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, which I finished on the plane this morning, and I’m reading Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? Since we’re both writers of sorts, we can’t resist stopping now and then to read passages to each other and comment and critique.

The sun is incredibly strong, and after an hour we are beginning to feel burned and thirsty, so we jump in the sea for a final dip, and that’s when I lose my big toenail. Yup. Almost 7 months ago I was cleaning out a very high shelf in my kitchen and dropped a glass jar of Skippy Extra-Crunchy Peanut butter straight down onto the big toe of my left foot. It hurt like a sonofabitch, and I thought I’d broken my toe, but after a few days the swelling went down and I was left with a slightly blackening nail. Over time, and very slowly, the black part of the nail grew upwards, with the bottom part of the toenail below the black part kind of lumpy. Pedicures were an embarrassment, but everyone said it takes a full year for a toenail to grow back again, so I just slapped on as much polish as I could and hoped for the best. Well, I guess the combination of walking in the sand and the water softened up the toenail, and it just fell off, halfway up my toe, at the point where it would have been excruciatingly painful had it peeled off a millimeter lower. BUT, though it’s not truly painful, it’s tender, mighty tender, and I’ve got a few days at the beach ahead of me. That’s when I remember the duct tape that got confiscated from my daughter’s pack at ship security in Nassau.

So we head back to the Lodge, where I fetch the duct tape out of my suitcase and fashion a sort of “toe sling” out of it. My foot looks as though a colony of wasps has decided to build one of their big grey nests all over my big toe. No matter, the toe is protected, I can walk, it’s not hurting, and I’m ready for adventure. We throw a loose layer of clothing over our bathing suits, grab a bottle of mineral water and the roll of duct tape, dig out the cartoonish map of the island that we got in the lobby, and decide to stroll around the island. First we head down toward the dock where we landed and walk along the water to Queen’s Way, admiring the mostly closed-up bright pink and blue and yellow and green houses. They all have those puerile islandy names – Paula’s Perch, Commander’s Alley, Atlantic Vista, Carly’s Cove, Dune View – and we wonder what possesses people the world over to get all silly and simple when they name a beach house. It’s the same everywhere. On the Ile d’Oléon where I vacationed a few years ago I noticed the same thing – Le Coin de Coco, Notre Nix, Le Tournesol, La Bellevue….we laugh that if we had a house, it would have a name of distinction, like Tuna Toes or Mosquito Bites or Harlot’s Hamlet, or Duct Feet….

There’s a small, bleak cemetery on a dune overlooking the sea that’s dedicated to cholera victims, of which there were apparently quite a few among the Loyalists who settled here. And there’s a plaque to the Malone family, perhaps the first, but certainly among the first, settlers here. They lost three young men at sea. There’s a small museum, but it’s never open during our stay, so we have to piece together the history of this tiny island as best we can on our own. The Post Office and Police Station and government offices of the island are all housed in a small building at the end of the main dock. They’re never open during our stay, though results of local petitions are posted once or twice on the bulletin board outside the building. There’s a grocery store with sad-looking produce and lots of canned and bottled goods. There’s a snack bar called Munchie’s that serves sandwiches and salads and fried fish and chicken, run by a man who sings while he cooks, where we stop for a bite around noon. His almost-mute daughter stands disconsolately at the counter, twisting the braids in her hair and staring out to the small lane. A few local boys come in and order hamburgers. Then a man and his wife on bicycles. It’s the only place open for food on this end of the island, this time of year. It’s hot, stiflingly so, with no breeze now, and the island is so quiet the only thing you can hear is the munching of teeth and swallowing.

So, we’ve explored every nook and cranny of this part of the island – we’ll head to the other end, we think. I’m a bit alarmed by the fact that the map seems to have been drawn by a first-grader and it has no scale (I love maps, and I do want to know how far I’m going to be walking), but it’s a small island….how “off” could the map be? Well, let’s just say really, really off. We walk back into the center of town, past the Harbour Lodge, and out the main road. Our destination is a place called On Da Beach, a bar right on the dunes. We’re thinking we can hike there, stop for a cold drink, take a swim on the beach, and then walk back to the Lodge. Looks pretty simple, I say to S – here’s the distance we just walked from the Lodge in the other direction; it’s about the same, and that took us maybe 20 minutes, so we should get there in about 20 minutes. Makes sense to me!

Now, S may be the LOML, but he is worse than useless with a map, and always leaves navigation 100 percent up to me, which is fine when I have the proper tools, like a map that is the same scale from one part of it to another. So he just willingly agrees with me, and we set out to On Da Beach. It’s about 1:30 pm now and hot as blazes, the kid of hot where there are vapors rising from the asphalt and every time a car passes it’s like getting an instant blow of a torch. Although neither one of us could legitimately be called a hiker (though I was an avid one in younger years), we are both big walkers, and we walk fast. But there are ruts in the road, and it’s so hot my duct-taped toe is sweating, causing the big gray package to roll around and eventually fall off. I have to stop several times to re-tape it.

We walk for a half-hour or more, on the main, winding road toward the northern end of the island. Past mangrove swamp and a murky channel that reeks of stagnant water, past stone markers and lushly landscaped driveways leading up to expensive villas on the ocean side of the road, past decaying rowboats and withering piers. We walk and walk, and walk. Eventually we come to a dirt path off to the left. And a post with a wooden sign that has a series of planks nailed to it. The first says On Da Beach. The second, No Shirts. The third, No Shoes. The fourth, No Problem. Aha! Found it! So we turn off onto the dirt path and we walk, and walk, and walk. At least another mile. No more signs. No dwellings. Nothing but scrub land and pebbles and sand. Finally, a small path leading to the left. We can see the ocean at the end of it, so we turn down there. And find ourselves on a large rocky promontory overlooking the beach. Not a building or any sort in sight. I let S scramble down to the beach and walk to the right to see if perhaps On Da Beach is hiding there. Nope. Just more rocks and surf. So I sit and nurse my toe and package it in a new bit of duct tape, and we rest a bit and then decide to walk back along the beach.

If I get my duct-taped toe wet, the tape comes off immediately, so I have to walk higher up along the beach where the sand is drier and deeper. Which makes the walking a lot more difficult than walking, as S can do, at the water’s edge. It’s about a 2-mile trek back to the Lodge, and we’ve been walking now for almost 3 hours, and I’m hot and tired! No one is more relieved than I when S says “I can see the yellow chairs!”

We fall onto stools at the Lodge Bar and gulp a couple of Kaliks in quick succession. We ask the bartender where the heck On Da Beach is, and he says “just up de road,” and we tell him about our journey and he looks perplexed and says “No, it just up de road.” OK, we give up. But here comes the manager of the place, and we pose the same question to him. “It’s right up the road, all right,” he says, “but it’s closed for the season.” Which doesn’t solve the mystery for us, but at least makes us feel better. Then he suggests that if we want to see the other end of the island we call for the van from the Sea Spray resort to come pick us up. We can check it and the Abaco Inn out and then grab the van home again. Sounds good. My duct tape is tired.

The Sea Spray resort seems unfinished. There is construction all around it, and the actual lodgings are hard to spot. But there’s a nice restaurant there, which we will try later, and a bar on the cove where, after a 10-minute deluge causes us to take shelter under the restaurant eves, we park and relax. The bartender is a woman who was on our ferry this morning, an interesting ethnic blend of African and Royalist perhaps. We are suddenly starving, so we order a hot dog and a hamburger. The hot dog is the best thing I eat in the islands on our whole trip. Honestly. At $10.00, it should be, but really, it was delicious. Or perhaps I was just ravenous from our adventure. The bar is ringed with folks who either live on the island or live on other islands and stop by often, or folks who regularly vacation here. From their conversations, one gleans that a typical day begins late, ends late, and involves a lot of stopping at, or staying at, bars. Over the few days we were here we saw the same folks over and over, always at bars, whether at 11 in the morning, 3 in the afternoon, or just before midnight. Usually talking about what bar they’d just been to, what bar they were headed to…I guess fruity alcoholic drinks and beers in the morning and whiling the afternoon away at a bar are part of the island culture, but I couldn’t help think I’d have died an early death if it were me.

We walk a short ways down the road to the Abaco Inn to check it out. The manager is all flustered because the owner is away and the waitress called in sick today and he’s had to serve 16 people all by himself. All we want is to look around and then get a ride back to the Harbour Lodge, we say, and he looks relieved. It’s a nice place, though the beach is rockier than at the Lodge, and the way it’s constructed there’s no good cross-breeze. But it’s in a quiet spot with good views. The menu looks about the same as everywhere: simple and overpriced. The manager closes down the bar and brings the van around, and we hop into it with several of his staffers for the ride back to town. I think I hear French being spoken in the back seat, only it’s not French, but some dialect/creole/patois with a French word here and there – manger, aller… - I can’t make it out.

Back at the Lodge we shower, and I realize I have totally burnt the tops of my ears. Forgot the sunblock. They are bright red and blistered. What a dummy! Then we sit on our little balcony and check our email. There is wifi here for $10 a day. The bar below is packed. We open a bottle of Añejo rum we’ve brought from Nassau, and fetch some soda and limes and ice from the bar. We sip our drinks and laugh about duct tape and silly island house names, call our kids, enjoy the gathering breeze. At dusk we go for a walk around the port, enjoying the lights from the lighthouse and the boats moored in the harbor. We try to find Captain Jack’s, wander around all over looking for it, as it’s been recommended for food and music, but when we finally discover it, it’s closed for renovation, with lumber and tools and machinery piled up all around it.

Back to the Lodge and our balcony. A slightly ominous, thrumming wind is in the air, the coconut palms are all leaning leftward, and the ocean is moving sidewards. Another rum and soda, listening to the tinkle of glassware at the bar below and the muted laughter of its patrons. Stars are popping out by the hundreds above. It’s time to take off the duct tape and put aloe on my ears.
StCirq is offline  
Sep 14th, 2008, 04:38 PM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 4,870
Another engaging installment! Looking forward to the rest. Soon come?

ejcrowe is offline  
Sep 14th, 2008, 05:46 PM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 746
Oh St. Cirq- I almost fell off my chair when I read that you were going to walk to the "other end" of the island! A fun adventure in a golf cart, for sure, but I almost killed myself in my late 40's riding a bike from Hopetown to the Sea Spray and beyond because of those hills that don't seem like much in a van/taxi but are huge on a beach cruiser! If you do return, you can rent bikes at the Harbour's Edge restaurant/bar right there in town (green building- or it used to be- on the harbour). It is also fun to ride north of town and follow that dirt road through all the residential area- some places to stop and enjoy the water, also.
I have never been to the Abacos except in June, July or August (and one quick trip in December to check out some real estate) so I was sorry but not surprised at the closures you encountered. I will tell you that if the "sad looking grocery store" (there is more than one actually) was Vernon's they have the best key lime pie you ever put in your mouth. They have a bakery business that is thriving in the summer months- you can call ahead and order pies or breads and pick them up- to die for. Also, the little museum is very interesting.
It sounds like there is a lot of building going on around Sea Spray- a shame- it was a nice area. I have stayed at the Abaco Inn when it was so breezy that it blew right through the bar and from one side to the other (Sea of Abaco to Atlantic)so the stillness you describe is not a constant thing. Although the food in the Bahamas is nothing to write home about, we have had good meals at Capt, Jack's, the HHL, Abaco Inn(erratic) and Sea Spray and good basic lunch of fish sandwiches or hamburgers at Harbour's Edge if you ever go back during months when they are in full swing. Of course, conch fritters and Kalik are the best option sometimes.
I am really enjoying your trip report! Thanks for sharing!
ishkribbl is offline  

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