Why Going to Bimini Made Me Feel Human Again

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Jan 11th, 2018, 09:01 AM
  #1
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Why Going to Bimini Made Me Feel Human Again

As I wash my clothes today from my trip, I felt almost a reluctance, as there was a smell that lingered, an odour not unpleasant that was distinctive and reminded me of my recent trip to the Bahamas. Was it the fresh salt air that infused the clothes, was it something of the local flora, locally popular cleaning products that reamined? Whatever it was, I could not help but grab my shirts and take a longing, deep whiff with the material pressed right against my nose, as I knew that I was to lose this smell once these items were thrown into the laundry machine.

Travelling via FRS Caribbean fast ferry from Miami, there was about an hour-long stretch where I had to close my eyes and put fingers in my ears, to fight back a sense of nausea as the occasional seemingly precipitous up-down drop or sideways angular motion combined with the sound of coughers around. I was surprised at my own reaction, as I'd never suffered from seasickness before during two Transatlantic crossings and two trips across the Cabot Strait between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. What got me through in some ways was the knowledge that the ride was only a little over 2 hours, although if there's a next time I think I will spend the money and take the Dramamine. The nausea seemed a small price to pay in some ways-- my first time to Bimini, it was almost love at first sight, with colourful bungalows adjacent the turquoise blue waters visible as the ferry approached the dock. From this initial glimpse, the island seemed an almost shockingly different world from the cold, glassy skyscrapers and intimidating multi-million dollar power yachts of downtown Miami from whence I came. I had been to New Providence (where Nassau is) and Grand Bahama (where Freeport is), but my initial impression led me to believe I was entering something quite different.

Unlike with the Discovery Cruise Lines experience from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport some 7 years prior, the disembarkation and customs/immigration experience was relatively straightforward. Some pleasant Bahamian officials boarded the boat, asked a few standard questions, stamped my passport and within 10 minutes of arriving, I was on North Bimini soil where a tram was taking passengers to Resorts World, where many day trippers and overnight visitors had opted to stay, as part of a package with FRS-Caribbean. Immediately upon leaving the gated dock area, groups of teenage or young adult male Bahamians surrounded the tram, calling out prices for which one could rent a golf cart for island exploration. Some of those on the boat decide to take up the enterprising young gentlemen on their offers; I, on the other hand, was struck more than anything by the realization that I had indeed left the business practices of the First World and was wondering what I had just set foot onto. I fretted in the moment that there would be no taxis to get me to the Sea Crest Hotel & Marina, an independently-operated less expensive operation located the other side of North Bimini from Resorts World. Luckily, my worries were for nought, as in addition to golf-cart hawkers, there was a cab waiting once the tram reached its final stop at Resorts World. I was pleased that for $5, cabs took passengers wherever they wished to go on North Bimini.

Arriving at the Sea Crest Hotel & Marina at a little past Noon, I was a little concerned at first as there was no one at the reception; somebody in housekeeping said they were probably on lunch break. Initially this left me a bit annoyed, as I felt sort of stranded standing on the concrete steps in front of the office with my suitcase, backpack and heavy North Face parka (for when I got back to Canada). However eventually I reminded myself of the expressions "Bahamian Time" and thought "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em". I said to myself, why not see if you can grab a bite to eat yourself and wheeled my luggage up the hill to C.J.'s Deli, a cash-only little shack that intimidated me at first as I couldn't figure out how things worked, where flies buzzed around and no-frills breakfast, lunches and supper seemed to be served. Eventually though I observed others and followed their lead. Sitting in front of the shack at a wooden table with my Kalik beer as I waited for the woman to call my name to pick up my cheeseburger, as I watched the palms and the gentle turquoise waves crashing against the sand, as a young Bahamian with dreads chopped open fresh coconuts for alcoholic beverages for tourists and a sparrow-like bird with a brown-striped pale yellow belly (I saw these a lot; no idea sort of bird they were!) hopped very close to my feet, I was suddenly taken with the great beauty of my surroundings and reached a point of great calm. It was a glorious day and here I was in this almost unbelievable setting as friends were struggling with days seemingly without end of temperatures below -20C in Montreal. I no longer worried about the check-in (which occurred after lunch without a hitch) and just savoured my circumstances.

*Travel Woes, Activities on Bimini and How/Why I Fell In love with Bimini*
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Jan 11th, 2018, 05:02 PM
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Dec 31 2017-Jan 1 2018-- My first day and a half in Bimini were simply glorious, blissful, worry-free days where I explored my immediate vicinity in North Bimini. I rang in the New Year with conch soup at Big Game Marina (ok "rang in" is an exaggeration because I was in bed by 10) and enjoyed conch salad at Stuart's Conch Shack where about a dozen pelicans were sunning themselves on an island of conch shells in the harbour. I swam in the ocean at Radio Beach on January 1st for about 40 minutes, feeling like I was cheating winter as I did a backstroke in that crisp, light blue water. I went jogging along Queen's Highway (which even though it has such a name is probably narrower than most things called streets) as the palm trees gently swayed, snapping a stunning picture of the yellow and fuschia of the last sunset of 2017 while so doing. I ended the day looking forward to the next, where I had scheduled a snorkeling trip with Bimini Undersea out to a shipwreck site

Jan 2-3 2018-- The sky was overcast and walking over to the ocean side by C.J.'s Deli, I could see that the winds had picked up and that the waves were much taller and crashing with great force. The guy who had been chopping the coconuts with his machete the day before teasingly called out at me "What did you do to the ocean?". Afterward, as I'm visiting the Bahamas Tourism Office, Bimini Undersea calls to tell me the snorkeling had been cancelled. So, I decide to go next to the Bimini Craft Market. where I hear loud cackling laughter from about a block away. Some women call out to me to check out their stall; I say I'm looking for some postcards to which one of the women (I'll call her Big Bahama Mama) links her arm through mine and says "You come with me baby. I've got some good postcards for you!" and meanwhile her big eyebrowed competitor beckons to me "Come here! I've got what you're looking for!" Even had I wanted to see Big Eyebrow's offerings, Big Bahama Mama had me firmly in her clutches and told me "Don't you worry about her! She don't got no postcards!" I said "Come now, I don't want you two to fight because of me!" to which multiple women at their crafts stalls laughed and Big Bahama Mama said "Oh, don't worry now. We won't fight!". Turns out Big Bahama Mama had some great postcards of Bimini and was very kind, telling me exactly how I would get stamps later. Gave me a warm hug as I left.

Then, I got the news that FRS Caribbean ferry that I was supposed to take would not be crossing to Miami on the Wednesday the 3rd as I had planned. The next ferry would not be until Friday the 5th, meaning I would miss my connection from Miami to New York City! With the help of the kind people at the office of my hotel, I quickly assessed what options were available to me. Bimini is a small island, less than 2000 people, with only so many options off of it. Two airlines, Spirit (propeller) and Tropic (water planes), fly out but all flights to Miami or Fort Lauderdale were booked until Friday and even on the Friday, only one spot remained. I asked the hotel if there were something like Craig's List where you could contact yacht owners to see if you could get a ride to Florida, but unfortunately there is no such thing. The woman at the hotel office told me that I could "dock walk" and ask around but opined that most going back to Florida would have left on the 1st of January, most that remained were probably continuing to other Bahamian islands. She also said that if the ferry wasn't running, chances are those with yachts didn't want to risk crossing the Gulf Stream to Florida either. Finally, realizing I was heading to the northeast, she remembered Elite Airways flew to Newark from Bimini. Luckily, there was space on their flight on their Bimini to Newark flight on January 4th, so I booked that as quickly as I could.

Mid-morning on January 3rd, I found out that the flight to Newark had been cancelled. At this point, I was resigned to staying in Bimini until January 5th and just hoped that the waves would calm down enough to make the ferry crossing possible as that would be my earliest chance out; my shorter visit had expanded to at least 6 days on Bimini. Luckily, Friday was predicted to be a day of significantly calmer water and there was no issue with extending my stay at my hotel--I was told I could even keep the same room. Other than spending a lot of time cancelling hotels and flights, visiting the ferry offices and investigating possibilities, I mostly read my books and tried various places to eat on these mostly overcast/rainy days.

On Thursday January 4th, despite having been told from multiple sources all the days prior that there was no place to rent a bike on the island, I learned from the woman that worked in my hotel office that there was someone who rented bikes on the island named Lyle (473-0330). Turns out however Lyle only had a 24" bike that day, which might be good for a 10-year-old girl but not for someone with my frame. Luckily, he told me that Bimini Undersea rented bikes ($20/day) and very honourably drove me up to them where they had a bike that was perfect for me. I was delighted as I had been craving a way to get exercise other than jogging (which I don't enjoy so much); it was cooler that day (a high of maybe 18C), but sunny, which made for great cycling. Other than moving around narrow North Bimini much more efficiently, I took the ferry for $2 across the harbour over to South Bimini, an island I would highly recommend to cycling enthusiasts as it's larger but has quite empty roads, which allows for a more relaxed biking experience than on the north island. South Bimini, in addition to having a nature walk, some colourful homes on stilts, the resort Bimini Sands, gorgeous water views and a canal system that reminds me of the intercoastal waterway in Florida, seems more upscale than North Bimini, although with fewer amenities. North Bimini is pretty good for cycling also, although being more populated, one just has to be a touch more alert. Upon returning the bike to Bimini Undersea, whose rental offices were about a 2-minute walk from the ferry offices in an area called Fisherman's Village in Resorts World, I learned the ferry WOULD be running on the Friday.

*Why Bimini Made Me Feel Human Again*

My last two days, biking and walking around the island, people would wave to me on the streets. One woman who spoke to me about my situation at the ferry office, a fellow I had spoken to who lived in Miami now but had grown up in Bimini, Big Bahama Mama, the cook that worked at Joe's Conch Stand to whom I had talked at length with a couple of Miamians who got engaged while in Bimini. Once I knew leaving was imminent, even though my stay was longer than intended, I found myself being sad to leave. I couldn't believe that in only 6 days, I felt I had met and was now being acknowledged on a daily basis by more people than greet me in my neighbourhood in Montreal.

Even more than just race relations (skin colour from what I could tell seemed to have no bearing in how the majority black Biminites interacted with me or others), I felt that Bimini is doing something right about inter-human relations. I loved how the taxi driver would stop and pick up his friend and give her/him a lift somewhere (and they would pleasantly banter in a fast-clipped Bahamian English that I didn't always understand) as he was taking me further up the island. I loved how people would honk, but not to tell someone to hurry up but instead to say hello to their friend who they would call out, sometimes even stopping to say a few words and laughs. I loved the maybe 9-year-old boy who would pass me on his bike and call out "good afternoon, sir!" and give me a wave and a big smile.

Thank you Bimini for the warmth and hospitality of many of your citizenry; I'm sorry it took me so long to find you but you will always have a place in my heart and I hope to see you again some day! And thank you also, Fodorites, who happened to read this trip report. Happy New Year to you all!
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Jan 12th, 2018, 08:43 AM
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Nice report. We haven't been to Bimini but traveled to other out islands (Eleuthera, Long Island, Exuma, Cat and Abacos) and I completely agree with your sentiments - the Bahamas is another world - with charming lovely people that make you feel like you belong. It holds a special place in our heart and we keep going back not only for the gorgeous empty beaches but to slow down and enjoy the hospitality of its people.
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Jan 13th, 2018, 11:49 AM
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mnag-- Thanks for reading this post and commenting. I've heard wonderful things about the other Out Islands you mention; I'm pleased to read that your experience to these islands offered something similar to what my stay in Bimini provided in terms of hospitality, warmth and belonging.

I attach here the prequel to my trip for those interested. Canada to Border-Town Miami & Bimini by Train
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Feb 8th, 2018, 04:41 PM
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I loved your trip report! Thanks for posting. Like mnag we have been to several of the out islands but not BImini- we find what keeps us coming back to the out islands are the people. It is hard to adequately explain it but you did an excellent job- thanks again!
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Feb 11th, 2018, 05:49 AM
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Loved your comment ishkribbl! May we both experience that Out Island sensation again soon!
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Feb 11th, 2018, 07:24 AM
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Next big trip I'm planning includes a Belizean Caye. First time in Belize. I'll be curious to see how that experience compares to my trips to the various islands of the Bahamas I've been to, in terms of warmth & hospitality.
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Feb 12th, 2018, 03:56 AM
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Great report, Daniel. I wonder if this was the little bird you saw. They're pretty sociable but it doesn't quite fit your description.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bananaquit

I just returned from Belize. I was in Placencia which isn't on a Caye but still beautiful. I've never been to the out islands so I can't tell you how the hospitality compares but I did love the people in Belize.
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Feb 12th, 2018, 06:14 AM
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Hello Fellow Green-and-Gold Alum!

No, it wasn't a bananaquit. The bird that was so social and would always be hopping near my feet was sort of sparrow-sized with a tail that reminded me a bit of a mockingbird (the tail was not as long as the mockers though), with a mix of brown and a very pale yellow on its underbelly.

In the planning stages, I've read about Placencia and thought it looked fantastic. How terrific you were there! I'm looking at Caye Caulker but nothing is set in stone yet.

Best wishes, Daniel
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Feb 12th, 2018, 06:47 PM
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I rarely visit this forum, but am glad I did, as I very much enjoyed your report, Daniel!

We live in Miami Beach and I have seen the ferries going to Bimini, but have never been. Now you have me thinking of going! Glad you enjoyed your trip!
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Feb 12th, 2018, 07:16 PM
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Thank you for taking time to share your experience. I very much enjoyed reading it.
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Feb 13th, 2018, 06:01 AM
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Florida1, Sassafras--Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed!

Florida1--I found it interesting the number of Miamians who had never been to Bimini, despite its proximity. If I lived in Miami, I would aim to go with fair regularity. If you do go (and I hope you do sometime), I'll be curious to hear your thoughts!
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Feb 14th, 2018, 07:29 AM
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Great trip report. I wanted to go to Bimini last year when Bahama Paradise Cruise went there temporarily after Freeport's dock was damaged by the hurricane. But before I could go, they returned to Freeport. I heard about the rough ferry ride. I am still planning to go one day and I do want to stay several days. Once again, great report.
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Feb 14th, 2018, 09:06 AM
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Thanks for reading, tch912. I can relate to wanting to go but not going, as I had wanted to go to Bimini for well over a decade, but it either didn't work out or other destinations ended up taking priority for a whole host of reasons.
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Feb 15th, 2018, 06:26 AM
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I do hope to get there, Daniel - and will report back when I do! Thanks again for posting this!
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Feb 18th, 2018, 06:47 PM
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Daniel- we love the out islands of the Bahamas. Visited Belize about 1 1/2 years ago- split trip between Ambegris Caye and Caye Caulker. AC was too busy for us- loved CC. Everyone is different and has different opinions but CC was the more laid back, chilled place we like- very friendly people- not much beach on either caye- the beauty is under the water but you would still enjoy it. Look into Caulker, imo!!
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Feb 19th, 2018, 06:22 AM
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Ishkribbl-- From all I had read, I was about 97% in favour of going to CC over Ambergris. Your post maybe cranks that percentage up a notch more. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
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Feb 20th, 2018, 05:47 AM
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you really can walk or bike the entire island of CC whereas we rented a golf cart on AC
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Feb 25th, 2018, 12:13 PM
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please let me know how the trip goes
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