A Sunday by the Sea

P1010602Sunday, July 14th.

Today starts with a feast of grilled cheese, tomato and ham sandwiches Jen prepares for all of us, followed by stops at the grocery and liquor stores to replenish our rations.

When we return, I stay indoors a while to cool off from the heat, then eventually slather on some sunscreen and bug spray and wander down to the beach to join the others.

The temperature’s cooled down, so it’s nice – not as blazing hot as it has been over the past several days.

I recline on a deck chair while Christine and Jen alternate between lounging on the chairs and bobbing about in the water.

While we’re reclining in our chairs, we get a visit from a four-legged passerby. He or she is verP1010605y calm and friendly. I don’t think he or she’s a stray, only because he or she is wearing a collar.

But the visit is fleeting, and our furry new acquaintance gets up and continues trotting down the beach.

We’re back in the villa around 6 p.m. and by 7 p.m. are heading west to a restaurant called Compass Point.

It’s located in a community by the same name and – unlike our trip to Sandy Point, it’s about a 15-minute taxi ride from Cable Beach. We pass recent condo developments, gated communities and a local fish-fry shack on the way.

But when we finally arrive at the restaurant and are seated by the water, that is the best view by far. Nothing on the horizon as far as the eye can see.

DSC_0790Christine and I try the Chef’s special – grouper – while Jen opts for a conch chowder and a salad. Sadly, there are no stars or moonlight to accompany our dinner – just the very dim flicker of our table candles, and the nearby glare from mounted TV screens and the lights at the bar. Above us, we see the occasional lights of airplanes preparing to land.

It’s not a late night for us – we have an early start, for our big day trip to the Exuma Cays!

A Fancy Spot, and Hitting the Slots

Saturday, July 13th.

I awake from a strange dream (about being in the Canadian North with a film crew, for a DSC00617story I don’t remember, in the middle of summer when the sun’s out almost 24 hours a day, which does my head in!) to a very chilled, relaxed morning.

In fact, most of the day is pretty quiet and uneventful. Christine and Jen claim their regular spots at the beach. I don’t join them until well into the afternoon.

Around 7 p.m. we go indoors to make ourselves pretty. Tonight, we’re headed over to the monstrously huge Atlantis resort – specifically, the section called The Cove, where the Bahamian location of Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill is located.

Security calls us a taxi and we’re soon on our way. We get a lovely (and, I think, entertaining) driver, who tells us about his kids – some of whom are in the U.S., doing quite well for themselves, thank you very much.

From what I can understand, he used to run tours, but was let go and has been driving a taxi for the past six years or so.

He talks about everything from his family, to the corruption in his country’s politics, switching between the sacred to the profane in his speech. But he’s been the best driver so far, by far.

DSC00613From the front entrance to The Cove, we walk to the restaurant, just marvelling at the elaborate lobby, with its ponds and little waterfalls on either side.

Mesa Grill is enormous; the southwestern American influence is evident in the decor.

We start off with some crumbly cornbread and a goat cheese “queso fundido” with blue tortilla chips, garnished with red and green bell peppers.

Jen orders a zesty margarita with jalapeño peppers. Christine and I split a bottle of reisling.

For our entrées, Christine gets a ribeye steak, Jen tucks into some mahi-mahi, and I tackle three pork tenderloin medallions.

It’s delicious (if, admittedly, a bit pricey for what we get. But, hey – it’s Bobby Flay at the Atlantis).

DSC00614After dinner, I take a chance on my expanding belly and order my first dessert of the trip – sticky toffee pudding  with tres leches ice cream.

The caramel (which I think had been flavoured with some salt) went so well with the pudding and the ice cream – everything just melted together in my mouth.

After dropping some serious coin on dinner, we thought we’d visit the casino and perhaps win some of it back.

It’s only a five-minute walk from the restaurant. But to get to the casino, we pass through this enormous complex in which the casino’s housed.

DSC00623The place is filled with shops and ornate mouldings. On the floor below us, there’s a fish aquarium that is so humongous, it’s unbelieveable.

The casino itself is massive, loud, and dotted with bars that require a $20 cover to enter. (We take a pass.)

After some hesitation, we decide to try our luck with some of the slot machines closest to the cashiers’ counters. It takes about 10 minutes or so of fiddling before we figure out how it works.

I’m not terribly interested in the nickel slots as – in my limited casino-going experience (translation: that one time at the Caesar’s in Windsor) – these are guaranteed money-snatchers.

We shuffle around from row to row of machines … and then I see them. The “Wheel of Fortune” slot machines. Also remembered from my limited casino-going experience: these made me a tiny sum. But there are bums parked in every available seat. And just a couple of moments later, we hear a couple of small cheers, which I am convinced are coming from that general vicinity.

I am determined to get MY bum into one of those seats before we leave.

We wander around aimlessly a bit more, and stumble upon more “Wheel of Fortune” machines. I stick in a $20 bill and come up empty. I hesitate, then feed another $20 bill into the machine. This time? I cash out with $55. We wander around some more. I hit another slot machine and turn my $55 into $70. I try a nickel slot machine, gaining, then losing, 50 cents.

As we move from machine to machine, we’re hit with cigarette smoke. Having long since adjusted to smoke-free environments, the stench is, obviously, disgusting.

But I’m willing to tolerate it a bit longer, as I double-back to the bank of “Wheel of Fortune” machines from earlier. The seats are being occupied by a young couple who aren’t even playing, and claim they’re saving them for someone else.

Again, we wander around, then circle back to see if they’ve finally taken their backsides elsewhere. Vacant. So I try again, and by the time we leave, I’ve turned my $55 into $300. Good enough for me. I cash out, glad this is a one-time visit. It’s easy to see how flirting with chance can morph into a gambling addiction.

We’re home by 1:30 a.m. and turn in by about 2 a.m., looking forward for a nice, lazy Sunday.

Porpoises! (Plus, The Poop Deck)

 DSC00569Friday, July 12th.

The chartered bus headed to the Paradise Island Terminal arrives at our resort just after 12:30 p.m. – manned by a (sort-of) crusty driver.

(Aren’t they all? Cue “Bus Driver“.)

From the terminal, we take a nice 25-minute boat ride to Blue Lagoon Island (real name: Salt Cay).

We pass the Atlantis resort complex in its monstrous glory, as well as a couple of uninhabited cays, and a strip of massive mansions, fringed with rows of palm trees.

Once docked, we head to the complex’s main pavilion, where we receive a 10-minute orientation by one of the staff on dolphin basics. Then Christine and Jen get their lifejackets, while I mind their belongings.

The group is divided into groups, based on the numbers printed on their wristbands. DSC00574There are two platforms where excited dolphin-swimmers sit and wait for their fine-finned friends to appear.

Barely five minutes in, the skies open up and it just starts pouring. I quietly curse myself for not bringing a rainjacket, pick up all our bags and cameras, and run for cover.

The rain eases, and I lug all our things back down to the platform for a second try at snapping pictures. I get a few shots of Jen and Christine as they stroke the dolphins’ bellies, get playfully splashed, etc.

As the group prepares for their one-on-one time with the dolphins (dubbed “dolphin dates”), it starts pouring AGAIN.

DSC00581Back to the pavilion I go with all our things, and I try to get what pictures I can from my much-dryer vantage point. Jen and Christine hug and “kiss” the dolphins, get some vigorous hand/fin-shakes, and get to see other fun tricks.

Finally, the staff help set up for the final trick of the “dolphin encounter”: each participant swims out to a mark in the pool, floating on their tummies, while two dolphins swim from behind and push their beaks (or rostrums) against the person’s feet, propelling him or her upright – like jet-skiing, minus the motorboat and rope.

For everyone, the trick goes off without a hitch. Almost.

For some reason, when it’s Jen’s turn, one of the dolphins – named Stormy – starts acting up. So there’s a delay and Jen has to return to the platform until the dolphin’s ready to cooperate.

For Christine, this happens not once, but twice. When Christine’s first attempt fails, she allows one of the other participants have a turn; that person has no problems whatsoever.

After the second failure to launch, Stormy is sent back to a holding pen and a replacement porpoise – named Shawn – does what he’s told. It was neat to watch. It’s too bad my camera/smartphone video work doesn’t reflect the end result.

DSC00586It’s past 4 p.m. when we board the boat for the return trip back to the Paradise Island terminal, and we’re back at the resort by 5:30. And all that dolphin-swimmin’/watchin’ has left us STARVING.

We eventually decide to take a second run at The Poop Deck. But instead of walking, we take a taxi, with help from the resort’s security staff.

(The security guard, Mario, advises us against hailing a taxi off the street, on the off-chance that person isn’t legit and could easily rob us.)

DSC00605And the Poop Deck, it turns out, DOES exist. (In fact, if we had walked another five minutes the other evening, we would’ve hit paydirt. Oh, well.)

The restaurant’s enormous; we opt to sit outside on the huge, covered patio. The staff’s great, as is the food.

Getting a taxi back to the return is a minor challenge. The taxi driver gave us his number to call when we were ready to return, but the handwriting on the scrap of paper is so bad that the hostess can’t make it out. But it’s nothing the staff can’t handle, and they find someone else to help us out.

Back at the resort, it’s a quiet rest of the night for us, as we have some after-dinner drinks until Christine and I start nodding off in our seats, and we retreat for the night.

Downtown & Around the Corner

Bus driver why you act like dat
Fight like dog & cat
Man please don’t kill me for $1.00
I mean $1.25
Let me off this trap
I den say bus stop from 3 blocks back!

Thursday, July 11th.

Our morning routine is still slow, even if we’re up earlier than on previous days.

Our first point of order: book our excursions.

On Friday, we’ll go to a nearby island for a three-hour session swimming with dolphins. (Or, more accurately, Christine and Jen will swim with the dolphins; I’ll be observing.)

Then on Monday, we’ll take a powerboat trip approximately an hour south to one of the smaller islands – or cays – for an afternoon of sun, sand, snorkeling, sharks and stingrays.

DSC00554Later in the morning, we catch the bus into downtown Nassau, to take a peek around and perhaps do some shopping. It’s cruise ship central, so we see a LOT of tourists crowding the sidewalks.

We start on a random street, walking up one side, then over to another. We visit Nassau’s Straw Market, past many women hawking their wares, trying to get our attention to buy one of their many tchotchkes.

We pop in and out of shop after shop, looking at liquor, t-shirts, sarongs, dresses and other knick-knacks for possible souvenirs to bring home for friends and family.

In one shop, Christine and Jen purchase some hot pepper sauce, while I decide on some mango and hibiscus jelly which – according to the label – is supposed to be Bahamian-made.

DSC00561As we pass through the middle of town, we notice that various displays and patriotically-coloured bunting is still hanging from the day before – it gives the area an almost perpetually festive feel.

We stop for lunch after 2 p.m., then do another partial circuit, where we stop at a liquor store so Jen can load up on Bahamian rum.

We return to the place we were dropped off, then climb onto a bus … which takes FOREVER to leave, because the driver is trying to fill every seat.

When we DO finally depart the town centre, we don’t get very far. We hit a single-lane traffic jam. Apparently there’s an accident up ahead. (And – as with anyplace else on earth – likely drivers rubbernecking to check out said accident.)

One of the local passengers calls her friend to say she’ll be late, then passes the time by singing along to the tunes the driver is playing. Another passenger – wedged in next to me – sucks her teeth in exasperation. Woman #2 leans forward to talk to Woman # 1, probably to commiserate about the snail’s pace at which the bus is going.

Woman #1 (presumably a cook – she’s wearing a white smock with a matching white cap, holding her cell phone in one hand, and a julienne peeler and a straw in the other), points out that she herself is running late, and has errands to run.

“No use in worryin’, ” she replies. “Yuh reach when yuh reach.” I couldn’t agree more.

As we creep and, eventually, drive closer, a song called “Bus Driver” starts playing over the speakers. The song and lyrics, to me, are fitting.

Later in the day, after we’ve unwound (and I’ve taken a nap), we head down the street to a local italian restaurant, called Capriccio.

We start with some mussels in a spicy, tasty arrabbiata sauce. For dinner, Christine and Jen enjoy some seafood pasta with cream sauce, while I try some pan-fried grouper … with ACTUAL VEGETABLES (which I haven’t had for at least several days, and am beyond happy to see on my plate).

After dinner, it’s back to the “villa”, where we drink, dance around to music from our iPods and generally goof off.

It’s almost 1:30 a.m. when my head hits the pillow for a long, gin-stained slumber … filled with dreams of weird movie sequences involving mysteries to be solved, and King Kong pulling down the Eiffel Tower, against a brilliant sunset.

Independence Day, Bahamian Style

Wednesday, July 10th.

Christine and I are up, chilling/making breakfast, when we hear a loud knock on the door and a DSC00553woman’s voice say loudly and clearly, “GOOD MORNING.”

In average circumstances, one might either (a) answer the door or (b) stealthily creep over to the curtains and have a peek to see who it is.

But, first thing we do is look at each other, because both of us think it’s that woman from the day before.

I remain on the couch, momentarily frozen. Christine bolts from the kitchen and upstairs.

Still not fully awake, I – for a nanosecond – consider tip-toeing over and peeking through the blinds.

Christine hisses my name, so I instead dart across the tile floor.

We hear the woman’s voice again; we zip upstairs.

On the second-floor landing, we hash it out in half-whispers. What should we do? What if it IS her? Do we just wait it out?

As we dither, Jen – from her bed on the top floor – calls down and ask us what’s going on. We eventually (and a bit sheepishly) explain.

We wait until we figure the woman’s left, then return downstairs. We decide we need to make a quick grocery run, but, to avoid running into that woman at the bus stop, we’re going to wait until at least noon, to make sure the coast is clear.

Before we go, Christine opens the door and sees a piece of paper lying on the ground. It’s a notice telling resort-goers the staff’s going to be replacing the locks on all the patio doors.

Maybe that’s who that was at the front door. We’ll never know for sure. But if that’s the case … Part of me feels a bit silly.

We arrive at the store to see (1) the sign which clearly reads that the store closes at noon, and (2) three local ladies trying to sweet-talk their way in. Those ladies did a great job, because they – and by extension, we – were let in.

​”Make it quick,” the guy says. “No shopping!”

We run up and down aisles, grabbing what we think we need. The sweet-talking ladies are spread out throughout the store, taking their sweeeet time. We leave just as a couple of tourists are trying to get inside, only to be turned away.

Christine and Jen then make their second beer run of the week, leaving me behind to cool off and just chill out.

By the time they return, they’ve been discussing day activities to try while we’re down here. We then have a discussion amongst the three of us and decide on two excursions, but we won’t do them until the mid-point of our trip. It’s supposed to start raining on Friday – which has me a bit concerned – but we’re going to take our chances.

Christine and Jen hit the beach again; when I wander down a while later, they’re in the water, beverages in hand. Unlike yesterday, I waste no time getting into the water. We submerge ourselves, goofing off and relaxing.

This evening, we’re having dinner at a restaurant called The Poop Deck, in the next community over, called Sandy Port. For some reason, we assume it’s relatively close to us and, therefore, an easily walkable distance away.

So we walk. And walk. And. Walk.

We reach Sandy Port … and we don’t see the restaurant.

We try to search for a bit longer, but we do have a Plan B in place, just in case – a sports bar called Twisted Lime. We go to a nearby gas station/convenience store to ask whether for directions. They’ve never heard of the restaurant we’re looking for, but the other place is a couple minutes’ walk away, on the other side of the gas station.

We get some great seating outside, and tuck into some tasty food (I specifically remember having a succulent pulled pork sandwich), which we can’t finish.

Unlike the night before, we have no problem getting a cab, as the restaurant calls one for us. We’re home in a fraction of the time it took us to walk there (obviously).

Next on the agenda: planning some fun activities for the days to come.

Sun, Sand, Sales Pitches and Seafood

Tuesday, July 9th. 

Through the haze of sleep, I hear the rumble of rolling thunder. The percussive rapping of rain wakes me a little later, but only momentarily.

When I finally rise around 10 a.m., it seems to have stopped. But when you travel in July – during rainy/hurricane season – who knows what Mother Nature has in store?

We all move a a glacial pace around the condo, TV surfing, checking our phones for WiFi and whatnot – while casting wary glances at the clouds above to see if they’ll finally change colour.

They do, and we start our beach time earlier in the day, so we can get down to the Fish Fry district of Nassau for dinner and the sunset.

Just after 6:30 p.m. or so, we head to the bus stop just outside the resort …

And are almost immediately accosted by a woman wearing a ballcap, white v-necked t-shirt, jeans and flip-flops, inviting us to the resort just down the street for a free Independence Day lunch happening tomorrow …

And a “sneak preview” of the new hotel that’s opening next year.

Sigh.

Christine and Jen do most of the talking and “agree” to meet her the following day. We’re all too happy to see the bus when it finally arrives.

The buses here aren’t like typical North American transit. They’re more like minibuses, all marked differently, depending on whether you’re going into downtown Nassau, or are catching a specially-charter bus for one of the many excursions and activities at your fingertips.

The bus winds its way along the road, navigating the roundabouts and curves, until we reach our destination.

DSC00549Arawak Cay – also known as the Fish Fry – is the section of Nassau known for its many seafood restaurants.

Of course, this means the smaller restaurants have to employ some, ahem, assertive marketing strategies to get people to sample their menus.

It’s in this spirit of competition that we’re stopped in rapid succession by two men carrying menus, trying to convince us why their restaurants are better than the bigger ones “geared to tourists”.

In the end, we wrest ourselves free of the aggressive salespitches, walk past the clusters of men and calls of “Miss! Miss!” and “Three ladies, out on the town!” and make our way down to almost the end of the strip, to a restaurant called Frankie Gone Bananas.

We order conch fritters and grilled lobster; all of them come with sides of peas and rice, shredded coleslaw and a square of macaroni and cheese. The fritters are okay, but not mind-blowing. The lobster and all the sides are SO tasty and filling.

DSC00550Below us (we’re on the upper level), we can hear the not-so-faint strains of karaoke.

After we’re done, we eventually decide to to go below, grab a seat outside and take in the “show” and people-watch.

There are a few folks on vacation mustering up the bravery to sing or rap. But everyone else appears to be a local.

Here’s the thing I’ve noticed about Bahamians and karaoke: they love to sing. And they love to sing R & B ballads. So needless to say, a lot of renditions are, well, slow in tempo.

There’s one greasy-looking guy who keeps surfacing whenever a decent male singer musters up the motivation and courage to belt out a tune – trying to steal his thunder by singing part of the song – or whenever a female singer serenades the crowd, by not-so-subtly checking out her backside.

Christine keeps trying to get me to try my hand, but I refuse. Especially with that guy lurking. Even an older guy who keeps passing by our table keeps trying to get me out of my seat, but I’m a bit steely in my resolve. I just want to drink my beer and take things in.

Amidst the loud singing and nearby ambient sound comes the sudden – and sporadic – loud popping sounds of fireworks. Independence Day is nigh.

DSC00551From that point on, the ambience changes. More locals fill the strip. Music from adjacent bars and restaurants seem to increase in volume.

We decide to check out of Arawak Cay around 11:15 p.m. But how are we going to get out of here?

The road’s bumper to bumper with traffic. The sidewalks are just as crowded. Families with kids in tow, or being carried. Others – young folks – are dressed for the bars and ready to wind.

Lots of people are wearing t-shirts and outfits festively decked out in the Bahamian colours of black, aquamarine and gold.

But we’re feeling a bit less festive. We ask a young bar employee about bus service. She tells us the buses stop running at 7 p.m.

At the nearby police station, we ask about grabbing a taxi. An officer goes in search on our behalf, but 10 minutes later returns unsuccessful.

DSC00552We venture out towards the main road (West Bay Street) and ask an officer directing traffic. He tells us we’re better off catching a taxi not out here on the main road, but back from whence we came, and to look for any vehicle with yellow license plates.

We go to on of the passenger pick-up/drop-off spots and stand there, for what seems like an eternity. Christine, equally as frustrated, says if we can’t catch a cab, we should just start walking. Which, obviously, isn’t a great suggestion. But frustration can make you agree to crazy things, and I’m almost sold on that as an option.

As we’re talking, I spot a van with yellow plates, JUST as it’s passing. Christine takes off after it; I stride in hot pursuit. Despite the slow traffic, the vehicle’s still too far ahead to catch. Sigh.

Back to square one.

Again, we scan license plates in the dark, against the glare of headlights.

I spot another van with a yellow plate, and we take off running. This time, we catch up to the van, and the driver (reluctantly) took us on.

Turns out, the driver actually isn’t working. He and his wife (who’s in the front passenger seat) were going to meet their grandson for Independence Day celebrations, but their plans fell through. So he really was gracious enough to help us out of our transportation jam.

Back at the apartment, we sit out on the back patio. But I’m not going to go the distance – I’m out cold just after 12:30 a.m.

Let the Fun Begin …

Monday, July 8th.

Our flight from Toronto touches down in the Bahamas a speedy two hours and 50 minutes after takeoff.

Outside the airplane window, Nassau looks dry, dusty and a bit brown. But I know what awaits us on the other side of the airport will be a lot easier on the eyes.

My friends Christine, Jen and I don’t wait very long for our luggage to appear on the carousel, and we hustle out to the taxi stand, where a woman in uniform directs us to the closest available driver.

The conversation between us and the driver is initially awkward and full of pauses, but cordial nonetheless. It’s a bit like meeting a distant relative for the first time.

We’re at our resort in about 10, 15 minutes. The lady at the front desk is very warm and friendly, explaining what we need to know during our stay, and giving us a manila “welcome” envelope.

As we walk to our condo, I’m acutely aware of the humidity, even though the sun isn’t yet beating down.

Our accommodations are enormous. It’s essentially like a townhouse that can sleep six, but for the three of us, there’s plenty of room to spread out. We’re not facing the ocean, but that’s no biggie, because we’re mere steps away from the beach.

After unloading our luggage and fiddling with the air conditioning, our first point of order is to find groceries.

Correction: our first point of order is to eat some lunch, then shop for alcohol. Yep. Priorities.

We leave the resort complex, hang a right, and lope along about three minutes down the road to the nearest restaurant for some mid-afternoon deli-style sandwiches and chips.

Stuffed, we walk a bit further down the street to the liquor store. Between my packed belly, the sun (which is now out in full force) and trying to function on roughly three hours’ sleep, I’m fighting the urge to lie down on the pavement.

We find “Jimmy’s Wine and Spirits” … and a locked door, despite the fact (1) the door’s clearly marked “PULL” and (2) there are people in there. A tanned white man with snowy white hair and a beer bottle in hand lets us in. Perusing the shelves and trying to figure out pricing, we grab some rum, vodka, gin and a case of Sands beer.

We carry our loot back to the condo, then make a second trip to the grocery store farther down.

Later, Christine and Jen decide to hit the beach; I change and join them for a bit.

DSC00546It’s late afternoon. The sun’s still beating down, but the proximity and sounds of the waves offer some comfort.

The bartender from the resort’s bar comes down to the beach to offer us free drinks. He says he’s experimenting and has tried to create his own spin on the mojito. I can’t speak for the others, but to me, it tastes like a lime slushie, minus the mint. Meh – it’s free.

As the sun moves farther away, it gets a bit cooler.

As the other two chat, I curl up on my side and feel my eyelids getting heavy. I’ll rest my eyes for just a few minutes, I think to myself …

Christine calls my name sharply, startling me awake.

“Time to move – tide’s coming in,” she says.

We pull our lounge chairs back about 10 feet. But the tide doesn’t get much higher.

IMAG0031_BURST002_COVERThe sun starts setting; we decide to freshen up for dinner.

It’s our first night, so we don’t venture too far. We eat dinner nearby, at a restaurant that has two signs with two different names on it, leaving me puzzled as to what the place is called.

Inside the restaurant, the bar and nearby dining area is bustling. Ex-pats, or frequent visitors? And locals. The dining room is empty, as is the patio, where we end up.

Ordering food’s a bit of a challenge … because they’re out of chicken and lobster. Huh.

We find other things to order, and then our server tells us why so much is missing from the menu: the restaurant’s closing, to make way for an Italian restaurant. And there’s already another restaurant, just feet away from this one. Double huh.

After dinner, while Christine and Jen nurse their wine, I feel my head bob and my eyelids lower and snap back open. I need sleep.

Back the apartment, I can’t fight the fatigue any longer. My next point of order: sleep like a champ.