Monday, November 10, 2008

Which Side of the Road Am I On

"Bermuda, Bahamas, Come on pretty mama...." goes the Beach Boys song. And so we went - to the Bahamas. We had Bahama Mamas, Goombay smashes and even margueritas. But drinking wasn't the highlight, not even close. Of course, when you pay $5 for a coke and $5 for a cup of coffee, $8 for a gallon of milk and $4.60/gallon of gas, it's enough to drive you to drink.

Ever find yourself on the wrong side of the road and then remember you're on the right side but the right side is the left side and you're then not sure where you are? On our last day, on the way to the airport to turn the car in, I went around the rotary and diligently stayed to the left but found myself going the wrong way on a one way road. "Oh, shit." Fortunately, the cop, after we turned around, asked us where we were going and then said "follow me." The irony of it, on our last day, being escorted to the airport by the police. ("We're glad you came, sir. And now, we're just as glad you're going home. Ma'am, take care of him. It's obvious he's confused.")

I can only recall a few times during our driving excursions that Judy sucked in her breath while I rounded a bend in the road, turned into an intersection, or pulled out into traffic with the exclamation - "oh, shit!" Well, maybe more than a few times. But, we lived through it.

One day we drove out to Fort Montague. The Fort was built in 1742 to defend against the British. John Paul Jones overran the fort, which is about as big as a house, and the rest was history. More interesting though, was watching Judy scuttle under the locked gate, taking a teenaged boy with her (I said to his father, "you know, we're all going to get locked up.")

They climbed into the fort, pretending to be pirates by manning the walls and trying to turn the cannons around and generally creating havoc the way the pirates probably really did. I was glad they couldn't get into the fort's jail; they'd probably still be there. "Hey, what did you guys do on vacation? Well, Judy broke into a Fort, straddled a cannon up on the ramparts and generally aided and abetted criminal activity. It was great!"

After taking over the Fort, we decided to walk down to the street vendors and grab some lunch. Being a pirate creates a huge hunger, you know. We had conch salad, conch fritters, fried barracuda, and sweet potato cake. A little spicy, but good. I used a barracuda bone as a toothpick and fancied myself as the romantic lead in Pirates of the Caribbean. I'm tellin' ya, it's easy to get carried away on vacation.

On our first day at our place we wandered over to the pools and to the water park. Our first activity was to get onto a waterslide that was about an 80 foot vertical drop. We hadn't even gotten wet yet and here we were on this death ride. I chickened out. Judy went and I could hear her scream the whole way down. I thought, "this is nuts." So I went down the waterslide on the other side, the Challenger, to warm up.

Then we went over to another waterslide, which was just like the very first one, only enclosed, and with a dip in it, and which dumped you out into an underground lagoon. I did that; she did that; then we did a similiar run on inner tubes. The water slide on the tube was cool but it ended in the lazy river, which was very anti-climactic, even with the ocassional rapids.

At the end of the day, to vindicate myself, I went down the death-defying vertical drop. Only this time, it was old. I had learned to keep my ankles crossed, which keeps the spray out of your face, and so I could keep my eyes open while I did this free fall. I'm cool; I'm cool. Not a chicken anymore. Judy was proud of me - "honey man, you did it. Hey, baby girl, it was nothin'."

Another day we drove over to the Caves. The Caves are really caves, filled with bat guano, that pirates lived in back in the day to confound the authorities. The caves were neat; unfortunately, we didn't have a flashlight, or a torch, and, as the footing was slippery, we were unable to travel deeply into them.

One night we splurged and ate at Chez Willie's. Another night we we down to the fish fry and ate at the Fairhaven ("If you want the fish any fresher, you'll have to spear them yourself"). Once, for lunch we ate at another place, Twin Brothers, which is another restaurant along the fish fry.

And, of course, we walked the downtown streets of Nassau, wandered through the Straw Market, meandered down side streets and had supper at Senor Frogs. All along the way, the taxi drivers and street vendors called Judy - Bahama Mama. I found it was better to drink one than it was to call her that.

The week went by too quickly, on the one hand, and yet, maybe it was long enough. We learned the Bahamian people's average income is about $35,000 and while housing is cheap, gas and groceries are not. Far away from the tourist area, we shopped at a grocery store and bought apples at $1.89 each. A roll of tinfoil cost $9.00.

We shopped at two different malls, neither part of the tourist area, and wandered all throughout the island. There are some really poor areas and there are some incredibly wealthy areas, too. We did see a large middle class, however. We learned that the underclass are the Haitians.

Everywhere we went we saw Obama stickers. The Bahamians really like Obama. At the car rental place, the customer service rep was wearing an Obama button and her entire demeanor changed to the better when we told her we were Obama supporters, too.

A vacation, yeah. But also a look at how another culture lives. If we had never left the resort area, we'd have had an entirely different vacation. By traveling around the Island, we saw a whole different lifestyle, the kind, perhaps, most tourists don't see. We got to eat in local restaurants, meet local people and see the land from their side.

The Bahamas are nice to visit. I don't think I'd want to live there but I don't think the Bahamians necessarily want to leave, either. The people we met had grown up on the Islands, were educated in the U.S. and then returned to the Bahamas to work and live. I guess life anywhere is pretty much what you make of it. They have a pretty good life. I could visit there again.