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On the road again Canada and the US Dec 2011-Feb 2012 - Observations, musings and random thoughts jotted down mostly during loooong train and bus trips.

A TASTE OF FREEPORT BAHAMAS

BAHAMAS | Wednesday, 28 March 2012 | Views [824]

Freeport, Bahamas

Freeport, Bahamas

It seemed like a good idea at the time – a quick day trip from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas to get a welcome Caribbean fix – sun, sand, sea breezes and a mojito or two. And a respite from the congested strip mall that is Miami to Boca Raton and beyond.

So armed with day return tickets on the recently-introduced Bahamas Express ferry service run by the Spanish Balearic line, we hopped into a taxi at 6.15am  for the one hour drive to the port from Boca Raton. The ride had been pre-arranged for an agreed amount of $60 (plus the compulsory 20% “gratuity” of course!)

The driver spoke virtually no English and it soon became clear that he wasn’t too au fait with the geography of the area either. Eventually however, we arrived at the port only to find it in the throes of a security operation, bristling with police and security officers stopping and searching the trunk of every car and demanding to see everyone’s ID. We drove around for another half hour before we were allowed anywhere near the ferry terminal.

 By now the meter read $106 and the driver( who was obviously having an each-way bet) was a little put out when we proffered the agreed fare – so much so that he suddenly became unavailable for the return trip.

We’d been told to check in three hours before departure which meant sitting on hard chairs in a bare hall with no coffee, internet or distractions other than our fellow passengers. Obviously the three-hour window was needed because the staff were so disorganised and inefficient that everything took far longer than necessary. They were also inflexible: a near-blind woman had come a day late for her voyage and the company refused to honour her ticket. She could not afford another and it was heartening to see so many Bahamian passengers rushing forward to each offer her a few dollars to make up the fare.

My travelling companion from the Boca hotel was a retired English widow of sixty-odd years with more spring in her step than most- thirty year-olds. We soon struck up a conversation with a couple sitting behind us – he an amiable American and she a tall, elegant Bahamian.

We learned that Amelia was about to open a B&B near Freeport and would love to have us as her first guests. We could think of no reason not to stay overnight on the island and attempted to change our tickets, only to come up with the same intransigence from the ferry company: if we wanted to stay over we’d have to tear up our return vouchers and buy entirely new return fares.

“Well at least let us show you around” offered Ed.

Three hours later we berthed in Freeport, Gran Bahamas Island, a sparse port surrounded by huge oil tanks purportedly holding Venezuelan crude waiting to be mixed with American oil to hide the fact that the US was trading with the South American regime.( It reminded me of the American embassy in Havana, Cuba, that is not an embassy but an “Information Office”. The Cubans have dealt with the irony by building a military parade ground in full view of the office tower, where their soldiers perform the military equivalent of thumbing their noses on a daily basis.)

A derelict two-storey fish restaurant sat behind a wire fence signposted  “Shark Feeding Area, No Swimming”. We managed to resist.

Our new local friends drove us to a lunchbar for a taste of Bahamian dishes and after lunch we zipped along roads lined with abandoned hotels and empty shops, to the sprawling whitewashed villa on a palm-fringed canal that is both their home and virginal B&B.  A yacht was moored at their jetty and Emile, a French Canadian engineer was busy doing maintenance on the hull.

Amelia took great pride in showing us our rooms, explaining everything in her melodious Caribbean accent. Hyperactive and intelligent, highly-strung and emotional, she talked quickly and precisely as if reading from a script. Over the next 24 hours as she expounded on myriad subjects, I came to feel she had rote-learnt everything she knew. She was fiercely possessive of Ed, even extending to his friendship with Emile – we were to see this in action and wonder at it before learning of her personal tragedy and the profound change it had wrought in her.

That evening the five of us went out to experience Freeport’s only nightlife at Lucaya Plaza – by day a collection of market stalls and clothing shops, and by night crowded and rocking to one band or another and overflowing with the local cocktail, a sweet concoction of rum, condensed milk, coconut and…?.

The next morning Amelia took us off to her local Presbyterian Kirk which unlike any churches I have seen in the past two decades , had every pew filled with everyone in their “Sunday best” and sweet little children trotting off to Sunday school.  Ed asked on our return home if we had been “saved”! I said they were putting it to the vote at the next committee meeting!  It wasn’t a matter of being part of the church, it was lovely to be welcomed into the community.

 This is why I like to travel the way I do – not just to look in from the outside, but to become part of the culture, however fleetingly.

©FMPDH 2012

Tags: bahamas, balearic line, freeport, lucaya plaza

 

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