Today is our last full day in The Bahamas. We fly tomorrow, via NY. We should be back in the UK first thing Tuesday morning. It’s therefore probably not a bad time to give you my overview of the place. (I think it’s C’s too, but don’t quote me.)
The key thing to remember is that The Bahamas is a huge archipelago made up of over 700 islands. New Providence, where we’ve stayed and pretty much in the centre of the group, is one of the smaller islands. It’s where all of the industry is – most of the businesses, and is the seat of government and power. It is where the cruise ships stop (they must find a better name for these floating ants nests – they are huge) and where the big hotels are. At round 250,000 people it’s a busy place. And it’s been our home for 4(+) weeks thanks to Bex and Steven who teach at one of the schools here.
The Bahamas is/are an outcrop of jagged limestone and coral. There’s a dusting of soil and some sandy beaches, but it’s not what you’d call a fertile place. Roots have nowhere to go. Palm tress, for example, are not indigenous. They couldn’t be bothered. As a result it’s a shrubby; low-lying and wiry. Even the mangroves are ‘dwarf’. It’s hot. I don’t mean to brag but I’m both jungle and desert trained – the army took care of that. But, without air conditioning (which both C and I loathe), it’s a hot and humid place – too much and too often for me at my age. And I haven’t mentioned the hurricanes! As we search this land for somewhere to call home, for that reason alone the weather here has drawn a line through The Caribbean as an option.
The Bahamas’ history, and I don’t exaggerate here, is a tale of pirates, smuggling, drug-running, prohibition breaking and easy money. It’s no surprise that being a tax-haven was the next big thing. I’m going to repeat a generations-long Bahamian now, so don’t come after me with knives and sticks. ‘The men here are idle. They do as little as possible for as much as they can get.’ And you get that feeling. Yes, the heat doesn’t help. But the women folk are mostly the industrious gender. There’s no class structure on New Providence. There’s just the uber-wealthy and the poor (and the tourists). Quoting my same source, ‘there is no middle-class’. But I think that’s a simplification. Demographically I would say this island is split vertically and horizontally. There’s a thin, rich crust floating on a sea of poverty and near-poverty. And, down the middle, there’s the women and the men. The women hold nearly all of the aspiring middle-class jobs; positions that require an education. Shop assistants, cashiers, clerks. The men, less so.
And with that comes gang culture and violence. There’s lots of it here. Again, a crust of affluence exists around the northern side of the island – where there are estates and hotels and gated communities and tourism. Then there’s the centre, which is much more run down. Look closely and you’ll find ghettos, desolation and furtive men driving muscle cars.
OK, so most of the politicians are men – and the latest prime minister is apparently a good one, trying hard to put The Bahamas straight. But corruption is rife. Whilst we’ve been here the latest scandal is top politicians not paying their electricity bills (one to the tune of $60k).
Half the problem is that there is no income tax. The government has recently introduced VAT, but other than that I don’t get where its revenue comes from. Tourism is the biggest earner by far, and every day on the local radio there’s a plea for all the locals to be smart and happy and welcoming and smiling. To make people like me feel welcome. But, it’s not exclusively so. Most of the girls behind the tills are dour and uninterested. Few smile, and less still engage. If they tried that in the UK, many would be sacked. I don’t feel particularly welcome, except when they’re taken $70 from me for one activity or another. Everything costs at least $70 here. Come armed with a credit card.
Having said all of that, when you get to a beach and have acclimatised for the sun, the vistas can be extraordinary. The water is completely clear – and it is, as our friends the Randalls, say a screenshot view every time you turn the corner. Yes – absoluetly. Especially away from New Providence. We did a day trip to a local cay – the one with the sharks and rays? And it was idyllic. Perfect. But, if snorkelling is your bag the fish and the reef are good here. But they’re not great. We’ve snorkelled in The Gulf of Aqaba – and there the reef and coral is a rainbow of colour (here, just brown and sand). There, the fish are straight from an aquarium – fish of every shape and colour. Here, the four or five species are beautiful, but nor plentiful.
So why come? We wouldn’t again. Cuba would be our next choice – you get the same Caribbean island feel with so much more history. And that’s on our list. If we wanted the sun, sand, sea – and the beaches, which is not really just our bag, I guess we’d try The Maldives next – or somewhere else in The Indian Ocean. Yes, it has been a fabulous break and we wouldn’t have missed a moment of it. But we probably won’t come again.
Oh, and how’s books? I’m 80/120k into Book 4 and loving it. Sales have been OK and the marketing is keeping me busy. I’m meeting Frank, my director friend, next Thursday to discuss Unsuspecting Hero screenplay – and I’m trying very had not to get excited by that.