We are currently south of Mayaguana Cay (pronounced Key, as are all Bahaman Cays), the last Cay before Turks and Caicos. So as the last Bahaman Cay fades in the background I’m struck by some final thoughts on Bahamas. These thoughts are based on experiences and interactions with the Bahaman people. I’m sure some will disagree and I’m ok with that!
I’m not sure what I expected of the Bahamas, but it surprised me. Maybe its because the only exposure I had previously was through blog posts and advertisements for resorts (Atlantis mostly). I guess I expected something a little more “refined or commercialized”.
First is the population. All the Bahamans I spoke with say that the population numbers posted on the internet (primarily wikipedia) are wildly over estimated. They believe those numbers include population that has emigrated with no intention of returning. Based on these conversations, I’m guessing the ENTIRE population of Bahamas is about 600,000 – 650,000 people. About 1/2 that population is located on New Providence Island mostly concentrated in Nassau. This leaves the other islands dusted with small settlements of 50-500 people.
My second thought is remoteness. I SERIOUSLY underestimated how remote many of these islands are. The remoteness and low population leads to a true sense of isolation out here. Take for example Rum Cay. Run Cay is about 80 miles (across water) from the next largest settlement of Georgetown (600 people) or 175 miles from Nassau. Rum Cay has a total population of 57 people (yup 57). As you can imagine, obtaining even simple things is quite a challenge on the island. Even staples like flour, eggs, cheese are at a premium as they are only delivered twice a week by mail boat (who knows how long they were on the boat before they were delivered. For anyone thinking about taking up this lifestyle and venturing past Georgetown, you need to understand this. For the few hundred miles between Georgetown and Turks and Caicos, YOU will be your only reliable resource. If something breaks or goes wrong, there is NO ONE to call on for help, seriously!
Thirdly is corruption. The government and local officials (even police) are horribly corrupt in the Bahamas. This ranges from small petty bribes to full on government scandals (the current government has millions in unaccounted for taxes). While cruisers or foreigners are usually spared from this corruption its painful to see what it has done to the Bahaman people. There is so much money flowing in from tourism yet the VAST majority (like %99) of Bahamans are living in true poverty. If you wonder how corrupt it actually is, take this example. Its not uncommon for a super rich foreigner to bribe officials to gain access to land. The land they gain access to has been in someone’s family for generations and they DO NOT want to sell. In the best cases, the original owners actually get some money, but in a large number of those cases they receive nothing after the land is turned over to the “investor”. Even worse, if they put up a fight or make a “stink” about it, then its nothing for the investor to pay off the local police to harass and arrest that individual. Eventually they spend so much time fighting the trumped up charges that they give up on getting their land back. Yes this seriously happens.
Finally is the people themselves! Everywhere we went in the Bahamas we were treated with kindness, respect and generosity. They only way I can accurately describe it is like “small town anywhere”. If you have ever spent time in a small town, where everyone knows everyone and visitors are treated like honored guests, that’s it. However, there is one absolute standout, and that is Rum Cay. We originally arrived at Rum Cay and were disappointed in the rolly anchorage and the desolate shore. It wasn’t till after we went ashore did our views change. The shore was desolate because the last 2 hurricanes to hit the Bahamas OBLITERATED Rum Cay. Hurricane Joaquin delivered a direct strike and sat over top of Rum for 3 days. You may remember the HUGE tanker that was sunk during that hurricane. That tanker was sunk a short distance from Rum and we mostly likely sailed over the wreckage. Anyway, after coming ashore, we found a small beach bar (literally a concrete building with a sand floor) where we could order a few beers and get some weather, and just what we did. There were many locals hanging around the bar and we enquired if it was a special occasion. It turns out the owner of the bar had just passed away and that day was her funeral. They had already had the service and a reception of sorts was to follow. They didn’t just invite us, but INSISTED that we join them in dinner and drinks. They fed us, gave us free drinks and included our kids in the celebration of life. It will be forever burned in my memory watching my kids dance with a group of Bahamans making music with a host of instruments in a shack on the beach. It was another “This is what I was looking for” moment. I’m sure there are many more moments like that to be found, so we will keep searching…… Off to Turks and Caicos!