Bahamas: the colors of the archipelago - The360 Travel

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  • Sunday, December 15, 2019

    Bahamas: the colors of the archipelago

    Bahamas: the colors of the archipelago

    It is believed to know the Bahamas, and yet... With 700 islands, of which only 17 are inhabited, the archipelago presents faces much more varied than one might think. Visit of four islands with distinctly distinct atmospheres.


    NEW PROVIDENCE AND PARADISE ISLAND: FROM ALL COLORS

    New Providence Island and its small neighbor, Paradise Island, are home to two-thirds of the Bahamians. Here, the landscape is an eclectic mix of luxury boutiques and popular eateries, bustling beaches and uncrowded sandy coves. These islands have much more to offer than the only capital, Nassau, with its casinos and mega-resorts. The proof... in color!

    Gold

    In places, the sand of the beaches is so thin that one would think indeed of gold powder. The north coast of the island is a succession of beaches, some private, others public. Junkanoo Beach, in Nassau, attracts those who fuel the musical boom boom, colorful cocktails and festive wildlife. At Love Beach, further west, it is possible to walk long minutes without meeting a living soul. Some residents walk their dogs, freedivers come to enjoy the reefs. But there are no salesmen to offer piñas coladas or sell junk souvenirs.

    The most beautiful beach of the lot remains however Cabbage Beach, in the north of Paradise Island. The inhabitants love it, tourists and cruise passengers too. Several large hotels have sun loungers available to their guests, but a public entrance allows everyone to enjoy the fine sand and waves, more imposing than elsewhere. Here, passing visitors can buy multicolored premixed cocktails served from large plastic jugs, or treat themselves to coconut water, which they will drink with straw from the walnut tree.

    White

    The Bahamians serve their white meat in salad, chili, in a court-bouillon or coated with breadcrumbs... The conch (conch, in English, but pronounced "konk" to the Bahamian) is undoubtedly the national dish of the country. Every day, fishermen will pick one by one, on the seabed, the precious shells with lips edged with pink.

    Often in the afternoon at Dino's, 15 km west of Nassau, two men are busy on a makeshift stand to extract the mollusc from its hiding place. One crushes the shell with a hammer, the second eradicates the white flesh and sizzling. Pure muscle, which must be softened so as not to bounce too much. Dino's is said to be the best conch salad in the country, and he is the father of the tropical salad, where cucumbers and red peppers sit alongside apples and pineapples.

    In this street-side food booth, every concept of productivity has been evacuated. Each salad is made individually, vegetables and fresh fruits are cut on demand, which is incessant. Why hurry?

    The stools (of simple boxes of milk reversed) being all occupied, no matter the hour of the day, one must expect to... wait. Anyway, the local beer, the Kalik, is served chilled, and the Sky Juices (a cocktail made of gin, condensed milk, crushed coconut flesh and a pinch of nutmeg) deliciously turn heads. It's a Caribbean time, after all, and stress is out of place here.

    Grilled meat on the barbecue and fried fish are the other Bahamian specialties to discover. Every night, at Fish Fry in Arawak Cay (west of Nassau), locals and tourists alike sit side by side to enjoy traditional dishes.

    Blue

    The Bahamas is the third largest barrier reef in the world, after Australia and Belize. Moreover, the weather is conducive to diving 12 months a year, which explains the popularity of the archipelago with divers and freedivers.

    South of New Providence, Stuart Cove's is known for its shark dives.

    During our afternoon at sea, we made the first of our three stopovers near an island that was used to shoot the movie Pirates of the Caribbean. Many colorful fish surround the boat, accustomed to being fed by the captain. The second stop is more moving: you can swim near a huge underwater sculpture of a squatting woman, palm open to the sky, as if she was carrying the sea in her hand.

    The ultimate dive takes place in the Shark Arena. Floating horizontally along a cable, we saw spinning under our palms about fifteen reef sharks, attracted by a weighted lure that dangled several meters under the boat. Reef sharks are scavengers, they do not hunt other sea creatures (let alone humans), but females can be aggressive. And the largest is almost two meters... Hence the excessive caution of the guide who accompanied us in the water. A magical dive.

    Rainbow

    Several islands in the West Indies were populated by slaves from Africa. This is true also for the Bahamas. Except that here more than elsewhere, we kept alive a tradition that dates back to the time of slavery: the Junkanoo.

    For more than 200 years, this carnival is presented in the middle of the night, December 26th and January 1st. Participants wear heavy, colorful costumes made of crepe paper and dance until dawn in the streets. Everywhere, everything is just noises of drums and cow bells, whistles, songs and banners.

    "Junkanoo is now celebrating the emancipation of the Bahamians," says Arlene Nash Ferguson, a two-time national winner of the best costume and director of a museum dedicated to the festivities in Nassau. "The slaves of the British Empire were allowed three days off Christmas and took the opportunity to recreate a festival inspired by the rituals of their native Africa. It takes a year of work to make a Junkanoo costume; there have been divorces because of the Junkanoo, so much time investment is great. But no matter, it's the ultimate celebration of our national identity."

    ELEUTHERA: 150 BEACHES FOR SOI

    A hole, a bump, a hole, a hump... We must have faith to believe that a beach hides at the end of this road end of the world, made of land a thousand times beaten, in the heart of the island Eleuthera.

    But not only does the road lead to a beach, but the latter, named Ten Bay Beach, has all the attributes to be in the top 10 paradises on earth. At least for whom dreams of peace and intimacy.

    See: pine trees for simple umbrellas, blond sand or delicately pink underfoot, the lapping waves as the only music. A maximum of ten humans in the vicinity and a pair of pelicans to represent the winged fauna. We are far from the wild beaches at Copacabana... but surprisingly close to Nassau. Indeed, Eleuthera is located 96 km as the crow flies from the capital Bahamian. Twenty minutes of flight and we are there.

    Cut winter in two

    It is this tranquility that has been attracting Quebecers Philippe Béha and Denise Labrie to this island for the past four years. Every year since 2015, the couple cuts winter in two with a one-month stay in Eleuthera. And for next year, the house is already rented... Will remain the automobile, essential here, to reserve.

    "At first, it was love at first sight for the narrow configuration of the island, says Denise Labrie. In the morning, you can go walking or running on the Atlantic side, it is extremely invigorating. Then, in less than 10 minutes, we can meet on the other side, where it is calm and zen. There are few places in the world where one would find these two atmospheres at such a short distance. It's ideal."

    Indeed, in this island of 177 km long, but only a few meters wide at its narrowest, all the beaches - there are more than 150! - give either on the Atlantic or on the Strait of Exumas. The first are beaten by a heavier sea; the water is deep blue. The seconds are bathed in tranquil waters flirting with turquoise. Some are large, some are just big enough to fit two beach towels...

    All, however, are kept in the wild, which seduces Denise Labrie.

    "There are beaches for everything: to swim, to collect shells, to walk, to go snorkeling. On the other hand, do not be afraid to go exploring, because the majority of beaches are not indicated and can be hard to find."

    Indeed, signage and beach development often border on absolute zero. Sometimes we just cleared a little parking space near the dunes. In rare cases, picnic tables with coconut umbrellas are installed. But there will never be itinerant vendors, food stalls or sun loungers for rent by the day. And no fence is planted to prohibit access to this or that parcel.

    On an island of 11,000 people where everyone feels that everyone knows everyone, no such security measure is necessary. Except perhaps around the home of musician Lenny Kravitz. And even. Here, ordinary people and celebrities coexist in the healthiest of indifferences. Legend has it that some nights at Elvina's bar in Gregory Town, you can see Mariah Carey, Kid Rock, The Black Crowes or Lenny Kravitz in person appearing at the microphone. Without drum or trumpet. And without provoking a riot.

    Day by day

    Eleuthera is the island of unorganized holidays, which are planned for the day in a rented residence to private individuals, as do Denise Labrie and her spouse. Anyway, we have too many fingers in one hand to count the number of hotels in this island with a slender profile. It's not the kind of house. Eleuthera is a Greek word meaning "freedom"; there's no hazard. Travelers come here for the beauty and tranquility of the beaches, for unpretentious restaurants serving fresh grilled fish. Tippy's Cajun Grouper (and Key Lime Pie) at Governor's Harbor also attracts crowds...

    Haldore Russell and his golden and sweet pineapples are also worth celebrating. A former customs officer, Russell watches over 90,000 pineapple plants (and some fruit trees) at his Hatchet Bay plantation. "Eleuthera was famous for pineapple farming in the nineteenth century, but the advent of the American company Dole and then the passage of some hurricanes discouraged many farmers." It must be said that the workload is colossal: it takes 18 months for produce a single pineapple from a cutting. And each plan gives only one fruit in his life.

    Another educational tour is the Leon Levy Native Plan Preserve at Governor's Harbor. A hike makes it possible to cross several different ecosystems, from the mangrove forest to the wetlands. Gardens present medicinal or poisonous plants, endemic trees and species from elsewhere. From the observation tower, we can see beneath our feet a gigantic green carpet that ripples to the sea.

    Eleuthera has a green heart and feet bathed in blue.

    NOTEBOOK

    Flights

    The fastest way to get to the Bahamas? The nonstop flight offered weekly - during the winter - by Air Canada from Montréal-Trudeau. Tickets can sometimes be found for less than $ 500. The duration of the flight varies between three and four hours. Sunwing also offers non-stop flights between Montreal and Freeport in Grand Bahama Island.

    How much does it cost?

    More expensive than an all-inclusive in Cuba or the Dominican Republic, but less than a week in St. Barthelemy, we tell you right away. In Eleuthera, renting a house costs between 1500 and 2200 CAN $ per week. The most popular site is VRBO.

    Car rental

    If Nassau has a bus and taxi service worthy of the name, the other islands are less well served. The rental of a car is essential and often it is necessary to turn to individuals or micro-agencies. The rental price then varies between CAN $ 90 and CAN $ 105 per day, including insurance (if possible, pay with a credit card to enjoy additional coverage with your issuing company). The price of gas: around $ 1.70 CAN per liter in Nassau, more expensive in the other islands that must be supplied from Nassau.

    To the left!

    The Bahamians kept the British colonizer driving to the left of the road. The problem is that many cars are imported from the United States and the steering wheel is on the North American side. We deal with it...

    Change

    Bahamian Dollar and US Dollar are interchangeable: they have the same value and we can pay with one or the other, without distinction.

    When to go?

    The high season in the Bahamas remains from mid-December to mid-April, when the northern hemisphere flees winter. In summer, the temperature climbs and mosquitoes can be disturbing. The hurricane season can extend from early June to late November.

    Warning: tip

    At the restaurant, tipping - 15 or 18% depending on the case - is almost always included in the bill; it can be seen without problem by looking at the bill with attention. However, on credit card receipts that must be signed, there is a blank line to enter the amount of the tip to leave. The inattentive customer may therefore pay twice 18%! And it happens: we witnessed it...

    To sleep

    Big favorite for the hotel Compass Point Beach Resort, in the island of New Providence, about fifteen minutes from Nassau. Its 18 small rainbow bungalows face the sea and each can accommodate from three to five people. The place was home to many celebrities, as a recording studio adjoined the resort until its closure in 2010. Held by Chris Blackwell (the man who recorded for the first time Bob Marley and U2), the studio has seen artists such as AC / DC, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Celine Dion... Starting at $ 280 CDN per night.

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