We decided to slow our travels so we could take time to experience each leg of our journey more thoroughly. We are taking time to soak in the way of life on the smaller islands in the Bahamas. Things are really different once you get away from the tourist areas. I thought maybe everyone would like a peek at the everyday life away from the resorts and cruise ship ports.
There are not as many private boats as one would think. We were surprised by this fact. We thought almost everyone would have a small boat or skiff. We pictured small boats zipping around crisscrossing the islands. Wow, were we wrong. The majority of the boats we see are sailboats owned by cruisers. The greater part of which are American and Canadian flagged vessels. We do not see very many boats owned by local people. The most common form of travel in the Bahamas is by ferry service. There are different ferries that traverse the islands. There are large, fast ferries that carry passengers long distances and there are short distance ferries as well. In this post we are going to show pictures of the local ferry services that shuttle people short distances.
The ferries start early in the morning. We are often awaken by the waves from their wake as they start their daily rounds. For many of the children in the Abaco Islands, their day starts with a ferry ride. Instead of lining up for a school bus they line up for the ferry. On the islands that are sparsely populated there might not be enough children to fill a school. On some of the islands there is one school that is all inclusive of all grades and ages. The children line up with the adults who are riding the same ferry to other islands for work. Most of the businesses operate around the ferry schedules. Mom or Dad might take one ferry to work on one island while the kids another to a different island for school.
The ferry is used for more than just a bus to get people between islands. They transport supplies, packages and sometimes the Police. We saw two officers with a man in handcuffs on the ferry one day. If you were not paying attention you would not even notice. It was a very causal scene. The man in handcuffs sat quietly with his head lowered while his local community glared at him the entire trip. The police made quiet, casual conversation with the locals. Just another day on the ferry.
There are not many police cars or fire trucks. In Green Turtle Cay the police car was a golf cart. There is usually a volunteer fire department and one or two police officers. Some of the islands share police or have part time officers (from what we have been told). We saw a house on fire while we were in Hatchet Bay, Eleuthera. The men on the island quickly jumped into a pickup truck, a minivan and one small fire truck. There were no sirens, horns or bells just three vehicles speeding down the quiet road toward the fire.
In the Bahamas the children and adults do not drink very much soda. The people of the Bahamas Islands seem to drink more fruit juice. The store’s shelves are packed with fruit juices of many different types. The stores sell sodas but the sodas are more fruit type like orange and grape Fanta brand. There are regular sodas like Coke but just not as popular and in smaller supply. Most restaurants sell American sodas due to all of the American tourists. We were in a small restaurant one afternoon and notice most of the residents were drinking pretty pinkish red drinks in tall glasses. When we asked we were told it was homemade fruit punch. I ordered one. It was very good, fruity and not overly sweet. A nice refreshing drink for the hot afternoon.
Banking is different as well. On the smaller or outer islands, banks are only open one or two days a week. Often there are no ATM machines. Getting cash requires a trip to one of the more populated islands. Funny enough, cash is your only option of payment at many businesses. So far we have not found any business that takes American Express. Only VISA and MasterCard. The credit card machines do not always work. Some stores charge a surcharge of 5% or more to accept a credit card. Gratuity in restaurants of 15% is automatically added to all checks.
Groceries are brought in by supply boat one day a week. On some of the larger islands there are two supply boats bringing different items on different days (i.e.: Milk on Monday, bread on Wednesday). The supply boat is dependent on weather. If there is bad weather from Florida to the Bahamas or within the Bahamas the supply ship will be delayed. The best day to buy groceries is the day after the boat arrives. The fresh items go quickly and are not always fresh. Another way to look at it, a loaf of bread leaves Miami to travel to Nassau or Marsh Harbour. Afterwards it is distributed to the islands by the supply ship. This process can take a week. By the time the food gets to the grocery store on the smaller islands it has traveled a long way. The stores have to order far in advance so what is on the shelf is what you get. There are no supplies in the back room. There is no back room. There are less choices of products but you can usually find something that will fit your needs or simply do without.
In the good ole USA we were spoiled. While in the USA we had internet, cell phone coverage, television, electricity, water, you name it, all ready waiting for us whenever we needed it. Not so much when once we left. There is a little joke in the Bahamas, before you travel here you are told, “Yes, we have wifi, cell phone, cable, water, whatever you have in the USA we have here. Come down, enjoy!” The little part of the joke comes after you arrive. Eventually someone who lives here will fill in the rest of the joke, “ Yes we have it all, but don’t expect it to work all on the same day” Once you get away for the cruise ship ports and resorts things get interesting. If it rains, things don’t work, if it is hot, things don’t work. If it does works there is a big fee for it.
The people of the Bahamas take it all in stride. No one gets too upset if a store can only take cash because the credit card machine is down. People do not get flustered if a store is closed because the owner decided to take an unscheduled day off. They simply return another day. While sailing in the Chesapeake Bay we made a list of the 6 must haves and were happy if we could get 4. Now we are happy if we get 2 out of 6. Some days, 1 will have to do. And, quite honestly, most days we do not even get one. We are becoming accustom to improvising and simply living without things. Sometimes, the most basic things. The frustration level can be high.
It is an interesting and different way of life. If a person slows their pace to accommodate the lifestyle of the island and acknowledge the local customs they are more accepted by the Bahamian people. The islands are friendly; the people are often a bit shy and soft spoken but helpful and kind.