I recently spent two weeks on Eleuthera, an island in the Bahamas. I was unprepared for the experience but not in ways that you might imagine. First of all, the island is beautiful, and the people are great. For those of us on the west coast who usually hit Hawaii to satisfy our winter beach fixes, it was a welcome change from the increasingly ‘touristy’ Maui with crowded beaches – the least crowded of which are off-limits to visitors because they are ‘local beaches’. Wanna take your life in your hands? Try to get to Peahi on the north side of Maui to photograph surfers. Da Hui say no way, haole.
So anyway, in order to try to explain what I encountered here is a letter to an imaginary friend. Sometimes a snotty sense of humor is the best way to get a point across. Here goes …
Well, we are a week into our vacation. But who’s counting? The Bahamas, specifically Eleuthera are a funny place. As a country, they are only 45 years old, and it appears that they have not had the time to mature into anything that resembles the fully regulated macrocosm of nearby Florida.
It is pristine, beautiful, laid back, and very rural outside the established enclaves of non-Bahamians. For instance, yesterday, or was it the day before, we went to Harbour Island (with a ‘u’ – I will try to maintain a sense of cultural respect by using the Brutish spelling). Harbor Island is an old colonial era settlement, where all the Bahamans, pirates, Spanish, more pirates and eventually English have lived for 400 years. Note that to the original native Lucayans pretty much all of them looked and felt like pirates despite their nationality.
Anyway, as a visitor to Harbour Island, you can only drive golf carts, so you rattle around the skinny streets in a rickety overpriced machine that has 1. NO safety belts, 2. No helmet laws, in a town that barely resembles a 15th-century Portuguese city. I’m talking skinny streets. My God! What a backward country!
I was HORRIFIED to see people driving ill-kept, open-sided, GASOLINE-powered vehicles with kids in the front seat that WERE NOT STRAPPED IN! Dogs the same way, NO helmets, NO combination lap/shoulder belts, no child safety restraint seats designed to resist a collision with a 787. None of the safeguards that we, in our advanced state of civilization, have come to enjoy.
How do these people survive such a state of savagery? As further proof I offer that there were no food handlers permits at the outdoor food kiosks, NO public parking available (I guess the city fathers figured out that if you want something you might just have to park a few hundred feet away from your object of attention and WALK there), indeed, no parking spaces marked out at all. And, there were actually golf carts parked facing the WRONG WAY to the traffic. I was horrified.
And the sorriest part was this – people were actually happy in their ignorance. Talk about the benighted savage! How they live in that state of sublime non-dependence is beyond me. They smile, wave, say “How are you?” And seen to be cheerily unaware of the danger that surrounds them. MY GOD!
The fact that their little island is rearranged by hurricanes every 7 years or so would lead you to think that there might be disaster-resistant building codes but no, there are actually buildings here that look to be at least three hundred years old. I can only assume that there is some kind of historical preservation code that dictates how the outside of a building must look when the inside is rebuilt to the latest hurricane and earthquake resistant codes. If that is so they have done a magnificent job of retaining the flavor (yes, with a u’) of colonial life. I just KNOW that no one in their right mind would trade off a few days of sun on a coral pink beach for safety standards that were designed to protect us all. Almost unbelievable, the state to which an unregulated human being will sink.
So, all in all, we’re surviving on this third-world island where gas stations and convenience stores, salons and day care centers (with the ‘r’ and the ‘e’ reversed – how British) are interspersed throughout residential communities. Bakeries seem to be happy coexisting with bars and churches in communities otherwise easily identifiable as suitable only for single-family housing. Have they not heard of ZONING! I mean, really, I get the charm of so-called integrated communities. I believe that we even have a school of planning designed to mimic that old world charm – is it new urbanism, urban villages, I forget – I know we have developed a planning schema for that kind of thing.
I love the island for its beauty and rural character but may not return, it is just too dangerous to be here, especially with a child. Did I tell you that we have a rental car with a GPS that spouts information at us in Japanese? Really! No standard language options? I guess we just have to learn to read the map without listening to directions. I will note, however, that the bossy nature and presumptive tone of the voice seem to be international.
Hope we make it back alive. I’m not convinced that they inspect airplanes here. TSA-style security is a joke. Too much work, bruddah! More later, if we make it!!