Out Islands of the Bahamas - Page 2

So, as we've already learned, there’s another world beyond the two major tourist destinations of Nassau and Freeport: the Out Islands of Abaco, Andros, the Berry Islands, Bimini, Cat Island, Crooked Island, Eleuthera, the Exumas, Harbour Island, Long Island, and Mayaguana, and so on. The Out Islands have long been a popular destination for sailors, sport fishermen and divers. Today, due to some aggressive marketing and increased accessibility, they are fast becoming popular with other active travelers.

Far away from the bustling streets and tourist attractions of Nassau and Freeport, the rest of the Bahamian population, some 40,000 people, pursue their everyday lives. They live in sparsely settled little towns and villages from one end of the island chain to the other. Most Out Island residents have never left their island.

The inhabited Out Islands of the Bahamas include the Abacos - Andros - the Berry Islands - Bimini, Cat Island - Crooked Island - Eleuthera - the Exumas -Harbour Island - the Inaguas - Long Island - San Salvador and Mayaguana.

The little towns and villages are an odd mixture of the old and the new. Here and there across the Out Islands you’ll find impressive colonial manor houses right alongside half-finished concrete structures that will one day, as money permits, become the homes of fishermen and farmers.

In the many villages of the outer islands to the southeast, the traditional pattern of farming and fishing prevails. Fruits and vegetables are grown throughout the Out Islands, along with pigs, sheep, goats and turkeys, while crayfish (Bahamian lobster), lumber, and pulpwood are exported, chiefly to the United States.

Thick vegetation, mostly shrubs and bushes, covers most of the Out Islands. Each is a tiny land of dunes and rocks, sea grass, spider lilies, seagrape, mangrove, casuarina and palm. Each is a land of endless shores, tiny bays and rocky inlets, where the colorful families of the ocean live, play and die in the crystal-clear waters of the reefs.

Marsh Harbour, on Abaco Island, is the third-largest city in the islands. This dusty little town is somewhat reminiscent of an American frontier cattle town of the 1880s. In contrast, the neat little painted villages of Hope Town, on Elbow Cay, and New Plymouth, on Green Turtle Cay, might well have been lifted up and flown in straight from New England.

If it’s seclusion you’re after, you’ll find it in the Out Islands. The flat terrain and the long dusty roads, often devoid of travelers and always in various stages of disrepair, lend themselves well to walking or bicycling. Anglers no longer will need to tell tales of the one that got away. The bonefish here fight each other to take the hook and big game fish aren’t as wary as they are off the coast of Florida. Shipwrecks, coral reefs, and mysterious blue holes dot the vast stretches of empty flats and shallow reefs. There are beaches where the sand is the color of pink champagne and there’s not an empty soda can to be seen anywhere; where you can wade in the shallow waters, lie in the sun, or cast a line into the gently rolling surf. You might hook a chunky snapper and bake it over a small fire as the sun goes down. Get lucky and you could be eating fresh lobster instead of snapper.

The people of the Out Islands are friendly. They are real people, people without pretensions, their roots anchored firmly in the past. They say “God bless you” rather than good-bye, and think nothing of letting a stranger into their home to use the bathroom, or for a drink of water. They are a jolly people who look forward only to the next day, and are grateful for it.

Perhaps you’ll meet the tourist guide who lives alone with her small son and drives an aging Chevrolet that rarely starts. It doesn’t phase her a bit. She carries on with life, never complaining, knowing that, one way or another, she’ll get there in the end; and she always does.

Maybe you’ll meet the taxi driver whose small, three-bedroom home shelters not only him and his wife, but five grown-up children and six of his grandchildren as well. Far from being harassed by the situation, he’ll tell you how happy he is that they are all around for him to enjoy.

These aren’t isolated cases. Of course, you’ll find the occasional bum lounging on the beach, and there are certainly some strange characters wandering the streets of Nassau. There’s a certain amount of petty crime on the islands and everyone wants more money. But on the whole, there’s an overwhelming air of tranquility, a “don’t worry; be happy” attitude that pervades the islands, and it’s infectious. Visitors returning home often find the easygoing Bahamian ways, the shrug of the shoulders, and an almost overpowering desire to put everything off until tomorrow, has returned with them.

Only a few of the Out Islands offer any sort of tourist accommodations. Some are small hotels where the air-conditioning is nothing more than the soft trade winds blowing in through the window, and the only telephone is a lonely pay phone somewhere in the vicinity of the hotel office. There are also rental cottages, villas, luxurious hotels, private islands, and even resorts.

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Getting There:

For visitors arriving by air, the Bahamas are served through Nassau by most US airlines and by international airlines from Canada and Europe, and to a slightly more limited degree through Freeport.

The Out Islands are served mainly by Bahamas Air via connections in Nassau and Freeport.

The Bahamas is also a major destination for the cruise ship industry

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