After another day at sea we arrived in the Bahamas. It was sunny but very windy. We went ashore to be greeted by lots of singing and dancing and general mayhem among the locals – they are an outgoing bunch and although not unfriendly definitely not as friendly as the Bermudians.
The town of Nassau which is the capital of the Bahamas is a bustling little place with mainly t-shirt and jewellery stores aimed at the tourists on Bay Street which is the main shopping street. We had booked a Bites of Nassau Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour but it didn’t start until 11.30am so we checked out the town. We went to the Straw Market where the locals sell straw hats, baskets, carved figures, necklaces and the like. Here you can barter with the vendors to get the best price.
We then went to the Christ Church Cathedral which was our meeting place for the tour. Dating from 1837, this Gothic Episcopal cathedral is the venue of many important state ceremonies, including the opening of the Supreme Court, during which a procession of bewigged, robed judges emerges, followed by barristers, and accompanied by music from the police band.
Our tour guide from Tru Bahamian Food Tours was Murray a born and bred Bahamian. He was so enthusiastic, knowledgeable and passionate we knew we were in for a good few hours.
Our first stop was Bahamian Cookin’ which has been owned and operated by Mrs Wilson and her family for the past 25 years. Here some of the group had Conc fritters – not being shellfish fans we had groper bites. They were delicious. Murray showed us a conc shell and told us how they dive for the conc’s and extract the meat from the shell. They never discard the empty conc shell’s where they find them as the conc’s will not return there. Instead some of the shell’s are ground down and used as building materials. Next up was twice cooked chicken, rice and peas, sweet potatoes, coleslaw and macaroni cheese. It was delicious – good homely flavours.
We then stopped off at Balcony House which is the oldest wooden building in Nassau having been built in the 17th century. We noticed a lot of the buildings were this pink colour which relates to the sap of a tree that they use to colour the paint.
We then walked through Graycliff – a Georgian-style hotel and restaurant, this stomping ground of the rich and famous was constructed by Captain John Howard Graysmith in the 1720s. In the 1920s, it achieved notoriety when it was run by Polly Leach, a pal of gangster Al Capone. Later, under royal ownership, it attracted such famous guests as Winston Churchill and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The person that now owns it has diversified into cigar and chocolate making. As we walked through the lobby we noted it was pretty fancy – it costs USD900 per night to stay there and is a known celebrity spot. Apparently Jay-Z proposed to Beyonce there and it is not uncommon to see members of the Saudi Royal Family lying around the pool. You can actually pay USD25 per day to go and use the pool and the wifi.
We went to the cigar factory but didn’t see any cigars being made – instead we had a beer tasting. The beer we tasted was a beer brewed locally called Sands using the Bahamian spring water. It was a light beer which is actually in contrast to what they prefer to drink which is a dark lager. Due to the hot temperatures the lager gets warm too quickly making it taste bitter hence the lighter Sands which doesn’t take on that bitter taste if it gets too warm.
We then went across the courtyard to the chocolate factory and shop. We sampled a key lime pie flavoured white chocolate which was delicious. It shouldn’t really be called chocolate as it contains milk. The second tasting was a salted caramel dark chocolate – delicious. The chocolates are all handmade. At the moment they are importing the cacoa but have planted some trial plants on the island to see how they grow.
The Bahamas was under British rule until they gained independence in 1973. They are still part of the Commonwealth with Queen Elizabeth being their head of State and have a similar government and legal system as other Commonwealth countries. We walked through the grounds of Government house which sits up on a hill overlooking the town. This hill used to have some significance with the poorer and darker people living over the hill as opposed to the white merchants living in the main town area of Nassau. This house is the official residence of the archipelago’s governor-general, the queen’s representative to The Bahamas. (The post today is largely ceremonial, as an elected prime minister does the actual governing.) This pink-and-white neoclassical mansion dates from the early 19th century. Poised on its front steps is a rather jaunty statue of Christopher Columbus.
We found an old English post box outside Government House that dated back to King George’s reign – it had GR on it rather than the current ER.
We then went to Van Breugel’s Bistro and Bar for seafood chowder or tomato soup in the case of the non shellfish lovers. The chowder and soup had a Thai influence and were quite spicy. The bread and garlic butter tempered the spiciness. It was interesting as the spiciness really hit the back of your throat rather than set your lips on fire as I have found most spicy food does. Given that I am not a spicy food lover I actually quite enjoyed it – it was very tasty with small amounts of basil and feta in it. Van Breugel’s is one of the high end restaurants in town and is frequented by a lot of the Government and business people of the Bahamas.
Time for our educational stop at Pure Carribean which is a specialty tea and spice merchant – my sort of place. Murray had pointed out a few trees around the town on our walk and explained the uses of some of them. The Bahamians place a heavy reliance on natural medicines and Murray’s knowledge of these things was fantastic. We smelt and tasted a few of the local products.
We then went to Athena Cafe and Bar which is a Greek restaurant but the patriarch of the restaurant had given our table away so we went to our last tasting before back tracking. Our last tasting was the Tortuga Rum Cake Company – the owners had started distilling rum which sold OK before they experimented with adding it to cakes – it was an instant success. The cake was very moist and although apparently due to the cooking process only contains 1% alcohol you could definitely taste the rum. We only had a small piece and that was definitely enough for me. Steve wouldn’t touch it – sprits of any description taste like cough medicine to him.
We back tracked to Athena where we had a lovely Greek salad with sheep’s milk feta and kalamata olives. They import the cheese and olives from Greece and Murray emphasised that feta is not feta unless it is made from sheep’s milk. The family that own this restaurant have been on the island for many years and below the restaurant is a jewellery store which is also owned and operated by the family.
There were eight of us on the tour – 2 Canadians, 4 English people and us 2 Kiwis. Murray talked the entire time – as I said earlier his knowledge was amazing but there was a lot to take in so I don’t feel like I have done him justice above. It was a thoroughly enjoyable 4 hours and we bid fond farewells to our fellow tour party members.
Country – The Commonwealth of The Bahamas
Capital – Nassau, New Providence Island
Official Language – English
Unofficial Language – Bahamian Dialect, Creole
Population & Area – Over 380,000 people representing 50 countries from around the world. The Bahamas is an archipelago made up of over 700 islands and 2,000 cays, spanning a surface area of 5,382 square miles from the southeastern coast of Florida to the northwestern coast of Haiti.
Climate – Average temperatures range from 23 to 30 degrees celsius year round. Summer runs from late May to September and includes the rainy season. Winter is much cooler and brings with it a refreshing island breeze.
National Tree – Lignum Vitae
National Flower – Yellow Elder
National Bird – Flamingo
National Flag – made up of three colours – the aquamarine represents the ocean, gold represents the rising sun and the black represents the strength and unity of the people
Political Status – Independent Parliamentary Democracy, Member of Commonwealth States
Head of State – Queen Elizabeth II
Governor General – Dame Marguerite Pindling
Prime Minister – Perry Christie
Major Industries – Tourism, Financial Services, Fishing & Agriculture (they used to be a leading pineapple producer before the Philippines & Hawaii over took them)
Currency – The Bahamas has it’s own currency called the Bahamian Dollar but the Bahamian Dollar is pegged to the US Dollar so the currencies are used interchangeably
Claims to Fame – Columbus’ first landfall, Ernest Hemingway’s hang out, Academy award winner Sidney Poitier’s birthplace, Pirates of the Caribbean & James Bond movies, Olympic gold medal sprinters, World’s third largest barrier reef and the clearest waters on the planet.
Nassau’s modern growth began in the late eighteenth century, with the influx of thousands of American Loyalists and their slaves to the Bahamas following the American Revolutionary War. Many of them settled in Nassau (then and still the commerce capital of the Bahamas) and eventually came to outnumber the original inhabitants.
As the population of Nassau grew, so did its populated areas. Today the city dominates the entire island and its satellite, Paradise Island. However, until the post-Second World War era, the outer suburbs scarcely existed. Most of New Providence was uncultivated bush until Loyalists were resettled here following the American Revolutionary War; they established several plantations, such as Clifton and Tusculum. Slaves were imported as labour.
After the British abolished the international slave trade in 1807, they resettled thousands of Africans liberated from slave ships by the Royal Navy on New Providence (at Adelaide Village and Gambier Village), along with other islands such as Grand Bahama, Exuma, Abaco and Inagua. In addition, slaves freed from American ships, such as the Creole case in 1841, were allowed to settle here. The largest concentration of Africans historically lived in the “Over-the-Hill” suburbs of Grants Town and Bain Town to the south of the city of Nassau, while most of the inhabitants of European descent lived on the island’s northern coastal ridges.
Nassau was formerly known as Charles Town; it was burned to the ground by the Spanish in 1684. Rebuilt, it was renamed Nassau in 1695 under Governor Nicholas Trott in honour of the Dutch Stadtholder and later also King of England, Scotland and Ireland, William III from the Dutch House of Orange-Nassau. Due to no effective Governors (after Trott), The Nassau was in bad shape. In 1703 Spanish and French allied forces briefly occupied Nassau.
From 1703 to 1718 there was no governor in the colony and by 1713, the sparsely settled Bahamas had become a piratehaven. The Governor of Bermuda stated that there were over 1,000 pirates in Nassau and that they outnumbered the mere hundred of inhabitants in the town. They proclaimed Nassau a pirate republic, establishing themselves as “governors.” Examples of pirates that used Nassau as their base are Charles Vane, Thomas Barrow, Benjamin Hornigold, Calico Jack Rackham, and the infamous Edward Teach, known as “Blackbeard”; along with female pirates such as Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
In 1718, the British sought to regain control of the islands and appointed Captain Woodes Rogers as Royal governor. He successfully clamped down on the pirates, reformed the civil administration, and restored commerce. Rogers cleaned up Nassau and rebuilt the fort, using his own wealth to try to overcome problems. In 1720 the Spanish made an unsuccessful attempt to capture Nassau.
During the American Civil War, Nassau served as a port for blockade runners making their way to and from ports along the southern Atlantic Coast for continued trade with the Confederacy.
In the 1920s and 1930s Nassau profited from Prohibition.