We arrived on Grand Bahama Island on New Year's Eve. After checking
in at our hotel, (no we aren't part of the tour group), we went over to
the Port Lucaya marketplace. At this point it was still daylight,
so it didn't look like the picture here. After some shopping we returned
to the hotel to rest before New Year's Eve festivities. These included
alcoholic drinks served in coconuts as well as the more traditional plastic
cups. You'll also have to imagine this square filled with drunken
tourists (and a handful of locals) trying to learn the Electric Slide over
and over again.
We spent much of the following day on the beach. (After the part we
spent sleeping.) The water was a bit chilly so we stayed on the sand.
After sunset, we went into town (the other town - Freeport) for Junkanoo.
Junkanoo is a Mardi Gras-like event that is best witnessed. Even
the native Bahamians don't seem to know exactly where it came from.
We heard several different stories from taxi drivers, bartenders, and other
purveyors of fine folklore. It may involve poking fun at the British,
it may involve an early settler named John Canoe, it's a little hazy.
What it clearly does involve is a lot of percussion and brass instruments and
some tremendously elaborate (and heavy) costumes. Several groups
participate in the Junkanoo each one involving literally hundreds of people.
The groups select themes and most of the costumes revolve around that theme.
The mini-parade that each group puts on consists of some huge floats, each
carried by one person. Supporting the floats are children in less
elaborate garb and an entire marching band of sorts. The man in this
picture is part of the band which is almost entirely percussion (drums,
maracas, etc..) There's also a smaller, but equally loud brass section.
Here is one of the large floats at the front of a group. This entire contraption
under the rainbow is carried by one person. That person occasionally
sets down the float and crawls out to let a substitute come and take his
place, so each group has a fair number of auxiliary helpers as well.
We have no idea how much something like this weighs, but the infrastructure
is metal, presumably aluminum so it can't be all that light.
We paused to eat dinner at the International Bazaar during the Junkanoo, which
lasts at least several hours (the Junkanoo, not dinner). Of the groups we saw,
one chose 'fairy tales' as their theme, which featured Cinderella's pumpkin-coach as one
float, and another devoted to the Little Mermaid. Another group chose
astrology. Seen here is 'Libra' from that troop. A third chose
biblical stories, the Garden of Eden is represented in the next picture.
Once we left the Junkanoo, we returned to the hotel and ended up watching the
Nassau Junkanoo live on TV. (Each island has its own Junkanoo).
What I've failed to mention so far, is that all of this is judged.
This seems like a minor detail to the average awestruck non-Bahamian watching
all of this, but as we learned from the evening news it's of extreme importance
to those who participate. Winners extol the virtues of themselves,
the judges and just about anything else they can think of. Losers
make wild accusations of bribery, cheating, and so on. However, as
far as we can tell, the Nassau Junkanoo - being the largest - has a lot
more of this political stuff than the smaller ones. We didn't stay
for the announcing of the winners at the Grand Bahama Junkanoo though so
we don't know for sure. Unfortunately, when they announce the winners,
everyone has removed their costumes, so you have to have a pretty good
memory (or a heck of a lot of photographs) to match numbers to costumes.
Having had quite the cultural experience at Junkanoo, we chose to stress the nature
side of things the following day. This consisted of a tour of Gold
Rock Creek and Grand Bahama National Park. The day started (really
really early at that) with a kayaking trip up Gold Rock Creek. Here
we have David standing near where the creek empties into the Caribbean,
wondering why he's up so early. The creek becomes exceeding narrow
at points, so much so that paddling is not really even an option at times.
Some ways up the creek we reached a boardwalk which was part of the national
park. We left the kayaks here for the afternoon and hiked down to
the beach. Our guide was well-versed on native flora and fauna and
we learned lots of neat little trivia that we've probably already forgotten.
Along the way we picked up our 'native lunch' from a local woman.
This consisted of fried chicken, pigeon peas and rice, and something like
coleslaw. We found it exceedingly good, but then, we'd also been
kayaking all morning. The beach was wide, windy, and deserted for as far as we could see
in either direction. Actually, I'm not sure deserted is a good word
for it since that implies someone else had been there and left.
After lunch we hiked inland (as much as anything is inland on Grand Bahama Island)
to some of the several caves in the area. This photo shows one such
cave (Ben's Cave) from above ground. The blue is water reflecting
back in the sunlight. The cave is mostly filled with fresh water,
and a healthy population of bats. Most of the caves are connected
via underwater tunnels as well. We kayaked back in the afternoon
before returning to our hotel. We returned to Port Lucaya that night
for one more round of drinks out of coconut shells.