This is livin’. We were standing on the beach, cold Sands beers in hands, watching the waves roll by. Here you go, ladies. We turned around to a plate of hot conch fritters. We each picked one up, slathered it in the thick, orange dipping sauce, and sunk our teeth into the hot, crispy fritter. Yum.
I fell in love with Grand Bahama Island. I honestly didn’t realize how satisfying the food would be, the sense of community in the local districts, as well as the beautiful beaches. Being my first time on a Caribbean island, I kind of worried it would be packed with just resorts and tourists. But Freeport, West End, and the villages surrounding them had a perfect mix of both tourism and local charm.
Wallace Groves, a prominent financier, invested in the island over 70 years ago. He wanted it to last for awhile, especially since he loved the pine trees for lumbering, so he built an infrastructure to host around 260,000 people. Right now only around 50,000 people live on the island. There’s lots of room for growth, which you can see by just driving through the natural brush.
Hurricane Matthew came through last year, the worst storm to hit the island. They’re almost finished repairing the damage and everyone’s excited to expose their vibrant culture to many more people. For six days, I got to experience some of that culture in Freeport and the West End. Here’s what stood out to me most.
Bahamians are all about community. I talked to a few people who explained the importance of family, how sons and daughters live with their parents, grandparents, etc. When I said I lived in an apartment by myself, someone asked why I didn’t live with those I love. Since it’s a pretty small island, everyone knows everyone, and I was told there isn’t much discrimination. People are proud of where they come from, and want to showcase all of it.
I had a local guide with me for much of the trip, but I was welcomed and had a great time whenever I was alone. At Senor Frogs the bartenders chatted with me all evening. Ben, the bartender at the cave pool bar at Taino Beach Resort told me where I should eat and drink to experience real Bahamian culture. And Lilly, a server at the same resort, made me fresh lime juice with honey and a little brandy when she heard I lost my voice. Shopkeepers, people walking in the street, and even tourists would just strike up a conversation with me.
The Role of Christianity
Christianity plays a huge role in the culture of Grand Bahama. Every village has a church, and the community is centered around that lifestyle. I was told the church instills values in children that carry on throughout their lives – hence why it’s a very safe island.
I understood this more when we went to have conch salad at Terry’s On the Bay, a local hangout on Wednesdays during the weekly Fish Fry. He raised money from his sales to rebuild a church that burnt down right next door.
Then there’s the night before Independence Day. I was fortunate enough to attend the celebratory ecumenical service, which means bringing people from diverse religions together.
The Sense of Pride
Pride is really strong in Grand Bahama Island. It was especially strong since I was there during their Independence Day celebrations. We saw i strongest driving to West End, the capital and area hit hardest by Hurricane Matthew.
You can see the flags they put around their picnic spot for the day. On the flag, the black equilateral triangle represents the strength of a united people, and the aquamarine and gold represent the natural resources the Bahamian people are determined to develop and process. It’s flown all over during the many festivals on the island – Junkanoo carnival on Boxing Day, fishing and boating festivals, Goombay Summer Festival in July, and many more.
During our Grand Bahama Island Nature Tour, the guide said he’s proud that instead of inviting us to the beach after the tour for some tea and crumpets, we’d get to enjoy some Sands beer and conch salad. True Bahamian pride.
The Food and Drink
Which leads me to one of my favorite things, the food and the drink. One of my tour guides told me how whenever she travels, she can’t wait to come home for a Sands beer and some conch salad. Conch is a major staple in the area. Conch fritters, conch salad, conch stew. It’s everywhere, and delicious.
Seafood is abundant, along with rice and beans, macaroni and cheese, plantains, ox tail, and more. Drinks like Gully Wash and bush tea are popular, too. Don’t worry, a whole post is coming on that soon!
And finally, Grand Bahama Island has such a chill vibe. Despite any conflicts going on, everyone believes in the importance of community and peace. Especially in West End, where they say the soul of the people lives.
I never felt unsafe there, even when ordering chicken in da bag from a roadside restaurant at 1am. If you plan to go, I encourage you to enjoy the resort but also get off the grounds and explore the heart of the community. Actually, the tourism board can pair you with a local through their People to People program. There is so much to see and feel.
Have you been or experienced anything similar to Grand Bahama Island before?
While this review was written independently, Travelaine was hosted by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and the Grand Bahama Island Tourism Board for this article. All opinions, observations and photos are my own.