A year ago this month, nature was less than kind to one of its paradises, when the Bahamas experienced one of its worst-ever natural disasters.
Category 5 Hurricane Dorian struck the Abaco Islands on 1 September, before sweeping west to Grand Bahama. It was not only the severity of the storm that proved so tragic and affecting, but the amount of time up to 48 hours in parts that the surge lingered over land.
These prolonged and intense storm conditions destroyed thousands of homes in the northern regions of the Bahamas. There were sustained winds of 185mph, gusts of 220mph, and waves in excess of 20ft. At least 74 people died and hundreds reported missing. The country was left with a $3.4bn (2.6bn) bill the costliest disaster in its history.
Six months later just prior to the further blow of Covid-19 I visited the archipelago to find out how tourism, its biggest economy accounting for half of the countrys GDP, had been recovering. I travelled to the capital Nassau, then to Exuma, two areas that largely escaped the hurricane, but suffered indirectly.
Dorian meant visitor numbers dropped and Covid means they have disappeared almost entirely. Yet the Government wants people to know that most of its islands emerged from the hurricane largely unscathed; to rebuild those that suffered, tourism is a necessity.
On the first anniversary of the disaster, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism moved to encourage visitors back. As we mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Dorians landfall we are reminded of the resilient nation that still stands, and the spirited people that continue to rebuild and move forward, read a statement.
For a nation so reliant on tourism, Covid is another barrier to navigate, with quarantine restrictions and curfews in place. But flights have resumed and hotels are re-opening. Though we are currently experiencing a different type of crisis I am confident that our beloved nation and our tourism economy will come back stronger than ever, Joy Jibrilu, the director general of the Ministry of Tourism, said of the pandemic. Onward and upward.
It was halfway through my first day in the Bahamas that a tsunami warning flashed up on Google Alerts. An earthquake had hit below the sea just south of Cuba, with reverberations felt hundreds of miles away our spot included, if only slightly. Cuba and the Cayman Islands looked in a perilous position. Miami beaches had been evacuated. We continued our tour of Nassau, keeping an eye on updates.
By chance we were on the islands highest point, visiting Graycliffe, the celebrity-favoured hotel with views second only to the Governors residence nearby. Built by a pirate as his mansion in the late 1700s, its recent guests had included Jay-Z and Beyonc. In the wine cellar, the third-largest private collection in the world, we admired a 200,000 half-bottle of German wine, as old as the house. Something not dissimilar to a riesling, perhaps. Back outside among the colourful shop fronts and cafs, where rum punch is stirred and conch fritters fried, there was no alarm among locals. The town was busy and all was relatively calm. And then, a few hours later, the emergency was all but over. No tsunami came.
After a few days in Nassau, we travelled by plane to the Exumas, brought to the worlds attention most recently not by Dorian, but by the fraudulent Fyre Festival that left hundreds of wealthy Instagrammers stranded with nothing to eat but anaemic-looking sandwiches.
Arriving at the airport, sun out and birds singing, I could see why so many people were hooked by the opportunity to party here.We were staying at Sandals Emerald Bay, which radiates from an enormous pool and stretches out along a private beach. There are swings subtly submerged in the waves, jerk chicken cooked on fire pits nearby, long strips of lush grass, and, a little dubiously, an English-style pub the resort owner is a fan and brings back artefacts from trips to the UK. After that first night on Exuma, the Bahamas unleashed its most enchanting finery on me. We travelled out of Grand Exuma by boat and sailed past a multitude of cays, each as beautiful as the last, green-blue waters encircling the sand.
After an hour, passing houses owned by the rich and famous as well as rickety shacks, we stopped to snorkel and were led into a grotto full of fish. Later, we stopped to paddle with nurse sharks and met a band of beady-eyed chameleons on land. At the much-photographed Pig Beach on Big Major Cay, a brash, unwanted guest too reluctant with his bread was bitten on the bum by a large hog called Dumpling. Around 20 swine live on the cay and draw a steady stream of tourists each day. I appreciated the pigs penchant for swimming it cannot be easy with hooves.
Lunch was idyllic, marrying Caribbean cooking with a little southern American influence. The macncheese was baked and covered in Louisiana Hot Sauce; the peas and rice garlic-strewn and fragrant, tomatoes providing a rich sweetness.Another lunch at ChatnChill, a buzzing bar set up by former London financier KB, came close. There, I tried a huge plate of pork ribs with peas and rice and coleslaw. Lime juice and tomatoes were added, bringing freshness, and an altogether punchier hot sauce, made on site, was bold against the fat of the charred pork.
Of course, Bahamanian assets do not stop at cuisine. We dived and we visited galleries to see the works of talented artists. We also met schoolchildren, some of whom were orphaned by Dorian and had to move south; now, they are partially supported by hotel donations.
Such a dependence is underscoring of the inadequacies of the world, not least while tourist dollars are suspended by the pandemic. The fact remains that when boats stop coming in, the islands economy suffers. Visitors will be needed more than ever when restrictions allow.
Kenneth KB Bowe, owner of Chat n Chill:
When going fishing, never leave behind the ingredients for a conch salad: tomatoes, onions, sweet green pepper, goat pepper for spice, lime and sea salt. After prepping your fresh catch with lime, sea salt and hot pepper,add it to a foil pouch along with a drizzle of oil, pat of butter and half a cup of water. Close tightly, place over the fire and poach until it steams. When finished, add a fresh squeeze of lime and enjoy!
The Foreign Office currently advises against all non-essential travel to the Bahamas. Emergency visitor restrictions include mandatory testing and quarantine.
British Airways flies from Heathrow to Nassau, with flights due to resume in October (BA).
Sandals offers five nights at the Royal Bahamian Spa Resort in Nassau and five nights at the Emerald Bay Golf, Tennis and Spa Resort in Great Exuma from 3,909, all-inclusive, with flights from Heathrow (sandals.co.uk).
Read this article:
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