Our Accidental Adventure in Nassau

As part of our month-long 25th anniversary celebration, Prince Charming and I took a cruise along with six other friends. The cruise itself was actually for one friend’s Epic 40th Birthday… which just happened to fall one day before our anniversary.

After much planning and negotiating during the preceding year, we settled on a five-day trip to the Bahamas out of Charleston, South Carolina. I am not in general a hot and humid kind of girl, but when you’re negotiating in a group, there’s got to be some give and take. The Prince and I love to cruise, and the rest of the group was looking for a “resort” kind of locale. This short trip to the Bahamas on the Carnival Fantasy was the compromise.

Of the group of eight travelers, four of us work in public safety. I mention that to say we should have known better. You know those horror flicks where the group wanders off into danger and you’re screaming at the screen about how stupid they are and why do script writers think stuff like that would actually happen? Apparently, it does. We were those people.

Lest anyone think that the rest of this story is an exercise in hyperbole, when I asked one of the travelers for their pictures that were taken during this adventure, they came along with this note, “… said you wanted pictures from that place we almost got murdered. Here you go.”

During the five-day cruise, there were stops at two ports, Nassau and Freeport. Generally when you arrive in port on any cruise, you take an excursion to explore the locale. Many folks arrange their excursions through the ship’s company in advance. This ensures you are safe, insured and will be returned to the ship in a timely fashion before it sets sail again for the next port. After several cruises together, however, the Prince and I prefer to take our shot with local tour operators. They tend to be more economical and we believe every bit as safe, since they wouldn’t otherwise be in business.

This trip was no different for us; the two of us had decided well in advance that we would get off the ship in each port, find the local tour operators and decide what sight-seeing adventure looked best. During the first two days at sea, the rest of our group had spirited discussions about which tour to book on board. In the end, however, they all decided to stick together as a group with the Prince and me. I share that background I guess because I feel some responsibility for what might have happened. We didn’t insist that they all come with us, but neither were we even considering joining them on a ship-booked excursion.

We got off the ship, walked a short distance along the pier and were immediately bombarded by a group of tour hustlers trying to get our attention. Once we were together as a group, we chose “Dan the Man” (as he introduced himself) to lead us on our adventure. Dan promised us an island tour by minivan that would include the Atlantis casino and other local places of interest, before a final extended stop at one of their beautiful beaches and then returning to the ship. The price seemed reasonable and he was wearing what appeared to be a proper name/permit on a lanyard around his neck, so we loaded up into the minivan.

During the drive, we got our first look at Nassau up close and personal. The underlying infrastructure appeared to be crumbling, but everywhere you looked you saw brightly painted walls as though they were trying to camouflage the decay. Dan kept up a running patter, telling us about his twelve (!) children, pointing out various buildings and sights, and sharing the history of Nassau, including the annual New Year’s celebration, Junkanoo. If you haven’t heard of Junkanoo, picture a cross between a Chinese New Year’s Parade and New Orleans Mardi Gras: larger-than-life dragons and other colorful characters built from Styrofoam, cloth, glitter and paint. Then Dan asked if wanted to see a Junkanoo museum. Well, of course!

That’s where our tour took a left turn into the Twilight Zone. As he pulled the van into a long driveway in the middle of a residential area, another sedan was pulling out. As they pulled along side each other, Dan told the other driver he was bringing in a tour group. The other driver said great, he was just leaving for an appointment but our group’s tour was more important and turned his vehicle around after us. We continued down the drive a bit and pulled in front of a run-down two-story complex, with a chain link fence around a small dirt and concrete courtyard. As we walked through the gate into the courtyard we could see chickens, dogs and other small animals roaming, tall leafy green plants all around the perimeter, and colorful signs hanging on the chain link fence between the trees and plants. As with the rest of the island, it was a dusty, crumbling foundation adorned with brightly colored decorations. Here are a few pictures:

A chicken coop?
(Photo by donjoneseverybody.)

One of the roosters.
(Photo by donjoneseverybody.)

Pheasant? Turkey? You tell me!
(Photo by donjoneseverybody.)

We were all feeling a bit uneasy by now… BUT NONE OF US WERE VOICING OUR CONCERNS. Nope, just like those chickens we blindly followed our guide and his friend through the courtyard and up some stairs. Dan’s friend unlocked a door and took us into… a small “gift” shop, where local children and Junkanoo parade participants can buy their supplies to make the elaborate costumes they build and wear for the parade. The shop was dusty, dreary, dank and dark, even after he turned on some lights. Dan’s friend proudly showed us his (apparently quite old) scrapbook of awards from prior parades and commendations from elementary schools for the work they do with local children.

Eventually, they led us back down the stairs, through an alley and further into the complex. Again all of us were still feeling uneasy, but again none of us were talking about it. Just call us lemmings. Wonder of wonders, though, he led us into a room that looked like this:

The Junkanoo Museum
(Photo by donjoneseverybody.)

The floor was a tile mosaic picture composed of 16,000 individual tiles. Wish I had a picture of it now, I was too freaked out at the time to take out my phone and focus! Luckily, one of my friends was more prepared. Here are a couple of close-ups of the costumes:

(Photo by donjoneseverybody.)

(Photo by donjoneseverybody.)

You can see just a smidge of the floor in the background of that first picture. All of that work on the costumes is done by hand. Amazing! Still feeling like our lives were in danger, eventually one of us started hanging out near the exit door, and shortly after that we let Dan the Man know we were ready to go. Until we actually got back into the minivan, I think we all thought we would be held at gunpoint somewhere on the way out!

The rest of the adventure — although it had its ups and downs — wasn’t nearly as exciting. Later that evening back on board the ship, we all finally talked about how we had just barely escaped with our lives.