The title of this article is so very real, that I had to remind myself of this recently. Marketing “gurus” have somehow found a way to make The Bahamas synonymous with the mega resort Atlantis, the capital city, Nassau, Bay Street and Arawak Cay. However, The Bahamas is actually an archipelagic nation of over 700 beautiful islands and cays sprawled across white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. Growing up and living in The Bahamas, I must admit even I, an island girl, sometimes became so Nassau centric and forgot about the majesty that lies within many of the Family Islands.
I took a weekend trip to Cat Island recently (my second time there) and wondered why I don’t take more trips to other islands in my own country. The boot-shaped island sits about 130 miles southeast of Nassau and Paradise Island and is so pristine, untouched and plush with natural vegetation, greenery and Bahamian culture, it was easy to feel like a tourist even in my own country. Islands like these are great for anyone looking to take a break from the hustle and bustle of a fast paced city life. Cat Island offers such a calming, real island experience.
Cotton plantation ruins can be seen scattered around the island while the remains of slave huts and Arawak Indian caves can be explored. I also climbed up to the highest point in The Bahamas at Mount Alvernia (Como Hill). Mount Alvernia is the highest elevation in the country at 206 feet above sea level. The hill served as the hermitage of Father Jerome Hawes, who settled in The Bahamas in 1939, where he built a miniature monastery and hand-carved steps out of solid rock. Of course the sparkling beaches made for amazing photo ops and the Bahamian food was deliciously delicious. Nassau, although still authentically Bahamian, has kind of diluted much of Bahamian culture with mostly that of America. So being able to dive into Bahamian dishes like cracked lobster, the conchiest conch fritters, coconut and pineapple tarts, homemade breads of all kinds, stuffed crab and even boiled fish made from the kitchens of Bahamians clinging on to island life was amazing. No variations of, or new twists on these staple dishes, just real Bahamian food!
With only one tiny, winding road running from one end of the island to the next, no traffic lights and…no traffic, it was a welcomed change to take a stress-free Saturday afternoon ride. Think of passing a house or a cluster of houses to the right every five minutes, all while miles of blue, turquoise and emerald green beaches stretch across the landscape to your left. Cat Islanders waving their hands from their front porches or honking their bicycle horns as you pass them, as a show of respect and welcome to their island. Please gesture back as the residents there, like those on many other islands, take it as a sign of disrespect.
I often stopped to observe the quietness that came with each day and in the moments I thought to complain about it, I instead embraced it and lived in the moment. We stopped by the roadside to pick native fruits while a burst of summery colors from nearby buildings made you squint at their vibrance. Grandmothers on the islands love to teach about being authentically Bahamian and introduce you to things your own grandmothers told you about as a child, like growing horse peas in the back yard, using an outdoor kitchen and catching rain water in a drum. You cover it with a piece of cloth and let the water seep through, this strains the impurities and you can boil it and have fresh water in case of emergency. They swear by this and it seems to work.
I think anyone can have this experience no matter where they live. Take a domestic trip and visit a city or town nearby; somewhere quiet, untouched and still upholding many of the tenants its ancestors built upon. I’ve now vowed to take more plane or even boat rides to visit more of the islands in my country because the international tourists shouldn’t be the only ones witnessing such beauty.
Oh, Cat Island!