If you think going to the Bahamas is going to be a break from the Texas heat, well, sorry. The temperature while the lovely Mrs. Junell and I were there only hit the low 90s, but the humidity made it feel every bit of 103 to 105.
So, before going any further with this story, let me advise you take plenty of shirts. Pack all you can in your suitcase, then squeeze in a few more. And while there, whatever other souvenirs you get, add in another couple of shirts — there’s a good chance they’ll be worn before you get back to the states.
And don’t even think about wearing anything but shorts as far as your bottom clothing goes.
In other words, you will perspire a lot. But it is worth every bit of sweat.
We were fortunate enough to spend five days in a resort, the Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach in Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama. We spent one day going there and one day coming back to West Palm Beach, Florida on the cruise ship Margaritaville at Sea, and being a Jimmy Buffet fan — or Parrothead — that itself was enough to make a fantastic vacation for me.
Oh, and did I mention the whole purpose of the trip was to celebrate Junell’s birthday? Nope, not going to trick me into saying how many years. Remember, a lady never reveals her age — and her husband dang sure doesn’t.
After a flight journey that took us from Love Field in Dallas to Pittsburgh to Baltimore, we eventually made our way to West Palm Beach.
Can someone please explain to me why it is cheaper to fly all over Hell’s half acre (where did that phrase come from, by the way?) to get somewhere than to take a direct flight? After all, isn’t the plane using less fuel and we’re taking up less of their time if we just hop on here and hop off there?
Anyway, after going to Canada by way of Costa Rica, we found ourselves on the part of the U.S. that I always thought looks like it’s flicking a booger on Cuba. We were only one night away from the Bahamas and the humid paradise awaiting.
Before getting there, however, the ship had karaoke night. It was one of two times I brought tears to the eyes of the lovely Mrs. Junell as I sang Jim Croce’s “Time a Bottle.” She also shed a tear when I sang Elton John’s “Your Song” during karaoke at the resort.
Come to think of it, she might have cried three times. I’m not sure if it was to hide tears or simply to hide when she covered her face during my rendition of Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling.”
Few things can match the quiet thrill of being next to the ocean. Having lived next to one on the Texas Gulf Coast for several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I can attest first-hand that walking with your feet in the sand and ocean is as relaxing as any massage — with all due respect to masseuses, who don’t usually require traveling a long distance.
Our first real adventure of the week involved more than just our feet getting wet, however.
I like to say I prefer being on the water, not in the water. Well, on our first excursion we got both, sort of.
Since we are neither of us swimmers, what better way to take in the beauty of the clear Bahamian waters than on a glass bottom boat? So, we sat out on our journey, doing the aforementioned feet in the ocean thing as we walked down the beach to our destination on a beautiful sunny day.
For the moment.
Twenty minutes on the boat and a little ways out on the ocean — I don’t know nautical distance, I barely know mileage on land, I’m that guy who tells you when you reach that broken mailbox you need to double back — the skies began to darken. Then, as if we had awakened Neptune from a nap, the skies opened up like the checkbook of a pro sports team owner.
Were we scared? Heck no! It was perhaps the highlight of our trip. Anyone can go out on a boat when the sun is shining — which we did — but it takes a special (interpret as you wish) type of person to stay on one when it seems more rain is getting on you than in the ocean.
Look me up on Facebook and you can find a video of myself, Junell, and our boat captain Larry doing our version of “Singing in the Rain.” You might say Larry should maybe have been steering the boat instead, but, hey, he got us home and even offered to take us out again if we wanted. However, there were no more storms in the forecast, so we politely declined.
Heck, he even circled the boat around to get my hat after it blew off into the ocean. Now that’s service.
Any visit to The Bahamas has to include a stop by Garden of the Groves, named after Wallace Groves, who built the city of Freeport in 1955 on 50,000 acres of swamp land that was given to him by the Bahamian government. What else were they going to do with it?
Garden of the Groves in a beautiful nature center that, surprisingly, survived well through Hurricane Dorian in 2019. At the Garden, you can explore winding trails through lush vegetation, cascading waterfalls and sparkling fountains. There’s also a picturesque chapel that is a local favorite spot for weddings, prayer, and meditation, and given the amount of rum available on the island, my guess is it gets used plenty for all of these.
And there’s even a Labyrinth. Unlike the one in Greek mythology, however, there is no Minotaur, so journey safely. Also, getting lost is an impossibility as there are no walls.
The Garden also features a large variety of indigenous and migratory birds, along with butterflies and other insects and plenty of luscious flowers and shrubs.
Since the Garden was re-opened, it has been certified as a wildlife habitat by the U.S. Wildlife Federation. One of creatures known to inhabit the Garden is an exotic lizard with a curly tail and a unique name given to it by the locals — the curly tailed lizard.
You’ll also see plenty of ducks, like the one we encountered who didn’t seem to mind us being there but also had a look on his face of “I’d really prefer it if you would hurry so I can continue my nap.”
Visitors can take a walk down into the cool fern grove and admire the imposing limestone boulders that tower over both sides of the trail, complete with relaxing waterfalls. It’s a perfect place to take a photo — and yes, we did.
We took the tour that included a guide, but you can also go through on your own. Trust me, though, you’ll want the knowledge of a local to make the experience all the more memorable.
Folks running the shops in the markets in Freeport love to haggle. But do bear in mind that they are still recovering from Hurricane Dorian, so don’t try to get them to go so low that they aren’t still making a profit.
These are some of the nicest people in the world — or at least as much of the world as I’ve seen. Please don’t take advantage of their kindness, but do expect a bargain — and considering most of the products are hand-made, that makes the purchase even more special.
By the way, when bringing home souvenirs, tuck a Bahamian dollar inside the gift. Some folks might even find that more neat than the actual gift itself. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it makes the thought cross my mind, “Why didn’t I just make the dollar the souvenir?” But after all, a dollar is only a dollar, and, well, despite what Junell thinks, even I’m not that much of a cheapskate.
As you stroll and browse among the 80 or so specialty stores, boutiques, restaurants, outdoor and indoor bars and cafes, the choices are plenty from Bahama Mamas (a drink) to the island’s most noted beers, Sands (their answer to Corona) and the darker brew Kalik. Don’t imbibe too much, though, because even the kindest marketer will not say no to an offer of a couple hundred dollars for a T-shirt you “just have to have.”
Each Thursday in July Goombay takes place. It is a celebration of The Bahamas, and this year they were celebrating the nation’s 50th year of independence from the United Kingdom.
It’s also where we discovered a tradition, the unofficial drink of The Bahamas called the Gully Wash. It consists of fresh coconut water from coconuts chopped up right in front of you, sweetened condensed milk and gin. Going to Goombay and not having one (or three) is like going to the ocean in a tuxedo, it’s a cool scene but you’ll be out of place.
Goombay features music of The Bahamas, booths where you can learn about the history, savor the food (more on that in a moment), and at each stop you make new friends. In fact, it’s that way everywhere on the island, say hello and you have a new friend. It’s that simple.
As for the food. It’s always exciting to try new delicacies — and we did, certainly. I have to say, though, while the fried snapper was incredible, I could have done without the eyes staring at me all through the meal. In fact, my son asked me if we ate the eyes as he noted that is some sort of tradition. Nope. Just no!
It was also at Goombay that we met Graham. He owns the Lucayan Distillery and gave us a bottle of Bahama Beach Vodka to bring back to America.
Plus, he’s just a great guy — and not just because of the free vodka.
Folks love their rum in The Bahamas, and with good reason. While I always equated it to pirates in the movies (and real life, I suppose), it’s pretty dang good. Not being a rum drinker before, I don’t have much of a past to compare it to, but it’s hard to imagine it being better anywhere else.
We toured a rum factory to see how it’s made. Well, I say tour, it was actually in a single room - two, if you count the room where they were giving out samples and where, yes, I admit it, I spent the most time.
Besides, I really don’t care how it’s made. I’m only concerned with how I can get it.
Ironically, we came home with three free bottles. We were given two in a promotional presentation and Junell got another after winning a game of blackout bingo.
Don’t tell me you can’t see the irony in that.
Another night on the cruise ship featured more Jimmy Buffet music, a cheesburger (not quite in paradise, the ship was nice, though) and a cool dueling pianos show in which one of the duelers pulled a no-show. Fortunately, the guy who did show up was funny and talented enough for the both of them — at least that’s my assumption as he kept us entertained.
Saturday, as we were waiting on our plane at the Palm Beach International Airport a storm hit and we got word of a hurricane watch. You know how you never listen to those announcements? It’s funny how a single word like “hurricane” will make you start asking questions like, “What did they just say?” Fortunately, the third person we asked was listening enough to fill us in.
So, a flight home that was only supposed to be about four and a half hours ended up being closer to eight. We were also delayed a couple hours in Atlanta.
But hey, when the airline allows you to take half your home with you and gives you free soft drinks and trail mix, can you really complain about an extra couple or dozen hours added to the trip?
What an amazing way to celebrate the lovely Mrs. Junell’s birthday. I owed her big time after she took me to Willow Creek, California in 2018, the heart of Bigfoot country.
I’d like to think she had as much fun then as I did now, but I am the only Bigfoot nerd in the family. Either way, this trip was one for the memory books and one anyone who loves the beach and ocean should take.
And nope, still not telling you how many birthdays this makes. She’s happy with me right now and I want to keep it that way.
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