I have come to the presumption that my life in the Bahamas is quite possibly on the higher end of complicated in comparison to many of my other island-dwelling counterparts across the world. Not that it’s any sort of competition, as in “she who deals with the most hurdles wins”. I realize that there are unique challenges to residing on each particular rock, but at least compared to someone living on an island like Hawaii (with access to Costco, Home Depot, and first-world medical facilities, all within driving distance), I’ve realized that my island existence is sincerely lacking in the Convenience Department.
Many other island nations consist of one or several large islands that are easily accessible amongst one another via short ferry rides. So even if you don’t have the facilities you may need on your rock of residence, you can most likely accomplish your errands or appointments via some sort of a day trip. But in the Bahamas, things are a little different…
The Bahamas is an archipelago of 700 islands dispersed across an area of around 5,000 square miles. I live on a small island about 40 miles northeast of “the big city” of Nassau (one of the closer islands to Nassau, I might add). Although many people wouldn’t bat an eye at hopping in their car to drive 40 miles for an errand when a landmass connects them, when there’s an ocean between you and your destination city, 40 miles might as well be the equivalent of traveling to another country.
There are a string of rocks and cays that dot the way from Nassau to North Eleuthera. If the Bahamas were anything like the US, we’d have a bridge connecting the two islands, similar to the Florida Keys. But we aren’t like the US, and we don’t have a bridge. And other than buying a few basic vegetables and registering my vehicle, I can’t do much else in the way of accomplishing errands on the island I live on. This means I must arrange a trip to Nassau about once every 4 to 6 weeks.
Allow me to give you an idea of the many and varied “Reasons I Need to go to Nassau”. These include, but are certainly not limited to:
- doctor/dentist appointments and vet visits
- to check the mail (yes, our mailbox is conveniently located in Nassau)
- to pay my health insurance, government bills, and do banking (yes, I realize that “real world” payments can typically be accomplished online, but Bahamian businesses and government offices are about 20 years behind in that department, which means making a personal trip to said place of business is required to pay your dues.)
- to satisfy ethnic food cravings (sushi, Chinese, Greek, Indian, and more)
- to replace now-broken home goods (curtains, towels, kitchen items, fly swatters, and electronics such as cell phone chargers that get destroyed quickly in brown-outs)
- to do business errands (large format printing, stationary, printer ink, expedited mail services, hand-delivering signed documents, etc.)
- to procure a never-ending list of life “necessities” (fishing tackle, furniture, clothes, hardware/tools, landscaping supplies/potting soil, preferred cosmetics, and toiletries)
- to get the food we prefer (dog food and any grocery items other than basic vegetables and canned goods such as meats, decent coffee, artisan cheeses, and my favorite specialty vegetables)
This past week, my husband and I were scheduled for one of these trips. This one in particular was planned as a combo to check some things off our lists and to make an effort to catch up with friends who were visiting Nassau for the weekend – a little bit of work and play.
But before I dive into this particular experience, let me explain a bit about the logistics of these trips. To get from Harbour Island to Nassau, we must take a water taxi and then a land taxi to get to the airport on another island, then an airplane, and then another land taxi. The taxi portion of a round trip adds up to $80 and the flights for two people are close to $400. Then, once we get there, we eat out for every meal (coffee at Starbucks each morning, cafe lunches, and usually an expensive and boozy dinner with friends). As you can imagine, the cost of these trips adds up rather quickly. Another hurdle is that we have a dog, and dog sitters aren’t running rampant around Harbour Island. So that means leaning on a friend to watch her or bringing her with me, in which she then must sit in our half-built Nassau house alone all day long while we run errands or go have fun.
Our half-built Nassau house is a whole other thing. Part storage unit /part crash pad, it acts as a Petri dish for mold and mildew. It has been sitting with less than adequate TLC for several years since we’ve been working and living in the out-islands, never having had the time or money to properly finish it. I have to pack towels and sheets back and forth for washing as well since we moved our washer and dryer to Harbour Island. Another fun chore each time we visit is making sure we have time to chop the jungle of weeds that grow fiercely in our absence.
This trip in particular was somewhat of a disaster and for the first time, I’m feeling like I’m not in any rush to get back to Nassau.
It all started when we had booked ourselves to fly out early on Friday, Oct 2nd to get things done during a business day. But as luck would have it, Hurricane Joaquin decided to grace us with his presence on the day we were meant to leave. The airports closed on Thursday afternoon, forcing us to change our plans. The storm passed and we could have gone on Saturday, but there was still quite a bit of wind, and since I’m skeptical of the local airline’s small 15 passenger prop plane on a good day, we decided to wait one more day to leave on Sunday instead. However, going on Sunday meant that all the social plans we made for the whole weekend had to be steamrolled into one afternoon.
(Another obstacle of living on a separate island is that although we have made friends during the 2 years on our new island, because my husband called Nassau home for more than 20 years, the majority of his and now my close friends are there, adding to the complexity of attempting to catch up with everyone on each trip amid our many errands. If we are found out that we were in town and did not get to this friend or that friend, we will certainly hear about it.)
On Sunday, upon exiting the airport terminal, we made our way to our first social outing, then the second, then the third. By the time we got home, we were exhausted, I had consumed my allotment of alcohol for the entire month, and we were facing an early start for Monday morning errands.
Monday morning rolled around, and we groggily got on the road. Getting on the road means hopping into our classy Nassau ride – a manual diesel Hyundai flatbed pick-up truck with no A/C. I will be fully sarcastic in saying that it is a joy to drive around in stop-and-go traffic on a 90° day. It’s even more comical when we show up to a fancy restaurant and hand it over to the valet.
After an essential coffee run, our first errand was the dermatologist. No skin cancer detected! Now, only 12 more errands to complete.
This is where things started to go downhill…
ERRAND FAIL 1: Our next stop was an attempt to get specialty fishing lures and leaders that have been waiting to be picked up for 6 months but never made it on the priority list. It just so happened that we finally made the effort… and the guy wasn’t in the office that day.
ERRAND FAIL 2: Next stop was the Department of Agriculture. I am bringing my dog home with me to the US for Christmas this year, which requires an application for a permit and payment of $10 to re-import her back to the Bahamas. Upon reaching the Department of Agriculture’s downtown office, we’re met with a friendly sign on the door saying they’ve conveniently moved offices to the other side of the island. Very convenient indeed.
ERRAND FAIL 3: Next stop was to go pick up a real estate sign for my husband’s property listing in Nassau. Guess what? No extra signs.
ERRAND FAIL 4: Next stop – print architectural drawings for a construction project. We find out it costs $5.50 per page, gulped when we did the math for 80 pages times three sets of drawings, then went back to the drawing board to trim it down. This was starting to get comical in a very sadistic way…
ERRAND FAIL 5: I am looking at getting my teeth straightened. I wore braces for 4 years when I was a teenager but as an adult my teeth have moved again, so I booked a consultation with an orthodontist to sign up for Invisalign, the clear plastic retainer type things. By the end of the consultation, I wanted to cry because he almost had me signed up for 15 months in metal tracks with rubber bands. After my traumatizing teenage years in braces, I don’t think I can handle being a “brace face” again as an adult. No Invisalign for me. I will just have to learn to love the gap in my smile.
ERRAND FAIL 6: For my husband’s doctor appointment, it turns out I had booked the wrong doctor. He was referred to a specialist by his primary doctor, and we realized when they called to confirm the appointment that his GP had given me the name of a doctor for a completely different issue. So we had to cancel that.
ERRAND FAIL 7: The final straw was when we drove to the other side of the island to make a second attempt with the Department of Agriculture for the doggie permits and there was another friendly sign on the door that gave its sincere apologies, informing us they were closed on Monday, October 5th. What? Why? It wasn’t even a public holiday! No hurricane in the midst!
After all the disappointments of the day, I kicked a concrete post with my foot and sat down on the step and pouted.
By the end of our very long, hot day, we ended up with very little accomplished and a 6am flight booked back to Eleuthera the next morning. We accepted defeat, ordered Chinese, and splurged on a few nice bottles of wine.
In the morning, after suffering another allergy-filled, restless night of sleep in the moldy half-built house, I was more than ready to get on the plane and head back to my little island. But the big island had one last jab for us.
When we got off the plane in North Eleuthera, we discovered our checked bag was left behind. Normally, this not a big deal, right? Just go back to the airport and pick it up when the next flight comes in. Well, dear reader, may I remind you that I live on a completely separate island from the airport. So we were forced to come back empty-handed, leaving our bag in the hopes that it would somehow make its way to Harbour Island. Which it did, eventually. We also realized after we got back to our island that we forgot to pick up our mail. Sigh.
I know we will get these things done eventually, and it’s certainly not the end of the world. But I also know it was a very expensive errand run with very limited results. If anything, at least it’s a good story, because you just can’t make this stuff up.
I guess we’ll try again in 6 weeks.