Welcome to the first post in our new series where women who have lived on multiple rocks compare the lifestyles of different islands. This site receives so many questions in the realm of “What’s it like to live on *insert island here* compared to *insert another island here*?” that I wanted to start a comparative post series. Please keep in mind that the opinions represented here are simply based on an individual writer’s experience. If you have follow-up questions, pop them into the comments’ section at the end of the post and the writer will do her best to reply. If you’ve lived on multiple islands and would like to share your perspective, please visit our Write with Us page and join us as a contributor – we’d love to have you!
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When I was growing up in the rain-saturated, UV-challenged landscape of the Pacific Northwest, my perception of the Bahamas equated to nothing more than fleeting images of palm trees, serenaded by a brief appearance in the Beach Boys’ song Kokomo. It was certainly never on my radar (geographically or otherwise), and if you asked me as a teenager if I thought I’d grow up to be a bronze-skinned sun bum, I would have told you to keep smoking whatever it was you were smoking.
As my adult life began evolving extremely unconventionally, I started planning a one-way sailboat odyssey to the USVI in 2008. I never expected in my wildest dreams that The Bahamas would sideline me like it did. What started as an agenda to high tail it through these low-lying scrubby islands as quickly as possible in order to make the big leap to the Leewards, quickly lost momentum and petered out completely when we reached the Exumas.
On Norman’s Cay, I immediately bonded with the people that were running the Norman’s Cay Beach Club. Due to some pretty messed-up life circumstances, I never made it to the USVI and when my life completely crashed like a stack of Jenga blocks several years later after returning to the US, I called up my friends in Norman’s Cay to see if I could hang out there temporarily while I sorted out my shit. This was in 2011. I’ve never left.
Throughout my tenure in The Bahamas, I have lived in three very different island regions. My current circumstances have me bouncing all over the country while I do research for a travel guidebook that I’m writing, so I’ve become known as kind of the go-to gal for all things Bahamas. Again, not something I would have pegged on my adult-self, but here I am.
Within the Bahamas, you’ll likely find an island that will suit you (that is, as long as you are the type of person who likes sunshine, palm trees, and rum drinks; if you don’t like any of those things, I’m afraid I can’t help you). Many people aren’t even aware there are 700 islands in The Bahamas and that the country spans an area the same size as the Lesser Antilles, so there’s a lot of options to choose from!
So if you happen to be toying with the idea of jumping ship in The Bahamas, I can help you out with a brief rundown of a few of the islands I’ve been fortunate enough to live on over the years.
The Exumas: Remote & Unspoiled
A long time ago (I dunno, maybe at the dawn of one of the Ice Ages), 365 islands decided to get together for one long, slender party and call themselves The Exumas. They are beautiful, they are remote, and they are my favorite place on earth.
You may have heard of Ja Rule’s shameful Fyre Festival, which was plastered all over the news and social media. Please don’t let that taint your perception of The Exumas. No, people did not get locked in the airport; yes, they had food. And if they were able to get past their egos and their online bitching, some of them actually enjoyed themselves.
You may have also heard of the swimming pigs of The Exumas. Here in The Bahamas, we don’t quite understand the allure of spending 3 hours in a boat just to go and see feral pigs on a remote island but to each their own, I suppose.
And then there’s Norman’s Cay, the island that sidelined me to begin with, and where I unexpectedly met my now-husband. With the Columbian drug-running days safely in the past, our free time was spent on beautiful crescent beaches where he taught me to kiteboard. Our dogs ran amok, and if there was someone we didn’t know on one of our beaches, it was an anomaly.
After a blissful period on Norman’s, I followed my new love to a construction job that led us further south in the island chain to the private island of the Aga Khan, where we worked on building him a small city and juggled that with building a beach bar for Johnny Depp on his neighboring private island.
For 1 1/2 years, I was living in the Beverly Hills of The Bahamas. It sounds glamorous, but if you don’t own your own island, you’re basically just reminded of how poor you really are. And there was me, the only female among 300 construction workers, paying no mind to my nails or wardrobe selection. But during that time, I did get to know real Bahamians; guys who grew up in the ghetto, who loved being out there because they got three square meals a day, a roof over their heads, and didn’t have to worry about getting ruffed up by local gangs in their neighborhood back in Nassau. These guys were real, genuine, and made my time there enjoyable.
We made the most of our Sundays, our sole and sacred day off, when we hopped on the company boat and explored, stopping at Compass Cay to pet the resident nurse sharks, snorkeling at Thunderball Grotto, taking a swim at one of the sandbars, or maybe even saying hello to those infamous swimming pigs.
By the end of our time on the island, we were going a bit mad. We had 4 fleeing days off per month where we could attempt to reacclimatize ourselves into civilization, only to come back and get stuck right back into it for another 26 days. I don’t regret it, but I’m not sure that I’d be in a rush to take another job on a remote construction site again.
If you want to delve further into “a day in the life” here, see The Curious Lives of Out Islanders
Harbour Island: Chic & Fabulous
After the projects in The Exumas wrapped up, my husband had the opportunity to take a position on a construction project in Harbour Island. After my Out Island construction expedition, I was thrilled to move to “civilization” and what started out as a temporary 3-month stint turned into 2 ½ years.
Harbour Island is a travel blogger’s dream, and if I still lived there, I’d probably have a “K” attached to the end of my Instagram following. You just can’t help but to “like” it. It’s tucked on the east side of the island of Eleuthera and has had a history of being a playground for the elite. I could rattle off names of all of the famous people I’ve met, socialized with, and bumped into, but I don’t need to be a name dropper (except that one time I did a rum tasting with Dave Matthews because yeah, that was pretty much the highlight of my life).
People drive golf carts and brightly colored colonial homes dot the picturesque waterfront. Everything was seemingly perfect. But I was lonely. I struggled to find a sense of purpose. While the community was welcoming, I just didn’t feel like I really fit in. The constant power outages started to do my head in (see Finding Peace in Power Outages.), the food stores lacked basic necessities on any given day of the week, and going out cost a small fortune and usually entailed one of us getting into a brawl with the bartender over the bill. We started to slip down the bottle of unhappiness.
So when the opportunity presented itself to take a job back in The Exumas, we jumped on it and headed back out to the familiar.
See Giving an Old Island a Second Chance for a more in-depth look at my relationship with this rock.
Nassau: Big City Living
Ahh, the big city.
Most residents of the Out Islands will tell you that you could never pay them to live in Nassau. The perception is that you’ll get shot or mugged as soon as you step out of your house. While that’s certainly not the case (I’ve never been shot), there is definitely an element that you want to lock your doors and watch yourself. Whereas in the Out Islands, you don’t worry about those kinds of things.
Since I’ve moved here, to what I would consider a cosmopolitan center of commerce attracting a diverse population from all over the world, I have started to run into people that moved to Nassau from large, international cities who quickly get island fever. I’m always genuinely surprised – shocked really – because this is the closest place to an actual city that I’ve ever lived. I always say, if you really want to appreciate Nassau, move to an Out Island for a few years, realize what living with a lack of amenities truly is like, and then you’ll understand why I love it here.
Nassau is home to 250,000 of the country’s 390,000 people. Although there’s a rich history, with forts and historic buildings, the beautiful beaches are snatched up by the resorts and gated communities and you’re probably not going to find that true island hospitality that you would in the Out Islands. BUT, there’s tons of stuff going on each week including cultural events, the biggest celebration of the annual Junkanoo parade, art galleries and exhibitions, live music, farmer’s markets, and a variety of fantastic restaurants to choose from.
Western New Providence, where I live, is safe and quiet with a huge influx of dining options, coffee shops, and the newly opened Baha Mar resort. In Nassau, I’m fully involved in the yoga community and there are options for vegetarians or any other special diet you may be on. These are all things that I would have only dreamed of when I lived in the Out Islands. To be honest, other than a few power outages from time to time, I don’t even have anything shocking to write about here on Women Who Live on Rocks anymore!
See A Complicated Island Existence to see why I now appreciate living among services and amenities so much.
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There are always going to be pros and cons of anywhere you live. I miss the quietness of the Out Islands, of gazing up at the stars with no light pollution, of having the beach to myself, exploring nature, kiteboarding in breathtaking bays, but I also like my healthy, balanced lifestyle surrounded by an amazing community of people that I have cultivated here in Nassau.
As the tagline goes, “It’s Better in The Bahamas.” While it’s not perfect, I’d have to say it’s pretty damn good – regardless of the island you choose to live on.
If you’re ready to binge a bit more on The Bahamas, check out our tourism board video: