Saturday, 20 March 2004

Diving into Danger


So, it's time for me to say goodbye to the Bahamas.

Time to say goodbye to the people and the palm trees, the colourful buildings and the conch, the seagulls, the starfish...and the sharks.

It was not my fate to die in the Bahamas. I'm leaving here with all my limbs and without a scratch on me. I do have a tan, a few mosquito bites, I'm dehydrated and for the first time in my life I am badly sunburned, but otherwise I am fine.

Last Sunday, two days after arriving in Nassau, I went snorkeling. I didn't enjoy it - the boat ride out to the reef had me feeling sick - but I found out later that I simply chose the wrong tour company.

On Monday I went paragliding. I was attached to a parachute-type-thingy and pulled across the sea by speedboat. Up there, hundreds of feet above the ocean, the same thought replayed itself over and over in my head: "I'm insane. Yup. Totally insane."

I came down with a bump and was "dipped" - I fell into the sea and was pulled across the surface of the water as the man steering the boat shouted: "Here sharky sharky!" It was a lot of fun.

Afterwards I hired a jet-ski and roared across the ocean for twenty minutes. That was great too. On Tuesday I arranged to go scuba-diving. It was my intention to have an introductory lesson and then to go and meet the sharks on Thursday.

Unfortunately, when I arrived at the dive area I discovered that it wasn't possible for me to take part because I suffer from asthma. It was the same with every other dive company on the island. My dream of scuba-diving with sharks ended then and there.

However, I came to the Bahamas to swim with sharks and I was determined it would happen. I had heard of a company that offered snorkelling with sharks. So I contacted them and on Wednesday morning I finally climbed into the sea and came face to face (or face to teeth) with a multitude of black tip reef sharks.

After boarding the boat and heading out to sea, a dive instructor dropped a basket of fish remains into the water. Within minutes the sharks had arrived.

It was fantastic. Incredible. Definitely the highlight of my visit. I floated on the surface of the water as these beautiful, graceful creatures swam just twenty feet below me.

It wasn't really scary - black tips are shy, timid creatures and they are only about five feet long. There was only one mildly frightening moment when one of the sharks broke away from the group and started swimming towards me, but I splashed around a bit and he soon decided that I wasn't on the menu.

Later that I day I boarded a sea-taxi and headed out to Paradise Island. Once there I visited the Atlantis Hotel - it's huge, grand, incredibly expensive and really quite sickening - and paid $25 to see some more sharks in their aquarium, which is supposedly the biggest in the Western world. It was crap!

On Thursday I paid another $25 - the Bahamas is an expensive place - to take a ferry out to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a private island with a stingray sanctuary, a dolphin park, lots of hammocks, kayaks and countless American tourists.

I did a spot of kayaking which was about as exciting as reading this entry. Later, when I was sure nobody was watching, I slipped under a fence and went to explore some more of the island by myself.

I found a wonderful, little cove with just enough golden sand for me to stretch out and relax. I lay there for an hour or two. It was lovely. There is a lot to be said for just lying on the beach. It's funny, but it was something I had never done until I came to the Bahamas. I lay there with only the ocean, the sand, a couple of conch and a giant starfish to keep me company. It was perfect.

Yesterday afternoon I took part in a guided tour of Downtown Nassau. I was keen to learn more about the history of these islands. The tour was interesting enough but now, a day later, I've forgotten almost everything that charming black lady told me.

And that's just about everything that I've done during the past eight days. To be honest, now that my time in the Bahamas is coming to an end, I can't help but feel a little disappointed.

I first came to this country for just a few hours in 1998 - I was on a cruise from Orlando - and I promised myself that one day I would come back here. I've done that now, but I'm not sure if I will ever return to these islands again.

The Bahamas is a really beautiful place, and I've done some interesting things, but I would really rather be in Belarus, sharing a conversation with Emily or Katja or taking in a ballet.

These islands are too commercialised and there are too many tourists. I'm a shy person, I hate being in big groups of people, yet for this past week I've done nothing but try to avoid the crowds. And is there really anything worse than an American tourist?

Some days ago I watched a ragtag of black children playing in the sand as a cruise ship sailed by. During the past eight days I've seen more more yachts, more big houses and more limousines than I've ever seen before. It's grotesque. Okay, these people are rich, but do they have to flaunt it when so many Bahamians live in decaying wooden shacks?

The fear of crime is also something that has been on my mind a lot. I haven't been able to walk the streets of Downtown Nassau at night without being approached by guys offering me "powder".

It really is quite intimidating when a car screeches to a stop beside you and a black man with dreadlocks pops his head out and says, in a deep Caribbean accent: "Hey Mon, you want a taxi?"

Most Bahamians are nice though. They're sweet. I met two lovely girls who work at a nearby hotel and strangers are always saying hi to me and calling me "sir". I think that the Bahamians are acutely aware that tourism is the biggest industry here.

Though having said that, it's been difficult for me to form an accurate opinion of the Bahamian people as most of my conversations in the past week have been nothing more than "Can I have my room key please?" or "How much is the snapper fish?" and "Can you please remove the dead cockroaches from my room?"

I don't think that I will return to these islands. I think that next time I head to the Caribbean I will find another place to explore, somewhere off the beaten track, free of tourists.

And next time I will find somebody to go with me - the Caribbean is not the kind of place to explore alone. Some nights, as I lay on my bed in my hotel room, the corpses of cockroaches littering the floor around me, I listened as the world went by and I couldn't help but feel a little lonely and a little lost.

But anyway. You probably have people to do and things to see so I'll start to bring this entry to an end. Later tonight I head to Miami and then it's on to New York, Michigan, back to Miami, the UK and then on to Poland and Belarus.

But it's time now to say goodbye to the Bahamas and goodbye to the beautiful and misunderstood sharks that inhabit the waters around these islands.

Until my next entry, which should come to you from New York, it's time for this wandering Englishman to say goodbye.

Now it's back to yucky Miami.


From the memory box of a Professional Englishman.

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London, ENGLAND, United Kingdom
This is me. Read a few entries and they will tell you more about me than I can fit into these few paragraphs. Many of these entries started their lives as mass emails. That was before I discovered blogs. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for visiting my blog and reading about my life. Both a work in progress.