Gail has not landed in a foreign country in, oh, about 5 years. Gail is quite rusty at going through Customs and Immigration on foreign turf. Just two short hours out of Houston and here I am, standing in a godawful long line that snakes back and forth six deep, only wishing I were in line at Six Flags Over Texas. Nope, I’m about to make sure this entire country knows I haven’t done this in a very long time.
XX minutes later (I actually lost count), I’m finally standing in front of a very unfriendly looking lady and handing her my passport and entry paperwork. I know she is speaking English but I’ll be damned if I can understand her—first of all, she’s wearing a mask, and second of all, British-accented Bahamian English even without a mask is rough to my ear. I quickly figure out that the only way I have a prayer of understanding her is to act like I can’t hear well, and if she shouts on the third try maybe I’ll get it. After the usual questions (where am I from, why have I come to the Bahamas) she wants to know where I’m staying in Nassau for my overnight before I move on to Cat Island for the week.
OK, so that’s the one paper I don’t have handy. I have a new travel tote for my new laptop, and it’s buried somewhere in there. I’m starting to fish for it and can’t find it. And in the airport they have this really terrible reggae band playing live music off in the distance that is starting to really get on my nerves because I can’t find this piece of paper. This immigrations lady is looking annoyed and I say, “I’m sorry, but that band is really bugging me right now. I had no idea you’d need that little tidbit of information so I apologize that I can’t put my hands on it.” She says, “Yes ma’am, I need it.”
Finally, I shove my hand into the correct pocket and discover the reservation! I pull it out, “Aha! Here it is.” She takes it and looks at the name of the hotel, and hands it back to me. (I’m thinking to myself, like hell you needed that.) But anyway, after that she waved me on.
Then I took my rattled self and made my way down the escalator into baggage claim and got immediately annoyed at the crowd of Black men shouting at me nonstop: “Ma’am! Need help with the bags?! Ma’am! Need help, ma’am? Ma’am! Over here! Ma’am!”
Jesus, am I in Mexico?? I looked point-blank at the group of them and say “STOP yelling at me, dammit anyway!!” They stop. Instantly.
I finally found my carousel and saw that it took us so long to get through the immigration and customs line that all the bags have already arrived and have been offloaded—they are in a pile in a corner next to the carousel; thank God my bag is still there. None of the men dare approach me to ask if I need help, which is wise of them.
I start to wheel away from the pile and find someone with an official-looking uniform on, and ask him where I can find the exit where the taxis will be. He points me to the double doors and says, “They are all lined up outside out there.”
I go outside and find the overhead sign that says Taxis, and a gentleman standing underneath it who also looks official. Can he arrange for a taxi to take me to Orange Hill Beach Hotel? Yes ma’am, absolutely, please walk across right over there and go with that young lady. The young lady he’s pointing to also has an official-looking shirt on and extremely long dreads that reach past her rear end. I start to follow her until I see that the fellow she’s started a chat with has turned the chat into an argument. I hesitate. This doesn’t look promising. I watch to see if this argument is going to escalate. A few more people get involved; arms go into the air.
Finally the long-dreaded girl looks back at me and says, “It’s OK, go with this guy,” referring to the first one she was fighting with. “Are you sure there’s no problem?” I ask. “That didn’t inspire confidence.”
“I’m the problem,” she said. “I’m new. I misunderstood something. I apologize. Don’t worry, he’s OK, he knows where to take you.” So, I trusted what she said and got in his taxi. All went well and he took me to the right hotel.
Holy crap on a cracker! Something is just dawning on ol’ Gail here as we drive away…apparently the very same Gail who has rented a car for the week has forgotten a little factoid: that the Bahamas used to be a BRITISH COLONY and they drive on the LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD. Yeeessss, the ol’ lightbulb is coming on as we take that taxi into town from the airport and to my hotel, that Gail gets the dumbass award for the week! Gail, who has not only never driven on the left side of the road before, but never driven a car with the steering wheel on the right-hand side of the car either. My, won’t this be fun!
The next morning after a sleepless night of tossing and turning on a rock-hard bed with rock-hard pillows, I have my breakfast in the hotel dining room. I go back to my room and take a shower and pack up again to head for the airport. One more flight on a much smaller airline will take me to Cat Island today, my final destination.
I note for the second time here that my taxi driver does not wear a seat belt. But she is vigilant about something else—after she helped me load my bags into the back of her van, she asked me to hold my hands out in front of me. Why? I ask, as I do so. She promptly grabs a bottle and squirts a blob of hand sanitizer into one of them, which startles me. “Sanitize, please.”
I have seen more masks in the Bahamas in and around the airport than I have seen in Houston in the past 6 months, as well as bottles of mounted sanitizer everywhere. Of course, I checked the regulations before I left, which assured me all that all mask restrictions had been lifted, as well as the need to show a recent COVID test. I brought a few masks with me just in case but so far none had been required.
When we arrived at the airport she told me the fare was $20. I note to myself that this was $4 less than what the guy charged me the night before to go the same distance (after having an argument). Hmmm. She started to open the van door, then decided against it when she saw men congregating outside, waiting to “help me with my bags” again. She said, “I think it’s safer that we wait until your purse is closed before we open the door,” which I appreciated.
I’m reminded at the Nassau airport that I’m not in Kansas anymore. No such thing as the privileges of TSA Precheck when you’re in someone else’s country. Going through security, it’s back to stripping down: take off the belt, take off the shoes, thoughts racing through my brain: crap, I just bought a bottle of water; how did I repack this bag, this carryon? Are all my fluids in the right place so I don’t have to have anything inspected or even worse, toss anything?
They don’t make me throw away the bottled water and nothing else seems amiss; I am passed by for the pat-down. I put my belt and shoes back on, grab my carryons and head for the gate.
Luckily this half-hour flight is smooth and uneventful. The landing is interesting though. We land on a rough asphalt strip that seems more like a country road in the middle of a field. The pilot came to the end of the runway, then pulled a complete U-ey at the end and drove the plane back. There is no real airport building that I can tell, just a canvas awning set up under which the people waiting to board the plane are standing. We are ushered to a very hot parking lot to wait for our bags to come off the plane.
I was told someone from the rental car agency would be picking me up, so I envision someone standing there with a sign, “Gail Bergan” or “G Bergan” to catch my attention. I look for said sign amongst the people standing around in the parking lot, but see no person with no such sign.
After about 10 minutes of standing in that unprotected parking lot (it seems to be much hotter here than it was in Nassau, doesn’t it?!), a rack with our luggage is rolled to just outside the chain-link fence. I follow the crowd out where we find our own bags and pull them off ourselves. Again: thank you God, my bag is there.
I roll it out to the parking lot (no more men are offering to help me) and still I see no evidence of someone looking for me. The crowd is thinning out now; people have picked up their passengers and others have headed to their own cars. One Bahamian gentleman who I struck up a conversation with in the airport lobby recognizes me and asks me, “Do you have someone picking you up? Where are you staying?” He must have noticed the look of consternation on my face.
“Yes. Pigeon Cay. But the rental car place is supposed to come get me first.” I pronounced it like it looks, “Cay.” He says “Key. It’s pronounced ‘Key’.”
“Really?! Key?” Geez, I think, is there anything else I can get wrong, right off the bat here in this country?
He laughed. “Well, maybe give them a call. Anyway, you’re here a week? Come by New Bight. There’s only one. My wife and I run a place there. Drinks are on me.”
I thank him for his kindness and take my phone out of my pocket, starting to search for the number of Pigeon Cay, as I don’t have the phone number for the rental car place. I need to tell Leslie, my contact, that they are not here. And I am really getting hot now. It must be about 90° in that parking lot.
As I was standing there scrolling through my phone, someone comes up to me and says something I don’t understand, and I look up. After about three times I think I can pick out “Pigeon” and this must be my guy! Wow this guy’s accent is the thickest yet. I ask him, who are you supposed to be picking up, and what is your name? When something comes out of his mouth that sounds like Gail, and his name sounds like Vernon, we’re in business and I follow him to his car.
I don’t ask him why he’s late, because I realize he probably doesn’t think he’s late at all. Island time, I tell myself, island time. Time to start chilling.
While we’re driving, once again I notice he doesn’t bother with the seat belt. It’s a curious thing, the safety measures they are concerned about and the ones they aren’t. I also notice he honks at virtually every car he passes, and this I ask him about. “Why are you honking at everyone?” This would not go over well in Houston. “Because I know all these people. This is just me being friendly,” he answers.
I ask him, “Do all the rental cars have the steering wheel on the right?”
“Is this the actual car I’ll be driving?”
“Does the A/C work?” I ask this because all the windows are open.
“What’s the speed limit here?”
“We-e-e-ll, we don’t actually worry about a speed limit. We just kind of … drive. There is only one main road. Just be careful.”
The “car rental agency” we arrive at is also a grocery store. Actually, more of a grocery store than a rental agency; I see no other cars for rent, but what looks like a Stop-n-Go with about ten people in there picking up odds and ends. I wait for all the other people to finish their business before tying up the one lady working behind the counter with filling out paperwork for the car. She’s got to do everything: check out groceries, be a rental agent, answer questions, give directions, and gossip with the locals. I see all this within about 5 minutes.
When she can finally give me her attention, I am fading fast. It’s now about 3 pm, I didn’t sleep last night, I haven’t eaten anything since around 8 am so I have low blood sugar, I’m hot, and I’m thinking renting a car here is a bad idea. But $60/day sounded a whole lot better than $120 one way for a taxi each time I needed one. So, I press on and ask for the paperwork to fill out.
After everything is filled out, she casually mentions about making sure the tank is filled up when I return it. I noticed there aren’t any pumps outside, so I ask her where the nearest gas station is? She says the name of something unintelligible, sees the look of no understanding on my face, and says, “First time?” To which I nod in reply. So, she proceeds to explain further, and then says some words which blow my mind. Such as, it will take a jaw-dropping $120 to fill the tank. When I say “WHOA!” and “How much is gas here?!” and she replies, “It’s a little over $10 a gallon,” I am shell shocked into silence.
After picking out a few groceries for my cottage, which has a full kitchen, Vernon my driver walks out to the car with me. We go through the “car inspection” phase of the rental experience, pointing out the various dents and dings in the vehicle and marking them on the contract, and my thinking is that this is hardly necessary—this car looks like a teenager’s been driving it for years. Both front and back bumpers are beat up, both side panels look like someone has keyed them. The finish is almost gone from the punishing environment of sun and salt air. When he turned the key in the ignition, all the Check Engine lights lit up on the dash, which he told me to ignore: “They will stay on, it’s just a malfunction.” An episode of “The Big Bang Theory” flashed through my head and I almost laughed and mentioned Captain Spock, but didn’t. And I’m paying how much a day for this gem?
Driving down the wrong side of the road wasn’t as bad as I imagined. The hardest thing to get used to was shifting with my left hand. On this island there is only one main road and almost no traffic, so it’s like driving in the country: you just drive down the middle until you see someone coming. And actually, the biggest hazard is not which side of the road you’re on, it’s avoiding the gigantic potholes in the road. I was trying to think of a time when I’d been on worse roads, and I had to go way back in my memory to my honeymoon with Bill in Costa Rica, with roads so rough we couldn’t go faster than 20 miles per hour and that was with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. On the way to my resort, I hit one hole so hard (it was deeper than it looked) that I’m surprised I didn’t pop a tire.
These potholes don’t seem to occur in the road in any manner consistent with traffic patterns. They are distributed randomly, and more often than not right smack in the middle. Often perfectly circular, looking more like sinkholes rather than your garden-variety ruts. It looks like the underlying foundation of the road is collapsing.
The second biggest challenge of driving a car where everything is backwards is that dammit to hell! every time I went to put my blinker on, instead I’d be putting on my windshield wipers, and if that isn’t aggravating about the fourth or fifth time…well, you try it.
Anyway, I’ve finally arrived at Pigeon Cay (pronounced ‘Key’) Beach Resort, where I found I’ve been upgraded to an even nicer cottage than the one I paid for because of some construction going on near mine. They thought the noise might disturb me. I also found I’m literally the only guest here for the first several days, so I’ve got this glorious place to myself. Here is the view from my patio, and a pic of the first sunset on the beach.
Starting to breathe a little deeper. Starting to relax. Two very nice doggies here who already love me, and four cats if I can find them. The whitest sand imaginable. I’ve read there’s several miles of pink sand beach here somewhere.
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