After graduating the previous summer and suffering a difficult and painful personal life crisis, a friend of mine decided I needed a break and offered to take me away for a week to a place of my choosing. Nice friend! We discussed a few places and together decided that a sun-drenched week away in the Bahamas was just what I needed and so we booked a flight to Grand Bahama Island with a stop-over in Miami for a week at Easter.
As quite a young and inexperienced traveller this was to be my first taste of how tourism spoils naturally beautiful places, and as a self-professed sun-worshipper it was to be instrumental in changing the way I looked at a holiday and what I wanted to get out of visiting a place.
We stayed in 'Our Lucaya', a hotel of 3 parts, the Westin Breakers Cay, the Sheraton and the Lighthouse which was located on the south part of the Island. The complex had several restaurants, a nightclub, bars, 3 pools on the sea front not to mention miles of pure sand and palm trees. Seeing as Miami is so close to Grand Bahama Island the other residents were mostly sophmores and freshmen on their Easter break so it was fairly busy by the pool during the day and probably very lively in the clubs at night. They didn't really bother us though, at my age it was fun to have people to flirt with, and they were pretty well behaved all told.
The main highlight of the trip was definitely the food and we enjoyed many things that were outside of our normal cuisine. Grits didn't go down amazingly well but the caribbean food generally was delicious and to this day I still crave it.
Our favourites were Barracudas (breakfast), Iries (caribbean), Churchill's Chop House (expensive but worth it!), and hammerheads beach bar (daytime food). Since we were there all inclusive it would have been rude not to indulge also in some cocktails at the pool bar (in the pool itself) but in truth it is very difficult to drink in hot sunshine and they were killer measures. That said, the cool breeze coming off the sea made the sunshine bearable, even for my male friend who melts uncomfortably in heat. We were very careful with sun cream, but I imagine it would be very easy to get burnt here because you don't realise how much sun you are getting.
After the first few days of relaxation and spoon-fed luxury we decided to explore a little and set off on a little walk, intending to get off the hotel complex and see some of the 'real' Bahama Island.
It was here that we came a'cropper. It was like one of those Escher paintings, all roads led back to the complex, like we couldn't leave. We'd get to a boundary and it was clear we could go no further and had to turn back once again to the man-made paradise. It felt like the entire south island was made up of just the hotels. Feeling somewhat thwarted we decided to explore further by taxi, and knowing that electrical goods were tax-free here we decided to get a ride to the local market where we hoped to find an electrical store. The shopping market was as to be expected, populated with throngs of tourists buying over-priced 'authentic' goods made in Taiwan. We bought some Havana cigars, a risky thing to do seeing as Cuban produce is illegal in America, but since our luggage was being transferred from flight to flight rather than being checked in at Miami it technically never entered America.
Though we still had to explain after a bag search at customs ! After this however, still we hankered for something real, so we asked the taxi driver to take us to an electrical store, so he drove us to a run-down little store reminiscent of some looted supermarket in a film when apolocalypse is either nigh or at present. Here prices were not so competitive as we had hoped either. The drive back showed us the only real glimpse of life on the island; of run-down houses with trucks on bricks in the front yard, of freemasons' lodges, of palm forests, but we had the sense that the islanders' lives were based entirely on the tourism and that employment really only stretched to serving holiday-makers. It was pretty depressing and I really began to resent tourism at this point, for narrowing the choice of career for so many people across the world to some servile role and for taking away the focus of a community and setting it firmly in the pursuit of other people's happiness.
Since this holiday I have never again booked a 'beach' holiday, and have really discovered the importance of having things to do, places to explore and culture to experience. I would love to eat like that again but would never return to Grand Bahama Island because it is too synthetic, too concrete, too pristine and too canned.
This is the related review of the hotel I left at the time on Trip Advisor:http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g147420-d260695-j2-r3916208-The_Westin_Grand_Bahama_Island_Our_Lucaya_Resort-Freeport_Grand_Bahama_Island_Bahamas.html