We had a tight 24-hour weather window coming up to cross the Great Bahama Bank, during which the winds were forecasted to blow from the southeast, then the south and come around to the west before hitting us from the north, by which time we wanted to be safely tucked into Nassau.
With our new heat exchanger installed, we figured we’d take the boat out for a little test run before leaving, and if all went well, we’d head down to Cat Cay to anchor and head across the bank at first light. That plan was derailed, though, when the engine overheated and we found coolant on the floor of the engine compartment. The culprit was a faulty hose clamp, which we were able to fix, but meant returning to Bimini to anchor and formulate a new plan to get to Nassau.
Since we’d gained one more night in Bimini, though, we thought we’d venture away from Hideaway’s galley and into the streets to find some authentic Bahamian food. Which is how we found ourselves seated in the locally popular CJ’s Deli, a shed-sized hut by the beach that had just enough spare room for us to sit down with some conch fritters and whole fish, but not quite enough room to also open the beer fridge parked behind our stools. So as we shuffled out of the way of the fridge every few minutes, we got talking to some of the locals, who were yelling abuse at the television, as the results of yesterday’s referendum were being announced.
The talk of the town for the last week was the upcoming referendum, which the locals had told us was to legalize the national lotto. But, as it turned out, the referendum was really for all gambling in the Bahamas – the lotto, online gambling, etc.
So when the results were announced on Bahamian TV as a “no,” along with a government mandate that all online gaming establishments were to cease operations immediately, the whole of CJ’s Deli started shouting at the TV and each other in a blur of sing-songy, dropped-consonant Bahamian English. It was hard to decipher at first, but if you imagined yourself speaking English with your tongue suspended in your mouth, not touching your teeth, you could almost make out what they were saying.
“Wha we gon do?! How I gon play mah numbers?!”
“And how bout da web cafes? Thee mo-fockaz be takin jobs!”
(Owner picks up phone) “I know, baby, you gon hafte stop yo gambling and start drinkin now!” (lots of laughter)
“I tell ya, ner go gens da church. Ya go gens da church, ya gon be shut down,” says a Bahamian police officer, picking up his conch burger and fries.
We laughed at the jovial ruckus going on around us while we chowed down our $3 conch fritters. And the longer we watched and laughed, the more the small crowd in CJ’s started aiming their jokes towards us to make us laugh more. And as they started drawing us into the banter, they switched from speaking in a blur of Bahamian to something more like textbook English for our benefit, and started counting for us on their fingers the number of internet cafes that would be shut down as a result of the referendum, and the number of jobs that would be lost. They reckoned around 3,000 jobs in the islands were doomed.
Ryan asked them what would come of the casinos in the Bahamas.
“Oh, the casinos, dey fine for you folk to go in. You is tourists. But Bahamians can’t go in. Nuh uh. We used to have our numbers. But no more!”
One patron took a swig from a mini bottle of whiskey and said, “Da Bahamas is a religious country. So da government don’t like us gambling because da Bahamas peoples is wild. We wild!” He took another swig and laughed.
We thanked the owner of CJ’s for the fantastic fish fry and poured ourselves out onto the streets with the rest of the patrons taking fried fish and conch burgers home with them.
We’d been in Bimini for a week now, but since we were hell-bent on lightening our crippling provisioning load by eating our way through it, we almost missed this experience.
So even though we have enough food on board to feed a family of ten for the next three months, we vowed to make sure we got out to the local markets and non-touristy restaurants often enough to make sure we got to mix with local islanders. After all, that’s what we’re here for, right? To experience new things, meet new people, see how people live, and eat new foods. So much local culture revolves around food; it would be a shame to miss out on the fun just because we stocked enough canned chicken and pasta to take us to the moon and back.
Just getting lost somewhere new is a treat, since we have to talk to people to find our way around, and since being on foot means plenty of time to look around and notice things. Like these comical signs in Bimini, which seem to follow a rule that all establishments need slogans in quotation marks.
These signs, in particular, gave us a chuckle, while some of them left us confused as to what services were being offered: