Gb Off The Beaten Path? Is That All?

EDITOR, The Tribune.

Last week, the Government rolled out the “come work or study from the Bahamas for a year” invitation. A commendable idea to stimulate the struggling economy.

However, as part of this initiative I was alarmed to see Joy Jibrilu, our Director General of the Ministry of Tourism proclaim “if you’re seeking serenity or seclusion you can head for Mayaguana or San Salvador or if you’re looking for an off the beaten path stay, you can opt for Grand Bahama, Eleuthera or Long Island.” Holy cow – is this what it has come to? I was both dismayed and indignant that this is to be the Ministry’s new message to promote Grand Bahama.

But then I thought I might put together a small guide book to be handed to each of these working visitors on arrival to enlighten them of our history and the current status of our beautiful island. It might read something like this:

“Welcome to Freeport, Grand Bahama, the country’s second city – population approximately 55 thousand. If you want to explore, head south from downtown to visit the once iconic Xanadu Beach hotel. This crumbling ruin was built in 1968 and was once home to the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes and the playground for Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack. Now closed for over 20 years the battered main structure looks like it might collapse at any moment.

“When driving through the neighbouring Bahamia subdivision, you might get a glimpse of what were two top notch 18 hole golf courses, now completely overgrown and obsolete. Just up the road on West Sunrise Highway you will see the remains of the Royal Oasis Resort and Casino.

“For many years these 1000 rooms offered guests vibrant entertainment, and a vast casino with Las Vegas style shows. However having never reopened since the hurricanes of 2014 the Tower features broken windows and gaping holes while the Country Club – opposite – is all but buried in the bushes.

“Its immediate neighbour is the once famous International Bazaar, a five-acre complex showcasing the architecture of half a dozen countries and designed by a Hollywood set director. Its merchants offered goods from around the world in authentic surroundings together with a variety of ethnic restaurants. Its demise finally came in 2012 and most of the buildings have since been vandalised and it is now suggested unsafe to visit.

“Just along on the Mall is Freeport’s only “skyscraper‚” Casa Bahama. This sad 18-story apartment building was built in the early 1970’s, has been abandoned for years and most residents believe it should be imploded much like the Bazaar and Royal Oasis.

“Take a trip to the east and stop in at Lucaya. Here on a beautiful beach you will find three closed hotels, two of them for the past four years. These 1300 rooms offered visitors a variety of vacation options which included the Port Lucaya Marketplace just across the street. Once a happening destination with shops, bars, restaurants and a straw market, you will find only a handful open fighting for their survival. Please patronise to help their cause- you will be made to feel very welcome.

“If deserted beaches are your thing, head east to Gold Rock, particularly spectacular at low tide. En route you will probably miss the Lucayan Golf and Country Club. This once immaculate 18-hole championship course was designed by Jack Nicklaus and is now an overgrown memory of glories past. Further down the road is the Garden of the Groves, dedicated to the visionary founder of Freeport, Wallace Groves. Fortunately, this is one of the few ‘attractions’ still in operation and well worth a visit. Adjacent to it you probably wouldn’t know there was once the spectacular 18-hole Shannon golf course –now just a jumble of weeds and bush.”

“Accommodations”: This might be a challenge. There are a few gated communities (expensive) and a number of boarded up decaying apartment buildings for sale. The local realtors should be able to guide you. If all else fails, pitch your tent on a beach and hope to pick up wi -fi from a nearby building.

“Getting there”: American Airlines has a daily flight from Miami and Silver Airways a couple of flights a week from Ft Lauderdale. Book early, seats are limited. You will get the ‘island vibe’ immediately you land as formalities with local officials take place in little more than a lean-to shed.

All this might sound a little depressing, but the locals are friendly and appear to be very resilient despite widespread unemployment, countless hurricanes and an economy that has been in decline for over three decades.”

So on reflection Joy Jibrilu is right after all. Grand Bahama is more than just “off the beaten path” – it’s a former paradise that has been bludgeoned to death.

CHRIS PAINE

Freeport, Grand Bahama,

November 3, 2020.

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