The flight from Miami to Freeport only lasted about 30 minutes… but it would be another two hours or so before we actually made it to our hotel on the beach.
I flew in with one of my colleagues and six bags, including four cases of gear. A word of warning to anyone intending to fly to Grand Bahama for any reason other than tourism: be sure to clear your visit with the ministry of tourism first (no, that was not a typo).
Despite my research and calls to numerous government agencies and offices before leaving the US, I didn’t realize that was necessary. Everything worked out in the end, but only after a couple hours of waiting in a near empty airport. It gave us ample time to complain to the employees there and those sent to help us.
Considering how many journalists are imprisoned or killed each year for doing their jobs, we tend to take freedom of the press quite seriously. We also take it for granted sometimes, so my colleague and I were naturally taken aback, especially when told of other restrictions and work conditions we’d be subjected to. I had already spent nearly a week trying in vain to secure access to the port, so frustration had been building up.
We were in the Bahamas to do a story about the country’s economy (in light of recent developments in Cuba). It’s an economy heavily driven by tourism, which partly explains why that ministry is so pervasive and powerful.
The government is very keen on maintaing a good reputation to attract more tourism, and although it does not justify the way we were treated during our stay, it helps explain the apparent lack of press freedoms there.
We started shooting in earnest at the straw market in Lucaya. As soon as we put our camera down on the tripod local security descended on us and asked if we had been given clearance. I explained that we had, but soon enough I found myself in an office waiting for an escort – a former journalist and the same gentleman who had helped us the day before at the airport.
Our friend showed up with a former Miss Bahamas from the Ministry of Tourism. She managed to get us into the harbor later in the day, but we started off by filming a Junkanoo at the market. We got some shots of the stalls and met with “Big Mama” Daphne before taking off. The shoot went very smoothly and I had no problem pulling out my X-Pro1 and firing off a few shots of my own.
The one full day that I had to enjoy the island ended up being a rainy mess. The plan to spend hours on the beach went bust, but I hit the road instead. It started off as a blind drive, but we soon found our way to Lucayan National Park. It was well worth the $5 entrance fee.
Thanks mostly to our welcoming experience a few days before, my first impressions of the island were not good. I was not sure whether or not I would return, but the trip to the park confirmed it – I want to go back.
In addition to some really cool spider webs and caves, Gold Rock Beach alone is worth going back for.
Without a doubt, one of the nicest things about my visit to the island was the beach at the Grand Lucayan Hotel. It wasn’t the prettiest beach I’ve ever been to, but it was great… especially when it wasn’t littered with trashy tourists and cruise boaters. I’d probably stay at the same hotel again, albeit at a different time of year.
All in all it was a great trip. Once again, I wanted to take a waterproof camera with me – and after my last experience, I was too paranoid to try shooting in the water with my iPhone – but I’m relatively happy with what I got. I’ll be back for more… especially Gold Rock Beach. The fish fry was pretty good too. Their rum, not so much.
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