When you think of The Bahamas, you think picture perfect beaches with crystal clear blue waters, lazing by the pool with cocktail in hand. That’s what I was thinking too leading up to my holiday there, unfortunately though instead I was inside a hotel ballroom locked down… not due to a pandemic, yet a hurricane.
As I recommend with holiday planning to research the best time to travel to a new destination, which I did for The Bahamas, when I read hurricane season falls between start of June to end of November, I did contemplate not going, however as per my usual stance if you listen to all pieces of advice on why not to travel to a destination; poor weather, high crime, too expense etc then I’d never end up travelling.
As I was flying into the Bahamas, knowing full well it was hurricane season, yet what would the chances be it would hit when I’m there…
Aiming to be on the tropical paradise as a stopover for four days whilst exploring islands, yet ended up extending which actually was a pleasant surprise.
Flying into Nassau on an afternoon flight with a window seat, I was able to gaze outside the window in awe of the gorgeous turquoise waters below, thinking “ahhh The Bahamas” I’m actually touching down into The Bahamas! Such a tropical paradise everyone hears about for one of the places to visit for a tropical holiday get away. I was looking forward to swimming in that very water I was looking at through my plane window below me, feeling the sand between my toes and sipping that cocktail by the pool.
We chose Hotel Melia Nassau Beach Resort as our place to relax whilst in Bahamas, based on reviews I’ve read, central location of Cable Beach and all-inclusive package as well. Gee were we so very pleased we did opt for Melia Hotel.
The hotel was beautiful and what we needed after travelling five weeks before The Bahamas in average accommodation. The hotel offered a vast selection of restaurants and bars, multiple pools, and array of activities you come to expect with all beach side resorts. Like all places I visit, I generally don’t like to stay at a hotel all the time, I prefer to explore the nearby sights, as they say “once you’ve seen one resort you’ve seen them all” which is pretty much true in most cases.
On our first day on the tropical paradise, we caught the local bus into Downtown Nassau to have a look around. You can instantly recognise the main street is aimed towards cruise ship passengers which regularly dock to visit the island, with a large selection of duty free shopping in particular jewellery stores. It wasn’t my thing, however no harm in window shopping.
Buildings in the main street were a mixture of shop fronts and old timber colonial buildings, with certain areas going from one extreme of modern glass front store to the other of derelict state, even to the point that a few buildings looked like a scene from Hollywood backlot ready for a horror movie, being timber boarded up an inhabited in years.
I suggest after you buy yourself a piece of jewellery, to walk around the town to check out the architecture. Firstly the old colonial home of Jacaranda House built in 1840, then walk off the main Bay Street to nearby side streets to Government House and Balcony House to name a couple. You could easily spend half a day walking the streets exploring the historic sites the city has to offer including the old Fort an Queen’s Staircase.
Besides the main island of Nassau, there are 700 islands to explore within the Bahamas, so you have no excuse if you’re feeling bored whilst in The Bahamas.
Whilst on the main island, we decided to explore other nearby islands, in particular we were able to book a last minute 20 minute flight across to Eleuthera and Harbour Islands for a day. So off we boarded the little Pineapple Air plane, yes Pineapple Air! How cute of an airline is that name?! And even the staff wear yellow coloured uniforms to suit. Once seated we even had clear view of the cockpit, a nice difference than the usual jumbo flights.
Once touching down on the tiny airport at North Eleuthera Island, we took a taxi down to a wharf to catch a ferry, full with locals, across to Harbour Island. We had heard you can hire golf carts on the island, so after asking some locals about this, we were directed to a nearby house which offered carts for hire at $30 for 4 hours, so we took it. We soon realised after driving around the island, that due to the looming hurricane, most properties were starting to board up their windows and doors in preparation for protection, which was understandable.
We were able to easily locate the famous Pink Sands Beach as our first point of interest, surprisingly we had the beach to ourselves, not a single other person for the eye could see. The sand was definitely a pale pink colour, and looked even more pink holding the sand in your hands. Apparently the colour comes from microscopic coral insects, with the insects pink/red bodies washing up on the beach after they die, to give the pink hue mixed with sand.
After feeling the sand between our toes and dipping our feet in the Atlantic Ocean, as it wasn’t quiet warm enough to go for a complete swim, we dusted off and drove back into town where we came across a supermarket cutely named Pigly Wigly.
As there were no cafes open on the island, we resorted to buying snacks of packet chips, fruit and drinks to munch on instead during our visit on the island. For a tiny supermarket it was relatively busy with locals coming in to stock up on food and necessities for the lockdown of the hurricane looking to now hit the islands within the next 24 hours it seemed.
After exploring Harbour Island for a few hours, it was time for us to drop our zippy little golf cart back, then make our way back to North Eleuthera Island by local ferry.
There was a sombre feeling starting to come over the locals as we boarded our returning ferry, the approaching hurricane was on everyones minds. A middle aged local man sensing the change in mood, decided to lift his guitar from under his arm and started to softly play and sing in harmony Everything’s Gonna Be Alright by Bob Marley…. such a wise choice…
It was exactly what everyone needed to hear at that point in time, although it was unknown at that stage, if everything was actually going to be alright.
Upon arriving back on North Eleuthera Island, we drove across to Glass Window Bridge, admiring the bizarre natural occurrence between the waters surrounding us. On one side of the bridge were rich blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, then as if we were on another island, the flip side turquoise green waters of the Caribbean Sea, which is a sight you probably would not believe without seeing with your own eyes, and also a sight which would be appreciated more from the air rather than at ground level.
Up until now, it wasn’t certain if the hurricane path would hit the main islands of The Bahamas, so we weren’t too concerned up to this point, rather enjoying our time on the tropical paradise. However based on the the latest news updates, it started to become apparent it was now highly likely the hurricane would hit Nassau in the next 24 hours, so we looked at flights to depart the island, yet there was no flights available at this point and our originally scheduled flight was not for a couple of days time. Thankfully the hotel was well prepared and confirmed we could stay at the hotel if a flight wasn’t possible.
As it turned out, no flights were available, so here we were stranded on The Bahamas
For the next 24 hours we enjoyed the resort facilities where possible, leading up to the imminent lockdown as the hurricane approached. We soon came to realise the hotel was very prepared for a hurricane situation, thank goodness.
Soon enough staff commenced in securing all external loose items such as poolside furniture around the resort, then moved onto boarding up all ground level windows, especially the large panes of glass spanning two levels high. Come the afternoon before the hurricane was about to hit the island, all guests were asked to close our room curtains, fill up our bath tub with water, and secure our luggage and belongings in our bathroom, before heading down to the large ground floor ballroom / function room, with our doona and pillow in hand, in preparation for our night in lockdown.
Upon entering the ballroom, we were each allocated a deck lounge to sleep on for the evening. With the deck chair under one arm, doona and pillow in the other off we went to find a suitable location in the extra large room, hopefully somewhere quiet. We were fortunate to find an area up against a side wall under a bulkhead, hoping the little nook will be quieter and less bright. After marking our names off a roll call, we made ourselves comfortable on our deck lounges then started to people watch as one after the other they walked through and followed the same procedure as we had prior. Thankfully we were there early, as the large ballroom soon quickly filled up with approx. 350 people, being guests of the resorts, staff of the resort, family of staff members, and even staff and guests of nearby hotels.
The magnitude of the hurricane approaching was starting to become apparent to everyone.
We didn’t feel too concerned as the reports we saw online had rated the severity of the hurricane a category 4, being a large storm of course, yet no massive destruction was predicted.
Well that’s what we were hoping for!
As the night started to fall, children were becoming restless and crying, some people started to fall asleep, others were sitting up talking quietly amongst themselves, others were trying to distract themselves by listening to music or playing computer games on their phones. When someone next to us started to snore like a freight train, I couldn’t help but laugh, to the point where I had uncontrollable laughter so I had to walk out into the hallway so not to disturb others nearby. It was a pleasant feeling though to share some happiness after what seemed tense environment in the current circumstances.
Lying on our flimsy deck lounge was surprisingly comfortable, although yet we couldn’t sleep much with the inevitable about to happen. So instead of sleeping, we sat up talking and people watching. Sitting back we were apprehensive as expected as anyone in such a situation… how large would the hurricane be, how much damage would it cause, would the hotel be impacted… yet I never doubted my safety at any time, which was reassuring and pleasing.
As the hurricane started to approach the hotel, we could hear the winds battering against the hotel and the torrential rain pelt down, the combination was a sustaining motion which lasted for hours. Although this was shocking to hear inside our little cocoon from my perspective, as a novice traveller to hurricanes, yet even the staff who are more accustom to hurricanes seemed surprised by the strength of the storm as well.
Listening to the hurricane pound the external walls of the large tropical resort, we thanked ourselves we chose this resort in particular in the early days of our trip planning. We felt very safe in our make shift bunker. Yet we were very uncertain as to what was occurring external to us, and to what damage was being caused, we could only image trees being uprooted, building materials being thrown across properties to say the least.
The hurricane hit the island and resort just after midnight with 225km/hr winds and torrential rain.
I ended up dosing off around 3.30am, then waking up four hours later when people started to move about. It was announced that the hurricane had passed and thankfully damage was minimal to the hotel, so we were permitted to head back to our rooms around midday.
Walking out of the ballroom and back to our room, we inspected the damage. There was definitely devastation caused with debris thrown everywhere however not to the degree we were thinking. Looking outside the hotel windows, palm trees were blown over and power lines were down, yet most buildings didn’t seem too impacted and looked still intact, thank goodness.
There was damage caused to the hotel however all repairable; sand from the beach had washed up into the pools, and water came in through windows which we realised as we walked back in one inch of water on some carpet hallway sections. There was a power outage as well that caused air conditioning to cease, so humidity increased quite quickly soon after returning to our rooms.
The next day as we had the opportunity to get some fresh air and head into town, we instantly accepted.
Downtown Nassau was deserted, with a few people walking around yet we assumed locals were at their homes fixing damage required.
Upon arriving back to the hotel, we were hit with an influx of people in the lobby looking for accommodation, from staff and families of staff, as they couldn’t commute back to their homes, unfortunately the hotel was at capacity, so challenging times for the staff at the hotel trying to accommodate everyone. The staff were handling the unprecedented situation so very well under the circumstances, I take my hat off to them.
As people were looking to stay at the hotel for safety, security and convenience, we were aiming to depart as soon as the airport reopened. So we took one last walk along the Cable Beach taking in sights of the aftermath, we even went for one last swim in the ocean, with the water being a pleasant temperature. We were then fortunate to book an outgoing flight the next day. As we headed to the airport, we were wishing the local well with the clean up of the aftermath.
I will definitely return to The Bahamas, although hopefully next time will be less dramatic and more of the relaxation holiday I was originally envisaging.