In 2009 my parents, grandmother, and I took a Christmas cruise to the Bahamas. If you’ve been on a cruise before or watched a TV family take one, you probably know that there are ports that the ship stops at during its travels. During these stops, passengers have the option to stay on board or get off and explore the city that the ship has stopped at for at least 5 hours. Being the family that we are, we of course, got off at each one of the stops, no matter how disappointing some of them were (Freeport – I’m looking at you).
Although I was a little taken a back that people would choose to stay on the ship, even at the smaller ports, I was not the least bit surprised when I saw the long line of passengers waiting to get off at the Nassau port. The line was super long. Thank goodness we had about 8 hours to tour the city, because it took us quite some time to make it off of the ship.
Oh, but when we finally did, we were bombarded.
The scene stepping off of the ship reminded me of the time my aunt took a friend and me into Mexico. There were mainly men on the sides of the pier trying to convince each passerby to buy something that they of course thought they had the best of, for the best price. The main product of choice was tours around the island. These were in abundance. Although the men were convincing and had a number of interesting and available options, we didn’t bite. Thankfully, beforehand our travel agent had told us about the People-to-People program that the Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism Office had available for visitors to the island. So, we knew exactly where we were going. We were headed to the tourism office to see Ms. Isadora Thompson, our guide for the day.
The People-to-People program connects visitors to the island with “Bahamian ambassadors.” These ambassadors give tourists a not-so tourist view of life in the Bahamas. The program is free; a simple registration form and you’re on your way. That was a great start, but it was our tour guide and the experience she prepared for us that made it unforgettable.
Ms. Thompson was a native to the area. She had spunk mixed with a touch of class, but mostly, she had the inside perspective of the island that my family and I were seeking. As soon as we met, it seemed like she and our family clicked right away. Riding around the island in her van, she gave us tips that only a person born and raised in the area would know (for example: blowing the horn is a sign of endearment).
She showed us places that, for the general tour guide, would have been just another landmark, but in her hands she made places like the local hospital a personal testament of how her family had overcome a tough battle. (Her son-in law had visited there during his fight against cancer.) It was her decision to go past the shallow surface of traditional touring that connected my family to her. We met her friends. We saw where she worshipped. She took us to her home. She spoke about her daughter. The best and most special part was when she took us to meet her son-in law. The wounds from his battle with cancer were very visible, but he had survived.
Our time with Ms. Thompson had affected us so much that my mother became pen pals with her for a short time after we returned back home. When people ask me about my time on the island, I, of course, share with them our opportunity to go inside the famous Atlantis Resort and the beauty of the blue, Bahamian water. But honestly, when I think of the Bahamas I wonder if Ms. Thompson’s church has been completely finished; I wonder if her friend continues to cook in her small restaurant; and I hope that her son-in law continues to be cancer-free.
For more information on the People-to-People program in the Bahamas, please visit http://www.bahamas.com/people-to-people.