I felt like I could run the world as I stood in the ultra-private wine cellar in the Graycliff Hotel, where Jay-Z and Beyonce have been known to hang out in The Bahamas. But even with my newly found Beyonce confidence, I was nervous about what lay ahead as I traveled throughout the island for the first time.
If your family is anything like mine, then "worry" is their middle name. The day I told my mother about my travels to The Bahamas, she panicked. "What about Hurricane Dorian?" she asked. "Is it safe?"
After relaxing on the vibrant pink sand beaches, laughing with the locals, kayaking in Eleuthera, and for the first time eating guava duff cake, guava chocolate, and guava glazed ribs, I called my mother. I reassured her that The Bahamas was not only safe but would be the perfect destination for our next family vacation, swapping out our traditional Florida trip for something that is close but still feels like a world away.
The Abacos and Grand Bahama Islands were hit directly by Hurricane Dorian, and are currently undergoing rebuilding efforts. However, The Bahamas is made up of 700 islands and cays, meaning there are still other unique island destinations to explore.
During my trip, I soaked in the history of Nassau, the capital of The Bahamas, experienced the luxury of Eleuthera Island, and strolled through the markets and neighborhoods of Harbor Island, which my tour guide described as "the home of the friendly."
As I reflected on this pre-winter escape, my mind kept returning to the Glass Window Bridge. The bridge, located in Eleuthera, offers a unique juxtaposition of what it looks like when the deep blue rough waves of The Atlantic ocean meet with the calmer body of water on the other side. The man-made bridge is nicknamed "the narrowest place on earth."
While visiting the bridge, I thought about how I often find myself on the "narrow path" and how I usually find myself in the middle. Living in the tension of where I use to be, but not quite yet where I want to be. One area of my life might be like the calm waters of the Atlantic ocean, while another area is a sea of raging emotions. It's in the "middle" where I've learned how to sit with the complexities that life throws my way.
I think The Bahamas is currently in the middle. They are recovering from a hurricane on one side while anticipating their tourism season to kick off on the other side. The Bahamian people exemplify strength and resilience while operating in the middle, such as Loraine Trollip, the general manager of The Cove Eleuthera, the luxury ocean-front hotel where I stayed for part of the trip. Trollip opened up the famed property to those seeking shelter and food in the aftermath of the hurricane.
"You'll come as friends and leave as family," she told me over breakfast.
This saying quickly became real as I chatted with more locals. I love a home-cooked meal, and on my first day in Nassau, I was able to enjoy a traditional dinner in the home of a Bahamian. For dinner, we had conch (pronounced "konk"), which is the national food of The Bahamas. There are a plethora of ways to eat conch, and I specifically enjoyed eating deep-fried conch, which tasted similar to calamari. However, you can also order it as a tropical conch salad, a conch sandwich, or conch fritters.
I loved the easy-going breeze and the convenience of The Bahamas. From Eleuthera, my group hopped on a boat, and within 10 minutes, we were on Harbor Island. I explored this beach town in the best way — by driving a golf cart.
While driving and making terrible left turns, we swung by a local's house that was selling everything from banana bread to mac & cheese from her kitchen. The house was overflowing with guests. One man I chatted with even told me that his auntie sends him there weekly to pick up food for the family. Afterward, we stopped by the pink sand beach, and even though it was overcast, I could still see little shimmers of pink sparkling from the sand.
During my time in The Bahamas, I realized that the best stories are often the ones unplanned. One night after a long day, I was invited to a cocktail experience at Bon Vivants, "the first true cocktail bar in The Bahamas dedicated solely to the art and history of the craft cocktail," as their website describes it. Since the rest of my group declined the invitation, I was able to have an intimate conversation with one of the owners' Kyle Jones.
Bon Vivants stands for "live well," and I couldn't think of a better description for this cafe and cocktail bar inspired by the beauty of The Bahamas and the historical writings of Ernest Hemingway.
Jones, like most people I met in The Bahamas, has a unique story as to what drew them to live on the islands. For Jones, it was love. His wife was born and raised in The Bahamas, and after meeting in college, they planned on moving back to start a family.
"In 2012, we had been living in NYC for eight years, and the time felt right to leap. Ever since my start behind the bar in Savannah, Georgia, in 2003, I knew I wanted a place of my own one day. Bon Vivants is actually so much more than I ever imagined was possible," Jones said.
I fit right into the dynamic and diverse crowd at Bon Vivants, and the ambiance was one of my favorite aspects of the cafe and cocktail bar. "Daytime brings families and young professionals and business meetings while nighttime is a lot of fashion [forward] young creatives and chic older folks, with cocktails in hand," Jones added.
Bon Vivants has been open for about five months and shows that The Bahamas is innovating and expanding amid tragedy. But as all of my travel stories go, one yes can lead to the next opportunity. Days after meeting with Jones, my group was invited to visit the Other Side hotel owned by one of Jones' friends, Ben Simmons. I was able to tour the property with Simmons, his wife Charlie, their two children, and three dogs. The Other Side is a solar-powered hotel and the first and only Bahamian hotel on commonage land in Eleuthera, an area that serves as a Bahamian reservation and is typically used for farming.
"Our hope is that by creating a tourism product on this type of land and in the ecological low impact manner that we have done, that we are forging a new way that Bahamian entrepreneurs can thrive and compete with larger tourism products in the country," Simmons told The Daily Beast.
The Other Side is a picturesque, upscale glamping (glamorous camping) hotel. I love the outdoors, but sadly my friends don't, and while walking around the property, I thought it would be the perfect compromise for our next girls' trip.
"The property is spacious yet at the same time, intimate. It's secluded but not isolated. You can enjoy all the attractions of the nearby bustling Harbour Island without being caught up in it. There's just a certain freedom to choose the manner in which you want to unwind that is ultimately not available in more conventional hotels," Simmons said.
Soaking in the views of the Other Side, our driver Wallace, interrupted the tour to warn us that our plane was about to leave. And with a quick goodbye, I jetted off. After my week-long island hopping tour, I returned to the winter in Ohio. Even though I departed the plane back into the freezing cold, my heart was warm after experiencing the love and kindness of the Bahamian people. Wallace left me with a few words of wisdom: For something to begin, it must come to an end.