The first night of our journey on the “Fun” Ship we met our tablemates in the Main Dining Room. I’ll call them Mutt and Jeff. (Actually, I think one of them really was named “Mutt.” ) Anyway, Mutt and Jeff hailed from western Kentucky and were on this cruise as an anniversary present from their children. On the surface, they seemed like an ordinary couple in their mid-60s, both feeling, as they admitted, a bit out of place amidst all this “luxury.”
We did our best to be sociable, even after they told us about the “coloreds” in their neck of the woods, and wondered later how seating arrangements on these cruise ships were arranged. It obviously wasn’t by age and interest. But Mutt and Jeff were equally concerned about us. When I mentioned “my husband and daughter,” you could almost hear their sighs of relief. Thank God, we weren’t a lesbian couple after all!
Of course, Mutt then had to ask about Sarah’s marital arrangements, and Sarah replied she was not married. “Well, how old are you?” asked Mutt.
To which Sarah honestly replied she was 33. “Oh, well, I’m sure you’ll find someone one day, dear,” Mutt added with great sympathy.
I think that was the point at which my very happily unwed friend decided she no longer wished to engage Mutt and Jeff in conversation.
It was just as well. We had our waiter to amuse us with tales of all the muggings and murders that occur in Nassau, Bahamas, our next port of call. We were sufficiently warned that winning a lot of money at the casino at Atlantis would make us particularly susceptible to being knifed in the back.
No matter. Sarah had already been to Atlantis on a previous trip, and I was more interested in seeing the local color of Nassau.
We bypassed the cruise ship’s overpriced excursions and planned a day of touring the city on our own, by bus and on foot. And if you take no other advice from me with regard to touring the Caribbean, take this–bypass the taxis that are lined up right outside the cruise ship terminals. Aside from being overpriced, they will isolate you from the culture you hopefully want to experience. Yes, the islands of the Caribbean, in reality, are not the paradises the travel brochures make them out to be. Aside from the resort areas (like Atlantis), they are, for the most part, hopelessly dirty, weather- beaten, rundown, and rife with poverty.
But if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not the Atlantis type anyway. Sarah and I hitched a ride on a local bus with the aim of first visiting Ardastra Gardens and its flock of reputedly trained pink flamingoes. Riding a bus around Nassau is an experience in itself. This is not your usual city bus. Nope, for the small fee of $1, you have the privilege of riding around in an oversized van with fold-up seats that require you to stand up, fold up your seat, and practically sit in another passenger’s lap in order to let others on and off. The buses are popular with the locals and always full. It’s an experience that won’t disappoint, especially when a local missing a couple of front teeth asks in lilting Bahamian English, “So you girls want to get drunk?”
There’s not actually a bus stop at Ardastra Gardens, so we got off the bus (Bus 10A is the one you want to take) as close as we could to the place and walked along broken-up sidewalks strewn with garbage to this sad little tropical garden a few blocks from Arawak Cay. While the books I’ve read make Ardastra sound like a delightful place, it really isn’t. But then delight is not the attraction here–the flamingoes are.
Garden paths will take you through unkempt tropical undergrowth and alongside the cages and habitats of mournful little monkeys, meerkats, endangered Bahamian parrots, and giant tortoises. None of the animals look particularly happy to be here, though they are perhaps better off here than outside the gates. The one exception are the Lory parrots who enjoy daily feedings by zoo visitors. Be careful if you engage in this activity, however, as the parrots will get into feathered fights on your hand, arm, or head over a succulent piece of fruit.
Sarah and I had read about the flock of marching pink flamingoes and were anxious to see what this was all about. We gathered with other curious visitors at the appointed hour and were treated to what we have since declared the highlight of our trip. There’s nothing particularly organized about this group of “marching” flamingoes, but there is something decidedly humorous in watching their trainer attempt to establish order among flocks of feathered fuschia chaos. You’ll have to watch the video to see what I mean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=q0LLPUrtX0U