Unfortunately, I have had the opportunity to go to the Nassau, Bahamas, about ten times in my life.
You read that correctly.
It’s not a statement that’s meant to be inflammatory, but I had been working on a large project there for many years, and because of that I would semi-frequently travel down there to meet with the client and project team. On those trips, I came to hate Nassau, and here is why.
Traveling for work is not the same as traveling for vacation. Of course there are times where it becomes a bonus, and you can take certain advantage of things you might otherwise not get to do, but it is not vacation. Traveling to a “vacation destination” when you are unable to enjoy it the way you want to is tortuous and disheartening more than it is empowering or uplifting.
And especially when the reality of your destination is in stark contrast to the iconic, popular misperception about that destination, it sort of strikes you silly. When you hear “Bahamas” you automatically think of beautiful beaches, island music, relaxation, and carefree living.
But the Bahamas are an impoverished nation.
Outside the resort areas, there are a lot of political and government issues, high crime, and poverty. It’s beyond sad. And while I have had the fortune through the grace of God to meet some incredible people, good and generous people, I have also seen the cultural climate of rampant theft, crime, and poverty woven into class issues.
It was actually through fishing that I was able to see some of the redemptive opportunities for the culture, to see through the issues and trouble. There is hope, and as with any monumental human struggle, there is resilience.
You see, as a visitor on the outside, my trips were for business, and fishing was just an escape. Between meetings, or at the end of the day, I could stand on shore and catch some random little fish. Just little ones, or strange ones I didn’t really recognize. It was a release. Just out on the flats casting out, enjoying the peace and serenity away from the work itself.
I also got to see how successfully I could fish by hand. That’s right, by hand.
In the stunning clear waters around the island, I could snorkel out and look for lobsters or shellfish. Even though I was staying on a resort, I only had to go a little way out beyond the area where most snorkelers would stay, and from out there in “uncharted waters,” so to speak, I could dive down 20 feet and just pick a lobster up with my bare hands.
For me, it was sport, and I let them all go. It’s not like I had the resources to cook it, and besides, I was enjoying free meals on the company’s dime. But there was something relaxing about it, and I became somewhat intimate over the years with the ecosystem and the populations native to these waters.
But ecosystems evolve. Things change. And over the years, I witnessed a boom in the lionfish population. These spiny creatures with beautiful black, white, and red stripes have a mane of poisonous barbs and spiky fins. Because they are poisonous, they lack many natural predators, and I began seeing more of them over time. From 1 or 2 sightings, I’d sometimes see as many as 5 or 6 on a single dive!
With adversity comes opportunity, however, and the local population finally learned how to cook them as a delicacy, in a safe way to remove the poison. They actually make for very good eating, though I’ve never caught one myself. Beyond eating, though, the evolution of the fisheries around the Bahamas show me the indomitable spirit of the people, the triumphant spirit to wrestle back control by adapting and responding. Conservation is certainly important to me, and this type of population control helps maintain a balance to ensure the rest of the ecosystem isn’t decimated, but it’s also a victory for human adaptability and innovation.
I hope this same industry can ripple into other areas, for the sake of the culture and the people.
Of course, I should add that I’m not a political person by any stretch. I’m not an economist, historian, or cultural critic. I’m a fisherman, which means I find success by making observations and seeking to understand the balance of creatures within a certain environment. There are many factors at play, and I would never claim to be an expert. But I watch, listen, and talk to people, and then I share my own story.
We don’t always know where our stories will take us, but I do know I have no personal desire to make it back to Nassau (although I do love the Bahamas in general, and paradises like Staniel Cay). I have many memories, good and frustrating, from my time as a young man building a career and exploring small parts of a great, big world.
Fishing was a small part of bearing witness to a culture, and I’d like to see more of other cultures if I can, rather than going back to see more of this one. But each memory is a treasure, like an unsuspecting lobster 20 feet down in crystal clear waters. If YOU get the chance to go, take it.