Paradise Island is a small spit of Bahamian earth in Nassau Harbor connected to the mainland by two entry and exit bridges vaulting the pastel condos, resorts, and marinas. New Providence, Nassau's official name, seems an apt designation from this vantage. There is no sign of slums, poverty, or misery from this tropical perch: Paradise Island is resplendent in the sun.
As you drive the few miles around the island, you'll observe that it is a hand-crafted jewel set in tourism's tiara to attract the visitors who enrich the Bahamian economy. The Bahamian dollar is equivalent to the U.S. dollar. The rows of homes and condos basking under the palms evokes a Florida just 40 miles away. There is even an Outback Steakhouse and KFC for those consumers.
Yet those who polish this jewel are discreet. The crews of landscapers work in subuded earth-tone garb, against which their high-blackness stands out less. The only indicator of their lifestyle is a posted warning: "no shirt, no shoes, no job". Even the taxi driver wore a suit, praised Jesus all over his bumper. There are hundreds of churches on New Paradise; church photos of ladies under fancy hats are legendary. This is, after all, New Providence, and there is much to be grateful for. The economy is the highest per capita in the Caribbean, and the folk do not seem embittered by hunger or exploitation.
When asking for the 'must see' or 'must do' in Nassau, the universal response these days is "Atlantis". The Atlanteans, an advanced civilization whose laser and crystal science allowed them to rule their known world, lost control of their tools, themselves, and that world. Their submerged continent is the fabric of fable. A South African hotel mogul has articulated his vision of Atlantis in a hotel, marina, shopping village, villa, casino, and theme park complex. Atlantis, the name announces its pretense. "The Dig" contains the "ruins" of ancient Atlantis, complete with "hieroglyphs" which tell the tale. The Dig exhibits include a recreation of a Georesonant Clock, a laboratory, a submarine room with diving suits and bells, and a navigation room. The attention to detail in presenting the "archaelogical sites" is amplified with the attendant marine life, ranging from huge manta rays, moray eels, barracuda to angelfish and bonefish. The celebs on property range from Oprah and Michael Jordan to Bill Clinton and P.Diddy. They all dig the place which proffers stuff ranging from Bahamian honey to regional art and designer temptations.
As for me, I head off to Cabbage Beach, miles of pristine public white sand which I walk until I arrive at the "private..security will escort you out" signs. There is little difference in the property bordering the public and private sectors: size and distance from the coconut punch/beads/jet ski ride purveyors are the most noticeable. The swimming here is fantastic turquoise bliss; just watch out for the undertow.
When you venture off-Paradise, circumvent the hordes of cruise ship tourists downtown and cruise back down West Bay Street to the Ardastra Gardens, Zoo, and Conservation Center. The 5.5 acres creates a home for 300 animals, birds, and reptiles. Many of them are endangered, so this intimate glimpse is special. The threatened Caribbean flamingo is not only thriving here, but also march in a daily show. That spectacle, along with the Lory parrot feeding, is an interactive experience sure to amuse. I had an unexpected interaction upon entering the sheep-and-goat petting pen without purchasing the handful of food.
I had no quarters for the vending mahcine, yet ventured forth to pet the lamb. He moved away, but a bold goat advanced to nibble on my tropical-hued skirt! What a brush with nature! ...and where else can you see a Vietnamese pig lying down at the feet of Bahamian parrots?
If you're hungry, back down the hill to check out the famous Fish Fry across the way on West Bay St. The numerous shacks offer all manner of daily catch and popular conch dishes. After refueling, the Straw Market, also an amalgam of stalls, adjacent to downtown offers many affordable handcrafted items, art, botanical soaps. You can even have your hair-braided while enjoying a native musical ensemble!