Island Adventure – Back Home

After 28 hours of traveling we finally arrived home this morning. We left the hotel at 8pm Bahamian time and our flight left at 10:30pm. The check in process was chaotic.  It was like checking in at a small regional airport – I was going to say like Bloemfontein but that would be unfair on Bloemfontein. All the conference attendees on the flight (there were at least 20 of us) arrived at the same time and that was just too many people at once for the 4 check in people. The check in process also seemed to take an age. What transpired was that the flight was overbooked and so they could not allocate a whole lot of people seats. Fortunately I had managed to check in online already so Helen and I had seats but there were a whole lot of grumpy people.  Some of the conference attendees who had confirmed business class seats ended up traveling in Premier economy or economy.

We could use the business class lounge which was a small cubbyhole with old furniture and a pretty empty fridge. By the time we left it was empty. They told us that the flight actually departs from terminal B (we were in terminal A for the check in) and that they would come and call us to take a bus across to Terminal B when they were ready to board. About 40 minutes before our due departure time one of the lounge people wandered out to see what was going on only to come back in and say that they had just announced that the last transfer bus was now leaving. So much for telling us! I reckon it was their tactic to make a few more seats available. If we never got on the bus they could give our seats to someone else!  We all hurried out and made it onto the last bus.

Helen and I both went to sleep immediately the flight took off and we got in about 5-6 hours before they woke us up for breakfast before we landed. We landed at 11:30am UK time (6:30am Bahamian time) and then had to kill 6 hours at Heathrow airport before our flight to CT. Fortunately we could use the lounge and so we could have a shower, get something to eat and access the internet.  What more could you want when you have 6 hours to kill? Of course, we both did some duty free shopping as well. The flight home was uneventful and bumpy. Helen slept well, I didn’t. She  is asleep now, I am not. Might be something to do with the fact that I collapsed this afternoon because I could not keep my eyes open any longer. So to add to the long journey and our poor impression of the Bahamas, I reckon I am jetlagged. Hopefully a good night’s sleep will do it.

Until December … skiing in Switzerland!

Island Adventure (Day ‘who really cares’)

I had my last meeting this morning which was from 8am until lunch time. While I was doing that Helen did what she has done all week – go and lie in the sun.  She objected to my blog yesterday when I said she has just been lying at the pool.  So I am going to correct that.  She has either been at the pool or on the strip of beach for the whole week.

The rest of today has just been spent loafing around and for me catching up on emails. It started raining at about 11am this morning so that forced Helen inside. She spent most of the rest of the day sitting in the lobby and reading (and I guess watching the passing parade). We fortunately were able to get an extension on our hotel room until 8pm (when our shuttle for the airport leaves).

So what are our thoughts about Bahamas (yes I said Bahamas not Bermuda or Barbados or any other Caribbean islands which is what everybody keeps calling them). I can’t see us rushing back any time soon. Mauritius is closer, nicer and cheaper. Here are my random thoughts:

1. The temperature never changes – it has been 70 something every day and night and it is humid
2. The wind never changes – it is always blowing and it is definitely more than a gentle breeze
3. Island time is a reality – everything here happens at the pace of slow, tomorrow is nog-a-dag as we would say in SA (@Josie get someone to translate for you)
4. It is ridiculously expensive (even the Americans said so) – I paid R20 for a small chocolate today, no meal has cost us less than R550 and that generally has been for just a main course and a drink
5. Drinks are even more expensive than the food but are generally better than food (Helen has tried most cocktails so she should know; I tried both local beers)
6. The food is pretty average – don’t come to the Bahamas for cuisine
7. Did I mention how expensive it was?
8. The people are generally quite friendly – but then why wouldn’t they be 50% of the island’s income comes from tourism
9. 5 days is more than enough time to become an expert on Bahamas – in fact 2 days did it for me
10. They love their music – it is always blaring out from somewhere
11. It is a real mix of culture. Probably more American than anything (and that is probably influenced by the cruise ships which come in every day – yesterday there were 6 of them in the harbour). But definitely also English (they drive on the left even though many of the cars are American left hand drive); Cuban (lots of cigars on offer) and Caribbean (music and people).

So if you haven’t gotten the message yet, we wouldn’t recommend you come to the Bahamas.  It sounds much better than it is in reality. If you want to spend lots of money go somewhere else rather.

Island Adventure Day 6 (I think)

It feels like we have been here forever. And there is seriously not a lot to do unless you like lying next to the pool. I can’t see that I will be rushing back to the Bahamas any time soon.  Helen (who actually has been lying next to the pool most of the time – see video on Facebook), hasn’t even managed to get much of a tan.  Even the sun doesn’t seem to work here. Most people have this idea of idyllic island when they think Bahamas. I will think of wind swept, very flat and nothing to do island.

Today I had a breakfast meeting which was very productive.  What I have come to realize is that the meetings outside the official programme are the best ones and what I am really coming to these events for.  I then didn’t have another meeting until lunchtime so I headed back up to the room to find a website that was streaming the rugby (SA vs Scotland). After that I headed down for a lunch time meeting and then another meeting after that followed by another unofficial meeting (which was again productive). All this time Helen didn’t leave the hotel premises and was either at the pool or on the balcony. She was probably trying out more of those drinks she keeps having.  I have lost count of how many different varieties she has tried but I know she has had Long Island Ice Tea (no tea in it); Bahama Mama and many others.  I have just stuck to the local brew (tastes better than the water). Alcohol is ridiculously expensive here and even a beer will cost around R70 with the cheapest wine (Brian T type wine) costing around R250 a bottle.

This evening was going to be a romantic dinner with just Helen but that quickly morphed into 7 of us going out together. While having the meeting this evening it turned out that the President of IAA (International Actuarial Association) – who is a South African – was going out for dinner by himself so I invited him along and then the Australians gate crashed and so we ended up with 7 people. We went to Fish Fry again and tried out another restaurant called Twin Brothers (surf & turf). Unfortunately they only have tables of 4 (more like booths) so we had to split up. We sat with the Australian couple and it was a really easy evening as they talked very freely. Being Saturday evening the whole area was pumping by the time we left. Clearly the place to go on a Saturday evening as all the locals were there.

Talking about talking freely … I didn’t tell you about the women we met last night at dinner (I was too tired to blog her yesterday). After our dinner had been rain interrupted we ended up with other people at our table. We had an American couple join us.  He hardly said anything. She spoke non-stop. Seriously, non-stop. And the very first thing she told me was that they had been to CT and she flew First Class. It was like name dropping but more like class dropping. She then went on to tell us about the multiple houses they owned, where they had been in the world, which hotels they had stayed at etc etc.  All at the top of her voice (@Lynne – Jeff would have loved her as an ambassador for America).  She did make a fatal error though. At one point she offered us the use of their holiday house. She clearly thought we would never take that up. But what she fails to understand is that if you make Paul an offer of the use of a holiday house for free he will definitely take it up. He never misses an opportunity like that. We speculated whether she was drunk or always like that and we settled on always like that. How her husband ever gets a chance to say anything is questionable. The table of 8 people and only she was talking for 80% of the time.

I am now typing this blog while listening to Karaoke being blared out from the pavilion below us. I have heard some songs been absolutely hacked to death. Helen was wetting herself with laughter at some of the singing. I definitely could have done better.  In fact, Bryan (M this time) would even do better. In fact pretty much anyone would do better.  I am hoping they are going to stop soon otherwise I am not going to be able to fall asleep with that whining in the background.

Sorry there were no photos.  I need to get some of them off Helen’s camera (will do so tomorrow). And just to make up for the limited work on Thursday I get to work again tomorrow morning with another meeting (soooo looking forward to that).

Until tomorrow …

Island Adventure Day 5

This was a full work day for me and work isn’t really a fair description.  It is more like a full day of torture for me. I had a meeting starting at 8:30 and going through to 12:30. Then a lunch meeting from 12:30 to 2:00pm.  And then another meeting from 2pm until 5pm and then dinner from 7pm.  If you think it is glamorous traveling to the Bahamas then just compensate that with today.

Meanwhile Helen and Tina went off and partied on Paradise Island where the Atlantis Hotel (Sol Kerzner’s creation) is based.  Helen described it as Canal Walk on a Caribbean Island. They took a local bus into town (costs $1.25) and then a ferry from town across to Paradise Island ($4). No idea what they did except shopping (because I can see the effects) and eat ice cream (because I saw a photo of Tina at Ben & Jerry’s).  All the while I was been tortured in a day of meetings. The first meeting is where I am actually a member of the committee.  It is chaired by an South African and generally runs quite efficiently. I get to sit around the table because I am a member of the committee. If you aren’t a member you have to sit around the outside. I prefer sitting there because you can do emails / play games without anyone seeing. Being at the table you can’t get away with that.

The lunchtime meeting was productive (they always tend to be) and then the afternoon meeting was just incredibly boring. They really need to give lessons to people on how to chair a meeting. What took the chair lady at least 30 minutes to do I would have completed in 5 minutes with exactly the same result. Seriously. And that frustrates me no end. That and the fact that they really didn’t do much at all. In fact they discussed the terms of reference of the committee for at least 20 minutes to start with! At tea time I did the “duck and run” and did some work for the rest of the afternoon (it was already 4pm).

This evening was the gala dinner and it was to be held around the pool. I say ‘was’ because at about 6:45pm it started raining and by 6:50pm it was raining hard. So much for all the tables laid out. There clearly was no contingency plan as at about 7:30pm the rain abated and they quickly dried off the chairs and out we went for dinner. We had just eaten our starter when it started to rain lightly and then about 60 seconds later it started raining really hard. We didn’t even have our main course yet. We grab a table under a large gazebo and then headed back into the rain to get some food. It was still raining hard so it was grab whatever food we could and head back. Given I had to pay $150 for Helen to attend the dinner it really was not a value for money dinner.  The wind had also really picked up and I felt like I was sitting in CT looking into the teeth of a south easter.  The after effects on Helen can be seen in the pic (used with her permission). Her hair was straight when we went down to dinner.

We left dinner at 9pm though I can still clearly hear the band going full blast at the moment. I am so worn out from the day of meetings that I need to go to sleep or I will fall asleep on the keyboard. If you want to get a sights and sounds of Bahamas then go onto either my of Helen’s Facebook page and you will find a video clip from the hotel balcony.

Until tomorrow …

Island Adventure Day 4

The problem with writing a blog while on a business trip is that everyone thinks you are having a holiday when you are actually working. Today was one such day.  We woke up at about 6am and so it seems the jet lag is beaten. I had no formal meetings today but both Paul and I decided to spend the morning working anyway. The ladies went and did the sunbathing thing as it was a lovely blue sky day.  The hotel is a lot busier now that more actuaries have arrived.  Helen spent the morning playing spot the actuary (much to her own delight). While the ladies sunbathed Paul and I spent some time (rare time given how seldom we see each other these days) discussing business issues.

We decided to at least get out for lunch and headed into the town center for lunch. Paul had previously seen a Greek restaurant and so we ended up there. Strange eating Greek food in Bahamas but then again you can pretty much eat any food in the Bahamas – it is a really mixed culture. After lunch we went to the supermarket to buy some Hagendaus ice cream because Paul can’t travel overseas without eat Hagendaus ice cream.

The real reason for going into town was because I had heard about the ‘Queens Staircase’ and was told it was a must see site in Nassau. There are 66 steps though originally there were 67 (one has eroded). They were built at the end of a tunnel from the governor’s manor to that point to assist in fleeing an invasion. As it turned out no one ever invaded the island and so none of was ever used (except for tourists today). We also ambled around the fort at the top which is the highest point on the island and so therefore you get great views all around of the island.  We completed the trip but walking back into town and finding a taxi to get back to our hotel.

Taxi’s in Nassau are very much like SA taxis. Beaten up, minivans. The difference is that you can have a whole one to yourself versus having 4 people per row as we do in SA.  I spent the afternoon working and Helen caught a few more rays by the poolside. We had dinner arranged with the other South Africans and we have just gotten back now (10pm). A nice relaxed dinner at a restaurant called Van Bruegels (owned by a Dutchman). The food was quite good. The wine ridiculous expensive (I could buy a case for the same price in SA). Some people tried conch (remembered pronounced ‘conk’) for the first time. And a number of people (including Helen and I) had Mahi Mahi for our main course.

It was a chilled day but then we have come to realize that everything is quite chilled here.  Nothing much happens and so you just got along with the pace of the place and that would be a pace of slow to very slow. There is never any rush. There is plenty of time in the day. Tomorrow is another day and the sun will shine and rise & set. Tomorrow is also a day that I am fully occupied the whole day.  I am fearing the effect on my wallet.

Island Adventure Day 3

Jo Mon, how’ya all do’ing? You have got to learn to speak like that or the locals don’t understand you. And a lot of the time I have no clue what they are saying. Sometimes I actually think they are speaking a foreign language and then I catch an English word and realize they are talking English.

Helen was awake at about 5am this morning (given she went to sleep at 7:45pm that was a pretty impressive sleep). She then tried to get onto the internet and manage to wake me up with all the clicking and fiddling. I then tried to get the internet working for about 30 minutes until we eventually phoned reception and found out that the whole Island’s internet connection was down.  Somebody probably rode over the cable with their jet ski or speed boat.  I already feel technology deprived in that neither Helen nor my SA cellphone’s work here. Fortunately I have a UK cellphone and that works at least. They did restore the internet at about 8am again (fortunately!).

We had breakfast at about 6:45am. For Josie, the breakfast spread was massive. Fruit (melons of various varieties and pineapple), cereals, porridge, pastries and pancakes, waffles, eggs, bacon, hash-brown, what looked like fried asparagus, some Mexican breakfast thing. You name it they had it for breakfast. At R225 each we had to make sure we ate our monies worth but I think neither of us was successful. By 9am we were ready to get out. It was a clear blue sky day and we decided to go with Paul & Tina into the downtown area. It is about a 15 minute taxi drive from the hotel along the seafront.

We started in the local ‘Straw’ market where I practiced my negotiation skills training. They are quite amusing because they tell you the price (say $30) but then immediately say (without you even asking) that they have reduced the price for us to $25. I generally countered that with an offer of $20 and the deal was done. Only once did we get into a second lowering of the price when we ended up buying two of the same thing (matching pink shirts for the boys). Prices were quite reasonable or even cheap in places especially when you consider how much we pay for everything else here. They are consummate sales people. Always trying to get you interested, offering you a special deal, telling you you’re the first customer, best customer, most pleasant customer etc etc.

We ambled around the town for about 3 hours sticking our heads into most of the stores. The most interesting shop was the supermarket. It is fascinating seeing the local brands, what is available , what different things they have etc. Helen’s favourite was the Five Roses Flour (for the international followers Five Roses in a tea brand in SA). We had drinks at a roof top place called the Iguana. No balustrades in places. Clearly no health and safety regulations here (and also no children under 5 because they all plummet to their death at places like this). Nice pineapple juice though. Lunch at another outdoor cafe while watching the cruise ship (American) tourists disembark. Comment of the day went to Paul when he said “There must be a minimum weight limit to be allowed on these cruise ships). Most of the people didn’t get far from the pier.

I had to get back to the hotel for a 2pm meeting. I am actually working here (believe it or not). Paul had been to the meeting previously and had not given me much hope it would be interesting. I went armed with my Ipad and Iphone so that I could catch up on work emails. As it turned out it was not too bad a meeting even though the one gentlemen next to me was clearly bored after about 30 minutes and got up and walked out. By the tea break they had pretty much covered the agenda. Meanwhile Helen was sunbathing on the beach and next to the pool.

This evening we headed to ‘Fish Fry’ for dinner. We had thought it was a restaurant but we learnt in the taxi that it is actually a series of restaurants where they do fried fish. It is very colourful and noisy. In Nassau there is always Caribbean music playing – from the shops, from the cars, from the restaurants. They give you the impression that they are very chilled and enjoy life.  Our taxi driver on the way to dinner tried to sell us on one particular place to go but the 4 of us have a rebellious streak so when we got there we went for a walk instead and chose another place altogether called “Frankie goes bananas”.

We all tried Conch – pronounced with a silent ‘h’.  If you haven’t gotten that yet, then say ‘conk’ to rhyme with ‘honk’ and you would have it correct. Not that it honks at all. Conch is a big sea shell – the type you hold to your ear and listen to the sea (or you can blow to make a noise). We had Conch fritters to start and Paul also had fried Conch. Helen, Tina and Paul also had Conch Chowder. You would swear that give how much Conch they ate we all loved it. It was ok but nothing really spectacular.  I had a whole Snapper (and I mean whole). Much healthier as it wasn’t fried in batter. The ladies also tried the local cocktails. As a result Helen has been asleep already for almost an hour (and it is now 9:45pm). It was a nice evening sitting outside and just enjoying the atmosphere and chilling. And the price was not as extortionate as some of the other places we could have gone to.

Some further reflections on Bahamas:

1. There is a touch of Cuban culture in here as well
2. The wind never stops blowing
3. The temperature doesn’t vary much even when the sun drops. Low today was 70F and high was 77F.
4.  The locals are incredibly friendly. Not surprising when 50% of their GDP comes from tourism.
5. The taxi drivers here might have learnt to drive in SA. They drive similar minivans and they drive as aggressively (maybe even more so). I am still amazed that the one guy didn’t have an accident at least 3 times on the way back from the the town center.

Now I am feeling my eyelids getting heavy so I am also going to head to bed.  Until tomorrow, peace mon.

 

Island Adventure Day 2

We left for Heathrow airport at 7am this morning for our flight to Bahamas. We did a little duty free shopping for Helen and then had breakfast in the lounge. By that stage it was almost time to board. On the way to the gate we met Paul & Tina and then bumped into two other actuarial people all on the same flight. We left right on time and the pilot told us that the flying time was 9 hours 15 minutes. All those hours during daylight hours. Nothing to do but watch a movie (or in Helen’s case two), read a book (I managed to finish mine), listen to some music, have a short sleep (I managed an hour Helen got about 2 hours in) and eat. I watched the new batman movie (which was worth watching for those of you who haven’t seen it yet) while they served us lunch. Helen was disgusted that they served lunch at 11:30am. I was hungry and didn’t care.  Just before we landed they served afternoon tea of sandwiches and scones. Very good scones actually (for all those that saw and commented on Helen’s Facebook status yesterday!).

You can get snacks during the flight as well. They have chips and chocolates and other healthy options like fruit and yogurt. But after seeing Paul walking back and forward with a fistful of chocolates I thought I better get some before they were all gone. I basically got the last ones for Helen and I to share. I reckon Paul ate all the rest.

We landed about 45 minutes early. Coming in to land you can see the azure blue sea around the island. It was quite beautiful and I kick myself for not taking any photos. The airport is a relatively small and was pretty deserted except for our flight. It must be smaller than Cape Town airport even. Passport control was straightforward, luggage came off about 10th and we found our transfer to the hotel. We were with all the other actuarial people on the plane. 7 South African’s on the plane. The ride to the hotel was only about 10 minutes.

We are staying at the Sheraton Nassau (www.sheraton.com/NassauBeach). It is a massive hotel. We have an ocean facing room (also overlooks the pool). The photo is from our room balcony. It is about 75 degrees F (not sure what that is in degrees C right now – mid twenties I would guess). It is quite humid though so it feels hotter even though there is a quite a strong breeze blowing. After we did the essential and got the internet working, we went for a walk on the beach and tried out the various pool options.

We met Paul & Tina and Cisca (Actuarial Society of SA employee) for dinner at 6pm. We all decided to eat in the hotel as we were all quite tired. We just went to the Italian restaurant in the hotel. Everything is quite pricey here. Helen and I bought 2 cooldrinks and a packet of crisps and paid $14 for that (i.e. R100). Dinner cost us over $50 for very simple options – 1 course only and I had a local beer (quite nice). I can already see that this is an expensive place to eat and drink.

It is now 8pm and Helen is already asleep. I am fighting the tiredness and trying to keep going to at least 9:30pm. Anything earlier and I know I will be awake in the early hours of the morning and I want to avoid that. Fortunately tomorrow am is free as my first meeting is at 2pm tomorrow. My first impressions of Nassau:
1. It is a mix of America & British cultures
2. The houses look American
3. You have to listen very carefully when the locals speak (I sometimes wonder if they are even speaking English)
4. It can get very hot & humid here
5. There isn’t much to see except the beach
6. It’s going to be expensive

Until tomorrow …