Bahamas

IMG_0838

It doesn’t take much to convince me to leave home and go on an adventure, especially if that adventure won’t cost me a thing.  So when my neighbors asked me if I would be interested in going on a business trip to Freeport in the Bahamas as a nanny for their family friend, I immediately responded with a resounding “YES.”  Did I know the family I would be nannying for? No.  Did I care that I would be missing some high school graduation parties? Hell no.  The only thing that incessantly reverberated in my mind was that I would be going to the Bahamas from June 24th to the 29th and I wouldn’t have to spend a dime.

Prior to leaving for the trip, I checked out the weather forecast so I would know if I should bring my shorts or my short shorts.  Turns out I would need an umbrella.  True to weather.com’s predictions, most of my days in the Bahamas were hot and humid with little to no sun and crazy rainstorms in the evenings and overnight.  This really put a damper – no pun intended – on the week.  My visions of sitting poolside sipping a strawberry daiquiri during the day and taking the children on beach walks at night were replaced with the harsh reality of days of endless window shopping and nights of comforting crying children, watching the Disney Channel, and playing freeze dance.  Lucky for me, I only had to watch the kids for three nights, so it wasn’t really my problem if they were bored during the day, right?

We stayed at the Grand Lucayan, a resort that is part of the Radisson chain.  I had been to the Bahamas once before on a family vacation to the Atlantis in Nassau, and as the week progressed I began to focus on how this hotel and city was nothing like Atlantis.  The Atlantis is filled with beautiful beaches, insane water slides, gorgeous décor, and delicious food. Freeport, on the other hand, reminded me of something out of the Twilight Zone.  Much of the resort was eerily deserted, and restaurants were only open for certain hours on certain days, probably because it would be too expensive to open all the restaurants for only a handful of vacationers.  The service was terrible in every restaurant we went to, but I’ll give the waiters and waitresses a break because they’re probably just not used to actually having to serve people.  The resort most likely once boasted three or four large swimming pools in its prime, but during our trip there was only one pool that I would even consider going in, as the water in the others looked cloudy and dirty.  My pseudo-family constantly apologized for the company’s decision to bring the business trip to Freeport and to that resort in particular, but honestly, I’m not complaining. My room had a great view and I had fun on the trip anyway.

I arrived in Freeport a day and a half before my pseudo-family did, so for dinner the first night I met up with my neighbors and their kids and parents for dinner at a restaurant on the resort called Iries.  I ate at this restaurant two more times, not because the food was exceptional, but because this seemed to be the one restaurant that was always open.  The food was hit or miss in terms of quality.  That first night I ate there was the most Bahamian cultural experience I could have on this trip.  To start dinner off, we ordered mussels, fried conch with a tangy sauce, and an artichoke dip with fried plantain chips.  Conch is a specialty of the Bahamas and is the seafood that comes out of those pretty, twisty shells that everyone loves to pretend they can hear the ocean in.  Conch meat has a mild flavor and a unique, mushy texture.  Once I got over the fact that I was eating a snail, I downed the whole plate.  For dinner, I ordered a pan-fried snapper.  To my surprise, I was served an entire fried fish, including the head, fins, and tail.  The two little girls in my neighbor’s family were shocked and disgusted when I had to pick around the bones of the fish in order to eat my dinner, but it didn’t bother me too much.  I was told by our waitress to dip the fish in a hot, peppery sauce.  Between the conch and the snapper, I think I fully understood the spicy flavor of the Caribbean.  The other meals I had were extremely Americanized and full of burgers and fries, nasty room service pizza, and horrendous American Chinese food.  Finding food for the kids to eat was a nightmare.  Most nights they would order plain buttered pasta or a pizza and only eat a few bites.  When we went to the “Chinese” restaurant on the resort, the oldest child I was watching, a nine year-old girl, ordered only white rice.  The three kids I watched are extremely picky eaters, so mix that attribute with traditional island foods and constant restlessness, and you have a recipe for mealtime disasters.

Our resort was located in a suburb of Freeport called Lucaya, which seemed to consist only of our resort and a shopping plaza across the street.  This was filled with legitimate stores selling high-end products like Pandora bracelets and of course your classic duty-free perfume stores as well as with a kind of sketchy “straw market.”  The straw market consisted of three rows of little shacks where locals would go and sell whatever cheap touristy souvenirs they made.  As this was pretty much the only thing to do all day when the weather was crappy, we went to the market every day.  Let me just say that kids are really hard to bring to a market.  Luckily, I wasn’t bringing them there by myself.  The mother of my pseudo-family and my neighbor and her parents were all there with me with my pseudo-family’s three kids and my neighbor’s two kids.  The kids have one of two reactions to the people selling goods in the market.  They’re either way too comfortable with walking in to someone’s section by himself or herself or they’re way too afraid and won’t even walk in with you.  The oldest child I was watching would run around from section to section, chatting up all the vendors and disappearing in to the backs of the sections to look at straw purses.  The youngest child I was watching, a four year-old girl, would hardly look at the vendors.  Straw markets cause a lot of problems with kids for two main reasons.  First, the kids always see a million and a half things that they want, but every item is the same as the one before it.  They don’t understand this though, and must cry about not getting every item that they want.  Second, when it’s hot and humid and you’re under the age of ten, all you really want to do is drink some water and go in the pool.  This is where I came in to play, being the escort back and forth from the straw market to the drugstore to purchase countless bottles of water with the kids.

My second day in the Bahamas was one in which my neighbors and I decided to venture from the confines of the not-so-Grand Lucayan and hire a guy to drive us to some caves to do very minor exploring.  Off-resort adventures are something I recommend to anyone on a vacation, but not if you’re traveling with two children under the age of seven.  The amount of walking that is involved isn’t conducive to a child’s desire to play on a beach or in the pool.  The amount of adventure involved in such activities is also hard to judge when traveling with children.  We had heard that the caves were ones in which you just walked into a room-like opening, looked around in it, and then left.  We weren’t prepared for the hundreds of live bats that we would see on the roof of the cave, nor were we prepared for the story of two perfectly preserved island native bodies found in another cave.   Needless to say, while this journey away from the safety of the resort would have been fun and interesting for the adults, it was not fun and interesting when you have two children clinging to you and asking endless questions about the dangers of the cave.

I wasn’t planning on getting paid for watching the family’s kids, mostly because I thought they were paying for me to go on an international trip.  They had told me to book a massage for that first day I was there without them, so I assumed this would be my only retribution from them for ripping me away from my uber-exciting office day job and whisking me away to an island paradise for almost a week.  Wrong.  I was completely and utterly wrong.  The family paid me, and they paid me well.  So well that I don’t know what to do with what they gave me and I’m going to try to get them to take some of it back (though let’s be real, as a poor college student, I probably won’t push for that too hard).  My case is unordinary, so if you’re given the opportunity to babysit for a family on vacation don’t expect too much.  It turns out that my pseudo-family is co-owners with my neighbors’ family and another family of this business, and their company paid for everything on the all-inclusive trip for all the employees who went.  Going into the trip not expecting to receive anything for your time and help (because HELLO, this family brought you on vacation) and then getting paid is such an exciting surprise.  And even if you don’t get paid, at least your expectations were met and you got to go on a vacation for free!

Leaving the Bahamas and my pseudo-family was hard.  The kids loved me, and as we were walking off the plane in Rochester, NY, the oldest daughter asked me when I was babysitting them again.  I told her I would make room in my schedule for the business trip for next year, just in case.

_____________________

Jordan Mandell // Woof MagazineJordan is a health sciences student in the pre-med program from Rochester, NY.  She is proud to say that her work has only been featured in Woof Magazine, because she’s super exclusive like that.  When she isn’t dousing herself in glitter with the hopes of becoming Ke$ha, Jordan enjoys long plane rides, embarrassing herself in Zumba class, baking sinfully delicious cupcakes and spending money that she doesn’t have on Newbury Street.