The Bahamas: Revving up in the Caribbean

By Gareth Morgan

Economist, philanthropist and traveller Gareth Morgan is on the move, journeying by motorbike along the back roads of North America. The Weekend Herald will update his adventures weekly.

The Rock Sound Club on Eleuthera Island, now being restored, attracted the world's glitterati in an earlier life. Photo / Gareth Morgan
The Rock Sound Club on Eleuthera Island, now being restored, attracted the world's glitterati in an earlier life. Photo / Gareth Morgan

First impression arriving at Los Angeles is efficiency. Sure, there's all the rigmarole with fingerprints and photos and looking in your shoes in case your sandals conceal weapons of mass destruction, but that's understandable given the mantra that America is at war, if not with the world then certainly with the terrorists.

And the US just doesn't like anyone who isn't also at war with terrorists. The greatest nation is a little short of mates right now.

And that isolation is first encountered at the border. Cutting through padlocks on your luggage to check the innards is de rigueur.

But back to the efficiency. The bags come through at a speed that confirms Auckland Airport is in a former century, the immigration's pretty slick given they have to do God's work when vetting aliens, and the check-in and processing on to a domestic airline couldn't have been faster.

But we were soon out of the US again and into the Bahamas. Back to the Third World.

Reminiscent of the airport at Apia, Samoa, Nassau is a study in confusion. Overrun with US tourists, much as the Croatian coast is with Germans, the locals struggle to keep their cool while serving the tourist dollar that feeds them.

Nassau itself is overrun with Americans expecting the homeland to be replicated on these islands off the Florida coast. The locals are black, the descendants of slaves from the Carolinas of America, who of course themselves were from West Africa - the Lucayan Indians having been burnt off long ago.

Our visit to the islands was disastrous in one way, magical in another. It was Easter and all flights to the outer islands were full. Not having booked anything, a basic tenet of our travel, we immediately found ourselves stranded in the terminal. Nassau was booked out by Americans and the outer islands were full with locals returning from the sweatshop of Nassau for Homecoming.

Rather than looking forward to time on San Salvador where Columbus first sighted the New World, and on Bimini Island where the Chinese treasure fleet beat him to America 70 years earlier, we had in prospect a few nights on the sidewalk.

But something always turns up, and this time was no exception. Trying to organise a charter to Eleuthera Island, on the Atlantic fringe of the Bahamas, was one Robert Chappell, unbeknown to us a character of some notoriety in the US. My wife Joanne accepted his offer to share the charter - anywhere for Easter was better than the sparse interior of Nassau airport terminal. Robert promised accommodation and away we soared.

Author of the best-selling Secrets of Offshore Tax Havens (Amazon rated), Robert was to be a source of fascinating talk over the next few days. His home is the dilapidated Rock ('n' Roll) Sound Club, which he is restoring.

Built in the late 1920s by Arthur Vining Davis, CEO of Alcoa when he was fourth richest man in the world, then owned by Juan Trippe, head of Pan Am, the club has a fascinating history. Those who have used its pool and bar facilities include Howard Hughes, Ernest Hemingway, British royalty and other 20th-century glitterati.

So who were we to complain, especially given the alternative. Pity about the sludge and mosquitoes in the dank water on the floor of the pool, but the club is set to come alive again as Robert completes his restorations.

Jimmy Buffet, Elle Macpherson and other headliners have homes on Eleuthera, so if we couldn't get to the Columbus memorials, we aimed to be rubbing shoulders with these locals.

Doing a Google on Robert, we found he has had an interesting time with the US tax authorities, but his hospitality and the discussions late into the night on the vagaries of tax laws around the world was fascinating.

His perspective on New Zealand's new selective gains tax on offshore investment was pretty direct: "Won't there just be capital flight out of the country and beyond the grasp of your IRS?". I couldn't possibly comment!

Eleuthera is a long, thin streak of an island that shelters the Caribbean from the storms of the Atlantic. When I say thin I mean it. You can stand on the road and throw a stone into the Atlantic and turn around and throw the next into the Caribbean.

The contrast between the two oceans is dramatic, deep blue and untamed on one side, azure with coral reefs and lagoons on the other. No wonder Henry Morgan and Francis Drake hung about here to practise their plunder on passing cargo ships.

So back to the mainland now to find our motorcycles.

* The latest travel blogs and photos from the Backblocks America road-trip are on World By Bike.

- NZ Herald

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