the islands of the bahamas
Stepping off the ferry that docks every morning at this quaint and hidden getaway, a hand-painted sign greets the few who enter: “The last stop before you get to heaven is Harbour Island.”
The locals treat their tiny island paradise in the Bahamas as a national treasure, tucked away from the glitz and glamour of major resorts and casinos that dominate the bigger tourist centres.
But here, where the pace is slow and everybody knows your name, the rich and famous have taken notice, setting up their own hotels and staging secret parties away from the paparazzi.
Most tourists rent golf carts to navigate the narrow streets that stretch from shore to shore, zipping past wild chickens that roam freely between brightly-coloured houses.
Under sunny skies and scattered palms, our group stops first on a day trip from Nassau for a quick coffee at Arthur’s Bakery — quickly learning residents here have a knack for conversation and bellow “Hello!” to complete strangers.
It’s the kind of place that’s still immune to the troubles of the world. The coffee and pastries are like most cafés, but there isn’t a single copy of a newspaper while Internet connections are few and far between. The power grid is even unreliable, plunging the village of 2,000 people into darkness on a frequent basis.
sarah gaudette/metro edmonton
But no one seems to mind — or even complain — unless it stops the music at the Vic-Hum Club, the island’s main bar. Entering through its neon yellow exterior, I’m handed its claim to fame: the world’s largest coconut. Measuring 79 centimetres in circumference, the giant nut has been on display at the popular social hangout for more than 30 years.
Club owner Humphrey Percentie Jr. beams a smile while telling us that hockey legend Mark Messier, who bought a hotel on the island a few years ago, sometimes stops by. He spins the coconut in his palm, pointing to a table named after Tyra Banks, a regular customer, near the club’s open-air dance floor — which plays double-duty as a basketball court during the daytime.
sarah gaudette/metro edmonton
A quick two-minute ride on our golf cart, we zoom past the Pink Sands Resort, an 18-acre paradise hotel dotting the shoreline with quaint villa-style huts. At the resort’s beachfront bar, photographers from Victoria’s Secret share a drink with several models during a break from their private photo shoot. A few weeks earlier, celebrities descended on the resort for Susan Sarandon’s birthday party.
It seems everyone has recently taken notice of Harbour Island, falling in love with its untouched stretches of glorious pink sand beaches and small town hospitality.
The main street still has its charm, complete with Mom and Pop diners that serve delicious home-cooked meals, but down the street a brand-new condominium and resort complex looms, drawing the attention of international investors.
While the locals welcome the foreign investment with open arms, they wax philosophical about the change that’s arrived so suddenly on their doorstep. They’re glad for the tourism boom, but a hint of grief escapes their lips for the inevitable change that will no doubt emerge hand-in-hand in a few brief seasons.