Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In Search of Atlantis

We went to sleep at sea with the gentle rocking of the ship and we woke up in Nassau. I’m used to going through a couple of states in a single day of driving, falling asleep in Florida and waking up in Mississippi, but it boggled my mind to go to another country on a ship in less than half a day. What’s more, I’m sure the Carnival Sensation wasn’t breaking any speed records to get us there, unlike Char who pops in the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean and thinks she’s in a Fast and Furious movie.

Nassau’s port was a little different than Freeport’s, looking less like Alabama, and we had been berthed between two other cruise ships that seemed to have better top deck activities. The girls scribbled the names of the other ships down on one of my many notepads. “We’ll look them up when we get home,” Teri said.

We were staying in Nassau for twenty four hours, so we were in no real hurry to get going because I wasn’t fretting about missing the boat this time. I knew that no matter what we were doing during the day, at night we would be sleeping snugly in our stateroom, snores bouncing off the walls. Besides, the rain had followed us and it was a constant shower outside. We had no real desire to get wet, so we slept in until nine and had a late breakfast at the aft of the ship where we could see the lay of the land and people watch as passengers came and went. In the distance, a giant bridge joined Nassau with Paradise Island and off to the left The Atlantis Resort towered above everything else. Nassau itself looked – dirty.

We could see the Straw Market and some stores and restaurants on the other side of the pale port building, but their looks didn’t instill in me a craving to rush out and explore. The ship felt cozy and my coffee was hot, so we sat and watched sea gulls dive in and snatch leftovers from abandoned plates.

We had taken such a laid back approach to our morning that by the time we were fed, showered and dressed, we decided to have lunch before setting out. It was fine with me because my appetite balked at the thought of eating off of the ship, not because of pinching pennies, but because of a trip I had been on to Haiti fifteen years prior to this cruise. I had taken a mission trip to Haiti at Christmastime to give gift packages to the students of three schools. At the time, we had taken our own food with us because, according to the missionary, eating the food in Haiti would have made us deathly ill. Americans have weak stomachs due to all the processes and preservatives our edibles go through, which is why I say let your kids eat dirt. It could save their lives one day.

I hadn’t read anything about Nassau before we had left on the cruise or heard any dangers about their food. I was probably drastically over-worrying the situation, but I wasn’t known for taking chances. So, we stayed on the Sensation and ate a solid lunch before heading out, full and ready to explore - finally.

The only thing Sarah really wanted to see in Nassau was The Atlantis Resort. She had said it over and over and over again. I had heard about the resort from friends, how it was this monstrosity of a wealthy man’s wonderland and actors, sports figures and other famous people stayed there while visiting their money hidden in off-shore accounts. I admit I wanted to see it as well, but not as bad as Sarah. No one wanted to see it as bad as Sarah. Still, we were making Atlantis our first stop on our tourist adventure, so that we wouldn’t miss it, and have to listen to her pout on the way back.

Making our way down to the forward section of Deck Three, we flashed our Sail & Sign cards as well as our non-enhanced driver’s license for the second time on the cruise and crossed the gangway into sunny Nassau. However, it wasn’t sunny at all. Rain drizzled down on us, sometimes surprising us with two minute downpours that were just enough to soak us. It was just like home.

At the bottom of the gangway, there were three cruise members dressed up in bright exotic garb to give you that overseas feeling. They were the brightest things in Nassau and they had been imported! Of course, they also had cameras set up so you could get your picture taken and, once again, purchase later for an exorbitant fee. We bypassed the cast of characters and ducked under a wooden pavilion to stay out of the rain, which was already a waste of time since we were drenched.

“This will make our pictures look great,” Teri muttered as we avoided more photo ops.

The shops at Freeport were right beside the ship. However, in Nassau it was a little bit different. After we made it through the rain, darting from one pavilion to the next and ignoring the man who desperately wanted to take us on a tour of the island’s historical landmarks for twenty-five bucks a person, we had to pass through what they called their port terminal. It was a long pale yellow building equipped with everything a tourist might need including a post office and Wi-Fi.

Upon entering the building, a bored looking lady yawned at us. “You want ferry tickets to Atlantis Resort?”

I had no clue if we wanted ferry tickets or not to be honest. I had seen where Atlantis was located in regards to where we were docked, but I had no clue as to what was the best way to get there. Or the safest. “How much?” I barely heard the “Three dollars round trip” answer as I panicked in my head about making the wrong decision. I admit I didn’t plan well for our little private excursions. Finally, I coughed up the twelve dollars and took my small orange tickets. At least this route was going in the right direction, I rationalized. At least, I hoped.

Once our tickets were safely tucked away, we weaved our way through the rest of the building, which was set up with dozens of kiosks that were built to resemble tiny cottages. It was a small prelude of things to come with unique gift shops and food vendors pushing fried conch fritters in a noisy craft show environment. The place smelled of mold and greasy food and made me glad I had eaten on the ship.

Suddenly, I wished I had also used the bathroom on the ship and our first pit stop was forced upon us. I hate public bathrooms; hate them to the point of holding myself close to embarrassment before surrendering to a whiny bladder. And as far as relieving my bowels in a public facility, there’s no way in Hell that will ever happen. However, seeing as how I only had to pee, the girls were not going to allow a return visit to the ship when there was a perfectly good restroom right there. By perfectly good, I mean of course, that there was a hole for me to piss in. I had seen cleaner restrooms at truck stops. There was the normal graffiti with a few new phrases such as “For a good time, go home.” The beige tile floor was really a cement mud and I was afraid to even touch the sanitary towels. It was the quickest restroom break I had ever taken, but the girls think it’s because my phone was in Airplane Mode and I couldn’t check Facebook.

As we left the mini terminal flea market and went out into the overcast Tuesday afternoon, we searched out small signs that said “Ferry This Way” on them done in crayon by I can only assume a five-year old. A chain link fence separated the parking lot from the dock and right beside it you could rent scooters for two. Watching the people who were taking off and returning on these over-sized Mopeds, it seemed like a great way to kill yourself on the island. Not the excursion I wanted, but to each their own.

The scooters were painted in bright reds and blues, probably so that those native to Nassau knew to get the hell out of the way. I could tell that most of the people who were renting these bikes had never been on a two-wheel vehicle before by the way they were wobbling with their legs stretched out to act as emergency kickstands.

The scooters were also a sign of how soft we American tourists are because they had air conditioning. I’m not sure who thought of it, but it made no sense to me. It’s like a giant fan blowing on you while the sun is beating down on your head. What’s the point? If you want to cool off, just drive faster.

We finally followed the arrows to a portly black man with a heavy accent who took half our tickets and ushered us onto a ferry that seemed eighty years old. A second man, ganglier in appearance, was mopping up the seats as the sunshine had turned liquid once again. Half of the boat was covered with a wooden roof, so the four of us ducked inside and discovered that the boat smelled as old as it looked. The bathroom I had been forced to use was cleaner. Mildew, gasoline, grease, I worried if it actually floated and began to have concerns of human trafficking. We were going to be kidnapped and sold back in the States as sex slaves in some underground prostitution ring, I just knew it. I had watched Law & Order and Criminal Minds. I knew how this stuff worked.

The boat finally filled up with passengers and we set sail. I tried to ignore the fact that the ferry sounded worse than one of my vehicles and focused on the other dock we were heading to, whispering in my head, “I think it can, I think it can.”

“Welcome everybody to this ferry boat ride. I hope you have enjoyed your stay in Nassau. I am your tour guide for this ferry boat ride and will point out all the interesting things for you.” He was a young kid, probably twenty-five and the portly black man we had given our tickets to was our captain. As we were ferried through the dark water to Paradise Island, our tour guide pointed out all of the historic landmarks like the water tower, Nicolas Cage’s house and the prop from a James Bond movie. Suddenly, I felt like I was on a back lot tour at Universal Studios. At the end of the ride, the young man spent four minutes telling us he didn’t get paid and begging for tips from the generous Americans he had heard so much about. I gave him three dollars and told him I was an immigrant.

“Please good folks, watch your head as you leave the ferry and if you can’t watch your head, then please watch your language.”

We hopped off the ferry and did our best to avoid the bridge merchants. These islands had gift shops everywhere! There were four booths set up with souvenirs that could only be purchased everywhere else, a food vendor and a lady selling alcoholic beverages. It was truly an ideal location if you think about it. They were the first and last merchants people saw on Paradise Island. I started thinking of all the possibilities back home.

In Melbourne, restaurants along the river had added docks to their property, so that boaters could tie up and come inside for a nice meal and then return to their water activities. However, if a snack hut were set up under a bridge, boaters could idle up, grab some grub, and never have to leave their boat. It was perfect for those spontaneous types that failed to plan properly. You could even have floating platforms in the middle of the river where jet skiers could coast up for a hot dog and beer, maybe a pack of gum, and then sail on their soggy way, a virtual 7-Eleven at sea.

I should be writing these ideas down!

Knowing that we would see the gift tables on the way back, we set off in search of Atlantis. We knew the resort’s general vicinity because it was the Empire State Building of Nassau. Friends of mine had told me that when cruise ships sailed into the island, you could see the resort well before you ever saw land, and I believed them. The truth is the place just doesn’t belong there; it doesn’t fit. It reminded me of a house near where my parents live. Their small area of Alabama is mostly mobile homes and small wooden cottages and then one day someone built a mansion right in the middle of Mayberry RFD. It would have been beautiful except for its surroundings, which only made it look ridiculous. You know what they say; location is everything. The Atlantis was just like that.

Still, having a general idea is not an exact location and we still didn’t know how to get to the lap of luxury. However, I figured that everyone on the ferry was also on their way to see the resort, so I fell in behind one crowd and just followed.

“Do you know where we’re going?” The girls asked as if they knew me.

“That way,” I said with confidence. And that way led us to a series of specialty shops right in front of the Atlantis. We had found what we had come looking for.

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