SOMEWHERE OVER THE ATLANTIC- As the flight nears our destination in the Bahamas, my son Noah looks out from under his shaggy mop of hair and asks, “How will we know what stop to get off?”
That’s just one of many questions this very curious 5-year-old first-time flyer has:
“Will the pilot announce every country?”
“If I open the window, will I fall out?”
“When we’re flying in the clouds, will we see people who died?”
“Why can’t I meet the pilot like you did when you were my age?”
Too bad that 9/11 ended the ‘visiting the pilot experience,’ and that my grandfather won’t be waving to us from his cloud as we fly by. I tell Noah “airplanes aren’t like buses or trains with different stops. Everyone on this plane is going to the Bahamas.”
He doesn’t believe me.
We get to Nassau way past Noah’s bedtime, but I promised him we’d visit the ocean before he goes to sleep, so I grab his hand and we run towards the mysterious black water.
Noah squeals with delight as he feels the cool, wet tingle on his toes and stomps with all his might into “the biggest puddle ever.” My “River” has met the ocean and it’s love at first sight.
The next morning, a pillow whizzes past my head — my wake up call — and Noah is in his bathing suit begging, “Hurry up, the ocean is waiting.”
We slip our pale Canadian feet into sandals and hit the beach. We build lopsided sandcastles on Cable Beach, play barefoot soccer on Cabbage Beach and enjoy a scrumptious picnic on Sandyport Beach with local kids.
One thing all Nassau beaches have in common is utter beauty. Each shore is just as striking as the next. The powerful water twirls around dozens of shades of blues and greens into aqua tranquility. Colours overlap each other, creating a magical and breathtaking pallet.
In the bright warm sun, Noah stares in awe at the clear watery abyss and long stretches of pure white sand.
Left: Noah looks out on his ocean.
“How did they get the sand so soft and white?” he asks. “At home, it’s brown and rough. My feet are so happy. I think we should live here forever.”
In the months leading up to our Nassau visit, Noah and I discuss our mission — collecting sea shells on the beach. (Snorkeling was also part of the plan, but one of us was too scared to put our head under water).
I explain to Noah our rule of shell collecting: “If a creature is occupying the shell, we throw it back in the ocean and set it free. We only keep shells left behind.”
The Bahamas has hundreds of shell species. The large pink queen conch (pronounced ‘konk’) shell is one of the most popular. It’s a common meal in the Bahamas and the shells are made into jewellery that’s popular with tourists and locals.
Unfortunately, the conch is at risk — the population is drastically shrinking because of over-fishing. So Noah and I are extra careful.
“Hellooooo! Anybody home?” Noah eagerly speaks to a tiny broken white shell to search for signs of life. He peeks inside, confirms it’s empty, then tosses it into his bucket. He finds plenty of shells for his collection: a sand-dollar, a sea biscuit and a stunning pink sunrise tellin shell.
Most days, I’m content to lazily sip Bahama Mamas on the beach, but there’s always someone trying to attract our attention. “Banana boat rides! Motorboat rides! Good deals over here!” shout vendors as Noah and I walk the shoreline near our hotel.
We aren’t the most adventurous pair, but there’s so much to do: powerboat adventures, catamaran cruises, snorkeling, scuba diving, water skiing, glass bottom boats and visits to many different islands and beaches.
Noah insists we go paddle boating. I think to myself, how hard can it be? I’ve been paddle boating a few times on the pond at Toronto’s Centre Island. But I soon learn that a windy day on a wavy ocean with a co-captain whose feet don’t reach the pedals doesn’t make for an easy boat expeience.
“Faster mommy — faster!” Noah shouts in happy hysterics as I desperately and unsuccessfully try to paddle against wind and waves. I’m sweating. My legs hurt. Mother Nature wins — I give up. Time for another Bahama Mama.
The next day we meet a turtle. Noah jumps for joy. “It’s Franklin!”
Unlike the popular TV character, this turtle isn’t wearing a red baseball cap. But I do think he is smiling a toothless turtle grin. Maybe that’s because “Franklin” lives in a protected Bahamian mangrove, which provides shelter for these gentle creatures.
There are many protected areas of the Bahamas and about half of them contain mangroves. This large area of shallow water resembles a swamp and protects the sea turtles as well as the trees and other marine life from harm. Noah tosses Franklin bite-sized pieces of bread and soon we’re surrounded by dozens of turtles and ducks all vying for Noah’s lunch.
Noah and I are proud to share our lunch with Franklin, but that means that we have to go find some food for ourselves. I’m impressed with the upscale restaurants, luxury resorts and casinos that line many of Nassau’s beaches.
If you want to splurge, dine at Dune at The One and Only Ocean Club, where the patios overlook turquoise waters. It’s the nicest, most glamorous spot we visited. Noah feels extra-special when the chef comes out to ensure she has properly prepared his special vegan meal — pasta and fresh vegetables.
We leave Nassau with a bucket full of shells and memories. And the only way I can persuade my travelling buddy to get on the plane home is to promise we’ll return one day.
My “River” must once again travel to the ocean.