Travelmag Banner

Bahama comedy on an island bus

The distance from downtown Nassau to Love Beach, the small sandy strip of paradise I called home for a few weeks, is about 15 miles, but a lot can happen on a 30-minute bus ride in the Bahamas, on a 32-seat van posing as public transit.

It was just another Monday evening in the tropics, as I waited across from the British Colonial Hilton in Nassau to catch the #12 Western Transportation bus. Unlike several smaller buses that shuttle tourists and locals to the resorts in and around Cable Beach, the Western caters largely to Bahamians commuting to and from the farther reaches and residential areas of the island, including Gambier, Compass Point, Love Beach and Lyford Cay. 

The Bahamian bus times – like many things in the islands – are more of a guideline than a schedule. Though I arrived at 4:55 p.m. to catch the bus slated to leave Nassau at 5:00, I had missed the connection. If the bus is full, then it just leaves early – a note of caution for anyone actually depending on Bahamian transport.

I strolled up to Arawak Cay, home of the “Fish Fry,” a colorful strip of Bahamian restaurants serving up the catch of the day and local specialties, and waited 1.5 hours for the next Western bus.

A few minutes after 7:00 p.m., I boarded the rambling white bus with about 25 lively Bahamians, young and old, heading home after a long day in Nassau.  It was worth the wait.

We wound along West Bay Street, past seaside restaurants, the Wyndam Nassau Resort and Crystal Palace Casino at Cable Beach, and made an unscheduled stop at the City Markets grocery store – a passenger needed to pick up dinner to go. “It’ll just be a minute Mam,” Swain, the 50-something Bahamian bus driver said to me casually, presuming that I was the only passenger who might require an explanation.

“If Joe’s getting dinner, I’m gonna make a phone call,” a young Rastafarian quipped as he leapt off the bus and ran to a pay phone. The bus waited quietly on the curb, without so much as an impatient sigh, until Joe returned with his take-out fish dinner, and the local reggae star completed his phone call.

From Cable Beach we continued west along the Atlantic shore through the bright calypso neighborhoods of Sandyport and Orange Hill, as Swain pointed out the sparkling ocean sunset. “Swain is the only bus driver in all of the Bahamas who doesn’t speed,” one of his regular passengers noted, slightly annoyed by our leisurely pace. “And he doesn’t play any music!” another exclaimed. “Swain thinks we like to listen to the sound of the engine purring.” Travelling with Swain was its own meditation – a few moments of Bahama Zen – no speeding, no blaring tunes, no worries.

We detoured off the highway into the dimly lit hills of Gambier. “It’ll just be a minute, Mam,” Swain assured me with a gentle smile, as he dropped three people off at their front doors, well off the bus’s main route. We toured through the back streets of this tiny village to a small, thatched roof restaurant and grimy open-air pool hall. Apparently, a passenger needed to pick up a brown-paper package; and a malt for the elderly woman on the bus.

“It’ll just be a minute, Mam,” Swain repeated. Five minutes later, we continued round the dusty streets at a tortoise pace for one more stop at the Last Man Standing roadside pub. I was sure Swain was going to order a cold one, but he refrained and merely grinned as he said: “It’ll just be a minute, Mam.” And we all waited, with barely a word, as the woman catching the bus searched for her husband and the required fare.

As we pulled away from the Last Man Standing to return to the main highway and the actual bus route, the young guy who had left the bus earlier to make a phone call sighed heavily: “The Good Lord said there’d be days like this.” The entire vehicle rolled with laughter, including Swain, our good-natured driver, who had turned Bahamian transit into a series of random acts of kindness.

Now, only 10 minutes from my beachfront condo, I was caught between disappointment and relief as this unpredictable road trip with new found friends was coming to an end. This island cast of characters had transformed what might have been an anonymous bus ride into a night at the theatre. 

“Bus stop, please,” I called out, to alert Swain that my destination was approaching. Officially marked bus stops are rare in New Providence, and there are no buzzers or bells to ring when you want to alight. The usual procedure is simply to yell “Bus stop!” and the driver then pulls over abruptly at the side of the road, with surprisingly few injuries to passengers or other vehicles.

“Here you are, Mam, Love Beach,” Swain said as he gently swung onto the gravel shoulder near the sign that aptly read “Freedom,” in front of a white pillared estate. I handed him a $5-Bahamian bill to cover the $2 fare. “You’ll have to take your change in candy,” he said, without any hint that he was kidding. And with that, this charming bus captain handed me two one-dollar bills, a pack of Big Red Gum and five single wrap mints. Total change $2.75. Close enough… and a fitting end to a journey through New Providence that, in less than an hour, had captured the entire spirit of the island.

   [Top of Page]  
 Latest Headlines