By Nikia Wells
Photographs courtesy of Nikia Wells and Carmel Churchill
Exploring western Grand Bahama one bite at a time.
For many, Grand Bahama is a peaceful island oasis that starts and stops with the charming boutique hotels, polished restaurants and traditional tourist activities that are readily offered in the Lucaya area. But heading west, down the length of Queen’s Highway and past the Freeport city center, is Eight Mile Rock, one of the island’s oldest communities.
Growing up in “The Rocks” meant starting the day with a cup of tea and homemade “panny cakes” before spending a carefree afternoon playing barefoot in the yard with friends and climbing (and falling out of) the tallest trees in a misguided bid to reach the sweetest mangoes, sugar apples and scarlet plums. Sometimes there would be the quick errand or two—perhaps a trip into Sea Grape for a loaf of bread, fresh and still warm from the oven, or a dash into Pine Dale to grab lunch from a neighbor who sold full meals out of her kitchen. Along the way, familiar faces would wave and ask about the family and catch up about school or life in general.
Times have changed in this settlement, but its warmth and hospitality are still fully intact. Residents still know each other by name. Children still play outside, shooting marbles and tossing basketballs through makeshift hoops. And food still holds an important role in uniting the area while also providing a gateway into the community. For a truly immersive western Grand Bahama experience, it is recommended that travellers come with an open mind, an empty stomach and a willingness to sip, snack and taste their way from Bartlett Hill all the way down to West End.
The “main road” that travels through the Eight Mile Rock community is lined with residential homes and an unfiltered look at traditional island living. There are also several small hole-in-the-wall restaurants that have been serving up Bahamian food for years. Favorites like N&A & Lucky’s are well known for their juicy “chicken in the bag” (fried chicken and French fries covered in ketchup and hot sauce, and then served in aluminum foil and a brown paper bag), while Praise The Lord has been dishing up hearty plates of chicken, peas and rice, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw and more for decades. It is also not uncommon to see school children walking along the road with small bags filled with hard salami doused in hot sauce, simply called “salty”, and other local treats. Many residents are often more than happy to point out food spots that cannot be found in any guide or map,
Taking a detour onto the “sea road” leads to the sweet seagrape-dotted oceanfront of Lover’s Beach. Heading just past the 1800s-built St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, and the Boiling Hole, which is rumored to have mermaids and other mythical beings swimming just below its surface, is the colorful wooden deck of the appropriately named Flip Flops Restaurant. This oceanside spot is perfect for a late afternoon meal or the start of a long evening. While enjoying the cool crispness of the ocean spray mist, an ice-cold gully wash (made with fresh coconut water, sweet condensed milk and a generous dose of gin) or a heaping plate of creamy grits loaded with flavor-packed conch, ham and salt beef, be sure to chat with those around you. The owner, like most of the men and women manning the grills and bars in the area, lives just a few minutes away. The storefronts aren’t simply a means to make money for them—they are an extension of their community and culture. They take immense pride in their food because it is a part of who they are, and if visitors have a moment, they will usually gladly share a bit more about life in “the west”.
As the sun sinks into the calm turquoise ocean, the vibrant cluster of stalls known as Sunset Village begins to open. Every Thursday to Sunday, the area bustles with energy as the sweet aromas of fire-grilled seafood and herb-filled pots waft through the air. The quiet seaside town comes alive with the sounds of Bahamian rake-n-scrape music, and people from around the island come together for a good time.
As the gully wash transitions to a round of ice-cold Sands beer, the conversation undoubtedly begins flowing freely. Strangers often become friends in the span of a single evening, and the night can quickly slip away. But, before turning in, it is highly recommended to head a bit farther, past the charming homes and neatly manicured yards of Holmes Rock, and into West End. As the name suggests, it is the most western tip of the island, and in the daytime its oceanfront is dotted with fishing boats offering fresh-caught seafood and small stalls selling juicy conch salad. But once night falls, the parties kick off and can last until a few hours before sunrise.
West End has many food stalls that are worth visiting. Making a choice may be difficult, but there is one that stands out for its unique conch salad. The bright red, pickled blend originated by the Shabo Conch Salad stand is perhaps the most distinctive conch salad blend found in The Bahamas, and has yet to be seen on any other island. The fiery recipe is a well-kept secret of different pickling spices, mixed together with the traditional conch salad fixin’s. Just a few months ago, Shabo’s was washed away in the devastating Hurricane Dorian, but the owners quickly rebuilt with the support of their neighbors.
If you are looking for a peaceful slice of island life, a true sense of community and a bit of a delicious adventure, western Grand Bahama has you covered.