Over the days we spent on the small island of Exuma, we met a variety of locals who helped us see further into the lives of the people living there. I fully believe that the only way to really get to know a place is to live like the locals as much as you can! Go to the same restaurants and bars as them. Go to the same local events as them. And most of all, talk to them!
Restaurants and bars
Upon arriving in Exuma, we began to hear two names tossed around quite a bit: Fish Fry and Chat N’ Chill. Both were pretty catchy and fun sounding names, so we decided to give ’em a try. Fish Fry ended up being one of our go-to places for grabbing a bite, and Chat N’ Chill made for one relaxing, or should I say “chill” afternoon! The latter was more of a tourist destination, with far less local/tourist interaction than Fish Fry. We did engage in a nice conversation with the water taxi driver on our way to Chat N’ Chill, as we were the only passengers in the boat!
Fish Fry was a little rougher around the edges, and on each of the multiple times we came, we encountered a different friendly Bahamian. The first person was Cat…or “key-at,” which is how it sounded to us. It took him actually spelling out C-A-T for us to understand! He paints signs for resorts, restaurants, and shops around the island. My favorite part of our conversation happened when Aunt Liz spotted a rat, and Cat says, “Oh, that’s just Mickey.” Upon which we looked at him strangely, asking if Mickey visited the bar often. (Which he evidently did!) We also talked to Buzzy, a locally-famous sailor who won the sailing regatta we watched. At a downtown hotel, Peace N’ Plenty, we chatted with the owner, Doc, who had worked there for 30 or 40 years. And these are just a few of the extremely welcoming people we met.
When you go to local restaurants and bars, you hear about local events! Even just going to the grocery store you might find a bulletin board where flyers advertising events are hung up. These events are great ways to experience the local culture, and besides meeting locals, you can meet fellow travelers!
There were two events that we went to on our trip: the New Year’s Eve party at a casual resort, and the Bull Reg Regatta at Fish Fry. The New Year’s party was open to tourists and locals, and there was a good mix of the two. We even saw my dive instructor Jonathon there! I also got pulled into dancing with a group of twenty-something-aged tourists from different cities in the U.S. who had most likely mistaken me for being a bit older. At the regatta, we talked to multiple people, and learned more about sailing and racing in the Bahamas!
Talk! Chat! Engage in a conversation with a local!
This, above all, is the best way to get to know a place. Whether you’re standing in line at the grocery store, having some food and drinks at a local bar, or just walking around the streets, you can be sure there will be an opportunity to chat it up with a local. And chances are they will be happy to talk to you, so don’t think that your tourist status changes anything! And in addition to the insights into local culture, you will gain information and recommendations about places to eat, events, and things to do while you’re there! Talking to locals completes the circle: you first talk to someone and get a recommendation, then you go to that bar/restaurant that they recommended, where you talk to another local and hear about an event, then you go there and talk to yet another local, and hear about yet another bar! It works great and is the best way to get immersed in local life.