"Hey Skinny," Big John hailed the man straddling a barstool at Momma Flo's, mouth full of cigar. Big John is called Big
John because "I de biggest man on dis island. You seen anyone biggah dan me here -- nine feet tall?" lied Big John, perhaps
5'7" -- and that with a stretch of imagination. Now Skinny, Skinny must have weighed... Well, let's just say his nickname
also better reflects West Indian tongue-in-cheek hyperbole than to-scale reality. Hefty Skinny and short Big John bantered
on, the musical lilt of their island patois lulling my skepticism and making me feel finally at home on Grand Bahama Island:
As though I was really in the West Indies, where nicknames are the trophies in a battle of wit and self-aggrandizement.
It took leaving the ca-ching of resort-driven Freeport and Lucaya to find the reality of Grand Bahama Island. Long
branded by its casino-shopping-golf triumvirate, pine-forested and sand-fringed Grand Bahama Island has gained dimension in
recent years through new development and an eco/heritage-tourism shift. The unacquainted know it as Freeport, but the islands
main city occupies only a smidgen of the 96-mile-long island. Freeport melts into Lucaya, a town more newly developed for
tourism. Home to Underwater Explorers Society (UNEXSO) and its groundbreaking dolphin encounter and shark dive programs, Lucaya
is where the islands renaissance began back in the late 80s.
As nature encounters widened the possibilities for Grand Bahama Island visitors, more tours and adventures to the islands
far-flung "bush" and fishing settlements materialized. Today Grand Bahama Island has a whole new look and feel from its early
days, when Freeport was built for tourism with an exotic, Moorish flair that came to be outdated. Mega-resorts in Freeport
and Lucaya have raised the bar on vacationing with water parks, modern casinos, and fresh dining venues. In short, Grand Bahama
Island has been reinvented with a wider appeal and fresh approach to tourism. If your publication hasn't covered GBI lately,
it's time to bring your readers au courant on this fine Bahamian destination that is every bit as sophisticated as Nassau,
but greener and less hustle-bustle.