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Published: September 22nd 2019
Arrival at Freeport on Grand Bahama Island was again early in the morning. We booked a Carnival shore excursion for Freeport that would include the Garden of the Groves botanical gardens and the Lucaya marketplace. Upon arriving at the gangway at 8:00 a.m., we discovered the weather had taken a turn. Nassau had been beautiful and sunny. It was now pouring rain at Freeport! Not to be discouraged, we grabbed jackets, disembarked, and assembled for the tour.
Our excursion went off as planned despite the rain. (Aquatic and other excursions had been canceled.) But, as we learned, Grand Bahama is dependent on ample rainfall for drinking water. The tour bus took us along the main Queen's Highway through the industrial and commercial parts of Freeport. Past the tourist area of Port Lucaya the country opens up into forest. Out here is the Garden of The Groves, a 12-acre botanical garden founded in 1973 and dedicated to Wallace and Georgette Groves, the founders and developers of Freeport. In 2004 the Garden was damaged by hurricanes, but was restored and expanded and reopened in 2008.
The garden has several areas with trees and flora representative of the Bahamas and others imported
Muscovy Ducks at the Garden of the Groves.
from other tropical zones. The Garden is arranged in several horticultural theme areas, including a hanging garden, hibiscus garden, a cactus garden, Fern Gully, and a healing garden of traditional medicinal plants. The healing garden includes a new meditative Labyrinth. A Japanese Garden is planned. A Sculpture Garden features a series of casuarina wood sculptures representing the indigenous inhabitants of the island.
We walked through the gardens, replete with pools and waterfalls. Several species of ducks and turtles live in the ponds. The Tree of Life is the national tree of the Bahamas. It provides a hard wood as well as several traditional medicines. A stone chapel is a replica of the first church on the island. It's a popular spot for weddings. Next to the chapel is a sculpture garden. Here, casuarina trees have been sculpted into graceful figures representing the indigenous peoples of the Bahamas, the Siboney, Taino and Lucayan people. The willowy figures suggest the spirits of the people who did not survive the colonial period. An arts and crafts area has space for artisans who work and display their wares in pastel structures modeled after wooden houses found on Abaco Island. Plantings are very well
marked and interpreted. A series of artificial waterfalls adds to the lush setting while keeping the water in the ponds in circulation. While we visited the gardens, the sun made a brief appearance!
After touring the Garden of the Groves, we made our way back to Port Lucaya. Port Lucaya was developed beginning in the 1960s as a tourist area on Grand Bahama to compliment the industrial development at Freeport. Today, Lucaya has a number of beaches, resorts, a yacht marina, and a casino to attract visitors for a longer stay. Many cruise passengers will opt to spend a Grand Bahama port day at Lucaya enjoying the beach. We had an hour to spend at Port Lucaya Marketplace. There was some shopping here, though not as extensive as one finds on Bay Street in Nassau. I took photos of Lucaya while here. I liked the lighthouse, looking very tropical as it rose above the palm trees. (It is a decorative lighthouse, not an aid to navigation. But it indeed was decorative!) Lucaya is also home to well-to-do Bahamians. The courier pointed out the castle-like home of the family that owns most of the fast-food franchises on Grand Bahama.
Grand Bahama Island is 55 miles (90 km) east of Florida. Before the 1950s, Grand Bahama was little known. Few people lived on the island, the main activity was logging, and visitors came primarily to deep-sea fish in the waters offshore. With its proximity to Florida and access to Atlantic and Caribbean shipping lanes, American businessman Wallace Groves envisioned Grand Bahama developed into a "free port". He reached an agreement with the British colonial government establishing a zone for the duty-free transshipment of goods and the processing of products for export. Groves' new company (he had owned a logging concern on the island) built the deepwater port beginning in 1955. Groves also had to build a community and the infrastructure necessary to support the planned development--roads, electricity, telephone, and housing.
After leaving Lucaya, our bus returned to Queen's Highway and retraced our route back though Freeport. Lucaya is tourist-oriented, but Freeport is very much for the people who live here. Churches, stores, small businesses, schools, and fast-food outlets line the highway. Prominent is the tomb of Wallace and Georgette Groves, a columned rotunda at Mary Star of the Sea church. The couple is certainly well-remembered. Another structure that stands
Lignum Vitae - Tree of Life
Guaiacum officinale or lignum vitae - tree of life. The guaiacum officinale or guaiacwood is the national tree of the Bahamas. Garden of the Groves.
out is the Casa Bahama apartment complex situated in the center of Freeport. Standing 17 stories high the apartment building is the tallest structure on Grand Bahama and dwarfs surrounding structures that rarely go above two floors. Casa Bahama was severely damaged by the hurricanes of 2004 and remains vacant and under renovation.
Closer to the port, industry is evident. Pharmaceutical, soft drink bottling, and steel fabrication plants along with a petroleum tank farm and a power generating station are found here. Many of the industries were damaged during the 2004 hurricane season and the bottling plant was still closed. One very successful operation is a drydock facility. Cruise lines send ships out from Florida for drydock maintenance and repair at Freeport. Holland America Lines' Zuiderdam was in drydock as we passed.
The port itself is likewise heavily industrial. Visitors need to take a taxi or bus or other form of transportation from the port to Freeport proper, Lucaya, or the beach. There is a small marketplace here and a Bahamian combo entertained visitors. As we reboarded Carnival Pride
, Carnival Fascination
was docking. In the busy port a container ship was at the same time sailing, pushed along
Casuarina trees have been sculpted into graceful figures representing the indigenous peoples of the Bahamas.
by two tugboats. This time, we were not late for lunch at the Mermaid Grille and I had a freshly made reuben sandwich with Carnival's potato salad. While eating lunch, another passenger ship, Discovery Sun
, arrived in port. This ship runs on a daily round trip from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to Freeport. It brings both vacations and beach day trippers to Grand Bahama, but also is used by Grand Bahama residents to go shopping in Florida. (I gathered that, even with the fare and import duty fees, it is cheaper for residents to buy big-ticket items in Florida and bring them back to the island than buy locally.) Carnival Pride
sailed at about 2:30 p.m. The ship quickly exited the harbor, passing Pinder's Point Light and leaving Freeport behind. Other merchant ships were queued up waiting to enter the harbor with their cargoes. As Carnival Pride
headed north to return to Baltimore, more cargo ships could be seen bound for Freeport.
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