I send in my final reflections on the University of Illinois Alumni Association’s "Caribbean Pearls" tour with the realities of what travel is really all about – discovering the world.
- Danielle Wilberg, associate director of Membership and Development at UIAA.
On our final day of the tour, our ship docked in Nassau, Bahamas. Many of the Illinois travelers were excited to tour an island that many had been to before and to spend time at the island’s main attraction, Atlantis Resort. At around 8:30 a.m., an extremely large fire consumed a warehouse that was just feet away from the port entrance. By 9:00 a.m., our ship’s captain asked us to stay on the ship and that we keep a watchful eye on the fire and make any adjustments as needed. Following that announcement, everybody headed onto the deck to observe billowing flames, black smoke engulfing the town, the occasional small explosion and no fire protection to be found. When the fire department did finally arrive, we feared the entire downtown would soon be gone. The modest fire department did a phenomenal job protecting what they could and keeping the fire as contained as possible, but according to The Nassau Guardian, the fire caused millions of dollars in damages.
The eerie part of the morning came at approximately 10:30 a.m., when the captain made an announcement that the port authority declared the fire was under control and that, provided we use extreme caution entering the city, we were cleared to leave the ship. My husband and I, along with another couple traveling with EXPLORERS, continued to watch the blaze while hundreds of travelers flooded the streets of downtown Nassau. We talked at length about the danger that the fire could still impose, and about the realities of the islands we visited compared to the United States.
The three cruise ships that dock in Nassau provide a large economic boost to the island, money that the island can’t afford to miss. Tourism is the number one economic driver within all of the islands we visited. Some of the islands were better than others with their efforts. Some of the islands we visited were governed by France or Britain, while others were independently governed depending on where we stopped. Each island had its own personality, but the one common denominator was how important tourism was to the islands’ well-being. Allowing travelers to enter the streets during this fire was proof of how badly the tourist dollar is relied upon.
We discussed how voyeuristic it all felt, watching the downtown burn as it did. However, it is this type of interaction that strengthens the experiences we encountered while traveling with fellow alumni. The four of us talked at length about fire protection in America versus the islands. We talked about the hardships of the island economies and their lifestyle differences. We discussed the various governmental controls on the islands and what the benefits and challenges might be if the fire arose on one of the other islands we visited. So, while we may have felt like we were gawking a bit, we also learned things together, as a unified group.
Thankfully, everyone returned safely to our ship and to the other two ships that were also docked in Nassau. The entire tour was delightful and full of excitement. From snowstorms and rainforests to beaches and burning towns, we all enjoyed a relaxing and eventful trip.