PCA 2012: You're free to leave

PCA-2010-thumbnail.jpgThere is a $1 toll to cross the bridge onto Paradise Island, but it's free to leave. The economics of tourism don't need a better example of supply and demand.

Paradise Island is home to Atlantis. It's the Caribbean's biggest resort, a gigantic, opulent place where sculptures are insured at $1 million apiece and hundred-million-dollar yachts rest in the harbor. Gardeners tend to lush floral displays. Even the street curbs are re-painted on a regular basis. It costs a lot to stay here for more than a few hours, but it's not hard to see why.

Leaving Paradise Island, though, costs nothing. Whether on cab or on foot, the only cost of going over the bridge into Nassau is the will to do so. Again, it's not hard to see why. When the multimillionaires come to spend their money, they do it on Paradise Island.

Nassau? That's a different story.

Atlantis Bridge.jpg

On the bridge away from Paradise Island

In Nassau, there are no painted curbs. The sidewalks are cracked and cragged. The beachside bars on a Sunday morning smell of stale beer. An old man, tired and alone, sleeps on a bus stop bench. There are a few lone tourists looking for civilization, but on Bay Street, away from the downtown Gucci shops and cruise ship bars, it's a lonely place that doesn't smell like flowers, doesn't look like a resort, and doesn't cost $1 to see.

What Nassau may lack in opulence, it makes up for with authenticity, because in the absence of painted curbs, high dollar restaurants, and $14 Bahama Mamas, there is something very real just across the bridge. In fact, it's right under the bridge.

On this Sunday morning, Potter's Cay came to life. Before 10am, men with long knives butchered their fish, stuffed them in clear bags, and hung them from wood planks. On a table in front of it all was a giant snapper, obviously the biggest fish to come off the boat that morning. This half-square-mile seafood market is authentic as it gets. A place of dilapidated shacks that smell of fish, this is where the locals come to eat or shop for whatever they'll cook that day.

Later in the day, more shingles will be hung, and the conch fritters will hit the deep fryer. Anyone who wanders in will get an affordable Kalik or a cold fruity drink to ease the pain of living in an unpampered world. It's a place where you can eat just as the locals would and do it among them.

There is nothing wrong with staying on Paradise Island for the duration of the PCA. You can come back eight years in a row and likely not see everything on the small island. But if you are looking for something else, something literally reeking of authenticity, something to give you a taste of how people live here all the time, just find the bridge off Paradise Island and head back toward Nassau. That is, it's worth remembering, there is a $1 toll to cross the bridge onto Paradise Island, but it's free to leave.

And sometimes free is worth it.