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june11homespunweb.jpgBy John Bordsen

RISMEDIA, June 11, 2008-(MCT)-What’s it like to live in a far-off place most of us see only on a vacation? Foreign Correspondence is an interview with someone who lives in a spot you may want to visit. Jim Leggett, 58, is a photojournalist formerly based in Matthews. He has been working in Nassau, the Bahamas, since October 2006.

Q. Is there culture shock?

A. Definitely-moving from the States, where everything works like A-B-C, to Nassau, where everything works A-C-B.

Even things like getting a driver’s license: In the States, you walk into the DMV, present your documentation, take an eye test and get your paper. In the Bahamas? Let’s just say it’s long and complicated and call it “refreshingly quaint.”

The Bahamians have such a wonderful sense of humor and polite attitude toward life that it takes the sting out of that “island pace” you should expect.

Driving in Nassau is something else. New Providence, the island where Nassau is, is approximately 7 by 26 miles. Not a big place, but driving skills required are absolutely thrilling. I find it reminiscent of fairground bumper-cars.

Q. Money’s tight in the U.S. these days. Is this having an effect on Bahamas tourism?

A. There’s apparently been a drop-off in hotel bookings over the last few months as a direct result of the American economy and gas prices.

This is a pinch for the time being, but it’s like that for the whole Caribbean. Happily, the Bahamas are in a better position because of their close proximity to the United States. The Bahamian dollar is on par with U.S. dollar. On restaurant tabs, a 15% tip is usually included, so beware of additional blank tip space!

Q. What’s expensive in the Bahamas?

A. Fuel is the equivalent of $5.30-$5.60 a gallon.

Food is expensive because these are islands, so everything has to be imported. There are some local vegetable markets, but not enough domestic food is grown to sustain the population. A gallon of orange juice is $6; a loaf of multigrain bread is about $5.

Rum, gin and whiskey are a bargain.

Q. You’re an editor for Dupuch Publications, which produces a what-to-do guide for Nassau. What’s the coolest thing to do?

A. The No. 1 activity without doubt is the Powerboat Adventure daylong excursion. It costs $175-$190 for the whole day. High-speed boats take you out of Nassau past Paradise Island and into open water for about 45 minutes. You come to the Exumas islands, to a tropical gem called Ship’s Channel Cay. It’s (government-owned) crown land, but the boat company leases it.

The boat pulls in, you get in your swimming trunks and head for the beautiful pink sand beach. The crew gives you some grapes on the end of sticks, then these huge iguanas-18 inches to maybe 3 feet long-race up and eat them, then scurry away There are hundreds of those things.

Then you get back on the boat. They put on the music from “Mission: Impossible” and the captain hurtles you through coral coves and rocky inlets, zooming around like a chase scene from “Miami Vice.”

Your thrilling ride culminates in a sweeping turn, warm ocean spray flying all over the place. You go around a coral reef and there before you is a placid lagoon surrounded by hills. Next, the boat pulls up to a dock where everybody disembarks for a smorgasbord of hors d’oeuvres and an open bar – it’s all included in the cost.

They ask if anyone wants to feed the stingrays; they take you over to the lagoon. A diver goes into the water, and before you know it, 10 or 15 of these wondrous delights glide in, in a big line. They’re gorgeous to look at and have a wingspan of 5 to 8 feet.

Q. You’ve gotten in the water and actually fed these things?

A. Last week was my fourth time. The water is so clear that you can see these rays quite clearly.

One giant swooped right between my legs; it felt warm and spongy.

You’re given little pieces of food to hold in the flat of your hand. The rays have fairly big mouths below the head for bottom feeding, like sand sharks, and when they eat from your hand, it feels like there’s a vacuum cleaner in action. It’s a fantastic way to commune with nature.

While you enjoy all this, the crew was out catching grouper or barracuda for your dinner, which they clean right there. They keep the head and entrails and hook that onto the end of a rope they throw 15 feet out into the water. There are sharks out there, and when a shark grabs the bait, they’ll drag the shark in almost to the water’s edge. These aren’t great whites, but they are massive.

This is safe, controlled fun. Even kids can be in the water during this. Some tourists get scared and run away, though.

After a sumptuous meal, you can go snorkeling in same water, do a snorkeling float down over the reef or just relax. You’ll be brought back to Nassau by 6 p.m. The website for this is

© 2008, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.