The Bahamas: You've seen the billboards on I-95 and you've seen the commercials. But have you visited the island nation that lies only about 60 miles from South Florida's coast?
Most people think of Nassau/Paradise Island when they think of the Bahamas, but the country actually consists of over 3,000 islands, cays, and islets. Each island has its own pulse -- from the casinos and glitz of New Providence (where Nassau lies) to laid-back Bimini where Ernest Hemingway famously fished and drank.
If you don't have time for an island getaway, let the islands come to you this weekend at the 36th annual Miami/Bahamas Goombay Festival in Coconut Grove. The Grove, by the way, is steeped in Bahamian culture. Miami's first black settlers were Bahamians, who made Coconut Grove their home in the early 1800's while working to build Miami from the ground up.
Bahamian culture is alive and well in Miami, especially in Coconut Grove and this weekend, that culture is celebrated with a two-day free street festival along Grand Avenue. On August 4 and 5 from noon to 8 p.m., get your Junkanoo on and celebrate like a Bahamian.
Walking through the festival, you'll be accosted by all sorts of
tantalizing smells of ribs, chicken, and fish cooking on the grill. Try
them all -- but don't miss the conch. Queen conch is a staple in the
Bahamas. Known for its gorgeous pink shell, this large gastropod is
abundant in the clear blue waters of the islands. Served in fritters,
broiled, cracked, in sandwiches... it's all delicious, but the best way to eat
it like a native is in a freshly prepared conch salad.
Be patient, because lines form as your conch salad is prepared to order. Fresh, raw conch, straight from the shell, is chopped with some onion,
peppers, lime juice, and Bahamian chiles in a flashy display of knife
skills that would make any CIA-trained chef jealous. Worth the wait,
Toast with a Kalik
The "official" beer of the Bahamas, Kalik is made by the Commonwealth
Brewery in Nassau. It's light and refreshing; we liken it to a
Corona. It's also perfect after eating some of those Bahamian chiles we
told you about!
Show Your Colors
The official colors of the Bahamas are black (representing the power and
strength of the people), yellow (representing the sun and sand), and
aquamarine (representing the sea and sky). Who can argue with that? Wave
a flag, sport a tee -- show your support of our closest neighbor. Hey
-- we may not be able to see Russia from our houses... but we can take a
ferry to the Bahamas and hug our neighbors in a few hours!
Join the Parade
It wouldn't be a Bahamian celebration without a Junkanoo parade.
Junkanoo, usually celebrated around Christmas and again in the summer,
has its origins in slavery. Each year during the holiday season, black
slaves were allowed to leave their Bahamian plantations and celebrate
with their friends and family, dancing tribal dances in traditional
That tradition has evolved into formal parades filled with intricate
floats and colorful costumes that take up to a year to create. Think of
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it as the Mardi Gras of the Bahamas -- only with cowbells instead of
beads. There are constant Junkanoo parades through the festival. When
you see one, jump in and let the beat take you away!