Deciding to head in their own direction, on the Western side of New Providence, Bahamas, two sisters discover warm sunsets, soft music and a technicolour dreamscape all to themselves.
Away we go
A measly two hour and thirty minute flight from Toronto to Nassau, Bahamas seems unbelievable. How can a landscape of cold and snow morph so quickly to blue waters and sunshine? It is not just the length of our passage that startles but the discernable ease with which a temperate landscape gives way to endless sea. As frequent travellers to the Caribbean, my sister and I look at each other with devilish enthusiasm – this is the shortest haul to the islands that we have been privileged to take.
We’ve come to New Providence, Bahamas (which the locals refer to simply as Nassau) for the antithesis of beachfront all-inclusives and casino’s – all part of ‘the machine’ –the name that we later hear a local dub the main attraction on a neighbouring island (connected to Nassau by a small bridge). No, we say aloud, as though to reinforce our decision – we are headed in the opposite direction (quite literally) toward Compass Point Beach Resort in Western Nassau. Far away from what others have claimed as ‘paradise’, we seek not just uncrowded beaches but a piece of solitude all of our own. The world can sometimes drown out your own thoughts and we’ve come to reclaim them.
Nassau, an island of eighty square miles is mostly flat topography. Even after our short flight we arrive at dusk. Driving in near darkness along a narrow two lane road, we notice the water glimmering with the last rays of sun on one side of the road while, in stark contrast, multimillion dollar homes decorate the view on the other side. There is not a single hum of blasting hip-hop music or trumpeting car horns like some other Caribbean islands that we have visited. This is a typical Friday night in Western Nassau, without the faintest sound or person in sight. When we make a wrong turn and pull up to yet another gated condo space, the security guard offers directions that sum up the feel and look of our resort. “You’re on the right path, you’ll start to see all sorts of colours on the wall – greens and blues and yellows,” he says with a smirk, adding, “you can’t miss it.”
The immediate and lasting impression of Compass Point is one and the same – a technicolour landscape where buildings display the kind of unembarrassed panache that only rock stars and musicians seem to possess nowadays. In fact, there is always the faint hint of music in the air. Music has always been intrinsically linked to Compass Point. Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, a Jamaican native (the man who credited with turning the world on to reggae), built Compass recording studio in 1977, adding the resort in 1995. Following a hurricane in 2005, the lobby and restaurant were renovated by new owner, and Detroit native, Lee Rodney in 2006. During his travels to Prague, Rodney was captured by a young man, whose work ethic was impeccable, and offered him a managerial position. Viktor Kudrnka was hired on the spot, together with his girlfriend Jana Studecka. “I got scouted at my restaurant. Lee saw me working and said ‘I have this hotel in the Bahamas, I think you would do well there.’ The next day, he was back with two plane tickets,” Kudrnka says with a chuckle, adding, “it’s also great to have Jana with me. I couldn’t do this without her support.” Kudrnka also maintains that Rodney himself is a constant source of inspiration.“I’ve never seen more hard working people in my life than Lee and his wife. They work fourteen to sixteen hour days and they never stop. When you see the drive, then it’s a very good example for me.”
As the new general manager, Kudrnka’s ultimate goal is to infuse new life into Compass Point, while maintaining its musical past and preserving the history that surrounds the resort. Every two weeks during the summer months, there is a sunset series pool party – hors d’oeuvres and appetizers are served along with drink specials. On weekends, local reggae and calypso bands play. “Look at the venue here. I think this is one of the best places in the Bahamas. Imagine a Reggae band playing against the sea, with a nice crowd and people that are enjoying themselves. Compass Point is connected with music which is something that I really appreciate,” Kudrnka announces proudly.
There is another ritual for which Compass Point is famous. Every evening, dozens of expats, tourists and locals crowd the restaurant and face west toward the setting sun. The mesmerizing hue, akin to the interior of the mighty Bahamian conch with shades of orange, pink and yellow softens seamlessly onto the horizon like a dancer taking a bow in front of a captive audience. Some tourists wait for the perfect shot, while others simple stand in awe.
Our sea front villa at the resort, with a prime view of the ocean sits adjacent to the Compass Point dock, a focal point of the hotel. All of the huts were brought from Jamaica by Blackwell, and then repainted in the Bahamas. The wooden slats at the dock unfold into the ocean and at their furthest point culminate in a small covered area complete with seating where white linen curtains blow gently in the wind. At night we often see couples enjoying a special meal on the dock lit by a light anchored to the ocean floor.
Reflections come easily here, the sort possible only through deep contact with wind, and sand and water. Our unstructured routine alternates between snorkeling near the Compass point dock (one of the best
spots on the island for spotting marine life) swimming with small skittish trumpet fish, schools of sergeant majors and small rays to walking along the beach.
As the days pass, we become used to being lulled to bed by the sound of the ocean at our doorstep. We do not venture very far from Compass Point as we have everything we need– calmness, serenity, an ocean as calm as an infinity pool all to our own. One day at dawn, looking for adventure, we maneuver the steps behind Compass Point for a walk along the beach. The tide is low and then we observe a mirage– a cascade of prisms flickering on the water like a Baccarat chandelier.We dive into the water to catch a glimpse of this spectacle underwater, where the display of light is even more mesmerizing. We never learn exactly what makes this shimmering spectacle, though someone later informs us that this secluded paradise, a mere five minute walk from Compass Point, is called Love Beach.
Another day, Dorothy, our waitress at breakfast, recommends heading to the market for some stone crab. As we are in prime season for the delicacy and we briskly traipse into town for our culinary reconnaissance mission. Now accustomed to the ever present maze-like roundabouts, colonial English buildings and narrow streets that make it seem like we have been transported to Europe, we pass Arawak Cay, a favourite food stop for locals with plenty of stalls selling everything from conch fritters to grilled fish. At the fresh seafood market, we speak to a few conch vendors, who amicably direct us to the stone crab stall where we purchase four giant crab claws with their signature black tips. This delicious impromptu shopping excursion is conceivable because of the facilities at Compass Point. A stocked kitchenette (a utilitarian open air kitchen), with a perfect view of the turquoise ocean, is neatly tucked away below our villa. Sipping young green coconut water with music in the air, our feast takes only a few minutes to prepare. “Everybody is here as our guest, and a ‘celebrity’. We try to make everybody comfortable, so you can come back again and tell a friend. That’s out motto: We try our best to make your stay enjoyable, anything we can do, we do it,” reveals Anastacia Kemp, front desk manager, when we see her later that day.
On our last day at Compass Point, Kudrnka, a self-professed perfectionist, who is always thinking about ways to improve service at the hotel, averts a possible disaster by taking it upon himself to personally
pick up cases of soda when the usual delivery truck is late. He is frequently seen chatting with guests, always with a smile and he has that rare ability to make a visit memorable. This keen initiative and
warmth makes Compass Point, even with its luxurious privacy and noteworthy premises, feel all the more personable, relaxed, and authentic. We take one more look at the riot of colour that is Compass Point,
recalling what we heard Kemp remark one afternoon. “I love the Crayola colors. It’s like a big fun playhouse.” To the west, the blazing Bahamian sun is setting, we hear the soft music on the sound system, and
gentle waves moving to shore. It all combines to create a lucid sensory experience – we are glad to have been far away from the crowds.
Compass Point Beach Resort,
West Bay Street PO BOx CB 13842, Gambier,
Nassau, Bahamas. Effective 2011, Studio Huts, based on single or double occupancy $250; Elevated sea front hut, based on single or double occupancy, $370 (includes breakfast, fees and taxes and a complimentary fourth night). Spa services available on site.
Read more in the Winter 2010/11 issue of City Style and Living Magazine