192-PART GUIDE TO THE WORLD; PART 12: THE BAHAMAS

OFFICIAL NAME

The Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

POPULATION

About 290,000.

SIZE

5,350 square miles of land, less than half the size of Belgium (but spread over more than 100,000 square miles of sea, which makes it as large as the United Kingdom).

BEST MONUMENT

The so-called Loyalist Cays, just off the main Abacos island, contain amazingly quaint 18th-century villages such as Hope Town, which was founded by escaping loyalists from South Carolina. Hope Town is still full of tiny white cottages with pastel coloured shutters and exotic flowering gardens.

MOST FAMOUS CITIZENS

Blackbeard the Pirate may be the Bahamian best known to the world. To distinguish himself from his numerous pirating compatriots, he terrorised his victims by wearing flaming fuses in his matted hair and beard. His real name was Edward Teach and in his spare time he was magistrate of the capital of the Bahamas, Nassau.

NATIONAL DISH

The preferred ingredient of all Bahamians is that unprepossessing mollusc the conch, pronounced locally as "conk". You can have it fried, battered, ground, stewed, grilled, minced, chowdered, or marinated raw as part of a salad. Locals usually like it better than the tourists do.

BEST MOMENT IN HISTORY

Prohibition in the US, in the 1920s, was a boom time for the Bahamas. The port of Nassau became a vast depot for the trade of liquor which, to the delight of the governing British, was transferred illegally to the American mainland on fast speedboats. The grand public buildings and hotels of Nassau sprang up on the proceeds.

WORST MOMENT IN HISTORY

The repeal of prohibition in 1933.

ESSENTIAL ACCESSORIES

Scuba diving equipment, or at the very least snorkel and flippers.

HOW NOT TO BEHAVE

Do not waste your money buying turtle shell products unless you wish to contribute to the extermination of a species. The chances are that customs will confiscate it anyway, either as you leave the Bahamas or as you enter your country of origin.

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