Grand Bahama is not the island it was 20 years ago.
As early as 1990, Freeport had become a neighborhood of nearby Miami. Gone were the kids at the WinnDixie who'd offer to carry your groceries for a dollar, replaced by the toughs who demand five just to let you pass. And this disease has infected much of the rest of the island. It's an odd reaction to tourists on an island that depends on tourism.
We first noticed the trash, once a rarity, lining the roads in the early '80s. Then the men, unemployed, hanging out. The new villas, built behindwalls and barbed wire. A lot of this can be traced to the recent simultaneous closing and renovation of three of the island's major hotels, an event which tossed hundreds out of work. Hopefully, with their re-opening in 2003-04, the economy will re-bound.
But the reality of downtown Freeport is that you may as well be walking through a really bad, unfamiliar neighborhood on a dark Saturday night. Lucaya is better, but don't go walking alone in secluded areas after dark. At best, you'll be hit up for money, usually in an intimidating manner. And a few local boys will undoubtedly try to sell you something illegal. (Note: I have it on good authority that 90% of the time what you buy will be fake anyway.)
Our last visit to rural West End produced hostile stares from angry young men, and we didn't dare stop in town. This was in stark contrast to our first visit to West End in 1981 where we ate a fine lunch on the main street and visited with the friendly locals.
Out in the sparsely populated East End, things are better. The people are nicer, the food is better, and doors are still left unlocked. Maybe cable TV hasn't gotten there yet.
In summary, when visiting Grand Bahama, particularly downtown Freeport, remember that you are in a country where unemployment is high, police presence is scant, and the pressure to bring home a few dollars from some unsuspecting visitor can be overwhelming. Use common sense.
The Downtown area and International Bazaar in Freeport were really affected by the hurricanes last Fall. Even during the day, the Bazaar can be almost desolate and is filled with nooks and crannies, so be aware. Even though the Bahamas supposedly has a low crime rate, I wouldn't recommend hanging around either after dark, and locals we talked to didn't either.
Everyone who has ever traveled probably has a taxi horror story. This wasn't that bad, but it made me nervous. Our driver might have been upwards of 80. The car was in poor shape--fabric falling from the ceiling on my head. The driver seemed either ornery or senile. He took turns at about 5 miles per hour after waiting for several minutes with no traffic in sight to cross an intersection. It's scary enough when you're not used to opposite-side driving, but we weren't that confident in his driving skills--or even his vision!