I am standing in front of the mirror wearing a headdress dripping with costume jewellery, beads and feathers, and I can almost hear the beat of the drums and bells calling me to party.
Here in Nassau – the joyously coloured capital of the Bahamas – carnivals, festivals and parties are a way of life.
Local Arlene Ferguson, the owner and curator of the Educulture Museum, helps me try on a costume, and tells me how her husband fashioned her last one – made from papier-mâché and threaded on to heavy aluminium rods for support.
It weighed a staggering five stone, but that didn’t stop Arlene from dancing into the night.
And let’s face it, there’s plenty to dance about here.
Sea that looks like glass, temperatures that never dip below 27C over the summer months, white sand that stretches as far as the eye can see, houses in Instagram-perfect pastel shades and street parties, festivals and carnivals aplenty.
And this year, the islands have every reason to throw the biggest bash ever – marking 50 years as an independent nation.
Today, only 30 or so of the islands are inhabited, to varying degrees of development.
Nassau, on New Providence, feels pretty American, thanks to its proximity to Miami (it’s only an hour’s flight).
Think massive cruise ships in the harbour, and big resorts such as Margaritaville and Atlantis.
But you’ll still find a flavour of the local culture, particularly at a humble fish fry.
This is a collection of dozens of small stalls, shacks and restaurants along the coast which serve, among other things, fried fish and seafood.
Tonight I’m eating at Drifters At Da’ Fry, happily scoffing a local speciality, conch fritters. Despite being described as a ‘sea snail’, it’s chewy and delicious.
I’m told by the friendly waitress I have to try the local grog – nicknamed Sky Juice, it’s a concoction of rum, gin, coconut and condensed milk.
Needless to say, one’s enough.
In search of a quieter, more low-key experience, I’m visiting two more islands.
Grand Bahama is a short plane-hop away and, on arrival, I’m struck by the pretty pastel buildings, the pale pink and green bus stops and the waving palm trees; it already feels more laid-back than Nassau.
GB, three times bigger than New Providence, is home to three national parks, and wears its eco-credentials proudly. Here, you can swim with stingrays, go cave diving, birdwatching and more.
I settle for exploring beautiful Lucayan National Park, which boasts 40 acres of mangroves, pine forest, ferns and rare flowers.
It opens out on to Gold Rock Beach, a wide, practically deserted sweep of white sand.
Afterwards I pay a visit to , a start-up aiming to restore the coral reefs destroyed by Hurricane Dorian in 2019.
In 2021, it won Prince William’s EarthShot prize for its efforts and he visited personally to award it to staff.
If I thought GB was peaceful, my final destination, Cat Island, is downright soporific.
Named after pirate Arthur Catt who hid out here, it’s a natural paradise.
Fewer than 3,000 people live on the island and its beaches are wilder and more deserted than GB’s, with hiking trails scattered all over its 150 sq miles.
I follow one trail up to its highest point, Mt Alvernia, which rises 207ft above sea level.
There’s a small church on top, built by an Anglican priest, and the view is incredible, out on to the ocean over the tree-tops.
Later that night, after dinner at my guesthouse, comes another Bahamian tradition – a performance of rake-and-scrape.
This unique form of music and singing is created by the ‘scraping’ of a saw by another implement, such as a screwdriver or a knife.
Despite how odd that sounds, the harmonies produced are tuneful and soulful, and a fitting way to end my visit to these plucky, fun-filled and welcoming islands. Happy Independence Day.
Now, where did I put my party hat?
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