At­lantis alive

A fa­bled world sur­faces in the Ba­hamas

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DES­TI­NA­TION AFLOAT - TONY PER­ROT­TET

I’m snorkelling over sunken ru­ins, feel­ing like a guest on an interactive quiz show. The $10,000 ques­tion: what are the ori­gins of the lost world I’m ex­plor­ing?

Scat­tered in the depths be­low are bro­ken mar­ble col­umns (the re­mains, per­haps, of tem­ples from clas­si­cal Greece?), frag­ments adorned with hi­ero­glyph­ics (Egypt of the Pharaohs?), an enor­mous sun­dial (Mayan, any­body?). Trop­i­cal fish and manta rays el­e­gantly glide past the mono­lithic statue of a bull (a Baby­lon relic, per­haps?) fol­lowed by a very lazy reef shark. Then I spot the “an­cient sub­ma­rine”. “This sub­ma­rine was made 11,000 years ago from whale bones and mother of pearl,” the guide in­tones. “It was pow­ered by gi­ant crys­tals! At­lantis was a highly civilised place with tech­nol­ogy that of­ten ex­ceeded our own.” I look over at my son Sam, aged 11, who is weigh­ing up this ex­otic snip­pet. “Well, maybe they’re get­ting a lit­tle car­ried away with the an­cient sub­ma­rine,” I sug­gest. “It’s still cool,” he shrugs. Sam knows as well as I do that our des­ti­na­tion de­mands a lit­tle flex­i­bil­ity on his­toric de­tail.

Our dive site is not in the Mediter­ranean, lost on some Homeric shore, but in the mod­ern wa­ter park of At­lantis in the Ba­hamas, dat­ing from the mid-1980s. We’re in a huge pool, aptly called The Dig, which is filled with evoca­tive faux-an­tiq­ui­ties. And un­likely though it sounds, we’ve come to At­lantis on a fact-find­ing mis­sion.

Sam has been ob­sessed with an­cient Greece for years, from Ja­son and the Arg­onauts and Her­cules movies to Percy Jack­son books. When he first heard of a wa­ter park called At­lantis, named af­ter the leg­endary con­ti­nent that sank be­neath the waves, he begged me to take him there. I used to love Greek mythol­ogy as a kid too, and as an adult I’ve writ­ten a cou­ple of books on clas­si­cal his­tory.

Cu­rios­ity pre­vailed. Why not? Maybe a visit to At­lantis can ac­tu­ally be, well, ed­u­ca­tional. It will be our own ver­sion of a Homeric quest, to see what Sam can learn from a 21st-cen­tury theme park.

The mo­ment we ar­rive, we are swept up in At­lantis’s sense of theatre. We ea­gerly spot the Greek touches of Corinthian col­umns in the lobby, colour­ful mo­saics of myth­i­cal scenes on the ceil­ings and neo­clas­si­cal mu­rals in an out­door restau­rant. And as one might ex­pect of leg­endary At­lantis, the re­sort daz­zles vis­i­tors with its scale and am­bi­tion. Sprawl­ing across 57ha, it’s a self-con­tained world of con­nected pools, ex­otic restau­rants, casi­nos and cin­e­mas.

We get lost im­me­di­ately, in­spir­ing me to wax lyri­cal about the Greek myth of the Mino­taur in its labyrinth, and how the hero Th­e­seus finds his way out of the maze by us­ing a ball of twine to re­trace his steps.

It is also quickly ob­vi­ous that the re­sort casts its cul­tural net wide, as we dash in ex­cite­ment be­tween wa­ter slides mod­elled on a six-storey Mayan tem­ple and a vaguely Egyp­tian “Power Tower”. This in­spires my first les­son to Sam, when we re­tire at dusk to a bar-cafe called Plato’s. It was the Greek philoso­pher Plato who first de­scribed At­lantis in the 4th cen­tury BC (for the record, in two di­a­logues called Ti­maeus and Cri­tias).

The story of the “lost con­ti­nent” has cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of gen­er­a­tions since, and in­spired hun­dreds of trea­sure hun­ters and the­o­ries, in­clud­ing that At­lantis stretched from Europe to the Amer­i­cas, and in­flu­enced cul­tures from Africa to Mex­ico.

“Of course the Ba­hamas were part of At­lantis,” one of the wait staff help­fully ex­plains, adding that aerial pho­tos seem to re­veal a sub­merged high­way nearby.

Clearly, I can be cre­ative in find­ing con­nec­tions to the past. The longer we stay, the more pa­gan the re­sort be­gins to feel. The wa­ter slides we treat like Olympic chal­lenges, a bit like the labours of Her­cules, with each more ter­ri­fy­ing than the next. We crash down ar­ti­fi­cial rapids, fall through dark­ness in a whiplash-in­duc­ing slide called the Ser­pent and are shot in trans­par­ent tubes through shark-in­fested lakes, scream­ing at the top of our lungs.

The ul­ti­mate chal­lenge is the Leap of Faith, a 10m high, near-ver­ti­cal plunge that might have turned Her­cules’s hair white. But the Greeks also wor­shipped na­ture. They loved sea crea­tures, and At­lantis also has the air of a mag­i­cal aquar­ium. We swim with dol­phins, com­pan­ions of the Greek sea god Po­sei­don, and ca­vort with sea li­ons.

Ex­plor­ing ‘an­cient ru­ins’ at At­lantis, top; Mayan tem­ple wa­ter­slide, above; the re­sort and wa­ter park, above right

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