Diving off Andros Island, home to the largest number of blue holes in the world.

Diving off Andros Island, home to the largest number of blue holes in the world.

I’ve swum with the dolphins, but in The Exumas islands of the Bahamas, you can swim with pigs.

That was just one of many facts I recently discovered about the Bahamas at a press function sponsored by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism Office and Diamond PR, and which was held at the award-winning Winter Park, FL restaurant, Ravenous Pig (any relatives in The Exumas?). Frankly, I’ve cruised to the Bahamas, shopped at the famous Straw Market in Nassau and have stayed at the Atlantis Resort on neighboring Paradise Island, so in my until-now uneducated mind, I thought I “knew” the Bahamas and what it was about.

How wrong I was.

shrimp&grits at Ravenous Pig

Key West pink shrimp, Anson Mills Grits, green tomato chutney, chorizo oil and this Shrimp & Grits dish at Ravenous Pig tingled my taste buds. photo by Karen Kuzsel

I had no idea there are actually 700 islands, though just 30 of them are populated. I didn’t realize the 21-mile long New Providence, whose capital is Nassau, contains more than 60% of the population. I know the Bahamas are an easy trip from Florida, whether by ship or air, but was surprised to learn that 85% of their visitors are from the United States, many of whom are from colder climates seeking the more moderate temperatures of the islands. In fact, from September through May, temperatures hover around 75 and climb another 10 degrees the rest of the year.

I also knew nothing about the Out Islands, which is how I learned about being able to swim and feed the swine that inhabit Major’s Spot Cay in The Exumas.

In between stuffing my mouth with amazing Gruyere biscuits, a fresh lamb and pork country style terrine topped by a pistachio & mango salsa, and a delectable shrimp and grits dish with enough pop of heat that that I drank my glass of ripely-bold Stolpman estate-grown Syrah from Ballard Canyon (2012) faster than a slow sip, I learned enough intriguing info about 16 Bahamas islands to make me want to take in more natural environments and local cuisine than what I have previously experienced.

How is it that I eat often at Bonefish Grill but had no idea there is really a silvery game fish called bonefish that is a popular lure on Grand Bahama Island? (At least, I don’t remember it being offered on any menu. Guess you can tell I don’t fish, right?) We also learned at the luncheon that this fourth largest of the Bahamas islands, just opened the luxury all-inclusive Lighthouse Point resort on Taino Beach and that of the three national parks on the island, Lucayan National Park is home to the longest known underwater cave system in the world.

The Glass Window Bridge divides the Atlantic Ocean & Caribbean Sea on Eleuthera & Harbour Island

The Glass Window Bridge divides the Atlantic Ocean & Caribbean Sea on Eleuthera & Harbour Island

Haven’t surfed since I was 16 and got conked on the head by my board back flipping, but I still find it intriguing that Eleuthera & Harbour Island boasts giant waves. One of the most visually startling aspects in Eleuthera is the Glass Window Bridge, a replacement for a natural rock formation on the narrow slit of land dividing the deep blue choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean from the calm turquoise water of the Caribbean Sea.

The closest Bahamian island to the U.S is Bimini, believed to be the site for the lost city of Atlantis and possibly where the “Fountain of Youth” lies… at least that’s what Ponce de Leon thought in 1513 when his search landed him on the nine square mile landmass.

Sir Sidney Poitier claims Cat Island as his birthplace. (Would he mind if we popped in for tea?) I’d settle for climbing the highest elevation cited for the country, 206 feet above sea level, to tour The Hermitage, a medieval monastery hand carved from rock sitting atop.

Long Island, named by Christopher Columbus because of its 80 miles by four mile width, is split by the Tropic of cancer running across it. Dean’s Blue Hole, said to the deepest blue hole in the world, is on Long Island. Columbus was also responsible for dubbing San Salvador as “The New World” when he dropped anchor there in 1492.

We learned The Berry Islands are second (or third or fourth) home sites for the rich and famous (but if names were dropped, we’d have to be held in solitaire to make sure word didn’t leak out to that nosy press!) and that Inagua is the home of more than 80,000 flamingos, the national bird of The Bahamas. (So why then are Florida souvenir shops overpopulated by tacky bubblegum-pink plastic flamingo statues and keychains?)

I could go on and on, telling you the interesting tidbits we heard about Mayaguana, Rum Cay, Ragged Island, The Abacos, Acklins & Crooked Island, and Andros, but isn’t it time you put aside my story and researched your next vacation to the Bahamas?

Happy Travelling.

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries. She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI and is now serving on the 2015 – 2016 MPI Global advisory Board for The Meeting Professional Magazine. Karen writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, she has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.

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