For us, a trip is successful if, after all our Internet research, it surprises us with unexpected experiences and has us wanting to return for a deeper dive. After all, if we can experience the essence of a place by reading about it from the comfort of our backyard hammock, why bother to go there?
What surprised us?
The large and isolated expanse of this country -- a country sprawling along the western edge of the Bermuda Triangle, protecting Cuba from the full force of the Atlantic Ocean. Sure, I saw the map. Yes, I studied the sailing distances in the itineraries. But the isolation of the Out Islands only became real after our first day of sailing. I expected crowds of cruisers, especially in the mooring and anchorage fields, but after leaving New Providence, people (even other cruisers) were a rare sight around the Out Islands of the Exumas. We could imagine how Lucayans, privateers, pirates and escaped slaves found safe havens among the many cays. Our visit to only a few cays convinced me that the best way to experience the Bahamas is by boat -- the water, its treasures and its idiosyncrasies are a huge part of Bahamian life.
The diversity of plants, fish and birds on such tiny patches of land and in the water as well as the colour variations and clarity of the water. I thought the web page photos must have been enhanced or captured at a particularly good time of day. Not so! Even on the most populated island in the country, New Providence, major chunks of land have been preserved as bird habitats. I wished we would have planned our visit to first see the Harrold and Wilson Ponds N.P., the Bonefish Ponds N.P., the Primeval Tropical Forest and Clifton Heritage NP (including the Sir Nicholas Nuttal Underwater Sculpture Garden) while the weather was good, leaving the walking and fort tours for the last days when the strong winds would not have been a deterrent.
The complex historical ties to the USA, despite being a British Commonwealth country. The everyday life of a Bahamian did not seem particularly British to me. Geographically and in many ways culturally (IMHO) the Bahamas is closer to the USA than is Puerto Rico, a USA territory.
The importance of good reference maps for locating snorkeling sites. We learned that finding snorkeling sites, scattered here and there in little patches, is a bit like looking for pirate treasure -- we had to work to find the sites, which made them all the more precious. Learning about and paying close attention to tide changes is also more important than we ever imagined.