Travel: Turks and Caicos

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New England winters are very vibrant – there is always a lot going on around the Seacoast! In addition, it’s a great time to work on a project (Craig does woodworking and I do stained glass) or just cozy up under an afghan and read a good book next to the woodstove. But winter this year stretched out a little longer than usual and we desperately needed a warm-weather break. Neither of us is enamored with glitzy resorts or all-inclusive destinations. We prefer exploring the culture and cuisine of a Caribbean island that offers great beaches, good hiking and excellent snorkeling. A direct flight is nice too, but not always possible. So, we decided to explore Turks and Caicos this year, which is rumored to have the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Turks and Caicos is an archipelago of 40 low-lying coral islands in the Atlantic Ocean, a British Overseas Territory southeast of the Bahamas. The gateway island of Providenciales, known as Provo, is home to expansive Grace Bay Beach, with luxury resorts, shops and restaurants. Scuba-diving sites include a 14-mile barrier reef on Provo’s north shore and a dramatic 7,000 foot underwater wall off Grand Turk Island. The official language is English and the currency is US dollars. But Providenciales (“Provo” to the locals) was too developed for our tastes (it had a Club Med and similar resorts, high end shopping and expensive restaurants), so we headed for North Caicos – accessible by ferry and very undeveloped.

Our Airbnb host arranged a taxi to meet us at the airport and deliver us to the Caribbean Cruisin’ ferry on the eastern end of the island. She asked if we wanted to stop at a grocery store on the way, but we assured her we would do provisioning on North Caicos. The IGA on Provo is huge with a spectacular selection of food products. (Note to self: Definitely stop and shop on the way to the ferry next time.) The ferry ride gave us our first glimpse of the beaches along the shore. We’ve traveled all over the world, but I must admit, they were most definitely the best we’d ever seen. In fact, the beaches stretch from six to 14 miles along the coast of the islands and are made of soft, white sand like talcum powder that come from the eroding limestone on the islands. The water is a neon aqua and was mesmerizing! When we arrived at the ferry landing on North Caicos, our rental car was waiting (also arranged by our Airbnb host). We followed our host’s Mom to the house and were pleasantly surprised by the location (in the middle of a village named Whitby), and amenities (short walk to the beach, coffee, fruit and bagels in the fridge). The warm, salt air was a delight. We quickly changed clothes and went for a tour of the island and a search for a grocery store.

North Caicos (and the next island over, Middle Caicos) are mostly undeveloped. North Caicos only boasts a population of 1,500. A recent hurricane had frightened the hundreds of flamingoes and they relocated elsewhere in the Caribbean. The huge land crabs roamed across the unpaved roads in the evenings and many of the cement block houses were abandoned. But, we were in a perfect location – within walking distance actually to a grocery store (that got fresh produce on Mondays) and both a great, casual restaurant, the Silver Palm, and the Pelican Beach Bar that served the most amazing pina coladas!

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We stocked up on basic essentials at the grocery store and a bottle of the local Bambarra dark rum at the liquor store and headed back to the house.

Our first full day was spent on the beach, just walking and swimming, and then back to the house to read on the patio. We dined that first night at the Silver Palm Restaurant where the owner/chef Karen and her husband, Poach, spoiled us with fresh seafood (conch fritters and whole fried snapper) and information about the island. Her rum punch is legendary!

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The highlight of our vacation came on Monday with a fishing trip. We had hired a local, Captain D, to take us out for inshore fishing. Trip Advisor reviews raved about him and said that he would clean all the fish you could catch and send it back to your Airbnb rental with you. We were excited about feasting on our own fresh-caught seafood all week. We chartered him from 9-2, spent most of the time fishing and then went snorkeling off the boat (waters were a little choppy) for about an hour before returning to the launch area where he cleaned our fish for us. We caught three good-sized barracuda (the largest one was 32 pounds!) We had seen barracuda with their scary teeth while snorkeling in the past and didn’t know they were edible. Apparently, predator fish at the top of the food chain can carry dangerous toxins, but these fish didn’t pose any problems for us. Captain D told us a few ways to cook the fish, but we opted for the charcoal grill at our rental house and a little lime juice. It was delicious!

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As for hiking, we mostly walked along the beach although we did hike the Middle Caicos Cross Island Trail which wound along the coastline and across pitted limestone cliffs.

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We saw only one other couple on the beach the entire week we were there It was heavenly and very, very relaxing for us. We definitely plan to return some day.

 

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