Tag Archives: Caribbean

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.

 

St. Kitts and Nevis

The warm glow of the mid-day sun caressed our faces as we disembarked the American Airlines flight that had brought us to St. Kitts.  It was winter in Boston and the surrounding countryside had been blanketed in deep snow drifts. when we departed. We peeled off layers of sweaters and our down jackets to embrace the 80 degree temperatures.  After we cleared customs and immigration, we took a taxi to the public ferry terminal along the waterfront and awaited our departure for Nevis.

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St. Kitts and Nevis comprise an island nation of approximately 47,000 people, mainly of African descent.  It is one of the Leeward Islands in the West Indies and is located 1,300 mi southeast of Miami, Florida. Formerly known as St. Christopher Island, St. Kitts was discovered by Christopher Columbus and claimed for Spain in 1493. The first English colony was established in 1623, followed by a French colony in 1625. The island alternated repeatedly between English and French control during the 17th and 18th centuries, as one power took the whole island, only to have it switch hands due to treaties or further military action. Parts of St. Kitts were heavily fortified, as exemplified by UNESCO World Heritage Site at Brimstone Hill and the now-crumbling Fort Charles. It was in 1783 that the island became British for the final time. The island originally produced tobacco, but changed to sugar cane in 1640 due to stiff competition from the colony of Virginia. The labor-intensive farming of sugar cane was the reason for the large-scale importation of African slaves. The importation began almost immediately upon the arrival of Europeans to the region. Sugar production continued to dominate the local economy until 2005, when, after 365 years as a monoculture, the government closed the sugar industry.  Tourism is the primary industry today and the islands are a destination for major cruise lines.

Crossing the two-mile channel between the islands took about 45 minutes. Nevis is less developed that St. Kitts.  Goats and donkeys run wild and an occasional Green Vervet monkey can be seen crossing the 19-mile road that rings the island.

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Nevis is dominated by the volcanic peak of Mount Nevis in the center and is fringed on its western and northern coastlines by sandy beaches that are composed of a mixture of white coral sand with brown and black sand which was eroded and washed down from the volcanic rocks that make up the island. Nevis is of particular historical significance to Americans because it was the birthplace and early childhood home of Alexander Hamilton. For the British, Nevis is the place where Horatio Nelson was stationed as a young sea captain, and is where he met and married a Nevisian, Frances Nisbet, the young widow of a plantation-owner.

We transferred to a taxi in the port town of Charlestown and headed for our hotel, the Nisbet Plantation, childhood home of Fanny Nisbet.  Palm trees and brightly-colored cement homes dotted the roadside and flowering trees and shrubs complemented the landscape. We were greeted at the hotel, which bills itself as the only plantation resort on the beach, by the manager and complimentary rum punches. Nisbet Plantation boasts the Great House with its wide porch and formal restaurant, 38 duplex-style cottages with Caribbean decor, beach bar, surrounded by palm-thatched cabanas along the beach, pool, tiled hot tub, and the pool side cafe where breakfast is served. Although our cottage had air-conditioning, we opted to open the plantation shutters and enjoy the sea breezes.

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The beaches on Nevis are not renowned for snorkeling, although snorkeling equipment was available at the hotel where we stayed.  The surf is rough and coral reefs are few and far between. Places to rent bicycles, kayaks and small catamarans are plentiful, but our goal was to relax and read on the beach or to venture inward and do some hiking in the rain forest.

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We discovered that the meals at Nisbet Plantation were outrageously expensive and every place on the island added 22% that comprised a 10% service charge with 12% government-mandated fees. As we were not participating in the meal plan because we enjoy exploring and sampling the local fare, we were free to roam and discovered that Oualie Plantation Resort just up the road offered a delicious and more-reasonably priced breakfast which featured a sumptuous Calypso omelet (peppers and onions in a spicy tomato-based sauce) that we preferred. Another option for breakfast was the Fancy Jamaican Bakery in Charlestown which served hot “patties” or crispy turnovers filled with beef, chicken or cheese.

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Our hike up Mount Nevis, a dormant volcano in the rain forest, was the most challenging we have ever done – slippery, muddy trails only a foot wide on the edge of plunging cliffs! We rappelled down one steep slope with a rope that was tied in place, did some nearly horizontal rock climbing to keep from falling off the hillside, traversed old stone steps and rickety, corroded iron ladders. Took us 5 hours and we returned to the Golden Rock Plantation Inn for a much-deserved rum & ginger at the end of the day.

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The iron ladder on the Mount Nevis hike

The iron ladder on the Mount Nevis hike

The Golden Rock Plantation Inn  was surrounded by luscious gardens with a majestic view of Nevis Peak. The cut stone sugar mill, since converted to hotel accommodations and an open air restaurant, dated back to the early 1800s. It was magnificent and we enjoyed our most memorable meal there a few days later. We wish we had discovered it sooner and would definitely consider staying in one of their 19 unique cottages should we ever return to Nevis.

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Mahi Mahi in an orange citrus sauce with coconut rice

Mahi Mahi in an orange citrus sauce with coconut rice

Reluctantly, the week ended all too soon, although it was a wonderful vacation and a great break from a New England winter.