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Unseen Side of the Turks and Caicos

Paul 2007-10-16

Many come to the Caribbean for the idyllic imagery in glossy tour package brochures; And there’s plenty of that on the Turks and Caicos Islands. But we were looking for something else – the Caribbean lifestyle as it exists outside of tourism.

After three days in touristy Provo, we were ready to venture towards the local flavors we knew sat in the islands to the east – North and Middle Caicos. There’re several flights a day between the islands, but we wanted to go as the natives would: by small motor boat out of the Leeward Marina. Of course this proved to be an adventure unto itself…

Crossing waters

After days of paying $25 for a five minute taxi ride with the unfriendliest collection of drivers, we’d learned how the locals got around: jitneys. These simple unmarked subcompact cars drove around and gave a quick double honk when approaching people on the road. Wave them down, and hop into whatever seats remain. Ours barely ran, sometimes seeming closer to stalling than running, its driver cheery but not quite able to speak English and he didn’t know where the marina was. Another passenger provided the directions and good conversation and we got where we needed to go.

That’s one of the sweetest parts of leaving the tourism behind. Things haven’t been sanitized, they are raw, unpredictable and always interesting.

Upon arrival at the tiny marina, we asked a few Belongers (native-born) which captains would be heading to North Caicos today. One, with a tiny boat not more than a foot deep and ten feet long was doing a run with seven propane tanks. After calculating our weight and figuring that we and our backpacks wouldn’t sink the boat, we hopped in. Despite his assurances that he’s been moving these tanks for fifteen years without incident, once they started jostling around on the waves, I did imagine a propane explosion that would be the end of PoJoGo, but was shortly distracted by the three foot deep turquoise waters with their white sandy bottoms displaying the constantly shifting patterns projected by the sunlight through the interplay of the waves. I sat transfixed by the simple beauty around us, occasionally refreshed by seawater splashed from the bow of the boat into my face.

One with them all

We landed on the western shore of North Caicos and threw our bags into the bed of the only pickup truck there, hitching a ride into the inland settlement of Kew.

The 300 or so that call this home, like the rest of the island, are made up of Belongers, Haitians and Dominicans. Besides one pair at the island’s fancy hotel and the American road engineer, it appeared that we were the only white people there.

We would always greet passersby with a friendly, “Hello!” which was often met with a shy response, if any at all. This, we learned, was a language barrier. The many Haitians who immigrated here call Creole their native tongue. It is similar to French, which they mostly all speak as well. “Ah!, Bonjour!”, we’d counter with and watch as their surprised faces lit up brightly at the unexpected. Many local doors were opened to us via language. This same pattern played out again and again not only with French for the Haitians but with Spanish for the Dominicans. The language barriers created three distinct and unmixing groups here. At ease with all three languages, we felt warmly welcomed and accepted by them all, something that not even the the Belongers who speak only English could have the pleasure of knowing. How rare to feel so culturally boundless amidst such pronounced distinct cultural lines.

Secluded Beaches and Roads

Together, we passed some days alone on natural beaches along the north shores of both North and Middle Caicos islands.

One day, we walked the deserted road to the beach at Bambarra. Pelican Cay (small island), a 45 minute swim offshore beckoned us. Goggles donned, we swam to its backside and drifted slowly in the ocean current past gorgeous corals teeming with brightly colored fish of all sizes and shapes.

During the swim there, the sky thundered loudly and lit brightly from a storm in the near distance. Although we knew a lightning strike on the water would pass around us as long as we weren't connected with the ground, the thought of electrocution kept us vigilantly watching the storm's movement. Thankfully, it continued away from us, soaking us once again in the bright sun.

Exhausted after the longish swim back to shore, we splayed ourselves out on the footprint-free beach and snoozed the afternoon away.

Other days had us explore other magnificent beaches - the perfect kind you dream of - sweeping expanses of fine white sand bordered on one side by lush green trees swaying, and calm turquoise sea lapping gently on the other. Nowhere were there buildings, not even people, even after exploring the coastline for a couple of hours. It was our own piece of heaven.

Of course, getting from one of the only four settlements on the North Caicos to the coast required some creativity. There are no taxis, no buses and very few vehicles here.

The roads, sometimes hard packed sand, gravel or potholed concrete hosted our flip flopped feet clacking away until a passing car would be met with an outstretched hand. These rides were always interesting - for them since they don't often get outsiders passing through and for us because we got to meet a random sampling of the inhabitants. Some were so taken with the conversation that they'd slow almost to walking pace to stretch out the conversation. And that was fine with us.

Before the Tourism Hits

We feel incredibly lucky to be one of the few who know these sights as nature made them, before they are swarmed by condos and all-inclusive resorts. Hope these secrets are safe with you, shhhh!


Permalink by Gug   |  October 16, 2007 04:34 PM

Paul, Herz, this is a magnificent description of your adventures, although the 45 min. swim raised my hair to the ceiling. Fear not, there is triathlon experience involved :), still . . .

Permalink by Bill   |  October 16, 2007 07:41 PM

Bring home some of that beer and conch that I see in the pictures. I would rather be in a hot tub than swim for 45 minutes but to each his/her own.

luv and miss you both

Permalink by Jenn   |  November 11, 2007 07:59 AM

hi there! i found your blog through couchsurfing.. my parents recently bought a house on provo and i'm here with them now. i figured i'd see if there were any other couchsurfers coming through or living in the area. it was quite eye-opening to hear about your experiences on north and middle caicos. it sounds like you had some amazing adventures. i am sure that those islands will be filled with tourists quite soon, and you are lucky to have seen and done what you did! i am inspired by your courage and curiosity. good luck to both of you on your travels!

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