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Published: February 28th 2010
Presidente Beer & Conch Shell
You just never know what will wash up on these beaches!
When you board the plane your mind instantly starts wandering; you can almost feel the warmth of the tropical winds, high humidity and imagine the wonder of diving along a coral wall looking into the deep blue abyss around you. Your journey to the islands starts as you relax, unwind and leave the day to day behind you.
You grab a brief moment to think about the fact that you fled the cold Pittsburh winter to stare at the clear turquoise waters, scuba dive, relax and read. Sitting on the tarmack waiting to for the plane to be de-iced, we are in search of a few days without phones, beepers and blackberries. For the uninformed we want to let you know that only 11 days before we left for the islands, Pittsburgh was hit with 21 inches of snow in less than 24 hours……followed by several days of single digit temperatures and several more days of snow. Meteorologically, this was the snowiest February in the record books. At this point we are feeling both wise and lucky. Heavily weighted on the lucky part.
The only thing that would have been better was to have left Pittsburgh the morning of
Turquoise Waters are Amazing
The Turks and Caicos Islands waters have marvelous hues.
the big storm and miss it entirely - which is exactly what our neighbors in Pittsburgh did. By the time the snow started to accumulate they were tucked safely away on the beautiful Caribbean island of Bequia. We were more than mildly jealous, but knew our time would come.
Many of you may remember that in 2007 we sold our house, put everything in storage and traveled the world for 8 months. We dream of doing that again someday in the future but for now we work and enjoy these shorter get aways. If memory serves our sabbatical was created and planned after a few drinks from a beach chair in Cozumel, Mexico. Our guess is that if we really want another sabbatical we should go in search of the perfect beach chair; and so the search begins.
620 miles from Miami in the Caribbean you will find the Turks and Caicos Islands. This group has 8 main islands and 30 or more small cays. These island groups are seperated by the Turks Passage, which is 7200 feet deep. Looking at a map, the closest islands you will find are Cuba to the west, Dominican Republic to the
Grand Turk Sunset
Beautiful but no green flash.
south and the Bahamas to the north.
The island we sought out is Grand Turk; best known for its diving and whalewatching and we have done both. This area has the 3rd largest coral reef system in the world and is among the world’s top dive sites.
We wish our words could paint for you the beauty, calmness and quiet that is the world of diving. This area has a wide array of corals each special in their own way. The native fish come in all sizes and colors. It is fascinating to watch them in their habitat. The colors can be bright and vibrant and others completely blend in with their environment in a Darwinian fashion. You have not lived until you’ve swam among the parrot fish, trigger fish, eels, turtles, angel fish, lion fish, puffers, baracudas, squirrel fish, blue tangs, grouper, flounder, yellow tail snappers and hundreds of other multi-hued denizens of the deep.
If you are looking for the Caribbean night life, casinos, resorts, golf courses, jet skis, and the like…..Grand Turk is not that place. The serenity of this jewel of an island is just what we seek; the chance to do
Just off Grand Turk, the 7,000 foot coral wall is within swimming distance of the beach. Buoyed sites along the wall have swim-through tunnels, cascading sand chutes, imposing coral pinnacles, dizzying vertical drops, and undercuts where the wall goes beyond the vertical and fades beneath the reef. On our dive trips we were excited because we saw turtles, dolphins and an array of colorful fish and corals. The dolphins were an unexpected treat. On our last dive day we heard the humpback whale singing off in the distance. It was exciting to hear it.
There are three dive operations on the island, they all seem equally qualified. We dove with Blue Water Divers and were quite satisfied with them. Our boat was a 28 foot skiff. Nothing fancy, but it did the job. We like diving in Turks and Caicos because access to the dive sites only require a 10 to 15 minute boat ride and we view that as a real plus.… http://www.grandturkscuba.com/ It is our impression that Oasis Divers caters more to the cruise ships and the Blue Water Divers and Grand Turk Divers cater to the real divers on the island. It is all
Many horses, ponies and donkeys on Grand Turk.
too easy to become mesmerized by the amazing tourquoise seas of these islands.
One day we took a day trip to Salt Cay for whalewatching for Humpback Whales. It was a great day to be on the water and one a boat but our whale siteings were minimal. We saw them quickly surface and return to the depths of the deep blue sea. This was disappointing because they have been very active all week - we had hoped to see them breach but it was not meant to be. If you have interest in whales this is the place you want to visit. Whale siteings are common events.
While in Salt Cay we had a great time chatting with Debbie who left her home town of Dayton, Ohio. She left Dayton many years ago and moved to Tucson. While in Tuscon she learned to scuba dive and she eventually ended in Salt Cay and has been here for the past 17 years. She has a nice hotel, dive operation, restaurant and has the whalewatching boats. Salt Cay is the ultimate quiet island. There are only three restaurants on the island. Depending on who you ask, there are
A delightful Gin & Tonic
Keeping cool in the islands.
between 65 - 100 permanent residents.
We selected the Osprey Beach Hotel for our time on Grand Turk because it was remodeled in 2007 and has been given some pretty good ratings. http://www.ospreybeachhotel.com/ The Osprey offers one thing that we believe no other accomodations on this island offer. The hotel is right on the beach and you can hear the ocean waves crashing against the shore all day and all night long. We found that to be very therapeutic. One two nights it got very windy and we sat on our balcony and watch the wind and weather move in—it was great!
On Wednesday and Sunday nights Mitch Rolling and the High Tides band play at the Osprey and at the Secret Garden Restaurant on Friday nights. Dave even sat in for a set on Wednesday night. The blues came alive on this night!
We managed to leave our beach chairs and diving behind one day and took a tour of this small island that is 7 miles long and 1 mile wide. After some deliberation, we rented a golf cart of all things and headed out. Another mode of transportationn to check off on our exhaustive
list. Our first stop was at the The Turks and Caicos National Museum, which we found quite interesting. Several interesting exhibits told the story of Grand Turk and included the recovery of a couple of Gemini space capsules in the early 1960’s.
Of interest is the Grand Turk lighthouse. It is 150 years old and we are told it was built in the United Kingdom and brought here piece by piece. The lighthouse is a great point to start on a breezy cliff top walk which allow you to follow the donkey trails down to the deserted beaches. Stunning vistas are found here on the northwest part of the island. Horses, donkeys and cattle run free on this island. It is charming.
Of note is that Grand Turk won the contract for the cruise ships. We would have preferred they stop at Providenciales as that is the busy island and offers more for people to look at. We are happy to report that the ships do not interefer with the lazy feel that this island offers. The “cruisers” are contained near the port and only have a few hours to tour the island.
One day we
A quiet beach in front of the Osprey Beach Hotel
decided to head down to Cruise Ship Central to people watch as the people off loaded from the ship. We walked the beach to the well known “Jack’s Shack” for a few beers. We talked with several interesting and colorful people. We listened to stories of ex-patriots who have relocated to this island and a few people who work on or were passengers on the ship. There were some fine stories being told.
We were a little surprised by the number of expatriots on these islands. Some of the ones we encountered come from Britain, Germany, Canada and the US. They seem to have found their paradise. The island has a good community feel about it as there are only about 5000 permanent residents and most everyone knows almost everybody.
If you are looking for a gourmet food vacation don’t head to Grand Turk. The food is good but it is basic beach fair. Although I will tell you that our hotel has a great lobster and a BBQ twice a week that is worth attending.
One thing that can be found on this island are beautiful conch shells. They wash up on the beach
everyday. We’ve never been to an island that had so many. There seems to be an endless supply!!
On this trip we did some thinking about travelers vs. vacationers. After pondering this issue for a few days it was determined that travelers enjoy the moment and understand that things don’t always go as planned—and really don’t want them to. Some great things happen when you just roll with what is in front of you at the moment. Sometimes you just need to sit and stare at the grains of sand!! On our boat trip to Salt Cay we talked with a lady from Vermont and a gal from Canada who owned houses on Salt Cay and spends their winters in this part of the world. They were very interesting.
There’s not much to adjust to here as the Turks and Caicos are on eastern standard time, use the dollar and the same electrical current as the U.S. English is the main language. All in all quite easy.
A little more about the islands:
The Turks Islands -- Grand Turk is the capital of the territory and has a population of 5567. Salt Cay has a
population of 186.
The Caicos Islands -- East Caicos and West Caicos are uninhaited, Providenciales is the urban center with 22,542, North Caicos has a population of 1,895, Middle Caicos has a population of 468, South Caicos has a population of 1,579, Ambergris Cay was uninhabited until 1997, Dellis Cay was uninhabited until 2007—In 2010 the Mandarin Oriental Hotel will open, Pine Cay has a population of 30 and Parrot Cay has a population of 100.
In summation: excellent diving, easy going, informally lovely, and absolutely easy to recommend!
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