Grand Turk – Day 9

Published: March 10th 2012
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Turks & Caicos Islands - Friday – March 9th

Hello from Grand Turk. Actually there is a whole morning of events to report first, because we did not arrive until about 1:00. That is 1:00 Eastern Time, so we gained an extra hour last night and got to sleep in. That was good because we did go to the late night movie and saw The Artist - it was kind of strange, but Janet really wanted to see it.

We did get up early enough to go to the sit-down breakfast in the Da Vinci Dining Room. The special for today was Eggs Benedict (which Janet really wanted), but this is a Friday in Lent, so we settle for cheese omelets (Janet’s had mushrooms too). We sat at a table for 8 and met 3 new couples, all of which had been in the military so those stories dominated the discussion most of the time. They did ask if we had gotten the military ship-board credit (NO) but we will check on that before our next cruise. David did go to the purser’s office to get a copy of our bill, and everything is correct so far.

After breakfast, Janet went to the arts & craft demonstration where they taught her how to do “card making”. In case you do not know it, Janet and Valerie have been making cards for quite awhile so the expectations of learning something new was low. However she did make 2 cards which used some colors that she hadn’t thought about pairing together. Coincidentally, today would have been Janet’s normal day to attend her card group if she were back in St Louis.

David missed that demo and went to the scholarship presentation, with today’s lecture being about Pirates of the Spanish Main. The same person who gave the lecture on mega-ships presented today and basically he told stories about some pirates who were notorious (like Blackbeard) and others who made their reputation more favorable (like Sir Francis Drake). It was interesting but we will not recount any of the stories here.

Since we had a fairly late breakfast, we did not want a large lunch. Our tour was scheduled for 20 minutes after docking was anticipated, so we had some fruits, salads, and desserts. That was just fine. The ship docked on schedule and we disembarked pretty quickly. There is a lengthy pier leading to the exit, so we had to do some walking. The terminal exit/entrance is through their Duty Free shop, with quite a few additional shops just beyond that. But we deferred any shopping until after our tour.

We found the tour guide and got to board a small bus (about 20 persons). Our driver literally drove us all over the island (it is only about 7 miles long and a little more than 1 mile wide). He told us a lot of interesting facts about Grand Turk and some things about the adjacent islands and cays.

Columbus was here too, and soon after the Spanish arrived in 1492, they began to capture many of the local inhabitants and shipped them back to Hispaniola as slaves. In a few short years, these islands were all but void of people.

During the next few centuries the Turks and Caicos were passively explored by the British, French and Spanish, but none of them ever established any permanent settlements. In the late 17th century salt collectors from Bermuda settled here. They raked the salt (a precious commodity) from the shallow waters, loaded it on their ships and returned to Bermuda.

In 1841, a Spanish slave ship named the Trouvadore shipwrecked near East Caicos in the course of a run transporting African slaves to be sold to the sugar plantations in Cuba. 192 Africans aboard survived, and those that remained served the British as apprentices in varied trades for one year; they were also taught English, and later freed.

The "Great Bahamas Hurricane" of 1874 devastated the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos. Consequently, the British annexed the islands to Jamaica because of governmental and medical reasons. In August of 1962, Jamaica was granted independence from Britain, and the Turks & Caicos Islands became a British crown colony that same year. Even though independence talk has surfaced on occasion, it's still a crown colony today.

The Turks and Caicos Islands are a British Overseas Territory consisting of two groups of tropical islands, the larger Caicos Islands and the smaller Turks Islands. Being British, they drive on the left side of the road. By contrast to St Thomas, they have right-hand drive vehicles here. In fact, our driver told us that there are about 6000 residents on Grand Turk but about 14,000 vehicles – all of which had to be shipped to the island.

Today the Turks and Caicos are a leading international investment center for the offshore investor. The islands are a (zero tax) jurisdiction and therefore have no taxes on income, capitol gains, corporate profits or estates. In addition, tourism is a major business here. The seven mile Grace Bay Beach on the Island of Providenciales is rated by travel experts as one of the best beaches in the world, and all inclusive resorts, fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving are major attractions.

In the late 1950’s and early 60’s, the US government built military installations here for tracking space launches. John Glenn’s Freindship-7 actually splashed down about 10 miles from Grand Turk. There is a recreation of his space pod still here on the island.

There are still houses here without roofs, or at least covered with tarps, resulting from the damage done by F-5 hurricane Ike in 2008. Local building codes require all the houses to be made of cement and cinderblock with rebar reinforcements, about to withstand F-5 hurricanes. Unfortunately those standards do not apply to the roofs

Our driver stopped at a local gift shop where we had the opportunity to purchase local souvenirs, or to buy something to eat (guess other cruise ships do not send their passengers ashore with full stomachs). While we were shopping and using the facilities, the bus left to take one of the passengers to the local hospital and then back to the cruise ship – we never heard anything more about her. But he returned before too long and took us on to the tip of the island.

There is an automated lighthouse, but the scenic views of the ocean were spectacular. The water is extremely clear. In close to shore it is a turquoise color, but further out there is a distinct change to dark blue where the sea bottom suddenly drops to 7000 feet. The shallow water is excellent for snorkeling and the deep water is ideal for scuba diving – neither of which we tried.

All across the island there are leftover salt ponds – from long ago when it was a valuable product. Without slave labor they no longer collect the salt, but the ponds still fill an important function. They are connected via canals and buried pipes to the seashore. When they have heavy storms, the island would flood except that the run off goes into these ponds. Then at the next low tide they open the gates and the water in the ponds drains into the ocean. Even when there are the heaviest hurricane rains, the island can be drained within a couple of days.

The driver said that in addition to tourism, there is also a seafood exporting industry here. We saw some horses, cows, and donkeys wandering along the side of the roads. The driver said there are no laws requiring them to penned, just as the dogs are allowed to run loose too.

After the tour, we went to the shopping area to see what was in the stores and then we went back aboard the ship. The pool area was not crowded at all today – must be because the beach is immediately at the end of the pier and the water was nice and smooth. By the way, the temperature today was 77 and mostly sunny – quite a lot like yesterday in St Thomas.

We went down to dinner and one of the specialties today was sea scallops, which were delicious. Then it was off to the theater for another production of the singers and dancers. Unfortunately, not every show can be good, and this one was really not our taste at all.

Tonight they are celebrating Daylight Savings Time one day early, so we lose the hour that we gained last night. This appears to be because Sunday morning (when everyone else will adjust their clocks) is when everyone disembarks and they probably want to make sure everybody has their clock set correctly for those early morning activities.


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