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Published: December 28th 2014
Tuesday 23rd December, 2014. Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands, West Indies
Grand Turk (population 5600) is one of the Turks and Caicos archiipelago. These are a group of some 40 or so cays (low-lying sand or coral islands) 30 miles south of the Bahamas and about 100 miles north east of the island of the Dominican Republic. Only 8 of the islands in the archipelago are inhabited. The capital of Grand Turk irs Cockburn but we didn't go anywhere near it. We were fenced in to the Cruise Centre and the only way out was by taxi. At $20 US each to go 2 miles we gave it a miss. You were not allowed to walk! Grand Turk is only 6.5 miles from north to south and less than 2 miles wide.The islands are not in the Caribbean as they are completely surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean.
The earliest inhabitants of the islands were the Lucayan Indians who fled from South America to escape the Caribs. Most settled on East and West Caicos but Lucayan beads have been found on Grand Turk. Some historians are convinced that CC first landed on Grand Turk on 12 October 1492 but
others are more sceptical. What is indisputable is that the Spaniards did soon discover the islands and that within 25 years there were no Lucayans remaining as a result of succumbing to diseases brought by the Spainish or of being forced into slavery and worked to death.
Apart from being a popular hiding place for pirates nothing much happened on Grand Turk until Bermudans came to gather and export the salt late in the 17th century, a trade that continued for almost 300 years. However, it was not until the 1750's that the Bermudans took up permanent residence on the island. In the 18th century Grand Turk briefly came under French control, before becoming part of the Bahamas in 1764 and so under British rule. American Loyalists received grants of land afer being forced to leave the United States and settled here in the 1790's.
Disaster struck Grand turk on 30 Setember 1866 when the island was devasated by a particularly severe hurricane. More than 60 lives were lost and the salt industry was badly affected. Eight years later the Turks and Caicos became part of Jamaica and in 1962 a dependency of the British Crown. The salt
industry finally ended in 1970 and two US bases established in the 1950's were also closed. These military bases had provided much needed local employment and received international attendion in February 1962 when Colonel John Glenn splashed down off Grand Turk after becoming the first American to orbit the earth in Friendship 7. He was taken to Grand Turk for a medical and debriefing. Three months later Scott Carpenter was also taken to the US base on the island after orbiting the earth in Aurora 7.
Today the island is operated by one of the big cruise companies and tourism is one of the major industries along with fishing and offshore financial services. The new Cruise Centre was opened in February 2006 to cater for the increasing number of cruise ships svisiting this comparatively unspoilt island (well it was until they built the Cruise Centre!).
Once we had disembarked we went to find a cafe with Wi-Fi so we could post some blogs and check our emails. We then returned to the ship for lunch and changed into our swimming gear and returned to Govenor's Beach. First we went to find the Whale Sculpture that M had seen
on the TV in our cabin. Every winter between January and April thousands of Humpback whales migrate from the North Atlantic through the Turks and Caicos Islands on their way to and from breeding grounds in the Silber Bank to the north of the Dominican Replublic. There in the sheltered, shallow waters they breed and deliver their young. After taking some photos of the sculpture we sat under a palm tree and both had a dip in the crystal clear waters. We had to watch out for sea urchins though.
After we had finished on the beach and washed off the sand in the showers provided we went to find the Space Exploration Exhibition. It was quite well done but with replicas of some of some space vessels and lots of blurb about space exploration past and present. We had seen most of the real things though a few years ago at the Kennedy Space Centre. There was a replica of the Friendship 7 Space Capsule mentioned earlier. There was also a scale model of the Atlas D rocket which blasted John Glenn into orbit. It was the most powerful US rocket in the 1960's. The capsule was attached
to the top and broke away from the rocket a few minutes after liftoff. Powered by liquid fuel the original rocket was 75 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter. There was also a replica of the Mercury 7 Symbol. This was the space mission that carried America's first astronauts - there were 7 of them. (Alan Shepard Jr, Donald "Duke" Sta Schyton, Walter "Wally" Schirra Jr, Virgil "Gus" Grissom, John Glenn Jr, Gerald "Deke" Stayton and M Scott Carpenter). The Sign for Project Mercury which carried these men is a combination of the astrological symbol for the planet Mercury and the number 7 to represent the original astronauts. In astronomical symbolism the crescent of the Mercury symbol represents the mind poised over a circle representing the divine spirit and a cross representing physical matter. After taking some photos we returned to the ship.
After dinner we went to see the Headliners "Reel to Reel" show in the evening which was very good. It included shows from many hit musicals including Oliver, Grease, Summer Holiday and other musicals.
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