You’ve just dropped off your bags and lazily strolled down to the beach out front when you begin to dance in glee in front of your better half. You’ve flown in from Providenciales and landed in Grand Turk, one of those rare places where heaven and sea life could be one and the same. That’s when a black creature of sorts, sails by you underwater, a mere foot from your blue water ballet. You half think you’re crazy, yet as the creature rounds the back of your significant other, you manage to holler,  “manta-ray” (but really it’s a stingray). As you plunge your GoPro 6 underneath the waves, you capture the most beautiful, graceful winged creature you could ever imagine.

If this happened to you, you were me – flirting with nature in the gorgeously unique nation of Turks and Caicos.

Being a first-generation Trinidadian-American from Queens, NY, whose better half was born and raised on the island nation of Jamaica, we’re extremely pleased to find that culturally, everything about Turks and Caicos felt like a perfect mix of our upper and lower Antilles styles, yet with a twist uniquely its own.

Each night in the capital there is a large, lively music and food festival for visitors to the island, where dozens of pop up restaurants and food trucks gather to vie for the stomachs, dollars, and attention of those passing by. Longer lines mean better food! Ask your taxi driver about it, they ALL know the hours and location of this place and all the local spots to party and dine.

Within the last few generations, a very large influx of migrant workers from Haiti and the Dominican Republic have arrived on the island and with it, their cultures, customs, and languages. The local cuisine could be anything from beef patties or festival to mangu con salchicha, curry chicken, jerk pork or Haitian black rice. “Peas and Rice,” as we say in most lower Antilles islands, can also be had along with baked macaroni and cheese infused with green and red peppers and other vegetables mixed in. The food in the Turks and Caicos was… my goodness. The food at the hotels was equally delicious;  honorable mention goes to the Shrimp Mac and Lamb Chops served up at our resort!

Food and beverage prices on the island were higher than in some parts of New York, due to the high level of imported goods brought to the island. The extremely high salinity (salt levels) on the island,  prevent the growth of many things typically found in other Caribbean islands.

Although the food caught our attention, the real reason we were in town was to complete our Advanced Certification for Open Water, a series of six dives that encompass everything from search and rescue tactics to 8 pm night dives under the fall of night. Luckily, as we came to find out, we were in good hands.

 


DID YOU KNOW?
THERE ARE LEVELS TO THIS…


After landing and spending our first night at a very clean yet remotely located bed and breakfast, we flew into the island of Grand Turk to stay at the Bohio Dive Resort located literally off of one of the best beaches on the entire island (and where we met out new stingray friend!).

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Giving ourselves options, we decided to dive with another local company called Grand Turk Diving Company.  They signed us up with their local veteran Master Diver Smitty (*Smithie), a quiet and warm, yet focused man born on the island who’d stopped counting his dives after he’d racked up 15,000 of them. Smitty proved to be a patient and immensely knowledgeable instructor whose butterfly-like grace at times wowed us. The meditative style breathing techniques and movements he taught, truly helped us master things like buoyancy, air conservation and simply being more aware of the experience and all the joy and serenity it had to offer.

We became one with the sea, diving down to depths as low as 110 feet at several coral reefs with colorful names such as “The Library” or the aptly named “Black Forest.” Seeing a turtle flapping by you at 80 feet, followed by a small nurse shark (who wasn’t in the slightest worried about us!) are memories that don’t leave the mind quickly. Knowing we were over a shelf that went thousands of feet down was awe-inspiring. Of special significance to us was the fact that our night dive included two of Smitty’s young proteges and we had an “All-Black Dive,” five deep, underneath the stars.

Days not spent under the sea were spent strolling the town on Grand Turk and taking in the mix of beautiful sunshine, crystal blue-green water, and historical sites next to a few locations that still were clearly damaged by the major hurricanes of 2018. Thankfully, many of the local businesses were able to survive; some with more ease (or difficulty) than others.

We were able to borrow a couple of the weather-kissed bicycles provided by our resort and cover the entire island with a few miles of pedaling. Completely worth it, especially if the sun is not at its highest point in the sky! The homes and municipal buildings along Duke and Front streets and West Road, carry a genuine glimpse into the island’s past and feel almost like time travel, save for the more recent structures surrounding them.

When the cruise ships come in on Monday morning, the town wakes up and is teaming with life and laughter. Electric trolley carts doing tours rule the streets and you will see many of the available rentable scooters and golf carts roaming through “Cockburn Town” that day. They seamlessly weave around the occasional wild horse or donkey.

IMG: Grand Turk. : Boris Kasimov. Flickr. Creative Commons

As for nightlife, there are several smaller bars in the area and one or two main spots where one can catch a tune or a dance. I even found a packed bar hosting Karaoke night, and the talent came out that night! If you are lucky, you’ll catch the smooth vocals of a local police officer and part-time crooner while you are out and about. We also found him belting out sweet tunes at our dive resort during their Sunday evening BBQ and movie night! Turks tend to wear several hats regarding work, and they pridefully do them with a smile and a cheerful spirit.

Before we left our new paradise, we were blessed to be brought over to the restaurant owned by Master Diver Smitty and his wife, “Friskyz Island Grub,” located on Front Street, near Queen Street. Their chicken wings and fried whole snapper knocked our socks off as well as their rices, salads and almighty homemade pepper sauces. Tell them Shaun and Su sent you if you are ever fortunate enough to stop and eat there!

 

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#budsnrice #hashedfish #macncheese #plantain #salad

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In short, Turks and Caicos was a new place that felt like a sweet, familiar face. It quite easily shot up to the top of the list of places to come back to again.

You will leave with the greatest smile and warmest experiences (as long as you bring your heart, your appetite, your dancing shoes… and your wallet LOL)!

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