Just back from Turks & Caicos – whose very name has always evoked the word “turquoise” in my mind. As in turquoise water and white sand beaches. As in long walks through the surf and lazy reads beneath a rustling palm tree. A picture-perfect location for this year’s dive trip with friends from another lifetime.
Shunning the luxury resorts of Providenciales for the better diving prospects of the outer islands in the Turks & Caicos tiara, we landed upon Grand Turk – a modest island just 11 km long and 2.5 km wide, where on a hot afternoon the population of doe-eyed feral donkeys seems to exceed the number of human inhabitants out and about.
Of course, reality is always grittier than fantasy. Those photogenic donkeys are apt to rummage through garbage cans for discarded conch burgers and salad greens – and trash management is an issue on an island this small and breezy. At the Bohio Dive Resort, the accommodation leans to boxy; the rooms immaculate, but plain. Shops and attractions open and shutter with the infrequent passage of springtime cruise ships. My city-fueled energy always proves more difficult to shrug off than I remember and my over-stimulated eyes at first see nothing to discover in the pared-down landscape of a scrubby Caribbean atoll.
But the warm shallow water is indeed a stunning transparent turquoise and the beaches are powdery soft. What’s more, under the patient modeling of Bohio hosts, Ginny and Tom, and my dive guide, Ollie, I learn to adapt to the rhythms of island life and allow its muted treasures to reveal themselves at their own unhurried pace.
A small spotted eagle ray fluttering across the sandy bottom. Adolescent turtles stroking gently through the current. Behemoth lobsters standing guard at the entrance to their coral abodes. Slender fish torpedoing above the water to drop soundlessly into the crystal clear ripples.
When the beach is near-deserted, my friend, Michelle, teaches me to stand-up paddleboard – with unexpected success.
Terra firma yields its own rewards. A pot-holed drive to the historic lighthouse brings secluded cliff-top views after the cruise ship zipliners have retired for the afternoon. The staff at the tiny, but fascinating, National Museum are knowledgeable and genuine; the museum’s collection and gift-shop both curated carefully. A cycle through Cockburn Town to the end of the island brings a friendly wave or two, and affirmation that the beaches do indeed go on and on and on.
And what a discovery the food is! On the terrace of the Grand Turk Inn’s Asian-fusion restaurant, we savour an intricately-flavoured Red Snapper Thai Curry. A tender duck breast arrives on a pillow of sautéed red cabbage and potato mash at the newly-refurbished Turks Head Inne. And at the Bohio Resort’s airy Guanahani Restaurant and Ike & Donkey Beach Bar, the offerings are ever-generous: from home-style breakfasts abundant with seasonal fruit, to lunchtime fishcakes and gargantuan fresh salads, to a long and diverse dinner menu ranging from seafood skewers to bento-boxes to a chicken tikka masala with a West Indies bent.
Within the week, the Bohio’s red umbrellas and Adirondack chairs become my oft-sought gems on Pillory Beach, and the discordant brays of quarrelsome donkeys fade to simple punctuation in the midnight rustle of the casuarina trees.
Soft memories to accompany me home. And perhaps one day to revisit.
Text © 2016 Catherine Van Brunschot