Turks + Caicos = Turquoise

Beach at Bohio Dive Resort
Beach at Bohio Dive Resort
Credit: C. Van Brunschot

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.

Donkeys drop by for drinks
Credit: Laura Jobson

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.

Turtle on reef - Grand Turk
Credit: Steve Dunk

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.

Cockburn Town cyclists
Credit: C. Van Brunschot

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.

Duck breast at Turks Head Inne
Duck breast at Turks Head Inne
Credit: C. Van Brunschot

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.

Bohio Adirondack chairs at sunset
Credit: C. Van Brunschot

 

 

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

Happy Anniversary – er, New Year!

Along the Mayan Riviera

 

They say you can’t choose your family.

I beg to differ.

Consider the case of a 1990 prenatal class, where five couples took a break from their Lamaze breathing to muse about their future as first-time parents.  Two months after the birth of their May babies, they got together to compare notes.  And never looked back.

The Producers' Original Five
The Producers’ Original Five

Coffee time became brunch, which became hikes and camping trips, skating parties and ski days.  The burgeoning clan developed rituals, as extended families do.  Pumpkin carving in October.  New Year’s in Whitefish, MT.  Canada Day in BC’s Columbia River valley.  And May barbecues to celebrate the births that brought them together.

In a Mel Brooks moment, they nicknamed themselves “The Producers” and proceeded to be just that.  Time brought not only new babies,  but overseas moves (and returns),  career changes, high school graduations, and departures for university.  And while the kindred bonds stretched a bit, they never broke.

Now twenty members strong, the tribe’s traditions continue and the young Products have established new rituals of their own.  Think wing nights and club-hopping and community sports teams – with whoever happens to be in town.

It’s been 25 years as a “family by choice” for our gang.  Worthy of an epic anniversary celebration.  So in a mammoth effort that was more than a year in the planning, we pulled our family members from jobs and schools across the country to descend for one week on the unsuspecting Yucatan coast.

Building sandcastles
Photo credit: Amanda Brownlie

Fortunately, the NOW Sapphire was up to the task:  yoga and tennis and water sports for the active set; a long white talc beach for our shore-seekers; and engaging and efficient bartenders for the cocktail crowd.  Our family ebbed and flowed in groups of 2 to 20 according to energy and inclination – and the resort proved small enough to track each other down but large enough to steal away for a little alone time.  We squabbled over tipping; debated dining choices and politics with equal vigour; shared cocktail discoveries; and caught up on matters of love and career.

But we’re not ones to stay put for long.  The scuba divers among us made their way to shadowy cenotes and shrouded wrecks.  The foodies chopped and charred to their hearts’ delight with Chef Salvador Fernandez at The Little Mexican Cooking School.  And a large snorkeling armada bobbed among the reefs, discovering barracudas and eagle rays and a sea turtle swimming off with the current.

Rappelling into Tres Reyes cenote
Photo credit: Alltournative EcoArchaeological Adventures

The whole gang assembled with the knowledgeable and ever-amiable Jonhy and Ismael from Alltournative EcoArcheological Expeditions for a classic Producers’ adventure:  kayaking across marshes and swimming in caverns; rappeling into cenotes and ziplining through the canopy .  We gorged on traditional village cooking and scrambled up and down the Coba temples.  And when the Mayan elder wafted sweet-smelling smoke over our heads, he didn’t need to tell us that we were truly blessed.

Our 25th anniversary celebrations reached their ultimate crescendo at the Sapphire’s sparkling New Year’s Eve party – with winter wonderland decorations and Cirque-de-Soleil-like entertainment that took direct aim at our Canadian hearts.  Dinner brought compelling wines, ambitious courses of beautifully-served food, and a DJ astute to our tendency to break into dance at the slightest excuse.   As the midnight fireworks burst along the shore and torch-light glittered off the water, we made a hearty toast to our good fortune, hugged our adopted kin tight and close, and breathed a wish for 2016 into each other’s ear.

To you, too, I wish FELIZ AÑO NUEVO  and a HAPPY NEW YEAR.  May you all find family where you need them in 2016.

And to my Producers family – here’s to the next 25!

Producers' Anniversary New Year 2016
Photo credit: Phil & Sandra Fischer

(With thanks to Mark Brownlie for his remarkable memoir,  Ill-Mannered and Misbehaved:  The First 25 Years of the Baby Gang.)

Text © 2016 Catherine Van Brunschot