Turks & Caicos
This time last year I was here.
Welcome to Providenciales, site of my friend Elizabeth's bachelorette party.
Turks & Caicos is a collection of 40 Caribbean islands, 8 of which are inhabited. It's a British territory, which means lots of celeb Brits have homes there (and Prince!), and on the most touristy island of Provo, everything is ridiculously expensive. But maybe it's worth it, because everything is also ridiculously pretty?
Provo's 38 square miles seems to be covered in resorts, restaurants, beach houses and fancy French breakfast bakeries, but until 1967, there were no hotels on the island. That was the year Third Turtle Inn was built by a developer who needed to house potential real estate investors.
In 1984 Club Med opened a large hotel and casino, spearheading a tourist boom. Now the five mile area surrounding Club Med, Grace Bay Beach, is ground zero for resorts and condos.
We stayed in a lovely, intimate apartment-style resort a short walk or golf cart ride to the beach. (Sorry, can't remember its name!) The beach was crowded, and you can rent loungers and eat at sea-view cafes and all the usual stuff. But for me, Grace Bay is kind of whatever. That part of the trip was great, but it was about the bachelorette party—singing cheesy karaoke with the other ladies, drinking wine by the pool (it was right outside our back doors, and we had it to ourselves), taking late night swims and playing party games.
A few days later, the other women left, and my host dropped me at my Airbnb—an actual apartment, studio-style, in a less touristy neighborhood. I think it was about $60 a night, by far the cheapest accommodations I could find. I could walk to a different beach now, though it took a little longer. But this beach, Turtle Cove, was more relaxing because it was lined with big houses, and there were beach dogs and not many people and shelves of coral reef just off shore, which I eventually snorkeled to.
Ok, earlier when I said Provo was all resorts and restaurants, that was hyperbole. Some parts of the island, such as the road leading to Osprey Rock (where there are carvings from shipwrecked sailors and pirates from the 18th and 19th centuries) still require a 4x4 to traverse. (I never made it there!) And there are a couple of national beach parks and some plantation ruins, if you're into that kind of thing.
There's a weekly fish fry every Thursday from 5:30-9:30pm, where you get conch fritters and jerk chicken and oxtail. (Conch is basically it's own food group in T&C, and you'll find the shells on the beach. Because conch are the prototype for "seashell," you'll want to take them home. But it's illegal to take one without a government permit, and they're regularly confiscated at the Provo airport.) At the fish fry, which happens in a big concrete lot not far from the beach and gets super-crowded, there's always live music. It's a mix of locals and tourists and once the sun goes down, it turns into a big dance party.
My Airbnb host (who is Haitian but grew up in T&C) took me to a local bar in Kew Town one night, and the two bartenders were from the Dominican Republic. It was divey inside, neon lit outside and nearly empty. The bartenders were friendly and played music videos from the internet on the TV, and my host salsa danced with me.
The next morning, I'd had enough of Provo. I got up early and took an unlicensed taxi (which the T&C visitor center warns you against, so duly noted) to the ferry dock. My plan was to go to North & Middle Caicos and hitchhike around, and if I couldn't catch a ride, I'd walk to one of the beaches near the dock. I'd tried to book a rental car online the night before, but no one responded to my inquiries, so, whatever. (My fault, for being last minute...)
Except that it's too deserted, I would never catch a ride, said Lindsey, the guy who sells tickets to the ferry. He grew up on North Caicos and called in a few favors. Soon I had a rental car reservation waiting (even though I was the stereotype of a dumb tourist and had left my license back at the Airbnb) and a free place to stay on North Caicos (North & Middle are connected by a causeway), compliments of his aunt, who had another Airbnb property that was unrented that night. (Shout out for the amaze hospitality, Dorothy and Lindsey!)
Once I made it to Middle Caicos, the Crossing Place Trail was first on the list. If you swoon over having limestone bluff-bordered beaches all to yourself, this is your place! (Seriously. I skinny-dipped.) Park at Blue Horizon Resort and watch out for poisonwood! (Who knew it existed, outside of a Barbara Kingsolver novel? It's like poison ivy but worse!)
Mudjin Harbor, where Crossing Place begins, was maybe my favorite beach. There's a shallow sandbar (with a dangerous rip tide, so watch out) leading to Dragon Island (basically the protruding tip of the sandbar), and the waves are rough but fun. And this word will become redundant, but yeah, it's gorgeous.
Because my trip was haphazardly planned (ok, not planned at all), I missed the Conch Bar Caves. But I did find Indian Cave, a limestone marvel with trees and vines growing through natural skylights. It's damp inside, so there are mosquitos. And this place is amazing, but it doesn't seem to attract a lot of tourists. The turn-off, just west of Mudjin Harbor, is easy to miss. It's a little dirt road on your right, coming from the harbor, so pay attention!
Ok, not gonna lie, Horsestable Beach is (wait for it) gorgeous...and creepy. It was nearly dusk when I arrived, picking my way past what appeared to be a long deserted, open-air community center and down a (slightly) rotting pier, protruding into the choppy, quickly-rising ocean. There was no one around to share the romantic sunset, but further down the beach, I did find the crumbling ruins of a resort that I later learned is St. Charles (thanks Google!), operated for a year or two around 2006-07, before going bust. (The ruins feel much older than a decade, but you know, Google never lies! #kidding #butnot )
Only one of four planned buildings was actually erected, and the units were priced at $600K each. You can go inside the building, climb the stairs, check out the balcony view. There's also the ghostly footprint of an elaborate, winding pool with a moat.
I hurried back to my car, because even though I'm pretty sure crime barely exists in North/Middle Caicos, there's something super-unsettling about being on an deserted beach with a crumbling resort and abandoned community center in the dark. The whole scene felt post-apocalyptic.
And that was kind of it. The next morning, I tried to visit Wade Green's Plantation, but it was closed and the fence wasn't climbable. (Quick, important history lesson: The first inhabitants of T&C were Hispaniola, circa 500 AD. The Spanish arrived in 1512, captured the natives and transported them off the islands as slaves. T&C were pretty much depopulated for the next 150 years. Bermudian salt collectors settled on the islands in the late 17th century, and lots of pirates began hiding out there. In 1783, British settlers came, and some Africans from wrecked European slave ships also joined the colonies—as free people, since, after 1834, slavery was illegal in British territories. Wade Green was a Brit who established a cotton plantation in 1789, at a time when slavery was still a thing in the T&C. The first slaves in the T&C were likely brought from Bermuda and America, when loyalists fled to British territories after the American Revolution. Green held 384 people captive at his death in 1822, and they worked over 8,000 acres of his three plantations. Most modern T&C citizens are the descendants from the Africans and Bermudians that Europeans brought to the islands against their will. #sometimeshumanitysucks)
Once I returned to Provo, I had to find a ride to the airport. It was a short and sweet trip and totally fulfilled a summer's worth of beach-craving!