18 November 2009


I've just returned from a brief trip to Grand Turk. The purpose of which was mainly to scope the place out and get some ideas for things to do there. I was also scoping out transportation on the Dominican fruit boat. Instead of flying over, I hitched a ride with the Dominicans that come to South Caicos every few weeks. Our security guard, Daniel, is friends with the crew and uses the boat when he visits home in the Dominican Republic. I've thought about riding with them all the way to Puerto Plata, but I wanted to check things out before I go that whole distance across open ocean. So they offered to take me to Grand Turk. Daniel arranged everything and I met them at the government dock here on South Caicos around noon on Monday.

The S.S.Elvira

It's not exactly a passenger boat, so there are no comfy seats and you mostly sit amongst cargo. They do have bunks and a hammock for the longer crossing (it takes about 10 hours to get to the DR), but for our "3 hour tour" to Grand Turk (yes, that's a reference to Gilligan's Island) everybody was up and about. I lent a hand where I could, heaving the life boat on board and stowing things for departure, but they didn't require it. I was treated like a guest of honor, invited into the bridge, and given the captain's chair. They wouldn't even accept payment from me. They said they'd charge to go all the way to the DR, but Grand Turk was free - probably just because of Daniel. The others at SFS joked that I was going to be robbed at sea or sold into a slave trade, but they were all as friendly as could be.

El Capitan

I certainly hoped their concern for safety on the ship would be greater than it was with contraption.

Some of the crew.

They took turns driving the boat. And some of them made better captains than others. One guy, who seemed to be at the helm for hours, didn't quite grasp the concept of steering such a big vessel. He didn't look out the window at all. Instead, he was fixed on the compass, trying to keep the needle on our bearing of 115°. The problem was that when we drifted a little to one side, he'd over-steer in the opposite direction. The boat would take a little while to respond, as you would imagine a boat of that size to do, and he would end up having to turn back the other way, over-steering again. We made a zig-zag pattern for miles. I was watching the GPS display and he ranged between 102° and 127°. I bet the trip would have been 45 minutes shorter if it weren't for this guy!


On the crossing, in the middle of the Columbus Passage, it occurred to me that the nearest land was about 1.5 miles straight down.

Apparently, the Elvira used to be a Texas shrimp boat.

We arrived, finally, and they gave me a ride to the center of town. The customs officers were a little suspicious of what I was doing with a group of Dominicans and stopped us as we were leaving the port. But they let us pass when I presented my passport and resident's visa and their search of my bag turned up nothing. I had a couple of hours before nightfall, so I hurriedly searched for a grocery store and a place to set up my tent (it's funny how things revert to the basic necessities of life - food, shelter, and water - when in a situation like that). I got a few snacks and a slice of disgustingly chewy microwaved pizza, and set out to the north end of town. I made my way to the beach and just kept walking until I was sufficiently far away from development. I set up my tent just above the high tide line and then proceeded to be devoured by mosquitoes for the next 10 hours. I also had an ant hill on the inside of my tent (I have a floorless tent). Instead of packing up and finding a better spot, I just endured. Needless to say, I didn't sleep well.

The view from camp.

The only good thing about this pizza place is its name.

I woke up early the next morning and headed back into town. Nothing was open. I figured this was just because it was early, but I found out later that there was no ship in port (Grand Turk is a stopping point for Carnival Cruise Lines). And when there's no ship, Grand Turk is deader than South Caicos! The next boat wouldn't be there until Thursday and, I was told, nothing would reopen until then. Fortunately, I found a place to rent a bicycle and just toured around. It was nice to get on a bike again. I went from relying on a bicycle as my primary mode of transportation at home to not riding at all here. I think I rode every single road on Grand Turk.

This is part of the completely empty Carnival Cruise Terminal. I was tempted to swim in their pool, but I didn't.

The entrance of North Creek (a salt water estuary) would have been a better place to camp if I had known about it.

Grand Turk lighthouse - apparently they used to deliberately burn this light really dimly to wreck ships so the Grand Turk residents could salvage the cargo.

Her Majesty's Prison was one of the attractions that never opened. The sign on the door says admission is $7. I think that must be a new addition. It was probably cheaper to get in when it was in operation.

Riding down Front Street

My bike.

Grand Turk, the residents claim, was the first landfall of Christopher Columbus. In actuality, it's only one of a few possible places in the West Indies where he first landed. Despite this, there is a monument in the center of town quite confidently claiming it to be.

With not much happening on the island and the prospect of another mosquito filled night, I decided I catch the last flight back to South. It was a shorter visit than I had planned (though I had only planned on staying for two nights), but it was worth it. Especially because of the boat ride over there.

Grand Turk

Approaching South Caicos

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