TOUR 3 — Turks & Caicos








The Turks & Caicos islands are in the Atlantic Ocean, southeast of Florida and south of the Bahamas. The TC islands’ monochromatic, flat terrain showcases the three dimensional blues and greens of their surrounding sea. The Atlantic glows sapphire and cream along northern coaslines. The south side of the islands cradles a giant, limpid, turquoise shallows called the Caicos Banks. Cactus, casuarina pines and iguanas live on the smaller islands of the Caicos Banks. TC’s main islands inhabited by humans are Grand Turk, South Caicos, East Caicos, Middle Caicos, North Caicos, Providenciales, and West Caicos.

Ship your board from Miami to Prividenciales, TC’s capital, with a company called Cairsea. Seacare ships from Provo (Providenciales) to Grand Turk.

Fly from Provo to Grand Turk if you want to tour the main TC islands, as I did. Seacare will ship your board from Provo and return the empty crate to Provo. On Grand Turk, stay at the Salt Raker Inn. The nearby Turks & Caicos Museum will make you wonder, amid artifacts that convince you to say yes, if Columbus visited Grand Turk. Local or expat, Turks and Caicosans respect their history and appreciate the Territory’s unspoiled natural resources. Conversation at the Salt Raker bar on Grand Turk revolves around Columbus (yes or no), and the sighting of whales and sharks.

Visit Salt Cay, nine miles south of Grand Turk. Follow a green thread of shallow water between undersea cliffs that drop thousands of feet to the ocean bottom. Paddling to Salt Cay, you realize that our humanity is rescued from the depths by temporary stranding in the moment: Silvery islets reach up from deep water and invite you to bask on their pale sand. The horn of nature’s plenty blows on Salt Cay’s two square miles. Nearby reefs teem with fish, conch and lobster. Salt Cay’s few hoteliers realize that they cannot live off tourism, but financial homeostasis is reached by living on nature’s bounty and homegrown produce. 0dd things happen on Salt Cay. You wake up in your simple room at Pirate’s Hideaway, think you hear the wind blowing, and find a cow breathing in your ear.

Ink dark, the twenty-two mile Columbus Passage is seven thousand feet deep and intimidating. You might want a boat to follow you across from Salt Cay to South Caicos. Contact Everette Frietes of Oasis Diving on Grand Turk. Unused to slowly following a paddler for hours, your boat captain may literally fall asleep. You may drift off course and paddle more miles than twenty-two. It happened to me.

Paddling in to the harbor in South Caicos, you recognize a lawless spirit. Apparently arrested for drug running, a rusted tanker is permanently anchored just offshore. The only lodging is at Ocean Haven, a rambling castle-like structure that dominates South Caicos’s only hilltop. Now a laid-back dive boat operation, Ocean Haven was intended as a high end resort. You may discover on South Caicos, as I did, abandoned houses where splintered ceiling fans still revolve, and shards of glass litter the floor. Holes in kitchen floors indicate abrupt removal of appliances. “Good price,” says your guide about the house. Whether they offer you flawed real estate, or delicious cracked conch and steamed fish, the friendly South Caicos smile is one you will not forget.

The hot, green and shallow Caicos Banks separate you from your next destination, a channel between East and Middle Caicos called Windward Going Through. To reach Windward from South Caicos, you must cross fifteen miles of Caicos Banks, where low tide means mud flats and inch deep water. You can go with a local on a fan driven swamp boat that specializes in crossing such terrain. Or you can wade and tow your board. You may see what locals call “holes”. Like the blue throat of a flower, an ocean hole reaches toward the heart of the earth like roots into soil. Holes on the Banks can fill with lemon sharks stranded at low tide.

Windward Going Through is narrow but deep enough to paddle. Your clothes and skin will blacken with mosquitoes. Paddle north until you reach the Atlantic Ocean and the north coasts of Middle and East Caicos. To your right is East Caicos, an island of trackless beaches, clear water, sea birds, healthy reefs—and no people. You may want to stop and explore, but unless you have multi-day camping gear, don’t.

Your overnight stop is fifteen miles up the coast of Middle Caicos, Sheltered by an outer reef, you will enjoy translucent green water, deserted beaches and imposing headlands. Your goal is Mudgin Harbor, named after Bermudians who landed there. “Mudjin” is localese for Bermudian. When you see hilltop houses with blue roofs—almost the only buildings on Middle Caicos—park your board at the classic curve of beach that marks Mudgin Harbor. Hike up a rocky path and shelter at Blue Horizon resort. Your view is of Atlantic surf. A powdery beach and deep caves in the cliff are reached from the resort through an underground passage.

Juniper Hole is a narrow gap between cliffs on the west tip of Middle Caicos, North Caicos and several small out islands. Juniper Hole is a crucible for small boats, like you, who travel from Middle to North Caicos. A gap in the outer reef fills Juniper Hole with high surf. If a wave catches you at the entrance of Juniper Hole, you may hit the cliff. Most likely, you will wash through to Bottle Creek, a shallow lagoon protected by Sandy Island to the north and North Caicos to the south. The lagoon teems with stingrays and barracudas. Let them be. Follow the coast of North Caicos to a settlement. Ask about Bottle Creek Lodge, an eco-lodge. You may find yourself in a room replete with a six-foot high, self-composting toilet.

From Bottle Creek, skim the coast of North Caicos to the several exotic islands that connect North Caicos to Providenciales. Islands like Parrot Cay and Pine Cay host ultra expensive resorts. You can temporarily enjoy the resplendent waters and beaches of these exclusive islands, then cross the last channel, Leeward Going Through, to Providenciales.

Provo is TC’s commercial Mecca. Tourism, real estate hype and entrepreneurial speculation thrive on Provo. It may be the end of your trip, as it was mine. West Caicos is a main TC island. But from where you can get supplies on Provo, it is thirty miles to West Caicos, where you will find nothing at all. Rumors are that West Caicos will become a naturally gated self-sufficient community for the very wealthy. For now, West Caicos is the voice of TC: gorgeously unspoiled and wild. Paddle on and enjoy.

|  Biography   |  Map  |   Tour 1  |   Tour 2  |   Tour 3   |   Tour 4  |   Tour 5   |   Tour 6   |   Tour 7  |   Tour 8  |   Tour 9   |   Contact    |

© 2006-2009 Susan Chaplin, Tortola, VI
Web Design by Linda Brown