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Grand Turk Island
A real Caribbean destination since 1492

 


The following is an excerpt from

Caribbean Insider Adventures

by Janet Burleson and Donald Burleson ($9.95, Rampant TechPress).


Many scholars are convinced that Christopher Columbus first set-foot in the New World in the western shores of Grand Turk Island in 1492. While the exact spot of the first anchorage of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria remain clouded in 500 years of history, the prevailing winds, currents and ship logs makes a convincing argument that Grand Turk Island was the first sighted land and Columbus’s first stop prior to sailing south to Hispaniola.

 
 

Grand Turk is the capital of the Turks & Caicos Islands and Old Cockburn Town has been the seat of the government since 1766. Originally populated by Bermudan Salt-rakers in the 1700’s, the Island is a living museum of authentic British and Bermuda architecture, with many of the building (made from ground-up Conch shells) remaining intact.

The industry of Salt production dates from 1678 when businessmen from Bermuda created the expansive “salinas” in the center is Grand Turk Island where they remain to this day.  Hundreds of descendents from the original horses and donkeys remain on Grand Turk Island where they roam freely amongst the quaint neighborhoods.

Today, much of the Western shore of Grand Turk has been designated as the “Columbus Landfall National Park”. The Grand Turk area remained a frequent stop for the Spanish explorers, and the nearby Molasses Reed shipwreck of 1515 is the oldest European shipwreck in the new world.

The amazingly beautiful shoals and coral reefs are even more spectacular during the rare “green flash”, a dazzling burst of green light that occurs right at sunset against the western shores of Grand Turk Island.

Grand Turk Island Preparation

Visiting Grand Turk can be a very pleasant experience or a nightmare if you fail to take some basic precautions.  Make sure to pack a spray can of “Off”, antacid (Zantac) and an anti-diarrhea treatment (Imodium) plus and a bottle of water. 

Some areas of TCI are mosquito infested and just a few minutes of neglect can have disastrous results.  This picture is this author’s leg after a half-hour at poolside at the Osprey hotel without a mosquito repellant:

When brushing teeth, make sure that you use the bottled water to rinse.  Also, be VERY CAREFUL about taking ice from restaurants other than the Osprey or the Saltraker (who buy their ice from a government-inspected provider).

Getting to Grand Turk Island

We recommend the flights from Miami to Providenciales (Provo) primarily because of the spectacular aerial views of the Bahamas islands reefs. On the flight to from Miami to Provo, request a seat on the right-side of the aircraft (aisles D, E, F) and on the return request left-side seating (aisles A, B and C).

  On the flight from Miami to Provo you will be treated to some of the most amazing aerial beauty found anywhere in the world.  The flight skirts most of the Bahamas including Andros and Nassau.

 

Flying directly over spectacular undersea reefs and islands where the ocean ranges in color from a pale line green to a vibrant royal blue, in a collage of intense colors and patterns found nowhere else in North America.

Provo is a relatively well-developed island with a full-service airport and a short connection via Sky King to Grand Turk or Salt Cay. When traveling to Grand Tuck, request a left-side seat (the B aisle) to get a spectacular view of the Caicos Islands during your short flight to Grand Turk.

The best place to rent vehicles is Tony’s car rentals (231-1806, evenings 936-2934), and they can deliver a car, jeep, van or scooter directly your hotel. ( www.tonyscarrental.com )

Cabs:

Cabs are expensive on Grand Turk, and a round-trip to the Pillory for six can cost over $50.  Taxi service on Grand Turk can sometimes be unpleasant with old ragged cabs, with exhaust fumes and gasoline vapors permeating the cabin. We recommend the cab service by  Omaind Been (649) 231-0934.  Call ahead and Omaind will be waiting for you at the JAGS McCarthy airport.

Car Rental:

If you are planning more than a few cab rides each day, rental cars or scooters are cheaper.  You hotel concierge can have a car delivered to your hotel.  Mavis and Eric Smith rent great cars and have reasonable weekly rates.  They can be reached at (649) 946-1042 or their cell numbers at (649) 231-0167 and 231-1711.  Call ahead and Mavis will have you car at the airport.

Getting supplies on Grand Turk Island

There are many stores on Grand Turk island, each with their own specialties:

The Do It Center

This helpful store is nearly the Osprey and Salt Raker hotels and has a full-line of medicines, bug spray and sundry items.



Dots

The best-stocked grocery store is “Dots Food Fair”, a great place to get liquor, cigarettes, snacks and soda.

 



Cee's - Your first stop after arriving on Grand Turk Island should be to Cee’s wholesale grocery where you can buy cases of soda, beer, and snacks.  Soda can cost $1.50 at the restaurants and bars, and it is far cheaper to buy a few cases.

Grand Turk has a full-service hospital and offers full medical and pharmacy services.  As a tourist you enjoy low rates (less than  $100 for an emergency room visit) and less than $5 for prescription drugs.

Notable Grand Turk Island ex-pats

One pleasant surprise of Grand Turk are the “gems” that come from exceptional ex-pats who prefer to live in this tropical paradise. 

World renowned author and artist Tupper Saussy is a frequent visitor to the Osprey Hotel, and his amazing neo-realistic pen and watercolor works are on-display at the Osprey hotel restaurant. 

Saussy has a web site at www.tuppersaussy.com  and he has a museum in Statesboro Georgia.


The islands wonderful environment also attracts world-class gastronomic talent, most notably Zev Beak, a famous cooking video author, and the new chef at the Pillory Resort restaurant. 

 

A 1978 graduate of the prestigious CIA (Culinary Institute of America), Beck abandoned a lucrative restaurant business in Vancouver to make his home at Grand Turk. 
 

Dining on Grand Turk Island

While there are more than a dozen restaurants on Grand Turk, these are our favorites:

Pillory Hotel - An avid scuba diver, Chef Zev Beck graces the Pillory with a world-class Asian-Caribbean fusion cuisine, exceptional homemade deserts, and wonderful fresh local seafood. With entrée’s for under $30, it’s one of the best dining values in the Caribbean and a treat not to be missed.

Grand Turk Hotels: Salt Raker - Secret Garden

The colorful “Secret Garden” at the Salt Raker has excellent food, offered-up with a distinctly-European flavor by Erika, the German ex-pat proprietor of the ancient hotel and restaurant.

Don’t miss the hashed lobster and native treats such as braised oxtails and curried goat.
 

 

Her famous deserts including homemade key lime pie (made with Erika’s own lines, and the best we have ever eaten), and homemade banana cake and bread pudding with rum sauce.

The Osprey – The Ocean-front Osprey has cook-out style grilling on Sundays and Wednesdays, with great steaks and fresh local seafood. Food quality is sporadic, from excellent to inedible, but grill nights are always safe. Also make sure to spray with “Off” (available at the bar) or your dining experience will be shared with hundreds of mosquitoes.
 

Mookie Pookie

Mookie Pookie Pizza has great carry-out food, especially deviled eggs and wings.

Other Grand Turk dining favorites include:

  • The "gourmet burgers" (gooburgers) at the Waters Edge are excellent.

  • The Poop-deck offers amazing fried chicken, carry-out only.

The best breakfast spots are the Salk-Raker and the Courtyard Café, where you can get fried tomatoes and baked beans for that real gourmet British breakfast. For a real native Caribbean experience, try the Fish & Grits at the Salt-Raker.

Communications on Grand Turk Island

Hotels calls to the USA are $1.50 per minute, any daytime cell calls at $2.00 per minute. However, incoming calls to your cell phone are free. We recommend calling your party on a landline and request them to telephone your cell number.

The best free wireless Internet is at the Osprey (near the office area), upstairs at the courtyard Café, and the Hidden Garden restaurant at the Salt-Raker.

Touring on Grand Turk Island

The scuba diving and snorkeling are world renowned, and second only to the Great Barrier Reef. Any of the dive operators can take you on an introductory “resort course” and get you scuba diving in an hour. They can also certify you as a diver during your stay.

Don’t miss the lighthouse and the north coat area where flocks of wild flamingos paint the azure waters with hot pink accents.

The quaint Haitian neighborhood is located directly north of Old Cockburn town.

Many Haitian refugees risk their lives to sail north from Haiti in flimsy rafts, many finding refuge on Grand Turk Island.

For golf, don't miss the Grand Turk golf club, operated by Clifford Wilson (231-2515) and the cost is only $26 for 18-holes.  Reminiscent of the "real" Caribbean, it is casual and informal, and you play the nice-holes one-way, turn-around and then play them backwards for the whole 18-hole experience.

The colors of the shallow waters at Grand Turk change every hour, with the best viewing between 1:00-3:00 PM when the sunlight makes the most spectacular impression on the azure waters. The water visibility is incredible, and you can clearly see scuba divers and fish more than 25 feet under the surface.

Grand Turk Wildlife

Also, don’t miss the semi-wild horses and donkeys who roam freely about the island. Descendents of the original Spanish Conquistador horses, the horses are of clear Spanish heritage and have remained uncontaminated by outside bloodlines for more than 400 years.

On occasion the herds will venture into downtown Cockburn town where stallions will often charge at passing cars, protecting their mares.  Potcake dogs roam the islands and many do the “rounds” at the local restaurants, begging for handouts.

Dogs, cat and chickens are common on the island, and you should be prepared to share your restaurant with animals.  The term “potcake” refers to the traditional feeding for island dogs where they were fed from the “cake” scraped from the daily stew pot.

It is not uncommon for chickens to join you at breakfast, and be careful if you have a laptop computer because the chickens will peck on your keyboard if you leave your computer unattended.

Crime on Grand Turk

This is a very short section because crime is very low on TCI. Out of the 25,000 belongers on TCI, less than 25 are in prison at any time, a rate more than 10x lower than the USA. We once forgot a $2,000 laptop computer at the Waters Edge Restaurant at lunch, and it was still there when we returned at 4:30 PM, right where we left it.

There is some petty crime however, and most of the perpetrators are well-known to the locals. One day we were notified by a business owner that someone had broken their windows, reached-in and taken a copy of a credit-card charge slip with our card number on it. “Don’t worry”, she said. “It was probably just Peter the Crack-head, and he won’t know what to do with it”.

Grand Turk Island Hotels

While there are many hotels on Grand Turk, these are our favorites.

Salt Raker Inn

The 180 year-old Salt Raker inn was built by Jonathon Glass, a wealthy ship builder from Bermuda, and the hotel still retains its original 19th century charm and many original fixtures and the rooms have a distinctly Victorian feel.

A protected TCI national landmark, the Salt Raker’s original kitchen has been converted into a reception area, and the original stepped-chimney.

The Garden is amazing, with a riot of colors and the hidden Garden restaurant is both beautiful and delicious.



The Pillory

The Pillory Resort is a gorgeous and secluded area located on the northwest coast of Grand Turk.  A perfect honeymoon getaway, the Pillory is separated from the downtown and beachside businesses, and has its own dive shop and a great restaurant.



The Osprey Hotel

The Osprey hotel is a favorite among the tourists and scuba divers, with 100% ocean-front rooms, full air conditioning and television.

 


Night Life on Grand Turk Island

TCI Belongers enjoy the nightlife, and even the local horses like to party.  Almost all of the local nightspots are populated after dark, with the most popular nights being Friday and Saturday nights.

The night spots features local Caribbean drinks, local bands and hoards of very nice people.

 

 

Grand Turk’s young folks favorite night spot is “Nookie Hill” or just “the hill” as it is referred to in local parlance. 

Surrounded by a panoramic view of the ocean on three sides, "the hill" has a spectacular view.

 

Other popular night spots include the Osprey, the Salt Raker, “A taste of the Island” and the “Waters Edge”, where you may be treated to live bands with a distinctly Caribbean flavor.

Belongers play native instruments (such as a cross-cut hand saw), bending it and hammering on its surface with a mallet to produce the perfect bass accompaniment for the lead guitar.

Mitch Rollings (of Blue Water Divers) is an excellent musician and plays a skilled acoustic guitar with the local bands. 

You can even get a copy of Mitch’s music CD at the Blue Water Divers shop.

 

 

Grand Turk Casino

The “A taste of the Islands” restaurant has the only Casino on Grand Turk Island, complete with a change machine, three slot machines and a video poker machine

 

Get There Soon . . .

Sadly, much of the native charm of Grand Turk Island may soon be spoiled by the Cruise industry, where Carnival is building a massive dock on the southeast shore of Grand Turk Island, complete with a "shopping arcade":

But by November 2005, Carnival Corp. expects to complete construction of a cruise terminal on the south end of Grand Turk that can berth two ships. . . . The terminal will be used by ships of Carnival Corp.'s lines, which include Carnival, Princess, Seabourn, Cunard, Holland America and Costa. None of the lines currently visits Grand Turk.


 

 

The above is an excerpt from

Caribbean Insider Adventures,

by Janet Burleson and Donald Burleson ($9.95, Rampant TechPress).

 


 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 



 


 

 

 

   

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