Starting at the Beginning

December 25th, 2006 by blog

To start at the beginning of the story — click: 

Back in the USA

December 25th, 2006 by blog

We’ve been back in the states for a few months now.  With a baby on the way, we decided to have it in an American hospital.  There’s a hospital in Grand Turk, but it’s not the same type of facility as the hospitals in the states.  As the due date approached, we Nancy headed to Pittsburgh and stay with her parents.  I joined her a little while later and thankfully, the birth was relatively uneventful.  Our daughter Lucy is doing well.I miss Grand Turk.  While jarring at first, life back in the USA is growing increasingly familiar and comfortable.

I remember my flight back to Miami, and the following 16 mile drive to my sister’s house.  While it was the longest I’d driven in a while (Grand Turk is only 7 miles long), and the fastest I’d driven in a while (I don’t think the speed limit ever eclipses 35 mph in Grand Turk) – these weren’t the attributes that stuck in my mind.  People on the US highways (or at least the Miami highways) are so rude.  When a lane ahead is closed, the only way to merge is to head into the shared lane and hope the person you’re cutting-off likes their car enough to hit the brakes and avoid an accident.  Using a turn signal to indicate your desire to merge is merely displaying a sign of weakness.  In Grand Turk sometimes you need to sit on the brakes while waiting for horses or cows to cross the road.  Back in the USA I quickly fell back into my Miami driving style of: getting where I needed to go quickly; and for anyone who got in my way – screw ‘em.  The relaxed “soon come” attitude of the islands were gone.  In my first twenty minutes on the streets of Florida, I experienced more road rage than I had in the previous six months in Grand Turk.

Aside from the style of driving, the overall time I spend in a car has dramatically risen.  Even when the people I share the roads with act somewhat civilized and the traffic level is low – there’s still a bit of stress associated with driving.  I hadn’t noticed it when I lived in the US before Grand Turk because I was just used to it.  It’s sort of like a fish never feeling particularly wet.  I have decided that even relatively pleasant driving adds to my underlying level of irritability.  I think it’s fairly common for people in the US to spend >1hr a day in their car, and many people experience a 30+minute commute to work.  Maybe that’s one of the reasons there are so many miserable bastards on the road.  By contrast, I often spent less than 30 minutes on the road per week in Grand Turk, rarely for more than a few minutes at a time.

In Grand Turk, we spent our days at the beach, the pool, or engaging in other activities that were mostly outside and free.  The kids rarely asked for us to buy them things or take them to the store.  Of course, we didn’t have that many stores in Grand Turk, and the few stores there displayed a limited level of sophistication when it came to merchandising.  After just a few weeks back in the states, the kids frequently ask us to buy them the toys they saw on TV, or to go to places like Toys R Us.  When we arrived at the store, the layout, coloring, packaging, audio, and signage all hit their mark.  It seemed like an endless barrage of “I want” and “I need.”  While I always intellectually knew that consumerism was alive and well in the USA, I never realized how pervasive it was.  Our culture is so steeped in commercialism; it feels like a state religion.

One only has to look at my waist to see another visible sign of the change, moving from the islands to the states.  Instead of walking to town, I am spending hours in a car.  Instead of swimming in the ocean, I’m pushing a shopping cart in a store.  Instead of enjoying the day with members of my community, I am cursing the strangers who get in my way.  Is it any wonder that the 15 pounds I lost in Grand Turk have all been gained back with interest?

I miss Grand Turk.  I miss my tranquil times diving under the sea.  I miss the friendly community that welcomed me as a part of the whole.  I miss the slow pace and easy lifestyle.  I miss the life centered around shared experiences instead of purchasing and accumulating belongings.

Hopefully I’ll be back there soon, if just for a short visit.  Hopefully once I’m settled in my new house I’ll be able to recalibrate my lifestyle to one that more resembles my ideals than my surroundings.


May 16th, 2006 by Allen

Ok, so life in paradise in not all perfect. Yes, there is plenty of “good”, and the stuff we’ve shared is really here. But, in the spirit of fuller disclosure, here’s some of the “bad and the ugly”.

We’ve written about the sea creatures around the island, but we haven’t mentioned the other creatures that live on land. Don’t get me wrong, there is some cool animals on the island. The birds are very interesting. We have Egrets, Herons, Tern, Osprey, and a bunch of other cool looking birds. We also have a variety of lizards abound.

In terms of livestock, we have horses, cows, donkeys, and chickens. While these animals might seem mundane, the way they are kept is very “Grand Turk.” You see, none of these animals are conained. You can be driving down the main “highway” (ok the “highway” is a 2-lane 30mph road), and have to stop because some horses or cows are wandering in the road. One day I was eating lunch at a restaurant while a chicken walked right by my chair with four little chicks in tow (good thing I ordered the fish). I’m not quite sure how people keep track of whose livestock belongs to whom, but I guess they figure it out.

So all of the animals above enhance the island, but here are some that don’t:

Ants: You reall need to clean up after yourself in Grand Turk. If you leave some crumbs of food on the counter for a few hours, you will soon come back to see a trail of ants seizing their prize. You can’t really eliminate ant problems here, the goal is containment. This goal becomes more difficult when you have pets, kids, and a pregnant wife that are incompatible with many forms of bug sprays and ant traps.

Mosquitos: Most of the time, the moquitos are not so bad. In the daytime during summer, the sun is too hot for them. Usually, the tradewinds are blowing and they don’t seem to be plentiful in the breeze. But if the wind dies-down, and the sun goes down, particularly after we’ve had some rain… watch out. These little blood suckers are some of my least favorite parts of living here. Their presence is particularly troublesome since we have no screen doors. If it’s hot and the moquitos are active we have to choose between leaving the sliding glass doors open and enjoying the breeze or closing the doors and keeping the moquitos out. At this point, we just close the doors around 5pm as it starts to cool down and the mosquitos become more prevalent.

Dogs: The mosquitos were very close to being my least favorite animals on Grand Turk, but I think I have to give the slight edge to the dogs. The local dogs are affectionatley (or sometimes not so affectionately) referred to as “Potcakes.” Traditionally, the woman of the house would cook food on the stove, and keep it going until the pot was nearly empty. The continued heat eventually built a hard crusty bottom which was left after all the good food had been doled-out. The remaining crusty “potcake” was fed to the dog. Over time, the name transferred, probably by the axiom “you are what you eat.” Now, I love dogs as much as the next guy, and we own two. I even like many of the potcakes I meet — one on one. They tend to be smaller and often timid. The problem I have with potcakes come in three flavors:

1. Freedom: Potcakes live life Grand Turk style. Just as the horses and cows, they roam free. Leashes are not very popular here. Many dog owners don’t have their dog sleep in their house, don’t have a fence to contain their dog, and many don’t even feed their dog (not sure exactly how all this makes it their dog, but that’s a different question).

2. Community: I don’t have anything against freedom, in fact, I like to support it. In this case, however, freedom leads to some other problems… packs of dogs. Did you ever notice how people in a crowd sometimes do things that they would otherwise not do if they were alone (think Girls Gone Wild, Soccer Hooligans, Star Trek Conventions, etc.)? Well, I think we have the same phenomena with the dogs. When 5+ dogs begin wandering around together, they get a bit wild. They can gang-up on other dogs, or even chase horses, donkeys, or cows.Their presence becomes particularly troublesome when I am walking our dogs (on a leash) with the help of one or both of my young children. Our dogs our fairly tough and can generally take care of themselves, but would probably not fare well if outnumbered 2:1. The packs of potcakes sometimes even turn on themselves as they gang-up on the weak dog, possibly a remnant of some Darwinian force (or the result of too much in-breeding).

3. Communication: There are many things I will miss when I leave Grand Turk. Barking dogs is not one of them. Actually, to be more precise… I will not miss the 2-hour episodes of non-stop barking from 5+ dogs at 2am when a horse wanders outside of our house.

Well, there you have it. After so many posts talking about how great it is to live in Grand Turk, we wanted to add some of these observations to keep the picture a little more real.

A Day at the Beach

April 30th, 2006 by Allen

One of our most frequent activites on the island is to just walk 100 yards to “our” beach. No, the beach is not actually ours. In fact, there are no private beaches on the island. We call it our beach beacuse (a) it is the closest to our house, and (2) when we go, we are ususally the only ones there unless we invite friends to join us.

From our beach, you can see 1/3 of the west coast of the island. The water close to the shore (approximatley 1/4 mile) is a beuatiful turquiose color, and then there is a sharp contrasting line at the drop-off. Above, the turquoise turns to a deep blue. Below, the depth plunges from 40 feet to ~7,000 feet.

The water is usually very calm, with small waves lapping on the shore and only tiny ripples further out. Yes, on a regular day, there’s not much in the way of surfing on Grand Turk. Of course, that’s when the wind is blowing in its usual westerly direction. Occasionally, the wind shift and starts to blow towards the East. This is generally accompanied by some rain and rough seas. It is not a very frequent occurance, but I’m getting pretty good at predicting them. All I have to do is call the dive shop and tell them I want to go diving tomorrow, and the wind usually shift a few hours later causing me to cancel my dive or deal with low visibility.

Anyway, we went to the beach the other day and decided that we had waited too long to post pictures of it, so we grabbed the camera. So, here’s the Eichlers enjoying a day at the beach:

Mommy, Harry, and Addie at Our BeachHarry and Addie at Our BeachDaddy, Harry, and Addie on Our Beach in Grand Turk

Harry’s Day in Paradise

March 21st, 2006 by Nancy

One of the downfalls of living in paradise for kids is there aren’t a whole lot of other kids, let alone ones who are free to romp and roam.  Turns out, that’s also one of the great things.  Because most of a child’s entertainment comes in big kid format.

Today Harry got to experience life as a big kid, with all the big kid toys.  I’m afraid we may have created a monster.

The morning started out ordinary enough.  Well, ordinary for Grand Turk that is.  It was beautiful and sunny, and heading toward the mid-80s.  The kids had had a big day swimming at the Carnival Cruise center the day before, and their dad had to work all that Saturday, so we thought we’d have a bit of a low-key family Sunday.

We headed for the beach while Allen finished up some work.  The water had a bit of turtle grass churned up, but was still more than pleasant.  The kids ran in and out of the water, played on the beach and watched a snorkeler take off for a great adventure.

About an hour after arriving, our landlady and next door neighbor invited us to a beachhouse just behind us for a BBQ.  How could I turn that down?  At the BBQ, we met two reporters for American Way writing a story on the Turks and Caicos Islands, the primary aid to the Governor, the Governor’s new executive assistant, the director for the museum, the registrar for TCI’s Supreme Court and a few others.

We headed back to the house for Harry to have a potty break.  On the way out we hurried quickly to see a passing dunebuggy.  The driver, Carlos (who also happens to be our next door neighbor), stopped and asked Harry if he wanted a ride.  Harry didn’t answer, so I did…”Of course!  Thanks.”

Carlos took us around for about 10-minutes in his apple green dunebuggy with the wind through our hair.  He kept it rather slow because we didn’t have the requisitioned helmets and Harry was sitting on my lap.  While Harry kept his stoic face, I knew he was busting inside.  His one comment when we got off the dunebuggy was, “Grandpa was supposed to take me.”  Poor Carlos.  He gave Harry a thrill of a lifetime, but he just wasn’t Grandpa.  When he got out of the car, though, he was ready to dial the phone right there to call his Grandpa and tell him about the dunebuggy ride.
We headed back down to the BBQ, where they had brought out the Hoby Cat.  Harry ran right up to Joan (the landlady) and asked her if he could go for a ride.  She told him to ask  Hedley (our landlord), who, of course, said, “Let’s do it!”  And I was the thorn in his side saying, “We need our lifejackets first.”

Harry sprinted the entire way back to the house to get his lifejacket and get back down to the beach.  He made a beeline in his flourescent orange lifejacket w/ a grabstrap in the back (the grabstrap makes me feel a whole lot better) for “Mr.” Hedley to tell him he was ready.  Harry hopped on board and we shoved ourselves off the beach.

The views were nothing less than spectacular and the breeze was beyond delightful.  Harry was utterly mesmerized.  All told, we sailed for about 30-45-minutes.  During our sail, Harry yawned no less than seven times and needed some toothpicks to help prop open his drooping eyelids.  He was in Heaven.

I’ve never seen him that relaxed and calm with a new experience like this.  I didn’t know how he’d react to the water, since he doesn’t like to get his face wet or be splashed.  But you know?  I think that’s exactly what he loved about sailing.  It was smooth, serene, no splashing and no loud noises.  Sailing is definitely a sport for Harry.  It was a special home for him.

What a day for a three-year-old.  Mr. Carlos, I’m not sure Harry will be an Indie driver, but maybe if his Grandpa co-pilots, and he’ll definitely demand a green car! ;-)   Mr. Hedley, I think you’ve created a sailor!

Addie’s Second Birthday

March 12th, 2006 by Allen

We celebrated Addie’s second birthday yesterday. While I can’t say this with certainty, I think she managed in two years to have a birthday that tops both Nancy and my combined 70+ years.

It started a month ago when we asked Addie what she wanted for her birthday. She said she wanted a cake. We reassured her we would get her a cake, and asked her what kind of present she wanted. She said, “cake.” (Funny  thing is she had the same reaction to the news of another sibbling - she said, “no…I want a cake.”)  Harry asked if she wanted a “Thomas” train or “Percy” train. Addie reiterated “I want a cake, a blue one, with sprinkles.”

In addition to a cake (yes, with blue icing and sprinkles), mom and dad wanted to do something special. We decided to take her on a boat ride to Gibbs Cay. Gibbs Cay is a small uninhabited island to the east of Grand Turk (see Google Earth map link on sidebar).

The day started with dad trying to tire-out Addie so she could catch an early nap and not have a melt-down during our birthday excursion. We went to the historic lighthouse on the north point of Grand Turk. It was buit in the 1850s to warn trading ships of the dangerous reef. Occasionally, the light would go out and ships would wreck. Human casualties from these lapses of light were minimal, but the economic losses were substantial. It just so happened that when the light went out, men were waiting on shore with boats to “help liberate” the valuables from the sinking ships.

Harry and Addie at the lighthouseHarry and Addie by the lighthouseHarry and Addie by the lighthouse
Well, we drove to the lighthouse, even walked a trail to the beach below. Despite Dad calling it a race back to the car, Addie had too much energy. No nap.  A second desperate attempt was made to encourage the nap with a car ride.  It resulted in an all-too-short ten-minute nap.  Still, Nancy was confident all would be ok in the end despite the lack of a nap.

We met our guests, the Johnsons (Joel, Stephanie, and daughters Kaya and Marin) , and our captain, Mr. Mackey, across the street from Oasis Divers on Duke Street. The kids were cackling on the boat as we bounced in the waves. I bounced Addie on my knee to exaggerate the motion, prompting her to exclaim, “Yeehaw cowboy!”

Half way between Grand Turk and Gibbs Cay, we stopped to dive for some conch. Mackey and Joel were pros at this, having done it numerous times. I decided to join them in the water with my mask, snorkel and fins. I didn’t expect much success on my part. I swam a bit and then saw some conch. My first reaction was to try to call Joel or Mackey over so they could get it. I looked around, but could not see them. I decided to dive down to see how close I could get. Turns-out it wasn’t too deep, and I made it to the surface with my first conch. While Nancy acknowledged my accomplishment, and Joel brought in three conch himself, the kids only cheer was “Go Mackey, Go Mackey!”  We had seven conch in all.  We were sure to be a bountiful conch salad.

A few minutes later, we arrived at our destination. It was unreal. Although topographically, it was not too dissimilar from Grand Turk, it was much more pristine. Besides, there is something neat about having an entire island to ourselves. For the three hours, the island belonged to the Eichlers, the Johnsons, and Captain Mackey. The kids had fun running around and exploring the shore.

Addie and Mom on Gibbs CayMom's belly with baby #3Addie on Gibbs CayKids Running on Gibbs Cay

For years, visitors have been feeding stingrays on the shore of Gibbs Cay. Today, the sound of our outboard motor was sufficient to trigger the Pavlovian response. Mackey began feeding the stingrays that greeted us, and soon we had five of these gentle creatures swimming around us in ankle-deep water. They bumped into out legs with their soft slippery wings. Touching their flesh felt like holding a juicy slice of mango. The name “Stingray” seems a bit too menacing for these animals. Apparently, the only way they can sting a person is if you bother them after they’ve burried themselves in the sand focusing on digesting the fish in their bellies. 

Stingray 3Stingray 2Stingray 1

[Watch a short VIDEO CLIP of the kids and rays]

The stingrays were soon joined by a couple of colorful trunkfish, a quick baracuda, and even a baby lemon shark. The kids were fascinated by the activity, seeing these animals up close, and touching the friendly stingrays.

The next order of business was preparing the conch we caught. Mackey got down to business “knocking” the conch. This process starts with breaking a grape-sized hole in the shell using a small hammer. Then, he inserted a knife into the hole to cut the tendon connecting the animal to its shell. A quick pull, and the bare naked conch was in the bucket. He cleaned them up, cut them up, and added the lime, tomato, onion and pepper we brought, and voila - fresh conch salad (ceviche).  I’ve never tasted anything finer or fresher. Delicious!
Conch on the beachMackey knocking conch 1Mackey knocking conch 2Mackey knocking conch 3Knocked Conch - soon to be salad

Fun was had by all. We ate, we drank, we were merry. On the way back, Nancy and I agreed it was a near-perfect day. We wondered how different a birthday Addie would have had back in Virginia. 

Snacking on Gibbs CayMarin hitting the bottleThe Gibbs Cay Crew

I know there will be moments when I will get too frustrated with Grand Turk. I fear there will be mishaps where I will question if we made a bad decision coming here in the first place. It’s important to remember days like this because it exemplifies so many aspects as to why coming to Grand Turk was a great idea. And, while it will never be all good or all bad, I want to hang on to this memory to balance-out potential negative expeirences down the road.

As for our little girl… she struggled to stay awake on the boatride home.  Her eyes grew too heavy.  Mackey enjoyed watching her fight her sleep to the bitter end. She finally hit the recline button right back into mom’s arms.  We smiled over our little girl and her big day that finally wore her out. The rest of us were satisifed we had a complete and wonderful day. But Addie still had something left on her list.

Happy Birthday AddieAddie finally got her cake


Happy second birthday, Addie.

Carnival Cruise Center

March 8th, 2006 by Allen

Forgot to include these pictures from the opening of the cruise center in Grand Turk during the Noordam’s maiden voyage. Actually, we wanted to make sure we first included some pictures of Grand Turk so that we did not mislead you about what Grand Turk looks like. The cruise center is big, flashy, and a little loud (not how I would describe Grand turk… well, but there have been moments when the dogs, cows, donkeys or occasional church revival have kept us awake at night).  It’s still fun for a beer, a swim and some entertainment.
Anyway, here are some pictures of us at the opening of the cruise center in Grand Turk. Enjoy.

MargaritavilleHarry and the NoordamHarry and Kaya at MargaritavilleAddie and Kaya DancingAddie and MomNoordamHarry's TrainThe pool at MargaritavilleFlip Flop

One of My Favorite Things

March 8th, 2006 by Nancy

The speaking tradition.  For those of you from my alma matter, it was one of our most loved things about Washington and Lee University.  And I appreciate it today more than ever.  I lived in two houses in Virginia where I never met the neighbors until the day I moved out.  They came over to greet me because they felt bad never having introduced themselves.  Then there were the days of going jogging when varying neighbors knew my dog Maggie’s name but didn’t know mine.  I had my own world and my own life, and so did they - and we didn’t cross paths if we didn’t have to.

There was a time when community meant the people around you - having block parties and neighborhood picnics.  Today’s definition of community means something different.  It means when you’re waiting for an airplane you can pretend that the people around you don’t exist by picking up your cellphone and talking louder to a friend in Seattle than you would if he were sitting next to you.  If you keep talking to Mr. Seattle right up until you board the plane, then you can turn on your TV or computer, put in your earplugs, or simply close your eyes just to show how much you don’t care about the environment in which you’re sitting. It’s sad, really.  If there are only a few degrees of separation from most everyone in the world, then how would we ever know if we won’t talk to the person next to us?
It’s a heartwarming feeling to be in on Grand Turk where 70% of the people you pass on the street say hello even though they don’t know you.  Black, white, Hispanic and otherwise.

Two days ago I spent an extra 10-minutes chatting with the cashier in one of the local grocery stores.  She introduced herself to me and then introduced me to another gentleman standing at the counter - turns out he’s the father of the Deputy Prime Minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands.  That was an exciting encounter.  And if I hadn’t taken the time to talk to her, I never would have met them.
And this morning, a woman approached me in another grocery store knowing exactly who I was and welcoming me to Grand Turk.  We chatted for about five minutes and she introduced herself as Amanda telling me she has an eight-year-old daughter.  She was so pleasant.  I asked her where she lives on the island and she responded saying, “I’m the Governor’s wife.”  I sort of choked.  She then told me she’s been wanting to have our family over and is really excited that we have come to Grand Turk.  The Governor’s wife?  Where else would something like this happen.  And if she hadn’t taken the time to make me feel truly welcome, I probably wouldn’t have been moved enough to want to write about this wonderful speaking tradition that helps endear this community to me.
What a great experience.  What a great island.  What a great community.

Duke Street

March 8th, 2006 by Allen

We walked down Duke street this past weekend to eat breakfast at the Courtyard Cafe. Here are some pictures (click thumbnail for larger image):

Duke Street 3Duke Street 1Duke Street 2Harry and Nancy at the Courtyard CafeAddie and Allen at the Courtyard Cafe

A Time for Norman Paperman

March 3rd, 2006 by Nancy

It’s not by chance I’m reading Don’t Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk. If you haven’t read it, it’s a wonderful glimpse into island living. And one of the things plaguing Norman Paperman throughout his encounters with owning his Caribbean Hotel in Amerigo is water. He’s either got too much or not enough. Our issues seem to be with plumbing.

Our water pressure doesn’t exist in the showers. We have two shower heads that need to be replaced to resolve this, but can only find one shower head on island. So, we haven’t been able to use our 2nd bathroom’s shower since we arrived, unless we’re prepared to take 30-minute showers exiting the shower with soap bubbles still frothing in our hair and a nice milky residue that needs to be toweled off of our bodies. We have a leaky toilet that was fixed by replacing the toilet tank. We couldn’t find a matching toilet tank on island, so we had to jerry-rig it to fit our commode. Problem resolved - not. I went to the beach with the kids only to return home to a bathroom full of water. The entire commode had to be replaced because we can’t find an available toilet tank on island that will fit our model. But we had to wait to replace it because all the stores were closed (and the hardware store is open late…until 5pm). All was fixed in the morning by Hedley (our landlord). We now have a working commode, and it works better than the previous one for certain.

Just when we thought our plumbing problems were resolved, Allen had to take Kaya on a late-night walk (3:30am he grumbled out the door telling Kaya she REALLY better have to go to the bathroom). He came back 15-minutes later to inform me that we had a swimming pool growing in our yard. I glanced out the window to see the glistening water reflecting the moon’s light. And it was not a beautiful view. I would have sworn I smelled sewage, too.

I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night thinking of what this could mean and how much it could be costing us (water and electricity are extremely expensive on this island, as with many islands). So, I stayed up to be ease my pain by reading about how much worse things were for Norman Paperman. After all, I don’t own this house, and as bad as the plumbing issues have been, they’re all easily resolvable and don’t involve the misery of dozens of guests.

The next morning I called Hedley at 7am. He lives next door, which is a blessing for us, but may be a curse for him. I met him outside with Harry on his bicycle and Daisy ready for her morning stroll. “What do you think it is?” I said. Hedley took a long draw on his cigarette. “I’m still trying to figure it out. It’s leaking from here,” he said sticking his finger into the ground, “and I don’t know what that could be.” Then he said the words I wanted to hear, “But it’s not your water.” I pretty much didn’t care what the problem was after that, so long as the problem wasn’t costing me money and didn’t mean ripping up pipes and turning off our water for days as they diagnosed the issue. “I think it might be our gardening water line, but it’s off and I can’t figure where the pressure’s coming from to send it into your yard.”

Harry and I went ahead on our walk while Hedley went into diagnostic mode checking all around the complex. We finished greeting Hedley upon arrival. “Well,” he said taking another draw on the cigarette, “the lines are crossed here and it seems like a gasket has blown somewhere, but the water is stopped.”

That was enough for me. Time to go have a relaxing morning with my whole grain bagel, fresh mango and tea. The island is smiling on us today. Maybe we’ll head to the beach and then make some bread or a carrot cake. Sorry, Norm, but it looks like there’s no Gull Reef Club here today.