Archive for the 'Turks and Caicos' Category

The Carnival Has Arrived

Friday, March 3rd, 2006

On Saturday, February 25, 2006, at 7am the first Carnival-owned cruise line arrived on Grand Turk. It was Holland America’s maiden voyage of the Noordam.

Harry and Addie propped themselves up on our bed staring out the window with excitement at 7:30am as we heard the purtt purtt purtt of dunebuggies heading by our house taking Noordam passengers on one of their land excursions. Harry said his Grandpa is going to take him for a dunebuggy ride when he gets here…he wants to ride in a green one (hear that, Grandpa? Don’t disappoint.).

The dunebuggies were followed 10-minutes later by a dozen cyclists getting their bicycle land tour of Grand Turk.

Despite our enthusiastic children who were ready then to march out the door to head to see the cruise ship, it still took nearly two hours for us to actually get out the door. Harry tends to focus on the bird in the hand, so he continued to say, “Two more minutes, Mom. Just let me finish [playing with trains, writing this letter, riding my tricycle, etc.]”

We were off like a heard of stampeding turtles, with a stop at the bank then Allen’s company’s apartment and THEN the cruise ship. The two-minute bank stop was easily 15-minutes while we lingered among a crowd of Philippino-workers who were brought to Grand Turk to help finish Carnival’s cruise center on time. While in line, Allen was approached by a local Turk’s islander who was selling “Grand Turk cookies.” I’m not sure what was in them, and I’m not sure I want to know.  Any first-world health department would have a field day with the “commercial” kitchens on this island. They were sort of a bland cruncy sugar cookie - but we ate them all.  Heck, even a bad cookie is still a good cookie in my book.

Oh, I’m not sure we mentioned, but we can’t have a checking account on the island without a work permit (we’re still riding on a temporary-expired work permit here, but that’s a whole other story).  And since most places we go don’t take credit cards we have to go to the bank quite frequently. In fact, we pay our rent in cash.

Anyhow, back to the cruise ship. We arrived at the cruise center around 11am. Guess who fell asleep in the back seat? So, Allen and Harry went off to explore, while I waited for her royal sleepiness to finish her beauty slumber. About an hour later, Addie and I joined the boys who were sitting at the cabana bar outside the new Margaritaville (Jimmy Buffet’s bar…rumor has it the Grand Turk location is the largest location). Joel, Stephanie, Kaya and Marin were also there.

Margaritaville is surrounded by an over-sized meandering salt water pool. The pool didn’t look like it was quite ready for entry.  The Noordam passengers seemed to begin entering the water as the day went on - driven more by each libation rather than the beckoning of the sparkling muddy salt water. 

We ran into “Carnival Jack,” the project lead for getting the Grand Turk cruise center ready for accepting voyagers. Jack looked good and seemed happy to have most of this work behind him. When I inquired about how late he had stayed up the night before, he responded, “Nothing like some midnight landscaping.” By the looks of Grand Turk, Jack wasn’t the only one having to burn the midnight oil the previous evening. There were street signs that appeared out of nowhere (I dare you to try to find anyone around this island who knows the names of more than half a dozen roads), and a fountain literally sprouted right in the center of town. I suspect there was a whole load of duct tape involved in the finishing of these projects, but they did make the town look more inviting.

Margaritaville was filled with plenty of booze, but no working plumbing. The food available was catered and brought in from externally. But the DJ/host was unreal. He WAS Margaritaville. He held dance contests and drink-offs…and always looked for a Turk’s islander to be one of the contestants. He didn’t have too much trouble, because many were in attendance. We bore witness to a very overweight islander wearing a skin-tight purple outfit shake her booty against a 75-year-old great grandmother in a straw hat and pedal pushers. Fearing she had less to shake in her than the Turk’s islander, the great grandmother resorted to disrobing to a host of applause, and the dance-off resulted in a tie.

We heard plenty of non-cruisers commenting that they never thought they’d see something like this on sleepy little Grand Turk. Some of those comments came with enthusiasm, others came amid great disappiontment.

We were excited. And we’ll be there when the next cruise ship arrives. After all, if it weren’t for the cruise ships, then the Eichlers wouldn’t have the opportunity to live on this wonderfully crazy island for a while. And if you happen to find yourself on one of these cruise ships stopping off in Grand Turk, don’t look for me in any dance-offs!  No one wants to see a pregnant woman shimmy.

A House Full - of Necessities?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

Before leaving Virginia, we packed up 24 boxes of things we figured we could “get by on” while living in Grand Turk. We also included items we knew would be impossible or very expensive to find. Things like medicine, spices, hair color (ok…for those of you who didn’t know I colored my hair, just look at my father and you’ll know what my natural hair color is trending toward…thanks, genetics!), clothing, books, toys, air conditioners, etc. Our boxes arrived on the island the day after we did, but due to various red tape here, we couldn’t get our things out of customs duty-free (you have to pay duty on anything coming to the island, but get a one-time waiver of this duty if you have a designated work-permit). We sent letter after letter to Allen’s management pushing their assistance on getting our personal goods released. After all, how could we survive without our stuff?

So, weeks one, two, three, and most of week four we survived without our “necessities.” Then, within ten minutes of opening the first toy box, the kids were fighting and Addie was in tears screaming. Allen and I looked at each other both agreeing life was better with fewer “necessities.” I now have a lot more to pick up off the floor, more to launder, more to keep track of, and more to grumble over as I look for more storage space around the house thinking, “where am I going to put this thing-a-ma-jig?”

That said, we were truly happy to get some of our things. Spices! A pinch of Kosher salt just makes a difference in so many dishes, and Montreal Steak Seasoning is delicious on potatoes. And, having gotten my mixer, vanilla and chocolate chips, I now can bake cookies. While I love baking, I think the pregnancy has something to do with my overwhelming excitement at seeing the cookie fixin’s.

Now, do I think Allen will remember the happiness that came with less stuff once we sell our house in Virginia and have to sort through all we want to keep/donate/sell? Has that leopard changed his spots yet? I can hope.

Then again, I suppose he’ll just point to my Imelda shoe collection and say, “and how many shoe trees do you need in our simpler world?”

Starting SCUBA at Finbar’s

Monday, February 20th, 2006

I started my scuba diving lessons yesterday. First, let me share some context of scuba diving in Grand Turk… The Turks and Caicos is the home of the world’s third largest coral reef (behind Australia and Belize). rates Grand Turk one of the world’s top ten dive sites “Located along the southern tip of the Bahamas, Grand Turk stays sheltered from heavy currents and visibility is excellent year-round for scuba diving. Grand Turk is a summer gathering place for gentle manta rays and inquisitive scuba divers. Grand Turk is surrounded by walls covered in sponges and corals starting at 25 feet and rising to 30 feet and plunging 7000 feet straight down.” Scuba Diving magazine published a good article that covers Grand Turk diving in more detail.

I decided to get certified withone of the three main dive operators, Oasis Divers. Here’s their map of Grand Turk dive sites.

I bought the book on Ebay a month ago, and managed to get through all the written tests in the first day. Then I did my first “confined water” test by the beach by Bohio (a hotel / restaurant / bar / dive shop on Pillory Beach, Grand Turk with some of the best food on the island). We covered some basic stuff I had previously covered at a resort course in Maui. Then, we took the boat 250 yards to a dive site on the wall called Finbar’s.It really was amazing down there. Yes, it looked like the pictures I saw in the books, but being there is certainly a different experience than looking at pictures in a book. The approach to the wall a fine white sand bottom 25 feet down spotted with clumps of coral heads. As we moved closer to the wall, the sand diappeared as the entire bottom became completely covered in an otherworldly landscape of shapes and colors. Aside from the wide variety of living coral, I also saw a couple of large Nassau Groupers, a Hawksbill turtle, Spotted Moray, a trumpetfish, a trunkfish, and a bunch of other cool sea life [note: these or not actual images from the dive, but pictures of the animlas I found on the net].

The dive site, Finbar’s is named after the island’s first lawmaker, Finbar Dempsey. Incidentally, the latest issue of the magazine, Times of the Islands, featured a nice story about Finbar. It chronicles how he arrived in Grand Turk in 1965 from Ireland. Being the only legal entity on the islands, he engaged in a variety of activities ranging from magistrate, Supreme Court judge, government legal advisor, legislative draftsperson, registrar of companies, registrar of deeds, registrar of births, deaths and marriages, land commissioner, and coroner. In the article, he recounts some interesting anecdotes, including:

  • When people got into trouble for minor offenses such as being drunk and disorderly or “drinking too much rum and getting into a fight at the bar,” instead of imposing jail sentence or fine that would put their family in debt, he “bound them to the peace … [and] impose a short sentence but suspend it, conditional on their good behavior. If they came up before me again they were sentenced for that particular offense and they would have to serve the suspended sentence consecutively. Half of Grand Turk and South Caicos were bound to the peace but it was effective. Men would walk away rather that get into a fight at a bar and it was certainly better than sitting in the sun all day breaking rocks at the prison.”
  • Often times, he didn’t have to sentence repeat offenders, as they would do that job for him. When they came before him, he would say ” ‘What am I going to do with you?’ Without batting an eyelid the offender would recommend their own sentence. ‘Give me two months your honour!’ “

Nancy and I had the pleasure of meeting Finbar Dempsey on our first trip to Grand Turk while investigating a piece of property for sale here. After forty years in Grand Turk, he remained an affable gentleman whose years on the island seemed to help him age gracefully.

I am looking forward to my next dive, and hoping my time on the island treats me as well as it did Finbar.

Soon Come.

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

I guess patience is a major key to survival in the islands. Along with keeping your expectations low. We’ve avoided dinners out on Grand Turk for the most part, because kitchens often don’t open until around 6:30pm (at the earliest). Even if you place your order as soon as the kitchen opens, you often won’t see your meal until 45-minutes later.

This may not be a problem for most of you who are used to eating dinner no earlier than 8pm. But for those of us with children under five, it’s a major issue when kids need to be in bed by 8pm and there’s at least 30-minutes of prep time (baths, brushing teeth, pajamas, stories) to get them there.

Imagine our enthusiasm when we learned we had discovered an establishment that was introducing a pre-order menu for early-birds. Our friends Joel and Stephanie let us know about a “new” pre-order menu at the Water’s Edge on Friday and Saturday evenings, so even families with young ones might be able to eat at a decent enough hour to get the kids to bed in a timely manner. The idea was to place your order at around 5pm and pizzas would be ready at 6pm. At least we thought. Until it was nearly 8pm and we still didn’t have our pizza despite having ordered three hours earlier. How is that possible?

To be fair, when the pizzas were ordered at 5pm, we were told that they wouldn’t be ready until 7pm because someone had ordered six pizzas ahead of us. Seemed almost impossible to believe that they couldn’t handle ten pizzas in less than two hours, but ok. At least we were forewarned.

We showed up at the restaurant around 6:45pm and placed orders for appetizers expecting that our pizzas would be ready at any moment and the appetizers might be a waste of money. 45-minutes later we had our appetizers (barring my caesar salad, which they informed me at that 45-minute post-order mark they were out of…how timely?).

At 7:40pm, we inquired about our pizzas. “I don’t know,” said the waitress. She returned to let us know, “they aren’t ready yet and I don’t know when they will be.” It seemed odd considering there’s one cook and I’m quite sure the waitress asked him directly about the pizzas. If that was his response, then it was a bad sign.

Ten minutes later, the pizzas made it to our table. For kids who were on the verge of slumber, breakdowns were en masse. Harry was begging to go home and sleep. And Addie was getting her tomato-sauce-covered fingers all over my gauze white shirt as she pawed her way toward a nap.

The good news out of all of this is:Water's Edge

1) We had a great time.

2) The pizza was really good.

3) We learned again that if the food can’t be guaranteed to be ready well before 7pm, don’t chance it for the kids-sake.

Our new secret, though, is to find restaurants open for lunch until around 4pm and grab food at 4pm keeping it warm until 5:30pm or 6pm for dinner. That’s a plan we can all probably live with.

And if any of you are interested in opening a restaurant here, I can find plenty of patrons if you can have meals to the table in less than 30-minutes, and can open for dinner by 6pm.

Island Exploration

Wednesday, February 15th, 2006

Today the kids and I set off for the pet store. Which is also the liquor store. I’m sure you see the synergy in that. Apparently there are quite a few of these mismatched plural businesses. The local rental car company is operated by Tony. Tony is also a pilot for SkyKing (and soon to be a pilot for Spirit Airlines, too).

The pet store is about the size of my kitchen and had six fish tanks, along with five bowls filled with varying colored Bettas looking on the verge of death. The kids enjoyed themselves and touched everything they possibly could. At one point, I even had to pry Addie’s hand out of one of the fish tanks amidst tears and screaming. Thank goodness no Piranhas were in there or the tears and screaming would have been for a very different reason.

We left Dot’s Pet and Liquor store to venture to the Shell Shack. This is a local store downstairs in someone’s house. The gentleman who owns the shop dawns a long gray poneytail and shares stories of having once had four boys under the age of five (with energy that would shock a lightning bolt). I think he felt some empathy as I tried to keep track of my kids’ wandering hands and drinks throughout his store. Into his store walked a young girl, Clarissa, the age of “almost five” with her mother and friend of her mother’s. Clarissa immediately took to interacting with Addie and trying to boss both Addie and me around. At one point I told her Addie wasn’t allowed to have a large tortoise-colored shell for fear of destruction. The young girl corrected me that Addie wouldn’t break it and I was to let her have it. I told her otherwise. Then the girl’s mother squinted her eyes sternly toward Clarissa explaining Addie has a mother and Clarissa is to let Addie’s mother decide what Addie should and shouldn’t do. Fifteen minutes later, a shadow flew by my head as Addie was hurling the shell across the store after Clarissa had decided Addie definitely needed a chance with that shell, despite my wishes. Needless to say, all parties quickly paid for our separate articles and vacated the premises.

We stopped in one other store before landing at Island Creations, owned by Lisa. Lisa’s specialty is tie-dye. She and a bunch of gal pals gather several times a year to do tie-dye. I realized I had witnessed their creation process a few months ago while in Grand Turk looking for a place to live. They make them in the ocean and then hang them out to dry beachfront. Lisa has a German accent and wears her blonde curls rather loose, long and unkempt. I had visions of her selling her tie-dye art as a Grateful Dead “DeadHead.”

Lisa’s tie-dyed garments hang on a single clothing rack in front of her home. As we talked, she was a beacon of knowledge for me. She told me about free yoga classes at Bohio (local hotel/restaurant), and recruited me to appear as an extra in a romantic comedy being shot on the island with Shelley Long and Jack Scalia. Again, the idea of the mismatched plural business (tie-dye garment maker and casting agent?) came to mind. Lisa also does tile signage, too. She was busy working on a huge sign for Carnival Cruise Lines to welcome guests to Governor’s Beach.  But not too busy for a leisurely two-hour long lunch and a cocktail and a local hub.
Hmmm, now I just wonder what my plural businesses should be. Landscaper and sockmaker? Or how about chef and accountant? Perhaps there’s a need for a cab driver and yoga instructor. If you have any ideas, send them my way!

Grocery Shopping Anyone?

Tuesday, February 14th, 2006

Joel and his wife, Stephanie, have a three-year-old daughter named Kaya and a five-month-old daughter named Marin. I met Stephanie two days after arriving, and our meeting was surreal. It was knowingly being introduced to one of your new best friends. We bonded instantly. We have similar outlooks on life, flexibility in our living standards, political viewpoints, dedication to our kids and we both were competitive swimmers growing up. I find competitive swimmers all seem to have some odd connection. Stephanie reminds me quite a bit of my friend Debbie Love. I’m looking forward to introducing them at some point.

Stephanie, it turns out, is a vegetarian who doesn’t eat dairy (this part is unlike Debbie). If ever I complain about the lack of available food on the island, I only need to look to Stephanie to give me some better perspective. Of course, since I’m pregnant, that won’t stop me from doing my share of complaining about not being able to find Reeses Peanut Butter Cups or a bag of tortilla chips on the island.

And speaking of food, the grocery stores here are quite interesting. There’s a Sam’s Club / Costco style store, and there are a number of small stores (when I say small, think the inside of a gas station food mart). You learn to read labels and expiration dates very quickly here. Allen and I were shopping for macaroni and cheese. It’s easy to find, but something not as easy to find is something that hasn’t yet expired or that doesn’t expire soon.

Well, I have to run. The produce comes in today (Tuesday) and no one wants leftover “Saturday” limes, that is, if you can even find them on Saturday.

Our Grand Turk Arrival

Thursday, February 9th, 2006

We did it. We arrived in Grand Turk nearly as scheduled. Of course, our luggage is still back in Providenciales (aka Provo - the “big” island). Allen, Harry (age 3), Addie (age 22-months), me and our dogs Daisy and Kaya made it.

When we got off the plane in Grand Turk and realized only one of our 12 bags had made it, we were a bit disappointed. We looked at the other passengers and realized 90% of the other passengers’ luggage hadn’t made it either. Of course, when one Haitian woman saw the two large dogs being wheeled through the door, I heard nothing but cursing in her native tongue that two dogs would be more important than her luggage. Funny thing was, I knew they didn’t take more than four bags worth of space (our lack of baggage arriving alone took care of that). There had to be some other reason. I couldn’t tell her that, nor did I care to.

We would later find out that several movies are being shot on the island, and that it was the arrival of the camera equipment that caused the severe back up in luggage arrival. The plane can only carry a limited amount of weight. Maybe the Haitian woman found out and feels bad for causing such a scene over the dogs. Maybe, but I doubt it. Someone causing a scene like that often doesn’t care to know she was wrong.

We met Joel, one of Allen’s colleagues. He was our ride from the airport. After all of our safety in the US, and making sure I had the “best of the best” car seats, the dogs were loaded in the back of the truck, and the five of us loaded into the cab…no car seats or seatbelts were utilized. So strange and very uncomfortable. “Welcome to Grand Turk,” said Joel. “We were uncomfortable at first, too, with the idea of our kids not being in car seats, but we’ve sort of gotten used to it and drive very carefully.”

Anyhow, we’re here at last. It feels good just to have so much of the pain and suffering of trying to get here behind us. Ahhhhh! Next, we’ll have to check out the beach.