Archive for the 'Family' Category

Back in the USA

Monday, December 25th, 2006

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.

A Day at the Beach

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

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

Addie’s Second Birthday

Sunday, March 12th, 2006

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.

Duke Street

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

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