Archive for March, 2006

Harry’s Day in Paradise

Tuesday, March 21st, 2006

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

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.

Carnival Cruise Center

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

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

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

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

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

A Time for Norman Paperman

Friday, March 3rd, 2006

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.

Food, Glorious Food

Friday, March 3rd, 2006

Two mornings ago I sent Allen off to Provo with a list of hard-to-find groceries and two coolers.  He was going to Provo for a bunch of meetings.  At 7pm, I got a call confirming he had missed his flight because his stop at the IGA grocery store took longer than expected.

I was disappointed and told him he should have skipped the grocery trip.  But when he arrived the next morning with arms full of blueberries, blackberries, whole grain bagels, cottage cheese, mangoes and filet mignon, I was thrilled he had gone to IGA even if he did miss his flight.

Addie ate an entire pint of blueberries ($6/pint…so don’t complain wherever you are) and most of the blackberries.  Food never excited me until arriving here.  Anyone who knows my dietary habits well knows that I will comfortably eat peanut butter and jelly for days on end.  Food was sustenance to me and not much more.  Not anymore.
I was literally giddy eating what might have been the finest steak of my life last night.  Maybe it was an average steak.  I’m sure my judgement was clouded by the salivation the sizzling steak brought on.  But, who cares?  It will go down as one of the best meals I’ve eaten in a long time.

The kids ate hamburger.  Allen and I weren’t in a sharing mood.  We love these kids, but the steaks were $11/each, we only had four total (two are for freezing to eat another day) and we were feeling stingy.  Don’t feel sorry for our culinary-deprived children - they were quite content with their hamburgers ;-)   Remember, we did spoil Addie with that pint of $6 blueberries yesterday morning.  And Harry assisted in polishing off nearly three mangoes this morning.   Mmm, I love a good mango, too.  Allen can miss his flight anytime so long as he comes back with the select groceries.

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.