OBXer’s Getaway: Hoping Turks and Caicos bounce back

By on December 30, 2017

This ship has been aground since Hurricane Ike in 2004. (Pat Morris)

Our arrival in the Turks and Caicos was a little unsettling.

The landing at the one-runway airport was smooth enough, and the spartan terminal was what you would expect in a small island country.

But as we drove out to the resort area, there were signs that the 2008 recession lingered. Construction projects stood half-finished, and in some of the business strips, the occupants seemed like squatters.

In the resort district, weeds covered an oceanfront tract slated for a new hotel. Down the road, another was abandoned, its pier in disrepair.

Our expectations for Club Med, one of the first of the company’s resorts worldwide, were modest. But it was  well-kept with none of  the faux-luxury stuffiness that spoils so many other resorts and cruise ships. We were greeted by an enthusiastic and accommodating staff, many of them French-Canadian. The place was pleasant and down-to-earth.

Our spirits rose even more when we walked past the pools to the perfect white-sand beach shaded by palm trees and the incredibly clear-blue water of the Atlantic Ocean. It easily outshines those days on the Outer Banks when east winds push the Gulf Stream westward, delivering a teal surf.

Sunsets were spectacular, too, but Ocracoke’s are still at the top of my list.

A little history: The Turks and Caicos islands are on the south end of the Bahamas chain and were once part of a British Crown Colony that included Jamaica. While Jamaica and the Bahamas are now independent, the Turks and Caicos remains a Crown Colony, although the nation manages most of its own affairs.

The islands import all of their food, so it tends to be on the expensive side. But our stay included meals, and the quality indicated that importing the ingredients did little to affect their freshness or taste.

Our rooms were comfortable with the basic amenities, but we spent so little time in them, it didn’t matter how luxurious they were. The gathering area was a large pavilion, which led to the restaurant on one side and the pool.

A snack bar on the beach offered another opportunity for, well, snacking. An open-walled auditorium hosted evening entertainment. Farther up the beach was a trapeze for the more adventurous. I didn’t quite get what a piece of the circus had to do with a Caribbean resort.

Overall, I’d describe the place as being like a cruise ship that didn’t go anywhere.

The beauty of the island brings to mind most of the Caribbean cliches. It is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. An offshore reef called “The Wall” not only provides protection from the surf; it is also known for spectacular diving and snorkeling. But more on that later.

While my previous sailing experience was limited, using the catamarans available on demand became a highlight of most days, and I got better as the week wore on. Unfortunately, during the regatta, my crew mate and I got stuck trying to tack around a marker on an unusually calm evening.

The wind can be unpredictable, and at times so strong that we saw cats upended once or twice. A gust tried to send us on a forward flip, but a tweak of the sale saved us — if not from injury — at least a rescue from attendants standing by in a speedboat to bail out those less fortunate.

My wife is a certified diver, so she persuaded me to take a class that would allow me to try it out near the reef. It was extremely rough when we finally went out, and the currents pretty much occupied us more than any effort to see the underwater sights.

The beaches were postcard-perfect. (Pat Morris)

Even without the currents, I found the experience not worth trying again. I prefer snorkeling, which we did a little later.

That was when we signed up for an eco-tour on a small boat that took us island hopping nearby. As we headed into the Caribbean side, a ship on the horizon caught our eye. Since we could see the bottom through the super-clear water, it appeared out of place. And it was.

When we approached, the small cargo ship was hopelessly aground and accumulating rust. It was a well-known tourist attraction as it turns out, a privately owned vessel that was originally a Soviet oil rig tender that drifted and ran aground during Hurricane Ike in 2004.

We also visited Iguana Island and saw a lot of iguanas. Nothing much more memorable occurred there, other than learning that the males had two reproductive units on their business end.

More memorable was a purely spontaneous experience. As we sped toward the reef for some snorkeling, three of as sat at the rails in the front of the boat as it slammed through the waves, experiencing what I can only describe as a feeling of jubilation and freedom. Under different circumstances, I’d guess we might have been a little nervous because the sea was quite rough.

On our way out, a motley dolphin pulled alongside, acting as though it was escorting us out to sea. Our guide said it was the famous JoJo, which has become somewhat of an attraction boasting the islands’ eco-tourism efforts. My online literature says he’s been around since the 1980s, so he’s pretty old, or the tourism department keeps a pod of dolphins all named JoJo available for promotional purposes.

Despite the rough seas, snorkeling was much more pleasant than diving, although I didn’t see much, possibly because of the conditions. On a separate trip, my wife saw, among other things, a sea turtle and a shark.

The islands were ripped by Hurricane Maria and Jose, but we plan to to return in February. We’ve been assured that everything will be in order and that Club Med has seen some upgrades.

That’s fine, but as long as the beaches, the sea, the wind and JoJo are still there, I’ll be more than satisfied.

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