By Katya Brightwell
Nestled between two major resorts at the far end of Grace Bay Beach is a modest wooden bungalow. Raised on stilts from the fine white sand, with brightly-coloured slats and a traditional tin roof, the space is home to the Cultural Market Place of Providenciales — a discrete retail and relaxation haven.
Designed to provide the island’s beach vendors with shelter to sell their wares, the Cultural Market Place’s sunny yellow interior overflows with a horde of multi-coloured art pieces, layers of decorated t-shirts and sarongs, a myriad of shells and clusters of jewellery to explore. And there’s fresh local seafood and cold drinks at a cosy café to satisfy hunger and thirst.
Karen Forbes, President of the Providenciales Beach Vendors Association, was one of the vendors who initiated the Cultural Market Place by requesting a permanent location for the group from the now Premier, Honourable Michael Misick, before he ran for office. He promised that if he came to power he would provide a site. “And he kept his promise!” enthuses Karen. Some who now sit more comfortably in the homely confines of this building had been working the beach for over 20 years. The site, now open almost three years, is a welcome environment after hours of toting heavy bags through the sand and braving the elements to make a living.
Some of the vendors specialise in local straw work products, some in conch-shell art, some display brightly-coloured Haitian metalwork (with geckos abounding) and some original paintings. A few make their own jewellery and will custom-make on request. You can even get your hair braided on site.
“There’s a warm atmosphere and we all help each other out,” says Karen of the 33 souvenir-sellers who currently use the Cultural Market Place. “If you’re looking for a certain type of artwork, we’ll pass you to the person who has what you’re looking for, as we all specialise in different products. And the prices are good with some of the best deals on the island!”
Sitting unassumingly between Club Med and Ocean Club East, the Cultural Market Place also houses the only native restaurant in the area — the Flamingo Café. This simple bar and restaurant is run by friendly Ricky Clarke, a Grand Turk native and chef of ten years standing. The café specialises in seafood and other native dishes, with conch specials and lobster dishes (in season). Ricky is known to entertain with song while cooking up some of his famed cracked conch, and will even invite you into his kitchen to help if you like. His dulcet tones and the waft of cooking smells add to the comfortable feel of the building.
Bar stools raised in a shaded patio are a perfect place to enjoy your freshly-made food with a cold drink and a breeze, and the recent addition of a few permanent “umbrellas” directly on the beach in front provide a welcome area to relax too. The Flamingo Café even offers catering for parties and can accommodate 60+ people for food and drink — all at one of the finest stretches of beachfront in Providenciales.
The Islands’ first Cultural Market Place has proved so popular that a second is in the making, at the opposite end of Grace Bay Beach in the Bight next to Beaches Resort & Spa. While beach vendors from this stretch wait to occupy their space, the Middle Caicos Café, run by Lisa Harvey, is already open. In another atmospheric location you can enjoy the slow pace from breakfast “until the last customer leaves.” Native seafood dishes (with a different island slant) are offered and Saturday night is a must, with a live local band providing entertainment to a bustling crowd of fun.
Both locations provide welcome places simply to hang out. “We’re kind of like a family,” says Karen. “You can come and chill, right on the beach, chat to friendly people from all over the Islands, and, come evening, enjoy a perfect view of our gorgeous sunsets over the water.”
The Cultural Market Place by Ocean Club East is open for local arts and souvenir shopping daily between 9 AM and 5 PM. The Flamingo Café is also open daily from midday until late.
The Middle Caicos Café at the “Beaches” Cultural Market Place is open from 8 AM until “the last customer leaves.”
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Marta Morton, owner of Harbour Club Villas, shot this photo on the magical island of Salt Cay. The foreground is filled with the endemic National Flower Turks & Caicos Heather in full bloom. St. John's Anglican Church, built in the early 1800s, is in the background. To see more of her work, visit www.myturksandcaicosblog.com