An Island with Two Personalities

img_3082-copyStory & Photos By Ramona Settle

I’m looking out the window of the airplane on my flight from Providenciales to Grand Turk, admiring all the gorgeous turquoise hues of water. We fly over the tiny cays, then North, Middle and South Caicos. The easy-going, colorful ocean banks stop; we are flying over the serious-looking open water of the Columbus Passage. That’s when the pilot announces, “Get ready for our landing in Grand Turk.” Landing? Where? I don’t see any land out of the small side windows. But, just like faith, it’s really there and we soon touch down at Grand Turk’s distinctive JAGS McCartney International Airport. Although only 20 minutes by air from Providenciales, Grand Turk is worlds’ away in personality. And although the nation’s capital is only eight miles long and a couple of miles wide, in one day you can feel like you’ve had two very different vacation experiences.

I started the day on Front Street. I had been to Grand Turk before, and was curious to see how a cruise ship terminal would affect the island. Known as a sleepy diver’s destination, described “as the way the Caribbean used to be,” I was curious to see if all of this had changed.

It was a postcard-scene day — no clouds in the sky, and blue neon sparkling water. Early in the morning, there were no cruise ship tourists yet on Front Street, but an hour later, they started trickling down the avenues. In spite of this, Cockburn Town was still colorful, still sleepy, still charming. Walking down Front Street, you could see the brillliantly painted boats parked along the beach, and the dive boats busily trundling divers out to dive sites on the reef and wall. The cross streets still have their evocative names, like “Queen Street,” “Prison Street” and “Doctor’s Alley,” but now the signs are a bit fancier. The occasional rooster still proudly struts from his yard and Islanders still sit under trees, seeking shady shelter from the bright sun. Somehow, the town had retained its Old World, sleepy charm.

img_3125-copyCockburn Town is so photogenic and the day seemed made for taking pictures, so I set up at beautiful St Mary’s church and waited for an Islander on a bicycle to ride by. While I waited, two women came out of the church and invited me inside for a look around. They explained to me that on cruise ship days, the organist plays music with the doors open for everyone to enjoy. They talked and laughed with me while I was waiting to take my picture. Unfortunately, there were no bicyclists so I moved on.

I continued walking. I started at the Osprey Hotel, and strolled down Duke Street, admiring the walled yards cascading in flowers and huge trees. I walked all the way down to Bohio Resort, a good distance, greeted along the way with a profusion of “Hellos” and “Good Mornings.” Many women I passed sported beautiful hats or umbrellas for shade. Every building, every house, was more fascinating than the last.

I doubled back to the Turks & Caicos National Museum. For such a small island, this is a terrific museum presenting a lot of history. Former U.S. Senator John Glenn, the first astronaut on the moon, splashed down near Grand Turk. His space capsule is next to the airport, and all the information about the event is at the museum. Grand Turk also claims to be the first landing for Columbus in the New World. The museum includes artifacts from a wrecked Spanish galleon and some cannons are in the town square.

img_3257-copyI stopped at the church again to try my luck at finding a bicyclist in front of the church gates. By then, there were more cruise ship tourists walking around. Finally, a local gentleman on a bike rode by. Of course, it happened so quickly, I missed the shot. He stopped a block away, so I went to talk to him. He said he would come back and pose for a picture. After that, he asked if I had come from the cruise ship. I told him that I had flown over from Provo for the day. He was eager to talk and wanted to meet people from all over the world.

Some of the passengers from the cruise ship came over, too. They explained that this was the last port on this cruise, which had stopped in Antigua, Virgin Gorda, and Tortola. One couple told me Grand Turk was their favorite. They had never seen water so turquoise, so clear, and with so much sparkle.

After Cockburn Town, I made it to the cruise ship center. The port has a long dock, so no tenders are needed. Tourists can easily walk on and off the ship. At the terminal, there is a small village of duty-free shops and the largest Jimmy Buffet-themed “Margaritaville” in the Caribbean. The village is very colorful, with pastel buildings contrasting against the stunning blue water. Margaritaville has a huge, winding pool, with a swim-up bar. I decided to have lunch there and people-watch. Margaritaville continues the party atmosphere from the cruise ship onto land, with lots of activities, drinks and fun. They had karaoke, Jimmy Buffet tunes and drink specials. They had games at the pool for prizes, and everyone was having a great time. Of course, the port also offers land-based activities, such as trolleys to Governor’s Beach, horseback riding, and tours to the lighthouse and old prison.

img_3338-copyThe cruise ship that day was a smaller one, with only around 400 passengers. Sometimes there are two ships docked with about 2,000 passengers each. The cruise ship village is only open when there is a ship at the dock. Only three miles away, and a $3 cab fare, is Front Street, yet it feels worlds away.

I think it’s incredible that such a small island can offer such completely different contrasts. Tourists can choose or do both — the active shopping area of the village, or the sleepy, picturesque “get away from it all” Front Street.

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Gary James at Provo Picture (www.provopictures.com) made several visits to the award-winning Provo Golf course to shoot this intriguing overhead cover shot.

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