Sunday, October 14, 2018

Where in The World Is Turks and Caicos?


I didn't realize just how confused people are about the Turks and Caicos islands.  Before I traveled to Providenciales, the most developed of the eight main islands, I promised my blogging students that I would discover enough about this island nation to explain exactly where it is and what it's like. But it wasn't only my students that didn't know. When I tried to put a travel advisory on my credit card, the customer service confused Turks and Caicos with Turkey. And that was after I spelled it! Very few of my friends and family knew where the heck I was going so here it is:


The Turks and Caicos islands consist of a group of 40 islands and small cays, with eight of them inhabited. The country is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and located southeast of the Bahamas and East of  the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic. ) Currently, the Turks and Caicos is a British Overseas Territory. (Although the American dollar is the official currency.) The island wasn't under direct British rule until the 2009 corruption scandal with former Turks and Caicos Prime minister Michael Misick. Honestly, I thought Turks and Caicos had entered the public awareness when Chicago actress Lisa Raye married the prime minister in a fairy tale wedding in 2008. Clearly not. The Turks and Caicos is noted for its sublime beaches as you can see above. My photos show Grace Bay, a 12-mile stretch of pearly sand and turquoise water that consistently tops lists for most beautiful beach. But what is there beyond the beach in TCI? Well, this wasn't exactly easy to discover because the focus is really on sun, sand and sea.


Photo courtesy of Turks and Caicos Tourist Board

I found out that the national dish is peas and grits, often served with conch or fish. Rice was never grown on the island so locals made grits or hominy from the corn that grew. It wasn't easy to find a restaurant that served the dish because its generally offered only on weekends in non- touristy areas. What I did find was delectable Juici Patties from Jamaica.  My villa was near The Patty Place, which ships patties and Devon House ice cream directly from Jamaica. It turns out that large populations of Jamaicans, Dominicans and Haitians live in Turks and Caicos, adding a lot to the island's cultural mix.


One defining Turks and Caicos experience I had was at the iconic Da Conch Shack beach bar. The restaurant is laid out on the beach so I kicked off my shoes and listened to the live band. The reggae rhythms were soothing but I quickly recognized the unmistakable sound of Rake N' Scrape music. I had heard rake n scrape on Bahamian out islands but didn't realize that this folk music is also the national music of Turks and Caicos.


I was lucky to meet the "Rip Saw Man", as he's called around Turks and Caicos. He played and danced for hours at the beach bar and I was excited to see an authentic reflection of the island's culture. The locals, called "Belongers" are very friendly but I found that the Turks and Caicos culture wasn't clearly defined. The influences from other cultures seem to overshadow the island's original essence. I will have to return and visit the country's other islands to get a real sense of Turks and Caicos.





Photos by R. Cummings-Yeates

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