Turks & Caicos Islands
In a small American Airlines plane, somewhere high above the Turks and Caicos Islands, 100 or so excited passengers eagerly await their first glimpse of the legendary turquoise blue of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, a large bank of grey cloud is blocking our view. Not to worry we think - it must just be the altitude we're at. Approaching Providenciales International Airport, a somewhat reserved captain comes over the tannoy: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are now approaching Providenciales. Welcome to the Caribbean. It is ummm... actually... pouring with rain outside. You'll have to run for the airport". Can it be true? Have we (my travelling partner, Dave, and I) actually jinxed the one place where "rain" is a swear word? You see, Dave and I have now been travelling the world for 9 months, taking in such countries as the United Arab Emirates, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and the U.S.A. We have pretty much had an endless summer. Now we find ourselves on the last leg of our journey, in the Caribbean, in one of the most idyllic and perfect places in the world. And it's pouring with rain. Is it because we are British, and therefore exude bad luck? Is it because Mother Nature knows we are going home soon, and wants to remind us what's waiting for us? Who knows, but let's hope it's just one off rainstorm....
But never fear! Things were about to get much better. Met by my second cousin Carol, we then took a drive of the island. We got our first view of the stunning waters, which contrast with the dark clouds above to give an intensity of colour we have not seen in our whole 9 months of travelling. After a whistle-stop tour of the island, we found ourselves in Latitudes with a cool beer in our hands, reggae music floating through the air, huge ceiling fans keeping the soaring temperatures at bay. Dave and I looked at each other, and the smiles said it all. We had found our paradise. It wasn't long before we were enjoying our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th beers, and, after a few months spent in the U.S.A., enjoying drinking legally again! You could say it was love at first sight (with the island that is! I already have a deep love for beer!).
Of course, you can't come to the Turks and Caicos Islands and not experience the underwater ecstasy that is scuba diving. Having completed our PADI Open Water courses in Australia and fallen in love with diving, this is what we had been looking forward to for a long time now. We dived with Art Pickering's Provo Turtle Divers, a very friendly, professional dive company, and actually very reasonably priced, which is what us cheapskate travelling types like! Our dive masters took us to two great dive spots - Northwest Point, and the Chimney. Both of these offered stunning views of "the wall" (where the sea bed drops off suddenly) and also of the "Thunderdome"- a huge metal sphere sunk underwater, used for a French Survivor-esque TV show. Having previously done some snorkelling at the "White House" section of beach at Turtle Cove, we were well aware of the beauty and splendour of Provo below sea level, but nothing could have prepared for what awaited us as we emptied our buoyancy control devices and took our first proper look at the beauty of the reef. The variety of sea-life on show is unprecedented, from the magnificently diverse corals, to the bizarre but fascinating eel gardens, and the multitude of fish, including Parrotfish, Blue Tang, Angelfish, and if your lucky (or perhaps unlucky!), Reef and Hammerhead sharks. I could have spent all day below the water, taking in the amazing underwater scenery had it not been for that little thing we call air and, unfortunately for us divers, breathe. Not being amphibious, we had to return to the surface after two 45-minute dives, feeling exhausted but utterly satisfied and 100% more fish-like!
The sheer beauty of Providenciales for me is captured in Long Bay. After taking a drive with the intention of getting lost somewhere beautiful, we found ourselves on a deserted beach, bright white sand almost dazzling, conch shells marking the waterline, and a turquoise sea stretching as far as the eye can see. As for other people sharing these wonderful pleasures, we were delighted to find there were none. We had miles of perfect beach all to ourselves. This part of the island is one of the most secluded, and in many ways the most perfect. Far from the tourist-centred Grace Bay, Long Bay offers everything you could ever wish for if you are looking for peace, tranquillity, serenity and pure beauty. The plan of ours to get lost someone gorgeous had been successful. Now one thing posed a problem. Yep that's right, we were actually lost. Still, Provo is not a massive place and after some strategic directions (right at the bush, straight on to the rock, turning right when you get
to the palm tree) we found our way back to civilization. In a Hansel and Gretel-esque moment, we had been smart and unwound a ball of cotton to remember our way back to this bliss.... Ok the Hansel and Gretel thing was a lie, but we did return many a time during our short stay, and each time spent god knows how many hours relaxing, relaxing and oh did I mention relaxing? Not that chilling out is a hard thing to do in the Turks and Caicos Islands...
Anyway, back to my favourite subject. A trip to Provo would not be complete without sampling some nightlife, and Dave and I made it our mission to scout out all the best bars in Provo, for research purposes only, obviously - our interests are solely in the reader... Starting in the closest bar and grill, "The Tiki Hut", we sampled some of the fine local beers, whilst marvelling at the brilliant bar made from resin, constructed by local artist Fritz ..... This modern masterpiece will keep you staring at the bar for a as long as you will let it, which is fascinating, but does give others the impression of a certain degree of drunkenness, which, may I add, we were not at yet. Moving on, we found our way to "Where It's At", which, we found out, is not just a clever name. I didn't think that there were this many people on Provo, let alone in one bar! After a bit of grooving on the dance floor, we hit "Dora's", a great bar with one of the many excellent local bands playing. Dave be came pre-occupied with expressing himself on the dance floor, whilst for me the bar was the priority. After a while, I began to wonder where Dave was. Not long after a local guy came up to us to tell us there was someone lying on my cousin's car. A quick look outside, and yep, we'd found Dave again, in a somewhat different state from the mad dancer of an hour previous. Time to take him home! But don't worry, the evening doesn't end here for us all. In search of more refreshment, my cousins and I then headed to Batches, another one of the many brilliant bars on Provo. Three or four beers later (not really too sure...) it was high time we were heading home. I think the 5-minute giggling fit sealed that one. I did make a lot of friends that night though! The next morning soon came, and the fun of the previous night was confirmed with none other than the mother of all hangovers. Still I'm sure we weren't the first people to over indulge!
Whilst out and about in the bars, we had heard news of a crazy music native to the Turks and Caicos that involved playing a saw (yes, a saw) with a metal scraper, usually an old knife (well why not eh?). Having never experienced music through workman's tools and kitchen utensils before, we decided to check out this intriguing sound. Ripsaw music is the national music of the Turks & Caicos Islands. Accompanied by instruments such as the accordion, concertina, goat and cow skin drums, triangle, shakers (maracas), box guitar and conga drums, the common carpenter saw is used as the featured instrument, producing a rhythmic foundation for the rest of band. At the pinnacle of Ripsaw music are none other than wacky islander Lovey Forbes and the "Combina Ripsaw Band". The "Combina" bit is where they combine ripsaw music with better-known styles of music such as jazz and reggae. Lovey and co. were playing at Banana Boat, one of the quayside bars in Turtle Cove so we headed down to check it out, and were treated to such musical gems as "Who Left the Pot cake on the Side of the Road", "Fun in the Sun" and that timeless classic "Mashed Potatoes, Peas and Cheese". Even though we were (still) nursing hangovers, we just couldn't avoid Lovey's presence - one that makes you want to get up and shake your thang, declare that life is beautiful, and kiss your neighbour. Such is the atmosphere created by ripsaw music. Along with other ripsaw bands such as "Tell and the Rakooneers" helping to promote tourism and culture in the Turks and Caicos Islands, the island's native music and culture has never been so alive.
And so after a sublime 10 days our trip inevitably came to an end. Blighty was calling; it was time to go home. Heck, it might not even be raining in England!! There's positive thinking!! Leaving the Providenciales was perhaps one of the most difficult things we had to do on our trip - the crystal clear oceans, the vibrant culture, the happy, friendly people and the sheer beauty of the Turks and Caicos Islands made this part of our trip one of the best, and a very fitting conclusion to our world trip. But beware, when our student workload decreases and our bank balances allow, we will be back like a shot, to one of most beautiful places on Earth: the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Will Carson is currently studying Journalism, Film and Broadcasting at Cardiff University, UK, and this past summer spent 2 weeks in the Turks and Caicos Islands.