Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Exploring Grand Turk

[Kyle]We spent the whole day anchored outside Cockburn Town at Grand Turk. Unlike the previous day, not one, but two cruise ships had arrived and even by 8am the town was full of the bustle of milling cruise ship passengers and locals selling trinkets from market stalls. Boats were zipping by to nearby snorkeling sites and ashore tourist trains with cute carriages (all designed for the road) were delivering passengers to the various attractions. There were also bicycle and Segway tours were guiding a snaking trail of followers on tours of the island.

Today we have to share the island, but at least all the museums are open!

I have mixed feelings about this. The town was completely overrun with gawking tourists, yet everything was suddenly open and accessible. Despite being assumed as cruise ship passengers once we went ashore, all the locals were exceedingly friendly.

We started our day at the small, but well presented National Museum, and moved on to the (otherwise empty of tourists) Prison Museum, before Maryanne found us a place where we had a delicious and reasonable lunch (with beer) for under $15. As we made our order we were warned that a bus tour was about to arrive; we should pick our table quickly and be prepared to share. We ended up sharing a table with a very nice couple from one of the cruise ships, they explained that tomorrow they would be in Jamaica; Wow! Jamaica tomorrow – that would take us DAYS to get there. They turned out to also be sailors, from the Baltimore area, and it was fun to swap stories and see their amazement at our adventures.

After lunch we discovered that the Philatelic Museum (where Maryanne had hoped to purchase and send postcards afar) was shut (it was moved to the cruise ship terminal for the day; a little too far for us to walk). We then set out for the salt pond museum. Salt was the main industry in Grand Turk since being occupied by westerners (and their slaves); an annex of Bermuda, much of the low land was set aside to produce salt for the world beyond. Just as we arrived, a woman in a car leaving the property called from the car window to tell us they had just closed (the last of the cruise ships had left the island for the day). We ambled in anyway to enjoy the grounds, which provided us a sighting of the island’s endangered flamingos (yay). By then it was mid-afternoon. With the cruise ships departed, most tourist stuff was shut down again. We decided to stop by one of the many local supermarkets for a few provisions. We bought four items for a million dollars (probably delivered from that freight ship that prevented us landing yesterday).. oh well, it was fun to feel like a local and it was a well stocked store.

Visiting Her Majesty's Prison (Museum)

One amusing thing about a walk, since most cruise ships seem to leave by early afternoon, we stood out! Every third or forth car that passed us slowed, and offered us a ride back to the ship. White people on the island seem fairly rare, and those on foot even rarer (unless of course, they are a cruise ship passenger). We waved them off and politely gave our thanks for their consideration. As the day progressed, we sensed their increasing concern that we might miss our ship’s departure if we refused their ride. Once, within sight of Begonia, I explained we were fine and we were walking back to our boat, to which the driver replied it is ‘WAY too far to walk back to the boat’ the joke was on him, we could see our boat and the dingy dock was only a block away.

Visiting the Salt ponds

We were just about ready to pile our groceries into our dingy when we decided to stop again at our lunch stop and share a quick snack – which turned out the be the last meal they would prepare for anyone that day. As we finished our meal, we saw the last of the cruise ships heading over the horizon and once again the town was subdued leaving just the locals and us as the two remaining tourists.

What a beautiful place to explore

With the cruise ships gone and the tour operations complete for the day, we knew it was safe to reposition Begonia on to one of the nearby sturdy snorkel site moorings for the night. With about an hour of daylight remaining we quickly donned snorkel and masks for a glimpse of the third largest barrier reefs in the world. We were met in the water by curious fish (some of which seemed to follow us around) as we made our way around our immediate area. It was of medium quality as far as snorkel sights go, but there were several interesting corals and many varieties of fish. I even saw a manta ray. The coolest thing was that we were right on the edge of the island shelf. From a few yards of our mooring the sea quickly drops from 15 feet to several thousand. The Caicos passage is the Atlantic’s third deepest trench and it was humbling to float over it and wonder what was lurking in those deep blue depths beyond the reef. It was right at sunset when we climbed out of the water and returned to Begonia, a perfect time for a glass of wine in the cockpit.

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