Thursday, November 21, 2013

Salt Cay

[Kyle]One of the unfortunate but understandable nuances of Begonia’s electrical system is that the electric anchor windlass will not operate unless the port engine is running. This is because the windlass draws so much current that it would kill the batteries very quickly without an engine driven alternator constantly helping out. This has effectively removed two of my favorite maneuvers from our repertoire: anchoring and leaving under sail.

Since we had picked up a dive boat mooring the night before in Grand Turk, and since it wasn’t in a crowded mooring field, we got to raise sail, throw off the mooring pendant, and sail off all without having to start the engines. That’s a nice way to start the day.

We unrolled the jib and had a nice, fast sail to Salt Cay, just ten miles to the south of Grand Turk and still within distant sight of taller structures back in Cockburn Town. We dropped anchor right outside of the little fishing harbor and again were the only visiting boat on the island.

Begonia visits another of the salt producing islands of the Turks and Caicos

We made our plans for the day and then filled a backpack with supplies. We started off walking a counter-clockwise course around the saltpans that form the center of the island. As we were passing by the primary school, a friendly voice came from behind.

“Yoo, hoo! Have you seen our flamingoes?”

We hadn’t actually, as they were still in the far distance, but once they were pointed out, they were as clear as day.

The woman attached to the friendly voice introduced herself as Jennifer. Her husband Jay was off cleaning a couple of fish we had seen him catch as we rowed the pudgy to shore. She walked and talked with us for a while and then asked us if we had been to the White House – the one on the island, not the more famous one in Washington, D.C. It was the principal landmark on the island and probably the largest structure. We just happened to be walking past it right then.

We said we hadn’t and she promptly invited us in. She and Jay were staying as guests of the owner, their friend Tim, who was off collecting people from Grand Turk. The White House is almost two hundred years old and is enormous. It has been in Tim’s family for generations and he is making a valiant effort to keep on top of the restoration and upkeep himself, with regular assistance from Jay, Jennifer and others.

As the house is so huge, their strategy seems to be to start at a couple of corners and gradually spread to the rest of the house, the far ends of which are still fairly derelict. What they have done is stunning, and the house feels as if we had stepped right into the nineteenth century.

Visiting the 'white house' of Salt Cay

Jay appeared, cleaned his fish in the kitchen and then we all sat around talking for almost three hours about a little bit of everything. Tim even breezed through briefly and surprised us. He looked way more like a full time surfer/diver than the owner of the most stately home on Salt Cay.

We could have happily stayed the rest of the day chatting, but it was our only day on the island, so we bid one of those reluctant goodbyes that seems to go on forever and resumed our circuit of the island.

It had warmed up considerably since we first sat down in the White House’s shaded veranda. It wasn’t long before our leisurely walk around the island started to feel like a shadeless trudge across a sunbaked desert.

The white house from the other side of the salt pond, and Maryanne gains a little shade from her umbrella on our walk-about

When we got to the far side in the northeast, the homes had long since vanished and we were left alone in the scrub brush walking an increasingly unimproved path. Occasionally, we would come up on a feral mule or cow and the further we went; the more surprised they seemed to see us. They weren’t startled, but seemed to be wondering what on earth we were doing out there. Their stares followed us until we were out of sight.

After a long enough slog through the heat and a barren terrain, Kyle was especially pleased to find the North beach and don his snorkel gear

We passed through one last herd of cattle, who looked simultaneously surprised and too heat-exhausted to get out of our way, before we finally fetched up on the beautiful white semi-circle of the beach on the north side of the island. We had thought about anchoring here, but decided it would be best to be by “town” instead and that we could just walk to the snorkelling spot, rather than vice versa.

Maryanne had decided in advance that it was too much of a kerfuffle, but I was quick to don the snorkel gear I had dragged with me all day and get in the inviting blue water to cool off while she read a book on the beach under an umbrella, looking like my own personal lifeguard.

The sea was pretty churned up, so the visibility was less than I’d hoped for, but humans infrequently visited the coral, so it seemed to be in fairly good shape and there were many different types. My big find of the day was a large colony of about fifty conch nestled in the sand at the edge of one of the reefs.

Sea fans and conch on the seabed

Once I got out and changed, we continued overland, sometimes on trails, sometimes not, until we finally intercepted a definite footpath leading over the cliffs separating the north side of the island from our anchorage.

After a short walk and some stunning views, we settle down for refreshments

We were pretty beat by then, so we pulled up a couple of chairs at the restaurant/bar overlooking the spot where we pulled the pudgy up onto the beach. It wasn’t long before we were spotted and the restaurant was magically open. We ordered a couple of beers and then a couple of things off of the menu. Maryanne had conch and fries. I had a tuna quesadilla. Both were very good. We even topped it off with a slice of key lime pie for dessert.

When it came time for the check, our waiter and cook Anye came up with a number off of the top of his head that seemed way too high. The menu was printed with prices of everything except the beers, so we had some idea what to expect. Maryanne questioned him on this and he rattled off the prices of the various items, most of which were wrong, and the total of which came to nowhere near his original total. He then quoted a VAT rate of 11% (there is no VAT on the island!) and then got that math way wrong when he added it in. He had been very friendly and the food he made was very good, so we rounded the final number up with a fairly generous tip, then bid him farewell to close the restaurant behind us. As we rowed away, we kept going over the whole conversation in our heads and the more time that passed, the more we were convinced that it wasn't simply a math(s) error on his behalf, but we got scammed. Nowhere else we had been had added tax to the price of things. It may have been a portion of the item prices to make for a nice, round bill, but it hadn’t been added on after the fact. We did more research and it turns out the proposed VAT had been voted down earlier in the year. Anye had just scammed a 50% tip from the “rich” Americans he will never see again. If curses work, he’s going to have to spend the whole thing on ointment.

{Maryanne: As Kyle said, the food was good, and until that point we'd enjoyed Anye's company. Luckily the day on the island was more than balanced with the kindness of Jennifer, Jay and Tim along with others we'd met}


Islandinthesun said...

Watch Out for Those Extras! -- The government imposes a flat 11% occupancy tax, applicable to all hotels, guesthouses, and restaurants in the 40-island chain.

You were not "scammed" and may want to edit your post fyi

SV-Footprint said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SV-Footprint said...

Someone anonymously added the statement that there is a 'occupancy tax' - we were not charged this in any other restaurant in the whole of the T&C. But let's say there is an applicable tax that others had included in the listed prices rather than added after the fact, AND that it is 11% - 11% of $50 should not bring any bill to $75 - so yes, we were scammed, and it was a small negative on what was overall a wonderful visit.

Islandinthesun said...

I do not think you were. The cost of food is very high in the tci. There is a 33 percent import duty on almost everythng coming into the country, and now another 7 percent duty on the shipping costs. There is an additional cost to transport food and beveages to smaller islands. There are also government taxes. Instead of slandering someone, why dont you do the appropriate thing and contact the restaurant so they can break down the bill for you and give you an explanation?

SV-Footprint said...

IslandInTheSun. While I appreciate your comments, we have only given half a story in our blog, and while you are passionate that we are being unfair, we feel otherwise.

There was a discussion with the server, there was no bill provided, and no return of the menu to confirm prices. We have no intention of raising this issue with the owners as we'll not be back in the area to recover any funds, nor give or withhold our custom (note we haven't even mentioned the restaurant's name). We post this to share with our family and friends OUR experiences on our travels, but it may also warn others at least to check their bill and to question the requested amount - especially when it adds up to over 50% more than the cost of the food (as listed in the original menus, prices we were more than happy to pay on ordering, and we fully understand the difficulty of stocking food in such a remote location just in case a customer happens by). Checking a bill is something that is good to do wherever you eat. I'm not trying to make a big deal out of this, but I do think the overcharge request was deliberate. I was there. You were not there and you think the overcharge was reasonable, I don't see any logic to such an overcharge. When we questioned it the 'VAT' reasons were given, and clearly VAT is not valid in the T&C (although some taxes may be valid, I can't find any official website that states so, only some older travel guides with conflicting numbers).

I guess we'll have to agree to differ.

I am not objecting to the price of the food that was clearly marked on the menus, nor of the beer prices (which were verbally given to us) - but the actual mystery additions to the verbal bill that added so much to it (note we had no paper bill, just a verbal one).

I repeat, even if there is a valid tax to charge, this overage was so very much more than that amount, effectively we were quoted 50% over the menu cost totals... just not really a nice experience to what was otherwise a splendid day. We expressed our concern to the server at the time, and even generously tipped (at least 40%). I really don't feel any obligation to retract the feeling that we were treated as an easy target for some extra $s, most likely deliberately rather than accidentally (bad maths?).