It seems, June is the perfect time of year to visit the Turks and Caicos. Located near the islands of Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos are a British-controlled island chain nestled in the sublimely aqua hued waters of the Atlantic (not the Caribbean, as many believe). On the whole, "TCI", as the "belongers" call it, is famous for conch. At almost every eating establishment on the most developed island of the bunch, Providenciales, conch can be purchased in whatever preparation the diner most desires. Fritters, ceviche...flat out raw...you name it. If you can think of it, the kitchen can make it a reality. And, the excess of conch preparation leaves a variety of abandoned conch homes - the beautiful white, tubular shells that litter the white, sugary beaches. They are up for grabs, and finding a perfect one to take home as a souvenir is part of what compelled my husband and I to make a potentially fatal journey along the southern Provo coast one hot, sunny (thankfully!) afternoon.
Having been advised by a couple of fellow tourists to visit the watering hole "Horse Eye Jack's" on the opposite end of the island from our resort, Matt and I summoned a cab which transported us roughly seven miles, and charged us $30 U.S. for the one-way trip. Appalled, we settled in for some reasonably priced, especially well-muddled mojitoes prepared by the bar manager/lone server, Glen, who informed us that he had quit over two weeks earlier, but continued to find his name on the work schedule. And, so he continued to manage, and serve and muddle daily. Glen also brought me a t-shirt which I purchased for my father, along with some delightful fried plantains. Our surroundings were lovely. There were palm trees, blue sky, a rich spearamint colored ocean, and hammocks.
Perhaps it was the second mojito or maybe the euphoria of the panorama which compelled us to make the decision, but one way or another, we agreed that paying another $30 for a taxi was ridiculous. Being able-bodied individuals, we saw no reason why we couldn't walk the seven mile stretch back to our resort. After all, we had checked the map issued to us by our concierge, and the journey would simply consist of mile after mile of soft, white sand. No problem. We had no dinner reservations. We had no appointments scheduled. It just made perfect sense. (after 2 mojitoes....)
We set out on our trek by walking down a little flight of wooden stairs at the back of the bar, and heading what I am pretty sure was West toward a little band of local children playing in the water. They splashed and called out greetings to us as we passed. We waved. About 50 yards on, we encountered our first obstacle. On the ground, there rested hundreds of potential gifts for happy travelers - it was an empty conch shell graveyard, and had come to plunder it. However, the crime would come at a high cost, for in the air, there swarmed no less than 40 million large, angry flies. We crouched low to try to avoid them, but near the uninhabited shells, they buzzed in greater multitude. Matt found a shell that was a passable souvenir, and we tightened our lips and muscled through the winged mob.
When the last fly had been left in our wake, we breathed a great sigh of relief. All would be well from here. We strolled onward. We even held hands.
But, the serenity was pierced again when our beach tapered off into a long rock jetty, quite clearly constructed by human hands out of enormous black, prickly stones. We stood silent for a moment, looking at our obstacle and considering the possibilities. My first thought was to turn around. Matt mentioned the flies. I grimaced. Matt climbed to the top of the jetty and looked over. On the other side, there was a lagoon, he told me, and it appeared to belong to the gigantic house which overlooked it.
I climbed up to where Matt stood surveying the challenging terrain. As we mulled over the idea of swimming through someone's backyard, our attention was drawn to a noise which sounded from high in the tallest tower of the enormous house. (we later decided the house most likely belonged to Bruce Willis.) There was a figure watching us, and apparently, also moving furniture. We froze, as if our absence of movement would render us invisible. (remember those 2 mojitoes?) The figure scraped another piece of furniture across the floor. We conceded that if we were going to be reported, it might be better to cross quickly than to continue standing, waiting for the police to arrive. And, who knows what goes on in a TCI jail cell? I don't. Neither does Matt. Thank goodness.
And, so, we swam. Matt went first, holding my cherry print tote I had made just for the trip over his head, gliding across the water using just one arm. The contents of the tote were as follows: one IPhone, one relatively base model piece of junk phone which does virtually nothing and I like it that way, some cash, a credit card, a camera rendered useless by my having dropped it in the water after kayaking the day prior, the shirt I had purchased for my dad and our prized conch shell. Had it fallen in the water, I would have lived. But, Matt would not have - his IPhone has a name. It is his mistress, and we call her Penelope.
Standing on the lowest tier of the second rock jetty which enclosed the small, private lagoon, we congratulated ourselves. Flies and an unexpected swim might have dampened our clothes, but not our spirits! We waved at the figure in the tower and shouted something about not being paparazzi and to tell Bruce we meant him no harm. We proceeded over the second jetty and stood aghast.
There was a beach, but it was so far away, it was barely visible to the naked eye. What stood between was a continuous jagged cliff that extended downward into roughly 3 feet of water, intermittently peppered with cement docks. Houses, or at the very least, their backyards, stretched to the edges of the cliffs above which were labeled at various intervals with signs reading "Keep Out" or "No Trespassing". I turned to look behind us. We had two choices and neither was particularily appealling. We could take on the lagoon and the flies once again only to pay $30 for the cab ride we thought we wouldn't have to take....or, we could traverse the unknown shallows below the cliffs and hope for the best. We chose the shallows.
We moved forward carefully at first, finding that it was much easier to walk with our flip-flops in our hands rather than on our feet. Matt held my cherry tote above the water, quite obviously petrified of losing Penelope somewhere along the journey. We moved at a steady pace, together, chatting as if we weren't walking on reefs, in the ocean,with giant rocks above our heads. It wasn't really all that bad until we encountered a dock too high for us to easily climb over, and too long to go around. There was a steep drop off about ten feet out into the ocean, and Matt was not keen on our swimming through it to circumvent the structure. I didn't know why then. I do now. More on that shortly.
The only option with the dock was to try to climb over it, so we found the lowest point along the slope and made a plan. Matt would hoist himself up on top, then help to pull me up. Even at the lowest point, the top of the dock was at eye level for me, and there was no way my meager arm strength was going to be enough to lift me over. We figured this was just another minor blip in our nautical passage until the tiny eagle that sat atop the nearest waterfront house began his descent.
First, he called out, seeminly in warning. To whom, we did not know, but the hot mid-day sun had taken its toll on our mental clarity (the mojitoes has TOTALLY worn off), and we were both pretty sure he was beckoning to his rich, eccentric owner who was going to come running out of the house dressed in overalls, weilding a shotgun and cursing at us in another language like a witch doctor. It should also be noted that I am not sure the bird was a tiny eagle. Again, that was all my brain could come up with in the moment - I'm sure he was a hawk or perhaps a falcon. Or, hell, a tiny eagle. Who knows what he was, but he was angry. He swooped down toward Matt's head. My poor husband was a sitting duck on top of that concrete dock, crouching down and covering his head with my cherry tote. I too ducked, although my feet were still in the water, and I posed less of a threat to whomever the tiny eagle was protecting. Looking back, it was probably a nest, not a looney old man.
Still ducking, Matt reached out his arm for me to grab. I took hold with all my might, pressing into the top of the dock with the other arm and flailing my legs to find a foot-hold along the side of the structure. The bird swooped again, and my grip on Matt's arm slipped. I fell toward the water, slicing my big toe open in the process, and scratching my shin into tiny ribbons of flesh. I began bleeding profusely and loudly uttered a few choice curse words as I once again endeavored to scale the dock. This time, I was successful, and Matt and I managed to jump off the other side without breaking our necks or ankles. The bird took its leave, content that we were going away and no longer threatening its old wizard master.
Matt took a moment to survey the damage to my toe and shin. The toe was submerged, so the salt water immediately began to impart its healing powers, but the shin wound was extolling multiple tiny rivulets of blood into the Atlantic. But, no matter what, there was no turning back. Neither of us could think of anything worse than battling the dock and the tiny eagle again, so we proceeded forward, quieter and much less optimistic.
Frustrated, I put a bit of distance between myself and my husband. Upon arriving on the other side of the dock, I decided that I would not allow this afternoon to be a waste. I would move as quickly as my legs would carry me, and at the very least, get a decent glute workout for my trouble. About 50 yards ahead of Matt and three-quarters of a mile from the much longed-for beach, I made a new friend. Stopping for a moment to catch my breath, I look over my shoulder at Matt then down at the water to find that I was being followed by something long, brownish-grey, and adorned with a familiar, menacing fin. It swam parallel to me about five feet away, itself measuring roughly four feet nose to tail. I took a deep breath and farmed the recesses of my brain for some stored away safety information.
What to do when one encounters a shark in the water. Punch it in the nose. Poke its eyes. Get the "f%&k" out of the water. The last of these was not an option, and I was not willing to get close enough to the beast to punch or poke it. Instead, I started yelling to Matt and beating my flip-flops in the water.
Still roughly 30 yards away, Matt was unsure that I had, in fact, encountered a shark. He questioned why a shark would be interested me in the first place, to which I quite calmly replied that I had been bleeding for about twenty minutes, and sharks can smell blood from a mile away. He remained unconvinced until the distance between us was nearly 10 yards, and he could see the signature fin himself. He arrived at my side and invited me to put one foot in his hands so that he could toss me onto the lowest overhanging rock. I did this, and successfully latched on to the cliff, leaving Matt alone in the water with our new adversary.
The shark seemed uninterested in Matt. We waited about ten minutes until it appeared the shark had made a permanent retreat, then Matt lifted me back into the water. If I had been moving fast before, my pace somehow doubled for the remainder of the walk, the only exception being the moments when I stopped to survey the surface of the water and bang my flip-flops a couple of times, just for good measure.
When we reached the beach, we had only moments to celebrate before we were once again presented with a problem. About half a mile up, there were two dogs chasing each other across the sand, seemingly playing. However, given the direction the day had taken, we were unwilling to accept the scenario at face value. Plus, we had been warned that the island was home to many a wild dog, and they were known to be vicious on occassion. We stopped, gathered handfuls of rocks, and silently proceeded. The mood had become somber. I think we were both questioning all of our decisions...not just from the day, but throughout our lives in general. It was like staring down death if death was a playful black laborador.
We were still travelling behind houses, but we no longer cared whether we were trespassing. However, the vegetation beyond the beach was thick and brambly, so we decided that it was safer to approach the dogs than to potentially take on a snake or poisonous shrub. The dogs never approached us, and it become clear from still a reasonable distance that they belonged to humans who were swimming next to a very familiar looking rock jetty. The rock formation no longer frightened me. Like a wounded solider facing down gunfire, I was less afraid, having overcome a similar obstacle already. As compared to a shark, a sharp cement wall and an angry, tiny alert eagle, a rock jetty was nothing. It was nothing, until we stood atop it.
We were not standing on a makeshift fence marking a millionaire's property. We had reached the marina, and this was the wall of a boat channel.
Having remained calm all day, even when facing down the curious shark, I felt I was due for a bit of panic. I began repeating over and over at high volumes that I was not going to swim the channel. No way. No how. No thank you. Have a nice day. But, I was not in charge of that decision. Unwilling to try to cut a path through the bramble or ask nicely whether a kindly gardener would allow us to pass through someone's backyard, Matt plowed forward into the water, cherry tote above his head, and me seething, ankle deep in my greatest challenge yet. My pulse began to quicken. I felt sick to my stomach. Do you know what lives in boat channels? I do. Sharks. Bigger ones than what I had already encountered. They feed off of the chum tossed overboard by fisherman arriving back home from a day on the job. And, I am a weak swimmer at best.
I took a deep breath, cleared my head of all thoughts (except those of death by shark attack) and plunged forward. I paddled feverishly, gasping and splashing like an injured animal, until I fainlty heard Matt's voice above the cacaphony of my own terror. Put your feet down, he urged me. I tried, but my knees touched bottom first. I had made it across.
The story become much less exciting from here. We located a road a short distance from the West side of the marina channel and walked about a mile to a little coffee shop where the kind and compassionate owner called us a cab. (yup...after all that....) However, we had made it half way, so our cab ride was half the price, and our driver thoroughly enjoyed our story which we stepped on each other continually to tell in exact, exhausting detail.
After informing us that our greatest danger was actually the dogs ("if dey be wild, man, dey rip you up!") our driver, who called himself "Sir Charles", chuckled to himself and smiled at us in the rearview mirror. He shook his head sympathetically. When we arrived at our resort tired, hungry and in desperate need of alcohol, he took our payment, shook our hands and said only this.
"Welcome to TCI, my friends. Welcome to TCI."