Provodenciales, or Provo, as everyone affectionately calls it, is certainly not what one would expect of the Caribbean. The entire island chain is, in reality, little more than a glorified spit of crushed coral and metamorphic rock that somehow became populated with life. Scrubby bushes, palms and other chaparral-esque flora cover a relatively flat landscape, dotted by the occasional towering bloom of a yucca cactus. At times, you can just barely see both sides of the narrow island, and what a sight it is! Aquamarine water, in a color that only seems natural in magazine advertisements, spreads as far as the eye can see, reflecting shades of blue into the clouds above. We had arrived during “off-season,” meaning a promise of fewer tourists, but more rain.
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Rather than paying still-high prices for an all-inclusive resort, we found a gem of a beach house not thirty seconds’ walk from the famous Grace Bay beach. South Fleetwood was a complex of two small cottages for rent, inhabited by two caretakers, the family cat, and a thousand and one lizards. Oh, the lizards! The island is teeming with them—anoles, geckos and curly-tailed skinks. Of course, if I was a reptile, a tropical island with plenty of bugs and an average temperature of perpetually warm and humid would be the perfect home. The first time we visited the beach I still could not believe where we were. Sand gave under my feet like memory foam, and the water lapped warmly at my bare feet. It was surreally perfect.
Shunning food we could get at home already, we sought out beachside eateries ranging from the classy Bay Bistro to the cool, casual Sharkbite Grill to the fanciful Mango Reef. Grouper, salmon, snapper and mahi-mahi—we devoured them all with glee, washed down with rum punch and Turk’s Head ale. At Yoshi’s, a blacklight-lit, trendy-looking Asian restaurant in the Saltmills (not five minutes away from our beach house) I experienced another treat along with my favorite raw tuna nigiri: conch sushi. Conch, pronounced konk, is essentially the signature food and mollusk of Turks and Caicos. We had fried conch, cracked conch, conch fritters, conch chowder, conch sushi, conch salad, and this was only a seeming fraction of the available conch menu. My greatest conch encounter, though, was by far on our snorkeling day trip. We signed up for a day-long expedition with Caicos Dream Tours, who through word-of-mouth we had heard as having excellent service. The captains, two colorful characters named Qui and Gino, took us to a colorful reef, then to a flat, shallow place offshore. We were looking for lunch, they said. All fifteen or so of us fanned out, looking for ubiquitous conch shells on the sandy bottom. After seemingly futile searching, I dredged up a massive (live) shell, which now sits proudly on my mantle. When we landed for lunch, the captains whipped up a massive barbeque that included our fresh-caught conch mixed in a salad of bell peppers and lime. The whole day was capped by a stop at an island must-see, Little Water Cay, home to the endangered and fascinating rock iguanas. The prehistoric creatures have a sad story: driven to a limited range by development, they only exist on this one island now. Hope is not lost for TCI’s ecological future, however. The resort-building boom has slowed to a trickle, as the island turns towards more nature- and family-friendly tourism. Provodenciales is caught in a time of change for the better, and I have every intention of someday returning to this wonderfully, ruggedly beautiful gem of an island.
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