2 December, 2016
After we paid de money to da men, we were done with Customs and Immigration (until it was time to get our clearance to leave). We got the bikes down for some much needed exercise. We quickly found out that “improved road” didn’t mean paved. As we toodled out of the drive and onto the “road”, it became evident that we were in for a bumpy ride. The surface reminded me of those first photos sent back from the Mars rover. There wasn’t any loose gravel, just sharp, jagged rocks sticking up out of the surface. Everywhere that there was a slight incline, eroded ruts from 4”-8” deep scarred the crust. The benefit accrued from this condition was that there weren’t any quiet cars on the island, you could hear them rattling and bumping up behind you long before there was ever any danger. (Not that we saw many cars on this back road). Six miles out, near the end of Juba Point, we came upon a man-made basin surrounded by lots suitable for building. Two homes, built on the prominence between the basin and the sea, created an imposing presence. We guessed that they were over 20,000 square feet each. One was rumored (and confirmed) to belong to Prince. Impressive. We doubled back past the marina, and headed north to explore Turtle Bay, a marina on the north side of the island. Crossing Leeward Highway, the paved four-lane which runs east-west down the length of the island was a real trip. The locals make up for the speed that they CAN’T drive on the improved roads when they’re rocketing down the Leeward. It took us 10 minutes to get across the roundabout, which was nothing more than slightly controlled mayhem. Suz and I quickly determined that our bike riding would be limited to back roads. Over the spine of the island, we worked our way down the windward side to Turtle Bay, riding through platted, but as yet unbuilt developments. There, we scoped out the marina and grabbed an iced tea and some Tuna carpaccio rolls at “Mango” restaurant. (Their dinner menu looked great). We rode the beach road up and down past some beautiful homes, and used the beach access to check out the shore. It was really windy with a lot of surf, but with many coral heads scattered along a sandy bottom, it looked like a good place to snorkel from the beach in calmer weather. With the sun dipping low, we pedaled on back to Southside, where our odometer revealed that we had covered over 15 miles, most on bumpy, rutted roads. Our butts felt it.
Okay, I don’t wanna give you T.M.I., but I’ve gotta say a word about the showers at Southside. The restrooms are carved out of the side of a limestone cliff. The women’s shower is open to the sky, and has two great shower heads, replete with hot water. Since there were no other boaters there, I had the pleasure of using it instead of the more traditional mens side. (it doesn’t take much to make me happy). After showers began what was to become our nightly ritual here at Southside. Bob’s Bar is an open-air affair attached to his house, high on the cliff overlooking the marina. Since we were the only transients, we were treated by the company of the local “regulars”, mostly comprised of expats from various European and North American countries. Let’s just say that the conversation was lively. The cruising guides had warned that Bob was a Bocce aficionado who seldom lost a game. From our slip, we were hard-pressed to figure out how he had grown grass for lawn bowling. Well, we got our education up at the bar. “REAL Bocce courts were made of crushed limestone, 60’-80’ long………..& etc.”. The Admiral got some lessons in the finer points of the game from the Master. One night, we thought that we might be the witnesses to local history. One of the patrons had Bob down by a score of 5 to 1 (game is over at 6.) Bob proceeded to win, 8 to 5. Bam! Navarde, the bartender, introduced Suz to Bambarra (a local rum), while I enjoyed Turkshead, the local Brew, as we watched the sun set from the terrace every evening.
Our rental car was delivered the following morning, and we took an all-day field trip, cruising the island from tip to tip. Of course, we did the marina tour. Blue Haven, our initial destination, is a very upscale facility, associated with a couple of high end hotels. Included with your berth is the use of the amenities, including spa treatments, the pool, gym and several restaurants. Very nice. Most of the vessels in the near-empty marina were small mega-yachts. From all appearances, the season was yet to begin. On the other end of the scale, Caicos Shipyard was mostly a working marina, situated, like Southside, on the Caicos Bank. It looked like if you needed any maintenance, this would be the place to go, with several large Travelifts and workshops. We decided that our funky little marina, not too fancy, not too stark, was just about right for us.
Being the good tourists, we hit several of the popular beach bars, including Bougaloo’s, Da Conch Shack, (where we bought a half dozen fresh Mangoes out of a guys’ trunk), and Kalooki’s. Each had its own charm.
The Conch Farm, developed in the late 80’s by an American marine biologist for the commercial production of conch, was a must-see for my marine biologist spouse. Danver led our private tour, which was very informative. I just couldn’t figure out how this was a money-making proposition. He told us of the grandiose deep-water fish farming project that was in the works, scheduled to come online the next year. Even though we were “in between seasons” for the Conch, I couldn’t help but think that things were too quiet. Danver was adept at answering my pointed questions, and I was careful not to get out-of-bounds. Suzanne, in her later research, found that the Conch Farm had been closed as a viable aquacultural project in 2008, and only made money through their guided tours. Just enough of the facility was kept functional so as to provide exhibits to the tourists. Two vans full of patrons rolled in just as we were leaving, a testimony to the power of advertising. That said, we’d go again, as we learned a lot of cool but not useful information.
On the way home, we figured that we’d stop at Turkshead Brewery (designated on the Visitor’s map) for a cold one. When Google Maps just couldn’t get us there, winding our way through the warehouses near the airport, we went “old school.” We stopped at one of the open garage bays, and Suz walked in to inquire about the brewery. “Oh, they just brew it there-no tasting room.” With thirsts unslaked, we motored back to the ranch, stopping first at the IGA for fresh veggies and fruit. In our perch above the marina, we enjoyed a couple of cold ones, served up by our favorite bartendresse, Nevarde.
It looked like the weather would cooperate, and the still-raging winds calm down on Friday. That was a good thing, as we were finished touring here, and wanted to get down the road. (Also, staying another day would require us to buy a cruising permit for $300, an instant-replay of the scenario in the Bahamas). We spent Thursday doing boatchores. Suz cooked meals for what (if the weather cooperated) could turn out to be a two-and-a-half day passage straight to Puerto Rico. I attended to more mundane pursuits, mainly polishing all of the stainless steel rails and trying to stay ahead of the ever-looming rust spots.
This morning, Friday the 2nd, the winds were down to about 13kn, the sun high, and the humidity through the roof. De Customs( $50 enter & exit), and de Immigration($30/p entry & $15/p exit) men came for their exit donations, and we were off on the 11h00 high tide. (Yeah, we checked out the depth of the “channel” on the dinghy the other day-it was three feet in some spots). Right now, we’re cruising southeast across the Bank. The winds are steady at around 14kn from ENE, and the wind waves are 1’-3’. If we get cell coverage as we pass Great Sand Cay early this evening, I’ll try to bounce this off into space, otherwise,