Turks and Caicos Islands
I had come to Providenciales, or Provo as it is known to the locals, for the TCI Move-a-thon, a running festival on the small British territory largely out of a curiosity about the race. There had been some consternation amongst the Marathon Globetrotters about an inability to get enough participants for a race in prior years and I wanted to see what the issue was. Yes, the island is small, but ultimately the problem in my opinion is that it’s not a terribly good race, nor is it a terribly great island get-a-way. I shall reserve further comment on the race based upon my belief that I should not review a race I did not complete. My plantar fasciitis reared its ugly head from mile 3 on, and ultimately I decided to pull the plug on this race near mile 8 or 9. So, about the island…
I asked an acquaintance I know has a property on one of the other islands about TCI: “Oh, that’s just be beach house,” was the response I got. I didn’t know what to make of it until this weekend. I arrived on a direct flight from Miami to Provo at about 9pm. Passport control was uneventful, and I was pleased that there were no ginned up visa fees as is often common among tourism-centered (some might say rent-seeking) Caribbean nations. I met up with my island rep from Hertz, where I had rented my car who ushered me into a shuttle van to the off-site car hire offices.
For those unfamiliar, international car rentals commonly have a sizable deposit hold (7 times the total for my two day rental in this case). This was fine, except that my credit card kept alerting me that I had (1) spent much more than usual, (2) spent in a foreign currency, and (3) my card had been not present for a transaction. Number 1 was untrue, because it was simply a hold. Number 2 was completely untrue; TCI uses American dollars, but for some reason kept being flagged as a foreign currency transaction, a problem I have not had in Panama or Ecuador, both of which have a dollarized economy. Number 3 was largely because the car hire used a credit card imprint machine which was amusing to see since you literally cannot imprint my card because there are no raised numbers on it. At any rate I spent the rest of the weekend getting jumpy texts from my banking institutions which was shall we say “fun?”
I had a certain amount of concern about my rental car because as part of the British Empire I fully expected to be driving on the left, however given that many of the cars are imported not from the UK but from the US. It’s a tricky thing to drive on the left from the left side of the vehicle. Fortunately my car was a UK model so I only had to worry about my usual concern driving on the “wrong” side: turning on the windshield wiper rather than the turn indicator.
I drove to the AirBnB I was sharing with Jim not so much directly but by way of about 4 different properies, because my Apple Map was quite confused about the location. Once there I headed off to bed by about 10:30 or 11pm. By afternoon I was ready to explore a bit of the island. I’d showered and taken a nap after my abortive attempt at the marathon, and we headed off to a seafood restaurant recommended to Jim. The food was okay, but the beachside location with turquoise water and a conch bed were the main attraction. While waiting for our food I could not help but look around and notice that there was a continuity of race to the people being served, and those doing the serving. It was a theme of implicit colonialism that would repeat itself throughout the weekend.
After lunch we checked out some shops downtown, not much to write home about. Put an NYC bodega into a strip mall space and this was the experience at a small market where I found myself looking for postcards. Finding what satisfies a South Floridian’s desire for coffee was utterly impossible. Think Keurig and Nespresso. It was at this point that I said to myself “I wouldn’t mind if my flight returned me to SoFla on Saturday afternoon rather than Sunday.”
Saturday evening we went out for dinner. I had a seafood dish that was fine, if unremarkable. Again, the atmosphere bore more of a resemblance to 1940s India than I would have preferred myself. Our waiter was curt to the point of being rude and it reminded me of what a Brit told me about customer service: You won’t find that sort of obsequious ass-kissing so popular in America because you never had servants or a peasant class.
Post dinner I wanted a soda so I went to the bar attached to the property. After a litany of everything they didn’t have I asked for my soda and took up a chair too short for the bar overhearing some fellow Americans comparing this locale with their previous adventures whilst a documentary of famous Versace killer Andrew Cunanan plays on the television behind the bar (weird). I chat up the bartender and ask about the properties I have seen on the island. What’s the deal with these 1.5 million dollar properties that are clearly empty. He says that they are mostly owned by wealthy Americans and Europeans who come here a week or maybe two out of the year. They have some local keep the property clean, and stocked with groceries so that when they arrive they can chill. In a nut shell: “Oh, that’s just the beach house.” He says most locals are just scraping by living off tourism, fishing, home building, or selling things to the aforementioned rich people to fill those homes they ignore 50 weeks a year unless they’ve retired here. He tells me the really wealthy folks stay on the other islands. Provo, with its relatively sizeable airport, takes a good deal of commercial air traffic which leads to undesirables like my bougie middle class ass washing up on shore. I need to get off this island.
Sunday morning the only tourist trap the island seems to offer is something called “The Hole.” Jim mentioned it at dinner. I was convinced he was referring to the Blue Hole in Belize. Nope. TCI has it’s own hole. The only thing these two holes have in common are that they are both sinkholes, one is pretty. The pretty one this is not. After a 15 minute drive to the other side of the island we stare into the hole for maybe 10 minutes tops before piling back into the car eagerly headed to the airport. 3 hours early. Let that sink in. I went to the airport 3 hours early. I am notorious for arriving at the airport at the last possible moment. The airport on Sunday resembles a zoo at feeding time. People cheek-by-jowl jockeying up to the 8 gates that ultimately amount to a bank of double doors that walk you directly out onto the runway where you will walk to your plane. I’ve never seen so many people walking around a presumably “secure” area like it was the lobby of a Broadway show. My flight boarded and departed 45 minutes late (island time anyone?) and I landed comfortably back in Miami by 6pm.
Any time I travel internationally I am happy to be home. I’ve spent a significant portion of my adult life–also a not insubstantial amount of my income–traveling mostly within the United States, and I’m always eager to get abroad and try new places, but nothing reminds me how lucky I am to have been born here. In the end I wish the best for the people of TCI, but I can’t see myself going back.