Thursday, April 07, 2011

Grand Turk: We Meet Norwegian and Anglican Kindred Spirits

Our first port was at the island of Grand Turk, the largest of the Turks and Caicos Islands (a British territory near the Bahamas).  It was a short taxi ride from the dock to the small capital city of Cockburn Town, which was a sleepy little collection of quaint buildings, many of them shabby and in disrepair as a result of hurricane damage in 2008. 

Our first stop was a diving operation that was taking us snorkeling!  This was the road leading from their shop to the beach:

I think I could handle that view every day.  See where the water changes from turquoise to dark blue?  That's where the reef drops off hundreds of feet; our instructor took us there to see the "Great Wall."

And here he is--a 21 year old kid from Norway who had found the job on the internet; he'd only been on Grand Turk for five weeks!  We asked how, in Norway, he happened to get into diving?  Wasn't the water awfully cold there?  Oh, ja, he said.  Then he explained that in Norway, diving is looked on as a--how would you say it?--as a very manly sport.

I should think so.

He happened to have the same name, same spelling, as Papa Rooster!  It's the first time PR has ever met someone with the same spelling.  And he told us how to say it in the authentically Norwegian way.

I didn't enjoy the snorkeling that much, though. I couldn't see the fish and coral that well, since I had to remove my glasses to put on the mask.  The first reef we went to was relatively shallow and I saw the most there, but in deeper spots, it was all shadows to me, with occasional flashes of vivid color.   I also had issues with leaking in my mask or snorkel tube.  I couldn't figure out what was wrong, but I inhaled, snorted and gargled much more salt water than would normally be considered fun.  And I got cold in the wind as we sped along in the boat (pictured above), in between dive spots.

So I was happy to dry off and set off on a sunny walk in Cockburn Town with the vague idea of possibly visiting the National Museum on Front Street.  On the way, we passed an Anglican church and noted that we had missed their service at 9 a.m.  We passed a couple children playing, and hardly saw anyone else until we got to the museum, where we were cajoled and persuaded and offered a better rate when we hesitated.  We ended up entering and enjoyed seeing artifacts that had been brought up from a shipwreck and many other interesting exhibits.

We learned that there are a contingent of historians who think Columbus first landed in North America on Grand Turk, perhaps on this very beach:

Isn't that turquoise color beautiful?  We also learned about the dubious history of the island's lighthouse.  It seems that many ships used to become shipwrecked along the treacherous reefs of Grand Turk, so eventually a lighthouse was built.  But the wrecks continued, because the light in the lighthouse was too dim.  It seems that the local economy had begun to depend upon the valuable cargo that was taken ashore from the unfortunate ships, so perhaps a brightly shining lighthouse was not in the island's best interest.  A Lighthouse Authority of some sort replaced the original beacon with a stronger one...and there were no more shipwrecks.

I was a little surprised to see cactus on an island.  But it's native; in fact, the Turks are named for a type of cactus, the Turk's Head (not pictured).

Besides being Columbus' first landfall, Grand Turk's other claim to fame is being the splashdown site of John Glenn's Friendship 7, when he became the first man to orbit the Earth.  A replica marks the entrance to the airport:

We took a taxi from Cockburn Town out to Lighthouse Point and then back to the dock, and our driver, Anita, was happy to slow down for pictures of the horses and donkeys roaming along the roads.  They weren't really wild, she explained; they had owners and they usually returned back to their stables on a regular basis.  What if you needed your horse and he was out wandering?  I asked, and she said you would keep that one stabled or fenced; these were the ones the owners wouldn't be needing--mares and foals, or older horses.

As we passed a large church, we asked if it was the Methodist church, as our other taxi driver had said that "Methodist is the main religion of the island."  Our driver nearly turned all the way around in her seat.  "Who to' you that?"  she demanded indignantly.  "Methodist?" she asked, as if the word tasted unpleasant.  "Methodist?  No way.  Anglican is the religion of this island. How come they only got one church, if they is the biggest religion, and we got two Anglican churches, hmm?"

"Well, we're Anglicans too!"  I told her.  "In fact, my husband here is an Anglican priest."

"Well, Father, were you in church this morning?" she asked, sounding pious and mischievous at the same time.

 "Uh, no, we were snorkeling," he admitted.  "But we did walk by your church afterwards and we saw that we were too late for service.  Were you there?  Was the sermon good?"

"No," she replied, "I had some things to do.  But I'll go tonight at 7.  Now, next time you're back through here, you just bring your robes and you can come to service with us and celebrate with Father ____.  He'd looooove to have you."

I joked that those robes took up a lot of space, when the airline only allowed you 50 pounds of luggage apiece.   "Well, we got robes!" she exclaimed.  "We'll fix you up with a robe.  Father _____ would be delighted."

Then we talked about Father ____ and how he was relatively new, and about the two priests before him, and about which Bishop and Archbishop the island was under.

Later, back on the boat, we discussed our visit to the island.  Papa Rooster loved the slow pace and thought he could live there; I said I didn't know if I could relax there until I had helped start some kind of community beautification program.  I was surprised at the amount of trash we saw, plus shacks and fences that had been flattened by the hurricane and never cleaned up.  The roads were full of potholes and many buildings were in disrepair.  Clearly the economy was depressed.

But we agreed that the best part of our day had been meeting Anita!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great photos and trip report. At least the travel bloggers I read call this a 'trip report'. Amazing what some sun and ocean water/wind will do for the body and spirit.