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February 2011

The weather kept us in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos for a couple of weeks in early February. John put two new coats on the outside varnish and it looks wonderful. Each day we took a long walk past the luxury rental houses on shore to another lovely beach. We met several of the vacationers renting the houses and they were all friendly and interested in the cruising life. We had invitations to come over for a drink, but we never took advantage of the offers. On Thursdays we attended the wonderful barbeques hosted by South Side marina and met several new cruising friends at those gatherings.

The bay where we were anchored was isolated from most of the island, so we rented a car one day to explore the island and do some provisioning.

conch farm pensOur first stop was the Conch Farm which had recently reopened after damage from two consecutive hurricanes two years ago. Conch eggs are gathered in the wild by divers. The eggs are brought to the Farm and placed in shallow trays with sand and salt water. The trays are elevated on frames under a roof and look similar to small seedling trays in a green house operation. Within three months, very small conch appear. These miniature conch eat algae that are grown on the farm specifically for this purpose. When the conch reach one year old, they are moved to larger concrete tanks outside and they can be fed dry algae and barley. Once the conch are about three years old, they are moved to enclosed pens in the shallow waters off the beach. The conch continue to be fed the dry algae and barley mixture, even in the ocean pens. Once the conch are four years old, they are ready for harvesting and processing. The meat is processed on site and mostly sold to restaurants.

Sally the pet conch

 

 

The farm sells their processed conch meat for $20 per pound. Its hard to believe this can work when wild conch sell for around $3 per pound, but they swear their farm raised conch taste so much better that the chefs in the local restaurants demand it. They keep the two most friendly mature conch in a tray outside the back door. Jerry and Sally are the two “pet” conch that will come out of their shell to greet you.

 

 

 


The Provo holeWhen we asked the locals what we should see on the island had besides beaches and diving, “The Hole” and the Conch Farm were mentioned. “The Hole” is a large fifty foot deep sink hole and is not especially remarkable. This further confirmed that the main attractions are the beaches and diving.

During our visit four year ago, many of the roads that we traveled on were rough dirt roads. Today these same roads are paved and much of the property that was for sale four years ago is for sale again, but includes multi-million dollar houses. The real estate recession has hit the Turks and Caicos hard. We learned that their Prime Minister was removed from office for questionable practices and is under investigation. The United Kingdom has appointed officials to run the government and it may be another year before elections are allowed.

 

Continuing to play tourist in our rental car, we ate at the famous Conch Shack, where we were assured that the conch were wild, not from the Conch Farm and we visited the beautiful beach at Grace Bay lined by upscale resorts. A visit to the IGA supermarket was like walking into an upscale grocery in the U.S. The store is well stocked and beautifully displayed with prices about three times higher than in the U.S. We bought only the essentials to replenish our fresh fruits and vegetables.

The only restaurant within walking distance of our anchorage was showing the Super Bowl.  Rich on Island Maid joined us for the game and we had a fun night watching the game and watching the other patrons watching the game (some of those watching had placed various bets on the game).  We walked back to the beach and the small dock where we secured our dinghy at about 10:30 that night.  As we walked down the steps to the dock in the dark, we realized that the steps were filled with boxes. There were so many boxes on the dock we had to climb over to reach our dinghies. The boxes were wet and labeled in Spanish indicating that they contained an assortment of wines and liquor. It was very puzzling to us and upon further reflection, we believe we had walked into the midst of a smuggling operation. We believe the boxes were delivered by boat to this dock and were awaiting to be picked up on shore. There was no sign of the boat when we arrived, but all the boxes were gone by daylight the next day. There are high taxes imposed on many goods imported into the Turks and Caicos contributing to very high prices. As a result, smuggling is common in many of the islands.

Humpback whaleA favorable weather forecast finally came around and we were anxious to continue moving South and East. A dolphin played in our bow wake as we left Sapodilla Bay and we saw a rainbow about two miles out. Ann believed they were good omens for a pleasant passage. We crossed the Caicos Bank in a strong easterly head wind, but had great sailing conditions as we headed south toward the Dominican Republic coast. John’s fishing luck returned and he caught a small barracuda and mahi-mahi to enjoy and add to our freezer. The weather conditions were favorable for us to continue our trip toward Puerto Rico without a stop in the Dominican Republic. On the northeastern coast, we spotted a whale off our starboard side and watched it breach a couple of times. As we neared the western coast of Puerto Rico, John spotted another whale off our starboard bow. Humpback whales migrate to this area each winter and are frequently spotted.

We anchored in Boquerón, Puerto Rico on February 15 and were happy to have more than 350 miles behind us. Boquerón hadn’t changed much in the past four years and we enjoyed relaxing for a few days before we continued our journey east along the south coast of Puerto Rico with stops at Gilligan’s Island and Ponce.

Salinas manatee

Salinas, Puerto Rico is a nice protected harbor surrounded by mangroves. The area is populated by manatees and it was very common to see manatees surfacing throughout the bay to get a breath before submerging to graze. There is a small panaderia (bakery) in Salinas where John enjoyed delicious Cubano sandwiches four years ago. He has thought about those sandwiches for four years and ate them for lunch for four days during our visit!

 

Pat and Miriam on Skye invited us to travel with them by car to visit the Rio Camuy Caverns. We had tried to visit them four years ago, but they had accepted all the visitors they could accommodate on the day we stopped. The guided tour includes a small section of a large cave network that contains the third-longest underground river in the world. The cave is filled with interesting formations of stalactites and stalagmites. Lush plants grow at the cave openings where water is abundant and light filters in. Unique species of fish and spiders have been discovered in the caves and of course it is home to millions of bats.

Outside Rio Camuy cavernsInside Rio Camuy Caverns



 

 

 

 

Indian petroglyphsThe highway though the rain forest and mountains is narrow and twisting, and we had forgotten the beauty of this area when we explored four years ago. Pat and Miriam had never visited the Taino Indian Ceremonial Park so we stopped by for a visit on our return trip. There have been several improvements to the Ceremonial Park since our visit four years ago (see February 2007). An informative small museum and exhibition displays several items discovered in the Park and explains the significance of the Ceremonial grounds to the Taino Indians. As we walked the grounds, we realized that the rock petroglyphs were much easier to see than during our last visit. The petroglyphs designs appeared to be outlined in black paint. When we asked our tour guide about the difference he explained that the archeologists decided to clean some of the stones so the petroglyphs would be more visible. The black areas on the stones are actually the areas that have not been cleaned, which displays the designs more clearly.

In March, we expect to continue East toward Culebra and the Virgin Islands.