“I’m here preparing the beach for you, putting the sand in the right spot.”
And with those words, I was set. A chance to see Kelano and his enticing promise of a Caribbean boat party were all it took for me to book a three-leg, eighteen-hour journey across the hemisphere and uncharted waters. Tracing several circles around the North Atlantic, my finger found its resting spot on the map. There it was: Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. Up until then, I only knew that Kelano’s “Provo” lay somewhere off the coast of Cuba, and that it had, according to him and more than a few others, the world’s most spectacular beach. As I studied its outline, I felt my heart drum with a reverberating anticipation. The tropical islands of the West Indies had always appeared to me as a sort of beautiful yet surreal artisanal splatter, but finally, I could see the haze lifting before me.
Broad strokes of turquoise, teal, and beige layered upon one another and formed an infinite expanse of watercolor. From the porthole of my plane window, the whole of Atlantis was unfurling. I gazed down at the open veins of the ocean, a frozen cobalt blue streaming with life. As we made our descent under the watch of a tiring sun, the light cast a milky glow over the mushroom-like islets and long lagoon of Chalk Sound. A memory flickered to life in the twilight: there I was, sixteen years old, sprawled out on the plush carpet of our California condominium, daydreaming of one day sailing the Florida Keys and the Caribbean. How fast the time flies from one world to another. A minute later, we touched down at Providenciales International Airport, gateway to the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Next to its neighbors—the Bahamas, Cuba, and the island of Hispaniola—the seadragon string of islands known as Turks and Caicos are almost completely out of sight. But despite being smaller and less developed, they’ve welcomed their fair share of settlers, colonizers, slaves, and even pirates over the centuries. First inhabited by an indigenous people, the Lucayan, the arrival of the Spanish in the Americas led to a complete depopulation of the area by the 16th century and the islands remained deserted for over a hundred years. Even today, many places still seem untouched, abandoned to the care and whim of nature for half a millennium.
Salt harvesters from the British colony of Bermuda finally resettled the island now known as Grand Turk in the 17th century. Another hundred years later, Loyalists from Georgia and the Carolinas fleeing a newly independent United States of America were granted land on the larger Caicos Islands. There, they set up cotton plantations and brought in slaves from the Caribbean and South America, inadvertently helping give rise to a new generation of Turks and Caicos Islanders: the Belongers.
The two island groups stayed in the control of the British, first administered as a part the Bahamas before being annexed to the Colony of Jamaica. Upon Jamaican independence in 1962, Turks and Caicos became a colony in its own right. Today, it is one of several European territories in the West Indies, and life on the islands is a fusion of British, American, and Afro-Caribbean influences.
Damp winds forced their way into our jalopy as Kelano steered down the open road. Looking out over the flat land, I was struck by an incredible sense of solemnity. Nearly a year has passed since Irma mowed across the islands, and the damages were still evident. Churches baring barren rafters and paneless windows offered glimpses into the innards of dreary-looking buildings. But life carries on and the locals here seem unfazed, their spirits buoyant. We tanked up the car at a Shell station which was missing its shell, dropped by the supermarket for a bag of ice, and rolled into the wet night towards home, where a dinner of conch fritters and fresh greens awaited. The perils and pleasures of island life…
Mornings began late that week on Provo. I relished the sensation of waking up whenever I did. After a breakfast of bagels and cream cheese, we took an ice pop each and set to work harvesting microgreens for Kelano’s latest business venture: purple basil, red cabbage, mustard, sunflower, cilantro, pea shoots, and their sprouts of every shape and color cut, weighed, labeled, and prepared for delivery. The remainder of the morning was spent on the road, hopping from resort to resort, and I quietly delighted in peeking into a world of lavishness which I could not yet afford. First was Gansevoort, followed by The Palms, right next to it was Somerset with Seven Stars not too far off, and finally, The Shore Club took us right to the edges of Long Bay Beach on the southeastern bank of Providenciales. One thing was certain: there was no shortage of decadence here. Nature and opulence were two sides of the same coin.
Outside, it was the kind of weather that made you want to take an ice cube from the cooler and run it up and down your body. We escaped afternoon swelters by rolling into the sea: water polo by the powder-fine sands of Grace Bay, snorkeling among fishes, searching for the biggest conch, and strolling the peaceful shoals of Pirate’s Cove. Everywhere around us, the ocean was a clear chambré—a reflection of life’s beauty and nature’s kinder side. It reminded me of a comforting quote I had been repeating to myself in recent hard times.
“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.” —Karen Blixen
I soaked up the sun and the brine, and when the hunger came, we sat and satisfied our appetites with spice-rubbed ribs and chicken wings. I don’t think fried chicken ever tasted as good as they did on those days at the beach. I loved the simplicity of it all—just the sun, the sand, and the sea. Nothing else on the agenda except to sweat and swim. No fear of missing out, no rush. Just the pleasures of island life.
The Best of Providenciales
Even among the jewels of the Caribbean, Turks and Caicos is especially renowned for its crystal clear and calm waters thanks to its reefs, and there’s an abundant amount of things to do, such as snorkeling, diving, stand-up paddling, kayaking, and even horseback riding. However you decide to spend your time, the most important thing to remember is to take it easy and enjoy: you’re on island time now.
Stay: Seven Stars Resort & Spa
Sitting along the aqua-blue waters and sugar-white sands of Grace Bay, voted the world’s best beach, Seven Stars is the epitome of tropical luxury. Aside from having Provo’s only salt-water pool, the resort also boasts a private beachfront deck and an award-winning gourmet restaurant that blends island spices with international flair.
Savor it fried (conch fritters), in a papaya salad, or pickled as a ceviche. It’s not only delicious, it’s an integral part of the country’s history: there’s a reason this animal has its place on the official flag and seal of Turks and Caicos. Since the times when the Lucayans inhabited the islands, conch has been a culinary staple. The shellfish used to be dried and traded in exchange for fruits and vegetables from neighboring islands.
Play: Caribbean House Evolution
This is an annual event that you’ll want to mark on your calendar. Caribbean House Evolution is a true celebration of life set to a scorching Caribbean beat. Catamarans loaded with cold beer, chilled champagne, and sun-kissed bacchanalian merrymakers depart the docks of Blue Haven Marina in the early afternoon. From there, it’s a short ride past the wetlands to the uninhabited shores Little Water Cay, where a day of house music, sun, and sea awaits. If you’ve still got the happy feet by dusk, then head over to the Sandbar Club in the small but vibrant center of Providenciales for more dancing.