By Mark Stevens • Photos by Sharon Matthews-Stevens
Land’s End: dawn off Provo’s most easterly reaches.
Late afternoon, Grand Turk Island in the Turks and Caicos.
I’m chilling on the balcony of our beachside suite at the Bohio Dive Resort, gazing at sun-burnished whispering surf nuzzling the sand ten metres away.
A single couple populates the beach, shaded by a Norfolk pine. She leans over to say something to her partner every once in a while. Moments later he answers her.
Colonial architecture, as seen in this period church on Grand Turk, is a defining characteristic of that archipelago member.
A sudden splash startles me. A manta raybreaks the surface thirty metres offshore, falling back into water that’s skyblue here, indigotoward the horizon.Fifteen feet of depth. Then seven thousand feet.
Earlier today Grand Turk Tourism representative Brian Been told me about a recent encounter he’d had with nature – roughly a kilometre down the coast.
“Standing outside my office last week,” he said. “A humpbacked whale and her calf breached just offshore.”
Reflecting on our respective ringsides to creation,I wax philosophical.I hear, in my mind’s ear, the strains of “O Canada.”
Non sequitur without the back story.
I’m ensconced in the (almost) Canadian,(almost Caribbean) islands.
Theforty-memberarchipelago, southeast of Bahamas, is more Atlantic outpostthan Caribbean chain.
In 1917, Prime Minister Borden discussed annexing the islands; in 1974 a private member’s bill reopened the discussion and just this April the idea resurfaced at the NDP Convention.
A month ago I may have been asking myself what the appeal was. Now, after a week here, I get it.
Later that evening we’re waiting for our grilled lobster (Saturday night’s the big barbecue night here at Bohio) andchatting with resort manager Tom Allan.
Allan, who’s from Montreal, has been working all afternoon getting things ready for tonight, but now he’s chilling with us. Business attire: Hawaiian shirt, cream shorts, barefoot.
“So why would Canada want to annex these islands?”He sips his drink thoughtfully considering the question I’ve just posed.
“First week of March. Blizzard at home yesterday. Twenty-eight here today.“
He grins. “Any more questions?”
It’s our last night in Turks and Caicos.
For me this essential question – how do Canadians love Turks and Caicos? – has become suddenly and decidedly rhetorical.
Let me count the ways.
Yesterday afternoon: strolling seaside in Cockburn Town, along a street bordered by whitewashed walls decorated by blossoming hibiscus, guarding buildings that exude a colonial charm.
Think New England with tropical flair.
One day last week we marched along the beach at Grace Bay, one day, down at Beach House, we lounged in beach chairs beneath umbrellas reserved just for us, sipping signature drinks called, in honour of our gracious staff host, “Shermanators”.
Earlier this year Trip Advisorrated Grace Bay the best beach in the world.
This is my third or fourth favourite in TCIbut I do get it. I’m thinking God took the colour from His favourite heavenly mansion and used it to paint these waters cerulean, then He decorated them with blinding white sands, fine as icing sugar.
But it’s not just beach bums who count the ways they love these islands.
From our balcony at Blue Haven Villas we gaze over Leeward Going Through Passage at a green expanse of mangroves. At dawn the waters separating our suite that natural preserve are painted pink and red, punctuated by the white wake of a fishing charter boat headed north.
Just past our freeform pool, snugged down in waters so clear you can see starfish on the bottom, is a full-service marina that plays host to everyone from footloose cruisers (nice pit stop to or from Bahamas and Dominican Republic) to two-hundred-plus-foot mega yachts.
“And whatever you need, we will make sure you get it,” says marina manager Adam Foster.
Boaters enumerate their affection even as nature lovers extol her virtues.
One day we book an excursion with Silver Deep, cruising out to snorkel the North Shore Barrier Reef then on to an iguana sanctuary before going ashore at Little Water Cay,an island so secluded you’d think you were marooned forever – but for the fact that but two islands over on Parrot Cay, Bruce Willis, Keith Richard and Christie Brinkley all have homes.
Here, off the reef, amid brain and elk horn coral, clown fish, parrotfish and sergeant majors swim right up to your mask. Here, amid a minimalist landscape wind-sculpted dunes and feathery casuarina trees graceful and fragile as ballerinas, nature dominates.
Consider North and Middle Caicos.
Explore the Conch Bar Caves, a limestone system that once secreted Lucayan artifacts and still offers up an eerie and unique experience.Negotiate serpentine tarmac roads through green valleys for an hour without seeing another vehicle.Hike secluded Crossing Place Trail past blowing holes where the sea attacks the land in great plumes of surf and foam, past otherworldly landscapes, past lonely beaches.
High above one beach, sheltered by a towering cliff, sand a gentle arc on two sides leading out to great stone landforms, I discover another allure of these irresistible islands.
I’m inhaling a jerk burger, a unique concoction courtesy of the chef at Mudjin Harbour Bar and Grill. We’re on the terrace here overlooking the harbour itself.
It may the best burger I have even eaten, even better when accompanied by a sweating Turk’s Head Lager. And this place has one of the best views of any restaurant I have ever patronized.
Blue Haven Marina on Provo is the perfect layover for mega yachts repositioning either north or south.
“Nice view,” says our driver, grinning and pointing at the beach below. “Even better, couple of months ago. Did a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot right there.Mm.”
But it’s not just the views that strike me about this particular hideaway.
It’s evidence of a culinary culture that woos suitors worldwide.
Consider the Opus, nestled amid lush gardens sheltered by tropical trees glittering with holiday lights, elegant stone balustrades marking different sections. Consider a filet of Black Angus, seared yellowfin tuna with mushroom ragout.
Bespoke umbrellas and useful directions are part of the charm of Grace Bay’s Beach House.
Or go democratic – dine on traditional dishes and soak up both local flavour and tunes to go with it at the weekly Island Fish Fry down by the Bight, where makeshift booths exude columns of jerk-infused blue smoke.
How does one resist such a multitude of allures?
Countless Canadians can’t.
We do lunch one day with Alan Lawley, director of Villa Del Mar, a luxury enclave just off the beach, an oasis that was rated Hotel of the Year.He’s both generous and accommodating – easily as welcoming as the resort he manages.
Hardly surprising, his hospitality. He’s from Cape Breton.Lunch was lovingly prepared by his wife Pam Eye, a sous chef at Ocean Club West’s Seaside Café. She, too, is from Atlantic Canada.
“You can’t swing a cat without hitting a Canadian here,” says Canadian travel writer and frequent visitor Sue Campbell.
Haute Cuisine is a given on these sophisticated islands. Witness the entree at Opus.
Two sisters from Toronto own Manta House and Sandbar Restaurant on Grand Turk, an Ontarian owns Coco Bistro. Da Conch Shack is Canadian- owned, as is Ports of Call Resort and Shopping Centre. Guess who developed Gansevoort, a five-star beach resort? Golfing? Three staffers at Provo Golf Club are Canadian.
And that’s just the beginning.
The Turks and Caicos are already almost Canadian, I reflect to myself, lazing surfside back at Bohio.
Almost Canadian. Almost Caribbean.
And almost heaven.