GRAND TURK March 1 - 10, 2002
Part 1: Getting Here
This trip is a change in scenery for us. We haven't had a land-based vacation to the islands since we went to Belize ... could it already be 3 years since we took that trip? With a sail in Abaco already on the books for June (delayed from 11/01 because of Hurricane Michelle), we had been planning to sail in Belize or St. Maarten this March, but had a hard time putting together a crew, with the events of 9/11 taking a toll on the usual suspects' ability to join us. When it came time to choose somewhere else to go, we actually had to remind ourselves that we don't need to live on a boat for every trip. Ultimately, the combination of Turks and Caicos beaches (we'd visited Providenciales - Provo - in 1993 and 1994) and a laid-back attitude not unlike the Out Islands of the Bahamas ("like Man-O-War Cay with rum" was how it was described by a visitor) convinced us this was the place.
Because of the remoteness of this island, we knew we were in for at least one commuter flight. At the time we booked, flying via Miami and Provo was looking prohibitively expensive, as the promised airfare wars which were projected to be a fallout of 9/11 had not materialized. During the course of my research, I found Lynx Air, a small commuter airline going directly from Ft. Lauderdale to Grand Turk every Saturday, and this looked like the way to go. Even after adding in airfare from BWI to FLL, and hotel nights at either end of our trip in FLL, we were saving money over the Miami/Provo route. And it allowed me to avoid MIA, which is my least favorite airport.
After lots of anticipation, on the afternoon of Friday March 1, we were finally on our way. We got to BWI the prescribed two hours early, and were pleasantly surprised to find no lines, no crowds. We've pared our luggage down to the bare minimum; Lynx's luggage weight limit of 60 lbs. per passenger seems like not very much, but I guess I really had no concept of how much my luggage weighs. At the US Airways counter, I ask the agent how much my bag weighs, and it comes in at a miserly 16 lbs.! And my carry-on is a small backpack, smaller than most people's second "personal" item. Half the stuff, twice the money, right? Our quick check-in and run through security gives us time to eat a disgusting fast food "dinner." Of course, nothing ever goes as easily as we might hope. Our flight was delayed, and we wait around, surrounded by an all-star cheerleading squad of high school girls heading to a competition in Orlando, busy gabbing on their cell phones and installing curlers in their ponytails. Finally, we get on the full plane to Charlotte, where we are once again delayed. At CLT, the FLL-bound crowd that surrounds us is college spring-breakers heading for cruises. (Times sure have changed! Spring break for me was a road trip from my college town of New Orleans to maybe Baton Rouge or Pascagoula to stay at a classmate's home; and my parents didn't even fund those modest adventures)
Once in Ft. Lauderdale, it's close to midnight when we arrive at the down-at-the-heels Airport Ramada. This place has definitely seen better days, and I don't want to sit on the bedspread or furniture, or put my bare feet in the rust-stained shower. Since we're only staying for 5 hours, I try not to sweat it. What really irks me is the advertised "free" airport shuttle. A sign in the lobby recommends making reservations for the airport shuttle, and says that the shuttle would also run, for a small fee, to the cruise ship docks on an "as available" basis. As it turns out, however, the hotel has decided to make the shuttle ever-available to the cruise ship passengers, and not to airport patrons, and kindly offers to order us a cab to the airport in the morning. (The cab ride, with tip, is about $12 each way.) Because of the condition of this hotel, and lack of promised service, I wouldn't recommend it to travelers needing an overnight stay before an early flight out of FLL.
Saturday morning, we are up at 5 a.m. and by 6:05 a.m. we are at the airport, checking in with Lynx Air. It's a time-consuming process because everything is done manually, and we and our luggage need to get weighed. After checking in, we go upstairs to grab a quick breakfast, and then return to the commuter terminal to check out the other passengers heading out on these little planes to little islands. The travelers here look like hardcore, experienced island junkies like us, none of whom, I am confident, will return home with a head full of braids or a briefcase full of rum that they can buy at home without ripping their arms out of their sockets carrying it through airport after airport. We make the acquaintance of a man heading down to Exuma, to return to his boat, and deduce that our flight will be shared.
Just before leaving the terminal for the plane, the security lady carefully picks apart our remaining carry-ons (Rick's small, soft briefcase being deemed too large to carry on the plane) and runs a wand over us. We board the 29-seat prop plane: it is two people heading down to Georgetown, Exuma, and me and Rick going to Grand Turk. The plane is small, but at least it has standing headroom; no overhead bins or lavatory. The crew is a young pilot and co-pilot friendly and competent. We take off at the scheduled departure time of exactly 8 a.m., and its not long before we are getting gorgeous views of the Exumas, one white-fringed green jewel after another, strewn about a turquoise sea. The sight of the Bahamas is always magical to me. A nice, soft landing at Georgetown, and we pull up to the miniscule international airport, where we're invited to stretch our legs in the departure lounge.
Minutes later, Rick and I and the pilots are boarding the plane again, which is now our own private charter. Exactly at the scheduled 11 a.m., we touch down in Grand Turk, where its bright, sunny, and blowing like stink. We get off with the crew, and they roust up the customs guy, who scares up the immigration lady; they don't get much international traffic at this airport. (In fact, Lynx may be the only scheduled international carrier into Grand Turk; all the others fly only into Provo.) As a result, we are the only ones in the international arrivals "terminal," and clearing in takes no time at all. We say our goodbyes to the pilots, and get ready to start our vacation, our early arrival making us feel like we gained a day. (NOTE: Despite our excellent outbound experience with Lynx, our return trip was another story, so those of you curious about Lynx should not draw any conclusions until reading the whole story.)
We grab a taxi and head to our home for the week, the Arawak Inn. At first glance, the 6-mile long and 1-mile wide island is as rugged and arid as expected, not unlike the other islands in the Bahamian archipelago, of which the Turks and Caicos Islands are the southern end. Grand Turk is the capital of the TCI. Our driver gives us a mini-tour of the southern tip of the island, pointing out, with obvious pride, the power plant, the governor's office and residence, and one-story white clapboard offices which now house much of the TCI government. The offices had formerly been occupied by the U.S. Navy and NASA, as the site of a NASA tracking station early in the Space Race. At the end of the road, our driver turns into the parking lot of the Customs Department, and then goes off-road, to bump and grind amid limestone dust along the road which ends at the entrance of the Arawak. Here, we are greeted warmly ("This must be Eva!") by the acting manager, Annie, who sets us up in Room 206. Already, we feel welcomed and at home.