TURKS AND CAICOS
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The Turks and Caicos Islands are a group of 41 islands and cays located at the end of the Bahamian archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean. They are sedimentary islands, built upon continental shelf, and separated by the deep Columbus passage. The Turks Islands are smaller, less numerous and drier than the Caicos Islands. The Caicos Bank is over 600 square miles in size.
The Turks and Caicos Islands are a British Overseas Protectorate with a governor appointed by the throne to oversee affairs. The house of representatives is elected in 15 separate ridings. There are two major political forces, the PDM (People's Democratic Movement) and the PNP (Progressive National Party). The leader of the party which wins the most seats serves as Premier. The party leaders also contest a seat in the house of representatives. Elections are held every four years and the voter turnout is near to 100%.
The Islands were first inhabited by Arawat natives. Columbus encountered them in 1492, making landfall in Grand Turk. The Islands were ruled by pirates for a time, including Calico Jack and Anne Bonney. The Bermudans arrived in the mid-1600's to rake salt. The island was under French rule briefly before being signed to the English at the end of the Seven Year War. Exiled English loyalists from the United Stated operated cotton plantations until the late 1800's. Upon collapse, the emancipated people established villages and undertook a subsistence lifestyle. Tourism arrived in the early 1980's with a Club Med. The tourism industry has flourished in the millennia with the Turks and Caicos establishing itself as an up-market destination in the American market, with hopes of expanding to the European markets in the near future.
Turks and Caicos flora and fauna is characterized by the geology and the climate of the country. The sedimentary islands have never been attached to the mainland, making it difficult for land animals to arrive. The largest of these, the Rock Iguana, measures only two feet from tip to tip and can be seen on Little Water Cay. Other native reptiles include the world's smallest boa constrictor, and Green and Hawksbill Turtles.
The plant life is designed to maximize the available water, in an arid climate and a thin layer of rich soil. Root systems remain close to the surface, leaves coat themselves in wax to retain water, and the height of the foliage reflects an environment that is not designed for high energy photosynthesis. This also keeps fruit production to a minimum which limits the inland bird population to smaller species of hawks, tanagers, warblers, and the Cuban Crow, creator of the unique bird call often heard in the villages of North and Middle Caicos. The shorebirds are much larger, living off the incredible bounty of the ocean. The Turks and Caicos Islands are surrounded by pristine coral reef which supports countless species of tropical fish and invertebrates. The rich underwater fauna supports a shorebird population that includes Osprey, American Oystercatcher, Reddish Egret, multiple species of Heron, and the national bird, the Brown Pelican. Of special note, the Greater Flamingo can be seen fishing for shrimp when guests travel North Caicos and Middle Caicos.
This relationship between the aquatic life and the shorebirds plays out against a backdrop of the mangrove habitat. The only trees that can live in salt water, the mangroves provide a home for the young fish, and a perch for predatory birds. These rich wildlife habitats can be explored as part of all our kayak adventures.
The annual migration of the North Atlantic Humpback Whale begins somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland. The rich fishing grounds of the far north prepare the large mammals for the trek to the Silver Banks, located to the north of the Dominican Republic. Their annual path is nearly identical, these ancient mariners have a navigation system that we do not understand, but must respect.
The whales arrive in Turks and Caicos water with the new year. Near to the end of the journey, they can be seen at the edge of the Caicos Bank, on what is known as the wall. They are not congregating in our waters, merely passing through. We do not sell whale watching tours, but do pride ourselves on exploring each whale encounter to its fullest potential. Guests most likely to encounter whales will be SCUBA divers, as the diving takes place on the wall. Snorkelers can get lucky with a whale encounter and water spouts can be seen from the Circle of Hope at Mudjin Harbor, Middle Caicos.
Whales return from the mating grounds, retracing their steps through our waters, in mid-March. Guests interested in a rewarding week of whale watching can contact the Turks and Caicos Aggressor.
The first inhabitants of the Turks and Caicos Islands were the Arawat people. When the Spanish arrived in 1492, they called the Bahamian natives Lucayans. Artifacts have been found on all the major Caicos Islands except North Caicos. Carbon dating can trace their habitation as far back as 1000 a.d. Artifacts are stored in the Turks and Caicos Museum, Grand Turk. They include pottery, weaponry, and small statues. The most impressive archeological discovery is MC 6. Found on Middle Caicos, MC 6 is the only Lucayan ball court ever discovered. A polygon shaped by large rocks, the ball court can be used to indicate the summer solstice, and the passage of Orion through the night sky. Orion was worshipped, it was believed the great Hunter constellation foretold the coming of rain, allowing the Lucayans to plant their crops in a timely fashion.
Middle Caicos appears to have been the central point of Lucayan civilization in the Turks and Caicos. This can be attributed to the Conch Bar Caves. Found adjacent to the village of Conch Bar, the caves are the largest above ground system in the Bahamas. Impressive stalagmite and stalactite formations greeted the Lucayans, and still wait for visitors today. Operated by the Turks and Caicos National Trust, the caves can be visited as part of the Heritage Bike Tour, the Heart of the Islands tour, or include the caves in a full day private adventure.
In the late 18th century, the colonialists were battling the English throne for independence. With any revolution, there were colonists who did not agree with the war. They were known as loyalists and once victory was attained and the United States of America were established, these loyalists were expelled to the Spanish colony of Florida. This area soon joined the burgeoning republic and the loyalists were left with nowhere to run. They petitioned the British crown for assistance and were awarded plots of land in various overseas territories, including the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Farming cotton in the arid clime of the Turks and Caicos did not prove to be easy. A pioneering spirit and a considerable amount of luck led the most successful of the cotton plantations to survive until 1875. At that time, abolitionists, boll weevil and mother nature conspired to end the plantation era, freeing the slaves to establish the villages we still know today. The village of Kew is located just down the road from the country's largest cotton plantation, Wade's Green. Established by a Louisiana cotton man named Wade Stubbs, Wade's Green grew to over 6000 acres, serviced by more than 300 slaves. The name Stubbs lives on strong in the Turks and Caicos today.
The Turks and Caicos National Trust operates this national historic site, maintaining the grounds and providing tours of the property. A beautiful hike, tours can last between 45 minutes and two hours. The property features the country's richest forest and all the major structures from the plantation village, including the Well, the Great House, and the Anglican Church. Wade's Green Plantation can be visited as part of the Kayak and Culture tour, the Heart of the Island tour, or a full day private adventure.
The largest plantation on Providenciales was Cheshire Hall, today it is maintained by the National Trust and can be toured during the Provo Safari.
The Turks and Caicos Rock Iguana is the largest native land animal of the Turks and Caicos Islands. It is the smallest of the thirteen iguana species found in the West Indies, measuring two feet from tip to tip. Arriving to our sedimentary islands via ocean currents from Hispaniola, the iguanas are today only found on uninhabited islands. Little Water Cay is the closest of these to the tourist mecca of Providenciales.
Approximately 117 acres in size,Little Water Cay is home to 3000 rock iguanas. Three hundred of the animals have been tagged and are studied by biologists from the San Diego Zoo. The Turks and Caicos National Trust operates a board-walked trail system that can be enjoyed for a $5 fee. This is included in the cost of the Princess Alexandra Kayak Adventure and is available as part of a half or full day private boat charter.
The villages of North and Middle Caicos provide a setting for many of the Big Blue eco-adventures. They are found at higher elevations and feature public cisterns, churches of many different denominations, and the tabi constructed houses of the past standing side by side with the modern structures of the tourism era.
North Caicos is known as the "Garden Island" and is home to 2000 residents. You can visit North Caicos on the Kayak and Culture tour, the Heart of the Islands tour and as part of a private adventure.
Middle Caicos is the largest island in the country, measuring 48 square miles. It is home to a population of 200 Turks and Caicos Islanders. You can visit Middle Caicos on the Heritage Bike Trip, the Heart of the Islands tour and as part of a private adventure.
The village of Sandy Point has enjoyed a surge in popularity in the tourism era. Once considered an outpost on the eastern edge of North Caicos, Sandy Point has risen with Providenciales, as the nearest port to the country's economic center. Adjacent to the Parrot Cay Resort and Spa, Sandy Point serves as a home for many employees of that hotel and also the construction workers who are building the North Caicos Yacht Club and Marina and the Royal Reef Resort, located on the beautiful beach in Sandy Point.
The breadbasket of the Turks and Caicos Islands is the village of Kew. Found inland, on the richest soil in the Turks and Caicos, the village of Kew is a step back in time. Stop for a photo outside the post office, purchase some fresh produce at the government farm. During the 19th century, Kew was home to Wade's Green Plantation, the largest cotton plantation in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Local matriarch Susan Butterfield serves lunch in her hometown of Kew, utilizing the rich soil to grow the vegetables used in her delicious native dishes.
The largest of the 'Heart of the Islands' settlements. Bottle Creek combines the fertile soils of North Caicos with the great fishing found in the namesake body of water adjacent to the settlement. The village was an ideal setting for Turks and Caicos Islanders during the subsistence era. Guests can imagine what it felt like to be baptized in the Creek, as they enjoy the amazing views down to Middle Caicos and across at East Bay Cay, standing amongst the Tabi shacks built by the pioneers of Bottle Creek, side by side with the modern bank and the Premier's home office.
Conch Bar is the largest village on Middle Caicos, located to the west, adjacent to the largest cave system in the Bahamian region. Named after a particularly popular fishing spot, Conch Bar is a picturesque home for 125 Islanders. The deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean is never closer than when you're standing in Conch Bar. Backyards filled with fruit trees frame a scene that epitomizes paradise.
Heading east from Conch Bar, the barrier reef begins to move away from the shore, resulting in one of the country's longest stretch of sandy beach. Up the hill from the beach, overlooking the ocean is the village of Bambarra. The village was named after an African settlement that was home to a group of slaves who had been freed by the English and then washed ashore at Bambarra Beach. The one room Bambarra school house has been transformed in to the Middle Caicos Conservation Centre by the Turks and Caicos National Trust.
During the plantation era, a man named John Lorimers raised cotton on the east end of Middle Caicos. Haulover plantation collapsed in the late 1800's and the emancipated people established what would long be the largest settlement on Middle Caicos. Today Lorimers is home to 15 Islanders, including Mr. Alton Higgs, the country's leading authority on bush medicine. For a unique piece of history, step off the road and search out the grave of John Lorimers.
In the post slavery era the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands had to produce all their own goods. Men and women utilized the land to provide for them, living a subsistence lifestyle. The innovation born of that hardship lives on in the culture of the people. On the island of Middle Caicos, the elders still produce the weavings and sloops which characterize their handcraft heritage.
Bowls, bags and baskets are made using phenner grass and the leaves of the native silver top palm tree. The phenner grass is dried, woven and bound with the leaves of the palm creating a durable handcraft. The Caicos Sloop is a single masted vessel that was used for trade missions between Haiti, and the southern Bahamas. Today, the Maritime Heritage Foundation leads a revival of sloop building. A popular pastime on Middle Caicos is the miniature sloop sailboat races. Built from the gummi lummi tree, the mini sailboats come together once a year at the Valentine's Day Cup to establish local bragging rights.
Handicrafts can be purchased at the Middle Caicos Co-Op, in the Blue Hills settlement of Providenciales, which is visited as part of the Frenchman's Creek Kayak Adventure. They can also be purchased in the home of a local artisan during the Heart of the Islands tour.