The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

August 8, 2011

The Fine Art of Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road: A Visit to Grand Turk

Filed under: travel, Wanderings — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:18 am

(Note:  I’ve been meaning to add a couple more posts to finish off the cruise back in March, but I kind of lost track of the whole thing for a while until someone on the Cruise Critic message board requested that I finish it, so since I spent the time to write this, I figure I might as well post it (in some form at least) here as well.  There will most likely also be one more post from the cruise coming soon covering the final day spent in the Everglades and Miami Beach after disembarking from the ship.)

The final stop the Ruby Princess makes on its Eastern Caribbean itinerary is a relatively short visit to the island of Grand Turk, a relatively small island that serves as the capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands.  Grand Turk, although one of the smaller islands in the archipelago, is the political capitol of the Turks and Caicos Islands, with a population of approximately 5,500 people on an island of roughly 7 square miles.  It is believed by some to be a potential site for Christopher Columbus’ first landfall in the new world in 1492, and is also near where the Friendship 7 Mercury capsule landed after making America’s first orbital space flight on February 20, 1962.  Over the past few years, the island has become a cruise ship destination by way of the Grand Turk Cruise Center, a complex developed by Carnival Corporation at the southern end of the island providing a developed beach area, shopping and other tourist attractions.  Outside of this cruise center, much of Grand Turk remains a quiet place, especially compared to St. Maarten and St. Thomas, the two islands the Ruby Princess had visited on the previous two days.  After the jump you’ll find a look at an afternoon spent wandering around the Island of Grand Turk.

When the Ruby Princess makes its stop at Grand Turk on its Eastern Caribbean itinerary, it doesn’t arrive until approximately 1pm, meaning that we had most of the morning to kill before arriving at the island.  I think most of the people in our group ended up sleeping in a bit that day, making up a bit for a busy day on St. Thomas. Eventually, most of us found our semi-regular gathering spot up at a couple of tables near the Neptune’s Reef pool, and there we hung out, ate stuff (shocking, I know)  and played Scrabble for a while again until Grand Turk began to appear in the distance.  This pretty much became our routine on sea days for the cruise, unless there was something interesting going on elsewhere on the ship.  With four different port calls on this trip though, this particularly itinerary is considered to be fairly port-intensive though, and out of the 7 days you spend on this trip, only about 2 1/2 of those are really spent at sea.  Then again, if a particular port doesn’t interest you much you’re always free to remain aboard while in port, and in many cases enjoy a much less crowded ship as a result. 

As the ship approached the dock, I took up a spot at the ship’s upper Promenade deck (on the Grand-class Princess ships, the Promenade deck has an outside area that goes all the way around the ship, but at the front of the ship it goes up a level, so technically the upper Promenade deck is one deck higher on the Emerald Deck) to watch the docking operations, and took a number of pictures. Unfortunately, my camera decided that this would be a good time to run out of battery after going through the previous five days of the cruise with no problem, leaving me with no camera to use on shore. This means that once again, I don’t have too many pictures of my own, although other people in the group did have their cameras with them. One other ship (Carnival Glory) was docked at Grand Turk that day, and had arrived before us.  Most of the pictures you see below were borrowed from my brother, whose camera actually decided to work (yeah, technology, unreliable, et cetera et cetera et cetera.  I’ll save the assuredly redundant rant for another time.) 

I had originally planned on a boat tour and snorkeling shore excursion, but since nobody else from our group was doing any shore excursions here I ended up cancelling it the previous night, with the caveat that I would end up having to take it (or at least pay for it) if they couldn’t find someone to resell it to before arrival. It seemed like a lot of the Grand Turk shore excursions had sold out, and I heard nothing back on this and didn’t get charged for it, so I would assume that they did manage to resell it.  Once I got ashore, I ended up waiting on the dock for about 20 minutes or so for my brother and parents to get off the ship. You actually have to go through a big duty free shop here to get off the dock and into the rest of the cruise center area, which mostly contains all the same tourist trap shops you’ll find at the other ports, plus a few we didn’t see elsewhere. The Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville in the Cruise Center seems to be the tourist-trappiest tourist trap of them all out here, so we just kept our distance from that one.  Besides, if I really wanted to search for a lost shaker of salt I could do that pretty well at home, thank you very much.

Nobody really had much of anything planned here, so we were pretty much just winging it. Eventually we found the car rental place out at the edge of the cruise center, and my parents decided that it was good as anything. After taking a couple of the add-ons (insurance and the offer to fill the car with gas when you get back for $10) we got to the car. Now normally when you get a rental car somewhere, you’d expect to find something reasonably new, reasonably clean, and reasonably reliable. To be honest, I’m not sure this one would have qualified for any of those. The car was a JDM 1996 Toyota Corolla which had apparently been imported from Japan at some point after it had been used there for some 10-12 years or so (it appears a lot of the other cars in use on Grand Turk are Japanese imports as well, although a few newer cars do show up here and there.) Owing to its origins and the British Colonial influence on traffic design, it was a right hand drive car, which my Dad had apparently never driven one of before. My Dad had to remind himself more than a couple of times to stay on the “wrong” side of the road, and my brother got a couple of good photos of him accidentally turning on the windshield wipers while trying to use a turn signal. Fortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot of traffic for him to run into anywhere on the island, and nobody seemed to really even notice. I’m guessing the locals have probably dealt with enough freakin’ tourists that they’re used to it by now.

On the plus side, the air conditioning actually worked, and there was a vaguely official looking roadworthiness certificate issued by a local government official just three days before, so what could possibly go wrong? Anyway, we got one car, and several other members of our group got another car (an old Daihatsu SUV or some sort, pretty sure they haven’t sold those in the US since the 1990s.) 

Anyway, after getting the car, our first stop was the space capsule by the airport, one of the items on our Amazing Race list. We then continued into Cockburn Town, following along the shoreline. Our first stop here was an area where there were a number of small shops set up, and although a lot of these seemed to be geared less toward tourists than locals, there were a few places with some trinkety stuff as well.

Following this we continued on, pausing at a few different beaches along the way, but not really spending a whole lot of time at any of them since nobody was really too interested in making it a beach day. There are a couple of reasonably nice beaches on the island, but the one by the Cruise Center seems to be about as good as you’re going to get, so if you want to make a beach day out of it I wouldn’t go out of your way. Anyway, after the beach stop, we continued wandering around the island in the general direction of the lighthouse (pausing briefly so my Mom could go chase some feral donkeys, long story.)

Although I haven’t seen a whole lot of Caribbean islands, my Mom (who is a frequent cruiser, but hadn’t been to Grand Turk before) says that Grand Turk is one of the ones that seems the most Caribbean to her. Compared to a St. Maarten or a St. Thomas it’s definitely a much quieter place, and in spite of the relatively recent addition of the Cruise Center at the southern end of the island and Carnival’s other various investments, it still doesn’t feel much like a tourist spot compared to other Caribbean islands. It’s probably a good thing we took the gas option on the car rental though, I think we found all of two gas stations on the island, neither of which looked particularly open at the time. Then again, I suspect they’re making money on the deal anyway because the island is so small I don’t even know how you’d use $10 worth of gas seeing the whole place anyway.

After continuing to drive around for a while, we eventually reached the lighthouse, and we followed a walking trail out to some ominous looking cliffs at the northern tip of the island (there’s a walking trail that goes from the lighthouse to here, and past some industrial ruins of what I seem to recall being an old power plant. Maybe if I’d write this stuff in a timely fashion I’d recall more.) Interestingly enough, there was a local fishing from a small and somewhat precarious ledge below us on the cliffs, and none of us could figure out how the heck he even managed to get down there in the first place. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this particular spot was the color of the water. Instead of the kool-aid blue waters you’d expect to find on most Caribbean islands and beaches, the water up here was a rather ominous shade of green, perhaps an indication of the treacherous nature of the waters in this area that have resulted in hundreds of shipwrecks over the years.

After spending some time here and seeing just about all there is to see (there is a small gift shop next to the lighthouse that also happens to sell souvenirs for the nearby prison for some reason) we got back in the car and headed back toward the ship. We did consider visiting Conch World along the way, but one of the signs pointing to it warned that they were closed (I later learned that broken generators had put them out of commission for several weeks) so we just continued back to the ship. We got back to the cruise center and returned the two cars, hoping that they wouldn’t notice the words “Sirrines are Stinky” that some random person that absolutely none of us have any knowledge of whatsoever wrote in the dust on the other car’s back window. Anyway, after this we wandered around the cruise center for a bit, noting that the Ron Jon Surf Shop in the cruise center didn’t actually appear to have any surfboards available for sale (well OK, I think they had one, but I’m pretty sure it was just there for decoration.) The group kind of got split up at this point, but since it was getting close to departure time anyway, we all made our way back to the ship on our own.

After getting back to the ship it was getting close to dinnertime, so I went back to my room to change, at which point I found a notification (hand-signed by Commodore Romano no less) that I had been selected for the Ultimate Ship Tour to take place tomorrow afternoon. This was lobster night in the dining room, and although dinner was well enjoyed by all, I think this tends to be just about the point on a cruise that I start getting sick of all the fancy food. I don’t recall what I did for the rest of the evening after this, but I think I mostly just took it easy, tried and failed to understand how to play Craps for a while (just watching, not playing) and went to bed relatively early. With the final sea day and the Ultimate Ship Tour coming up the next day, rest sounded like a good thing to get.

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