Confessions of an expat – Leaving Grand Turk

Half the islands in the Caribbean claim to have been the first discovered by Christopher Columbus, and Grand Turk is one of them

People come and go in every community, but in a small one you just notice it more. Our Grand Turk experience caught the latter days of the interim government, and gradually the numbers dwindled. There were a few new faces, but the trend was out rather than in.

Unless you’re involved in a seasonal trade, in the Caribbean the months slip by unnoticed. The leaves don’t fall from the trees much in Grand Turk because there aren’t many trees there. And the main reason for that is that the main industry used to be salt. The island – and even more so nearby Salt Cay – retains large areas of abandoned salt ponds, where sea water was evaporated until only the salt remained. Trees were a problem for two reasons: first, too many of them can have an effect on the weather, and although rain has obvious advantages as far as drinking and hygiene go, it could also reduce a pile of salt to mush, undoing perhaps months of work. Secondly, leaves do fall and get blown by the wind, and another thing the salt producers didn’t need was bits of vegetation spoiling their pristine white mounds.

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The old dock in Salt Cay from the salt-industry family home to which it belongs. A descendant still lives in the islands, doing boat trips, and he took us there from Grand Turk

Nature sent a grim reminder of the past and the potential future when a hurricane that had passed a long way from the island flicked its tail in our direction. The sea raced up and crashed against the walls, destabilized the outdoor seating area at the Osprey and poured over roads.

Our bit of beach, which was edged by a strip of (I think) limestone topped with sand and stones, changed dramatically to the point where you couldn’t walk into the sea safely. By that time I was addicted to swimming, though, so I persevered through the lingering swells and waves, breaking a small bone in my toe in the process.

Our house in distance
That’s our old house on the right

As what passes for winter drew on, barbecuing became complicated by the fact that the light disappeared earlier than usual and I found myself cooking in the dark, which didn’t go down well with those who like their chicken well done.

With fewer visitors and fewer government people, the Thursday night crowd at the Sandbar could be a bit thin – and my novelty had worn off, anyway.

It was work (my wife’s, that is) had brought us there and eventually it called us away too. Our Canadian friends gave up on their ginger beer brewery and sold the business. Our latest neighbor in the tiny house in our garden finished her government contract and went back to the UK to finish her training as a priest.

Maybe you know your time is up when you’ve tried absolutely everything on the Sandbar’s menu at least once. It is a small island and you’ve done pretty much everything within a couple of months – or weeks, if you’ve got somebody telling you where to go.

We had wandered around the ruins of the Ike-ravaged hotel on the windy side of the island. We had discovered the slightly eerie remains of the Conch World tourist attraction, with its pink buildings and spiraling wooden walkway.

We had spent lunchtimes down at the Cruise Centre, just to see a few people and browse, like the ship-bound American hordes, around shops full of t-shirts and trinkets.

Don’t get me wrong. I would have stayed there forever, happy to be  buried, when the time came, in the dusty, desolate graveyard near the more rarely-used of the two Anglican churches.

Sunset in Grand Turk, and a cruise ship heads into the distance

There’s an old song by Procol Harum: A Salty Dog. It’s about 18th century sailors marooned on an island like this. We hadn’t been washed up along with the timbers and barrels of rum, but when you walked alone along the sand with no one else around, it was easy to feel that way.

Beautiful place, lovely people, indelible memories. But all things must pass.