T and C Day 7 and 8: A Great Boat Trip and Home Again

Well unfortunately all good things must come to an end, so this will be my last post of our Honeymoon trip.  Hold on while I go and grab a tissue.  Actually the trip overall has been great, so I’m going to stay focused on how amazing it was and not that we’re sad to leave!

For this post we took a bunch of pictures with an underwater camera, but won’t have those photos to post until we get them developed.  So I apologize for the text heavy post.  I’ll get them added later and send an update.

Day 7 arrived for me with a great amount of excitement.   Our boat tour was leaving at 1pm, and I was looking forward to it.  This was my big chance to go snorkeling to the wall and see what type of wildlife I could see.  I even had a bit of trouble sleeping.  The good news is it was a beautiful, sunny day which meant good visibility for snorkeling.  We decided to hit the beach for the morning and do some SUP.  We got on down to the water and it was nice and calm, and both boards were available so a great omen for our day.  I told Heather I’d carry the big board down since it was heavier, but this was really my sneak attack to take it out and stick her with the short one.  I got down to the water, jumped on the board and took off.  It was great to be on the big board where it really feels like you can jump around without it tipping over.  When she came down I asked if she wanted to switch.  She said she’d try the small board.  I was secretly amused knowing how much fun I would have watching her fall after her having the big board all the time.  Well, wouldn’t you know it?  She got up on it and did just great!  I don’t think she fell at all.   She even liked the increased maneuverability.  I think it was just because the water was especially calm today 😉

We paddled around for a while and the water was just beautiful.  With the sun hitting it, it really looked like a swimming pool.  That is the beauty of this beach, it is like combining all the best of a pool, lake and ocean (unless you want to surf).

We were hanging out in the water for a while and started talking to a couple from Vermont that were there along with their father.  The dad, who was named Bob, wanted to try the paddle boards, so we gave him a quick coaching lesson, and then he tried getting on.  Well after Heather had shown me up on the small board, my fragile psyche was rewarded by Bob not even being able to get up.  Okay, just kidding, but I was surprised how hard it was for him.  Come to think of it seemed tough for other people who tried it.  Maybe Heather and I were lucky to pick it up so fast.  We did a lesson in Maui, so maybe that is the key, taking a lesson your first time.  We visited with the family for a while longer.  He had gone to UofM in Ann Arbor, so we bonded over that.  It was interesting in our trip, we met and talked with quite a number of people and we didn’t meet one person from the west coast, all east coast or from other countries.   It really isn’t that much further than Hawaii from the west coast, especially if you do a connection to Hawaii instead of direct.

We then headed back to the room to get ready for our trip.  The tour we did was with Caicos Dream Tours and they were top rated on Trip Adviser (we would agree after the trip was over).  The boat just pulls up to whatever hotel you are staying at to pick you up.  They actually have two boats and are yellow pontoon style boats.  We had around 20 on our boat plus the captain and one crew person, though the boats could probably fit 30.   They counted us off carefully, which if you’ve ever seen the movie Open Water, you’ll appreciate how important a step this is (the movie’s the true story of a couple who got left behind on a scuba trip and were never found).  A number of the guests were either elderly, or out of shape, or both, so I quickly realized this was not going to be an extreme trip.  Well we got everyone loaded up and headed on out on the water and took off to the east part of the island.  This is one of my favorite things to do, cruising on the ocean, so I was as happy as a clam.  Or a conch.  As we cruised along, Heather and I were talking and both thought that Grace Bay is the coolest beach we’ve ever been to.  That’s not saying too much from me, but from Heather who has been to Costa Rica, Cancun, Cabo, Jamaica, and of course, Hawaii, that’s saying something.

So we had a nice cruise along the beach to Provo.  We passed the resorts and got to the houses/mansions that line the beach.  You can rent these as vacation rentals which would be a pretty cool experience as the beach was pretty much empty here.  The captain said that one of them, the Cotton House which looked amazing, is around $2,500 per night and has six bedrooms.  That means we will be looking to round up 5 other couples to go with us next year and share the place!

We then headed on out to the ocean.   We went through a break in the reef where the water actually is only 2 feet deep!  We went past this point and anchored in about 12 feet of water.  I would guess we were a mile or 1/2 mile from shore?  I quickly got into my gear and got in the water.  They had thrown some food in the water so there were a couple of schools of fish by the boat, but I was a little less enamored with the fish, as I quickly was amazed by the reefs and the coral.  It was probably around 500 feet between where the boat was and where the water got to the shallowest which was facing shore.  In between there were small canyons that went through the reef.  On top of the canyons there were these amazing bright green and bright purple fan corals.  Around all of these, in and out of the small canyons, were all different kinds of fish, just going about their merry way through the reef.  The fish were all different colors from bright yellow, to blue/green, to purple, to red and even black.   And the sun was shining down through the water providing a play of light through the coral and the water.  It really was amazing to me, like being in an enchanted forest.   I raced back to the boat to get Heather to come check it out, but she isn’t crazy about snorkeling (or more specifically about having fish all around her), so she stayed in the boat.  I proceeded to stay out in the water for the full 30 minutes.  I decided it was time to check out the wall, the part where the coral ends and there’s a wall that goes down 4,000 feet, but as I started that way one of the crew called me back to stay on the other side of the boat.  It looked kind of scary with none of the small fish over that way, so I wasn’t too upset.  I spoke with the captain later and he said you need to scuba anyway to get deep enough to see anything but that it’s pretty amazing.  I have made a note to myself to do that next trip.

Well after around 45 minutes of snorkeling, everyone got back on the boat and we took off over to Water Cay, which is an island just to the east of Provo.  Before we hit the island, we hit another spot to dive for Conch.  The captain, a native belonger, swam on out and found Conch shells for us.  They like the sea grass better.  I dove down and brought up the first one (I about popped my eardrums in the process, I still haven’t figured out to regulate my ears).  Heather braved snorkeling this time and got one as well.  When you get the Conch and turn them over, you see a sliver of brown looking creature and these two googly eyes staring out at you.  After everyone had gotten a shell, we then headed over to the Cay so that we could have them in Conch salad.  Each couple had one shell between them and we threw the rest back.

We got to the island and drove the boat on up onto the beach on Half Moon Bay (this is very different than the one in California).  We had said that Grace Bay was the most amazing beach we had seen, but this one may have topped it.  The island is deserted and the beach and water are just amazing.  I hope the pictures do it justice when they are developed.

Now it was time to get the Conch ready to eat.  I was curious about how this process worked, and figured I should know this since I had been eating so many while on the island.  I think it’s good to know what an animal goes through to end up on your plate.   I have got to say after learning the process and more about Conch’s, I feel somewhat bad about the poor little dudes.   So the first thing you have to do (here’s where my vegetarian friends may want to jump to the next paragraph) is you have to knock a hole in the top end of the shell with a sharp hammer.  What I didn’t know is that the Conch actually creates the shell that is their home, which is pretty amazing considering how massive the shells get.  It takes them about 4 years to get to the size of the ones that we caught.  They are attached to the inside of the shell, and it basically is impossible to pull them out.  They really have the absolutely perfect defense system for anything living in the ocean as I don’t think any creature could suck them out and their shell is like an impregnable little tank.  Unfortunately for them, they have a terrible defense system against humans, you can just swim down and take as many as you want.   Anyway, so the crew guy gathered us all around and explained that you have to cut where they are attached to the shell to get them out.  He proceeded to stick a knife in the hole of the shell and cut the attachment.  Then he handed it to me and said to grab the hard claw like foot and pull out the conch.  I proceeded to do so, and out popped the weirdest looking alien thing you can imagine.  It also was considerably bigger than I thought, probably around 18 inches long.  It really does look like an alien, part brown, part white, with a couple of eyes on the end of stalks and a nose.  The crew guy pointed those out and then proceeded to cut them off!  Brutal.  He then cut off everything but the white part and then cut it into pieces and let us try them.  I hate to say but it tastes great, pretty similar to Abilone if you have ever had that.   He then got to work cutting all of them up for the ceviche style salad they were preparing for us.

While this was going on, it was time to explore the island.  The island is unique for two reasons, 1) it’s got iguanas living on it, and 2) the island is very narrow where we had stopped.  You basically go up the beach, cross some sand and rocks and after about 100 feet you’re at the other side of the island which is another beautiful sand beach.  The captain said you can walk out miles on this side of the island into the ocean as it is part of the Caicos bank.  Well the water on this side of the island was what I had anticipated for the islands before I got there, it was really like bath water.  Heather and I proceeded to walk around in the water, and we found a spot with mud sand.  It looks like sand but you sink into it like mud.  It is actually a cool feeling, probably something people would pay a lot to experience in a spa.  Heather proceeded to plop herself down in it and relax.  I guess since we didn’t get a couples massage this was the next best thing.  Anyway, after a bit we decided to head back to the boat as the water was actually too warm.  We saw a couple of iguanas along the way, probably around 3 feet with their tail.  I photographed one of them and he spit in the air, probably trying to intimidate me which actually kind of worked (I didn’t get any closer).

We got back to the boat and I headed out for more snorkeling while Heather just hung out in the water by the boat and the beautiful beach.  The snorkeling was really cool here as well, though not as spectacular as the previous location.  I was out for a while and then got back just in time to see a stingray swimming by very close to shore and our group.  We then had the Conch salad, which I thought was great, and then it was unfortunately time to head back.   We got back to the hotel, and I decided to get in some more snorkeling.  I felt invigorated after our trip, so I figured I would try and catch the barracuda that was preying on the poor little school of fishes.  Unfortunately, they weren’t around, but I did see the same stingray that I had seen multiple times at the beach.  Then while I was watching him, a massive stingray came swimming in and burrowed into the sand, along with another one.  And I was nervous about the small one stinging me?  The big one looked mean so I kept plenty far away from him.  After about an hour of snorkeling, I called it a night and headed up to the room.  The day had been just great, the only bummer was I had gotten pretty red on my back.  I had put on sunscreen a couple times and it had said it was waterproof, but must not have been salt water proof.  Anyway, moral of the story is if you’re snorkeling to either get an SPF protected swim shirt, or apply many multiple times throughout the day.  Since I was now burned, we decided to stay in the hotel room and spend our final evening there.  There was live band playing down at the restauarant so we enjoyed the view, weather and music from our balcony before heading to bed.

Our last day arrived as probably the nicest since we had been there.  Hardly a cloud in the sky.  It seemed like the islands were trying to tempt us to stay an extra couple of days and we looked into it but decided we had to get back.  I wish there was some interesting things to relate from our getaway day, but there really wasn’t much.  We got packed up and had a checkout at 11, with about 3 hours to kill before we needed to head to the airport.  Unfortunately I was burned enough that laying on the beach didn’t sound like a good option.  So we caught a taxi over and did some shopping and then came back and had lunch (fyi Dana, I had the chicken panini, and Heather had the chicken sandwich which according to her was “as good as Burger King”, very high praise!).  From there we went on to the airport and got checked in about 2 hours ahead of time, which was about an hour too early.  The Provo airport is small and it is not air conditioned, and of course, all flights try and leave at the same time on Saturday which meant the waiting room was jam packed and very hot.  They are just starting a project to double the size of the airport, so you may want to delay your trip until it’s supposed to be complete in 2014.  Well after our wait, we were one of the first to board (thanks Elden & Nancy for the priority access!) and this was one of the few times were I was very excited to get on the plane as it was much cooler.

Our flight home was pretty uneventful (which is always a good thing).  I was amazed by the Bahamas, and what I think is the Bahama bank.  This was an area that is just miles and miles of the most amazing turquoise blue water.  I think the Bahamas would be the next place I would want to visit in the Caribbean.  While I was busy checking this out, Heather was busy reading The Hunger Games.  I don’t think she put the book down once during our first flight to Dallas, and then again on the flight to SF until she finished it about an hour or two in.  That means she really enjoyed it!  Our stop in Dallas was a bit of an adventure as we had to go through customs, get our baggage, recheck it, go back through security, then discover our flight was on the complete other side of the airport requiring a tram ride (Dallas has a huge airport).  What went from being a two hour layover where I thought we would have plenty of time to grab dinner and relax, turned into a mad rush where we barely made the connection.  We fortunately caught it and landed in a perfectly clear SF close to midnight.  We got home and to bed around 4 am island time.  There’s always something great about sleeping in your own bed and we were happy to be back!

Well I guess that concludes this vacation blog.  Thanks to everyone that has followed along, and thanks to everyone that made a contribution to our honeymoon!  We had just an awesome, amazing trip thanks to everyone’s generosity and we didn’t have to spend anything at all.   Here’s a big, hearty, somewhat blurry “Thanks”, complete with conch shells and a lizard (from the exit at Da Conch Shack):

Finally, if you had to ask if I would recommend a visit to Turks and Caicos, I would have to give you a resounding yes, as would Heather.  The islands really have almost everything you would want to experience, with the possible exception of volcanoes.  You could spend your whole trip never leaving Grace Bay staying in a five star resort and be just as happy as could be, or you could make it a grand adventure and visit other of the islands and stay in a more authentic island hotel and get in scuba and exploring.  Speaking of hotels, we thought ours, the Alexandra, was great.  It has very nice suites, though of course it helped that we had the best room (top floor on the beach), and it is a great location on the beach without being too packed.   You can’t beat the amazing experience of a vacation in T&C, or as our boat captain kept saying any time something good happened on the trip: “that’s what I’m talking about”!  We hope to see you soon and hope you are doing well.  Cheers,

Kelly and Heather

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T and C Day 6: Shopping, Chalk Sound and More Snorkeling

Day 6 arrived to somewhat cloudy/stormy weather again.  We had the car until 5pm, so we decided to do some shopping, and then visit Chalk Sound which is a national park.

We got our normal early jump on the day.   Out of bed and eating breakfast at 10!   We got over to the shopping area around noon.  Our shopping list wasn’t too long, I wanted to buy a snorkel set and Heather was looking for beach wear.  We found a cool little group of shops with a good dive store and several gift shops.  There was a square in the middle of the plaza dedicated to pirates.  Heather had me get in the stockade, and as soon as I am locked up I look over and she’s hitting on some dude!  Amazing how girls always go for the rebel types.

The shopping center also had an interactive map of the islands.  Much cooler than the one I posted in a previous blog.  I’m pointing out where we are on the map.  The whole crescent curve facing to the north is Grace Bay.

After our shopping, we headed on out to the southwest part of the island.  There is a restaurant there called Las Brisas that looks out on Chalk Sound.  Chalk Sound is a large bay created by a thin peninsula.  The water in the bay is quite shallow and the bay has a large number of small islands.  They say there is an island for every day in the year.  There is also a lot of, you guessed it, chalk in the area.  So the shallow water with the chalk gives it this cool aqua blue translucent color.  Reading that this was a national park made me pretty curious to see it, so fortunately Heather was willing for us to go.  We drove on over and found the restaurant, which is part of a couple of villas.  Here was our view from our table:

For lunch, we ordered nachos to start.  Heather was pretty excited about this as she was craving Mexican food and a change from all of the fish.  She had a salad and soup for her meal and I had conch ceviche.  The best thing was the kiwi smoothie I had.  First time I had seen that on a menu and it was good.  Plus it matched my green shirt.  The first rule of fashion is always select the smoothie that best matches your outfit.

After lunch we drove on out to the end of the peninsula to try and get a better view of the sound, but there weren’t really very many good access points.  A lot of newer nice homes have been built along both sides of the peninsula.  I was a little less impressed by the “national park” after figuring this out.  Tough to enjoy what you can’t see.  Still though, was happy to have checked it out and was able to snap one decent picture.

From there we checked out the beach at Sapodilla Bay.  This is ranked as a top attraction given how far out you can walk on the shallow beach.  It’s a little tough to get to as you drive down a rocky dirt road.  Reminded me of a logging road in Montana.  Once we got there, we thought it was pretty, but not comparable to Grace Bay.  So we headed on back, with a pitstop at the grocery store, and got back around 4:30.

From there I was anxious to try out my new snorkel gear, so walked about 15 minutes south on the beach to Bight Reef.  This is a reef that is basically right at the shore and they have setup a rope path that you follow to tour it.  It lived up to the bill, not so much for the reef, but for all of the different types of fish around it.  I had bought a camera and snapped some pictures, but unfortunately those won’t be available for a while.  Does anyone make a waterproof digital camera?  Probably the coolest fishes were the large parrot fish (I think) that chomp on the reef.  You can hear the crunching as they take bites out of it.  After swimming around for a while I decided to head back to our hotel.  My new mask was giving me some trouble with being too big and leaking (bummer!), plus no one was out snorkeling at the reef, so I thought maybe they all new something I didn’t.

I walked back up the beach, past the Beaches resort again, which is massive and packed with people and kids, and back to our much less crowded one.  I got back in the water and decided I’d try and find the stingray I had seen the other day.  Well I was probably only about 25 or 30 feet out from shore when this huge school of small white fish came around me.  It was the same ones we had seen a couple of days prior.  I swam next to them and snapped a picture, and as soon as that happened they shot off.  I wasn’t sure if it was the click of my camera or something more sinister.   Well sure enough, as I’m looking around, here comes a 3 or 4 foot barracuda swimming by along the edge of the school.  Those things just look mean.  I followed him for a ways but then lost him.  The school kept coming by me so I would actually swim right through them which is an interesting experience.  Then I saw what had to be the same stingray again.  It had the same similar looking fish hanging out right above him.  He actually started swimming towards me and then he swam literally about two feet from this couple that were in the water throwing a ball between them.  I came out of the water and looked at them.  They were probably thinking what is this guy doing snorkeling around us.  They were in about 4 or 5 feet of water, 25 feet out from shore, and literally had no idea that they were surrounded by a school of fish, with a barracuda attacking the school, and about to step on a stingray!  Pretty funny, makes me wonder how often we’re oblivious to fish around us when we’re in the ocean.  I was swimming through the school of fish again when all of sudden they all took off again and sure enough, here came the barracuda again, this time very close to me.  I swam next to him and got what I think was a pretty good picture.  We’ll see how it looks when it develops!

Well this was enough adventure for me so I headed back to the room where Heather had been napping.  We wrapped up our evening with dinner in our suite, and we watched the movie, “The King’s Speech”.  I definitely liked it a lot and just asked Heather what she thought and got an “eeehhh” which means not so much.  Colin Firth is very good, and as always, I just thoroughly enjoyed Geoffrey Rush.  I was not aware of the historical circumstances that led to George the 6th becoming king (Colin Firth’s character).  His older brother became king before him, but abdicated the throne so that he could marry a twice divorced lady from Baltimore!  So the question is whether that is complete idiocy, or whether a moving example of giving everything for the sake of love?  The movie portrays it in the former light, but probably could be redone as easily to show it as a love story.  Not sure where the true answer lies, but I do know I’d abdicate my throne to marry Heather.  I think I’ll end today’s post on that high (or low note).  See you next time!

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T and C Day 5: Storms and Wheels

Day 5 in paradise and we awoke to major rain storms on the horizon, and some thunder and lightning.  While the storms were close, we never actually got hit by them.  What to do, though, if you think it’s going to rain on you and you’re stuck in your room?  Well now is a good time to go through the 1,917 photos taken at the wedding by your photographer!   We opened up the sliding door to what actually felt like a cool day (probably low 80’s with a breeze) and sat down on the couch and started going through the photos with the sound of the ocean and thunder in the background.

It was a great way to relive our big day.  I thought our photographer did a stellar job of fitting right in with the ethos of our group (friendly and fun) and also did a good job of corralling our large wedding party for the pictures.  I think a class of kindergartners may have been less challenging (kidding!).  Also, many thanks to all of you have taken other pictures from the wedding.  Many of these are great candids that the photographer didn’t catch and we really appreciate having them.  Finally, I will say we watched the video our photographer did.  Not sure we will ever get tired of watching that.  I don’t think Hollywood could have staged or produced anything better!  Of course I’m not so objective…

Well after the storms died down and the day got nicer, we decided it was time to figure out our plans for the rest of the week.  Heather wanted to get in a couples massage at the Parrot Cay, and I wanted to get in snorkeling and renting a car to tour the island.  The trip to Parrot Cay is a full day excursion, so we nixed that in favor of a massage next door at the Palms (though as I write this, I think we forgot to reserve it so not sure it will happen tomorrow).  This will be my second massage in my life.  Can you tell who’s the bigger afishionado between us?  That’s how they spell it in the islands by the way.

Finding out that the weather’s supposed to be better on Friday led us to plan the snorkeling trip then.  I can’t wait for it, it sounds awesome.  I learned that we head just a bit north from our beach where the ocean drops 4,000 feet!  So we will be right at the edge of the wall.  That will be a cool but somewhat scary thing to behold.  I have a vivid imagination so I will be able to picture any number of creatures coming up from the deep to get us.  Better not mention this to Heather.  Also, the beach we are on is North facing which is unusual.  I am used to either an eastern or western facing beach.  This keeps it very protected and is partly why the waves are so small.  The only time they get waves is when there’s a wind from the north which is rare.

Based on scheduling then, we decided that now was as good a time as any to rent a car.  The concierge scheduled it and the rental place would drop it off at 4:30.  Time for a quick visit to the beach.  Heather read on a lounger, while I grabbed the SUP board.  Unfortunately the long one was taken so it was the short one again for me.  The water was calmer today due to fewer boats, so it went much better.  I was up and paddling and made it quite a ways down the beach until the winds started picking up.  That’s when I discovered your body acts as a bit of a sail and makes the going much harder.  So I got down on my knees and made good progress (it helps tremendously that my knees are so flexible, not sure what you’d do if you can’t sit on your feet).   After I turned around I was back on my feet and paddling like a pro.  I flew past Heather and whistled at her but she didn’t even look.  I came flying in, past the other guy with two people holding his board up, watched him tumble in, paddled right up to the shore hopped off, grabbed the board ran it in, and got over to Heather just in time.  I asked her if she had seen me out there thinking she may be impressed?  She said she had been looking but didn’t see me snorkeling at all!  Well I guess that’s a lesson, don’t try and compete with a good book…

We headed back to the office and met the car rental guys.  It was $64 for 1 day for some model of a Honda I have never heard of with over 100,000 miles.  Seems to run fine though, except for one problem, the steering wheel is on the wrong side!

I actually was happy to rent the car partly for this reason, my first experience driving on the wrong side of the road.  And let me tell you it takes a bit of getting used to.  Having gotten my license when I turned 16 means I’m fighting 25 years of repetition.  After the first 10 minutes or so it started to feel better.  I still kept hitting the windshield wipers instead of the blinker.  The other weird thing is that even though there is quite a bit of cars on the island I don’t think there are any stoplights.  Everything is round abouts where you yield to the cars already in the roundabout.  Actually works pretty well, not sure if this is common in England or not.

We took advantage of our newfound mobility and hit some shops at the main shopping area though found out they were closing at 6 so only had about 15 minutes.  There is some shopping on the island, but not too much, unless you’re looking to buy something in the duty free shops.  We then cruised to the eastern or “Leeward” part of the island.  This is the rich end of the island and you can see all the houses.   This side of the island is very flat though and you can’t see the ocean as it’s blocked by the houses.  This is where we came upon the property I bought here a while back.  With all the wedding excitement I forgot to mention it to Heather so she was a bit surprised.  Here’s the picture proving it:

I mean “Kelly Isle”?  Come on, who wouldn’t want to live there?  Sports all the time, all the taco bell you can eat, and the whole layout architected perfectly in an Excel spreadsheet!  Okay, so Heather’s bought into the whole marriage idea but didn’t seem as keen on Kelly Isle, so we continued on to southeast part of the island and discovered there’s a ferry that goes to the other islands.  This is where we actually got our first (and maybe only?) glimpse of the other islands.  They all looked very flat, though the nearest cay was very close.  I think a 1/2 way decent swimmer could probably easily make it in between all the Caicos islands.

From here we drove on back all the way to the north western part of the island.  This is where “da conch shack” is located and we definitely were looking forward to it.  On our way though, we started seeing a number of dogs along the highway.  It’s not clear if all these dogs are pets or even just wild, but you can bet what type of response it engendered from my passenger.  Every few minutes on our drive was punctuated by an “ohhh” or “poor baby”.   We also were starting to see more of the poorer part of the island.  It is quite a contrast from the resorts and beautiful beaches.  It’s probably no different than poorer places in the U.S. (or maybe actually better), but the contrast feels greater given the striking divide between the luxury resorts and the small sometimes rundown houses.  The coast and eastern part of the island seems to be the really nice areas, while the western half seems less so, though Amanyara resort is on the western shore and is only $1,800 and up per night.  Yes you read that right, not per week, per night!  And their villas can be up to $8,000 per night.  Heather and I may check it out tomorrow for lunch, though I think I will be too embarrassed to drive up in our old rental.

Well we found “da conch shack” just fine.  It has gotten a lot of great publicity in travel guides, and it definitely lived up to expectations for me.   It is a great setting on the beach, and as the name would suggest is very casual.  It is picnic tables on the sand with conch shells everywhere around.  There’s also a number of dogs laying around, though they don’t come up to the eating area at all.  Of course Heather was more excited by the dogs than the beautiful beach and setting.  Sounds like the island is all too happy if you want to adopt a dog as they will pay the transport back.  Can you imagine if you were one of those dogs?   Living each day in paradise, lying on the beach, getting great scraps from a nice restaurant and suddenly you’re shipped off to the cold to live in a small apartment?  Man, must be depressing.  Here’s a couple of them getting the royal treatment:

For dinner, we had the conch fritters, conch calamari, and jerk chicken along with rice and beans and mac and cheese.  So you can tell from our selections that this was a health food place!  Heather’s favorite part was their hot sauce.  We will definitely have to bring some back with us.  I thought the hot sauce was great, though I still have a bit of heartburn from it as I write this.  The overall experience was fantastic and we really enjoyed it.  If you are ever here I highly recommend going.  And thanks to Tony and Rae Peppley for contributing that for us!

From there we decided to try and get to bed early and head back.  I had the bright idea to continue on up the road a ways to the West before it loops back East.  That wasn’t the best idea as it was very dark out and people would just be walking along the side of the road.  There are a lot of speed bumps everywhere which helps keep you going slower and gives you more time to see people.  Still seems dangerous to me.  I started wondering what would happen if we broke down, though I did feel better about seeing so many churches along the way (the islands are apparently pretty dedicated church goers).  Well we made it back home fine and now I am writing this from our balcony as I listen to the waves crash, while Heather lays on the lounge chair and reads her book.   Time for me to sign off and start a book I grabbed from down in the lobby and then off to bed for an early bed time.  Bonsoir!

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T and C Day 4: Snorkeling, SUP & Sun

Well here we are at Day 4 already!  We woke up this morning to a beautiful sunny day.  Here is a picture of the view from our balcony.  I have made it the wallpaper on my phone, and it really looks like one of the pre-loaded wallpaper pictures that come installed on your phone.

We got another early start to our day.  I got up around 10, and Heather about 1/2 hour later.  After leisurely getting ready, I went down to the gym to work out and Heather went down to the beach.  Or wait a minute, I may have gotten that backwards, it’s hard to keep things straight in this tropical heat (ok, very impressive that my wife is working out in paradise!).

On my way to the beach, I stopped by the front desk to ask where I could rent snorkel gear.  I found out that the resort has kayaks, stand-up paddle boards (SUP) and snorkeling gear all available complimentary, which was great news!  So I headed on down to the beach and grabbed a couple chairs and an umbrella.  The temperature was the normal upper 80’s with humidity.  With the bright sun, it is really great to have the umbrella to provide shade.  While I was waiting for Heather to finish her workout so I could head out snorkeling, I spent my time reading my book.  I’m not really in to the latest trends in literature that the masses are into, so I’m reading this little known story called “The Hunger Games”.  It’s really a decent read, too bad more people haven’t heard of it.

Heather soon showed up and I went and grabbed the snorkel gear.  In case you can’t tell, I was pretty happy about it:

I put the gear on and swam on out.  They have buoys probably 200 feet out in the water.  Boats aren’t allowed inside which makes it great for snorkeling.  You don’t have to worry about getting run over by the many boats flying by.   I swam on out to the line.  Periodically the sun would go behind a cloud and then come back out which is really a neat effect.  It is kind of like someone turning the light on and off.  Even though the water was beautifully clear, there wasn’t a whole lot to see.  I basically saw a conch shell, and that was it.  The sea floor was pretty much just sand.  On swimming back in though, it got a bit better.  I saw a stingray in about 9 feet of water with a one foot fish hanging out above him.  I kept about 10 feet away from him and could have gotten as close as I would have wanted, but I remembered how the crocodile hunter died and thought better of it.  His stinger was quite long!   I also saw about a two foot fish swimming by that I thought may have been a barracuda.  Don’t those things bite by the way?   I definitely was surprised to see more fish closer into shore.  All in all was a great start to my snorkeling.  We are planning to do a snorkeling tour later this week so expect to see much more interesting fish and coral.

After the snorkeling, we hung out in the water for a while.  This time a large school of fish that were probably 5 inches long started swimming around us, in only 3 feet of water.  Again this sent Heather running for shore.  Not sure how she will do with real snorkeling!

Next we decided to do some standup paddleboarding.  We did this in Maui and really enjoyed it.  Here it was much more difficult.  The water by this point in the day was really choppy, and while Heather’s board was a long one, mine was only around 8 foot.  Suffice it to say we got a good workout in.  Heather did great and didn’t fall in once.  I, however, spent a lot of time plunging into the water.  SUP is really pretty easy, assuming 2 things, 1) calm water, and 2) a long board.  Then it’s just a matter of getting on the board on your knees, standing up so you’re well centered on the board, and then really focusing on the horizon.  If you start looking down, you’ll usually fall over.  We look forward to doing it another day when the water is calmer.

We hung out a little longer on the beach and then decided to go back to the room.  I took a nap while Heather watched some Law and Order (one of her favorites).  We then headed out for a late evening walk down the beach to find a place to eat.  It’s really neat at night along the beach, all the hotels have nice restaurants and set their tables either out on their patios, or out on the sand.  You can just walk along and find a nice one and have a great dinner.  We ended up going to Bay Bistro, where the chef has won a number of local competitions for best Conch dishes.

For Heather and for the rest of the foodies out there, here’s the rundown of our meal.  We started with Conch wontons which were very good.  Heather then had a carrot/coconut soup and I had a salad.  For our entrees, we shared a coffee soaked tuna, and a conch and mushroom crepe.  The tuna was unusual (which is a polite way to say I wouldn’t order it again), but the crepe was fantastic, though very rich.  We wrapped it up with a banana butterscotch tort and then a nice walk home along the beach to a mostly clear night, though with occasional flashes of lightning way off in the distance.  Just another tough day in paradise!

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T and C Day 3: An Overview of the Islands

Our day 3 was pretty uneventful, mostly because my stomach was bothering me.  Not Montezuma’s revenge, the water here is fine, but something I ate.  Our highlight of the day was going to the grocery store.  The store was quite nice, similar to a whole foods market.  Besides this, I spent most of the day in the room, while Heather spent some time on the beach.  So this is a good time to give an overview of the islands.  Most of my info comes from quick reads online and in travel magazines, so don’t count on 100% accuracy here!

Turks and Caicos is a group of 40 islands and cays that is basically a continuation of the Bahamas to the east.  Btw, the Bahamas apparently comprises around 3,000 islands and cays!  My dream would be to take a sailboat and sail around to all the islands, but if you hit 2 a day for 300 days per year it would take you 5 years to hit them all!  No wonder this area has been such a great place for pirates to hide out.

Back to T&C– the islands are about 620 miles mostly east from Miami, and a little bit south.  While there are 40 islands/cays, there are really 7 main islands.  There is Turks, and then there is South, East, Middle, North and West Caicos, and Providenciales or Provo if you’re into the whole brevity thing.  Provo is the main tourist island and the one we are staying on.  Grand Turk is the capital. The Turks islands are separated from the Caicos ones by a 7,000 foot deep channel, which is pretty interesting given that so much of the ocean here is shallow, and Grand Turks is only about 15 miles from East Caicos.  Apparently this makes for great scuba diving given the sudden plunge.  It’s called an ocean wall and apparently is great to see all the fish that are there.

Provo is about 10 miles long and 5 miles at its widest, and most of the other main islands are similar in size.  For comparison, I believe Maui is about 40 miles wide by 20 miles so considerably bigger.  The islands are relatively flat, and have more of a desert flora.   Or is it fauna?  Mostly rocky soil with lots of squat cactus, palms and other shrubbery.  There is great snorkeling as they islands have one of the largest reefs in the world, and the reefs are largely un-damaged.  I am looking forward to checking them out!

The islands were originally populated from Mexico, but then the Spanish came and shipped all the first inhabitants off the island to be slaves in Hispaniola, which is 90 some miles to the south.  There is some speculation that Columbus landed on Grand Turks in 1492, but that is debatable.  After the Spanish came, the islands were largely uninhabited until the 1700’s.  It eventually became a holding of England, which is interesting in that I don’t believe there was slavery on the islands (if you don’t count the original inhabitants being kidnapped and shipped into slavery).  There is a story of a slave ship that crashed off the islands and the slaves that survived became free people and inhabitants of the island (divers may have recently found the wreckage of the ship).  The people of African descent that comprise the majority of the population of the island are known as “belongers”.  The population of the islands is around 45,000, with over half of those on Provo.  Some of the bigger Caicos islands are unpopulated.  Middle Caicos has the largest cave system in the Caribbean (mom, you would enjoy that!).  There is also Parrot Cay which is an exclusive resort of the rich and famous.  Heather is trying to setup a lunch for us there so we can see how the other half lives.

While the islands are British, there has been talk of independence.  There has also been talk of becoming a Canadian territory (that note is for you Emily!).  The islands are on the eastern time zone, English is the primary language, U.S. dollars the currency, but people do drive on the wrong side of the road.  That took a bit getting used to on the first night when I thought we were going to be hit by a car coming at us.

The beaches here are pretty amazing, if you can’t tell from the pictures yet.  The one we are on is around 15 miles long, and is consistently voted as one of the top beaches in the world.  I am no expert on worldwide beaches, but you would get no argument from me.  It is hard to sit here and write this from our patio while seeing the beautiful beach in front of me.

Well that’s it for today.  There is your overview of the islands.  Now it’s time for us to get out there and experience them firsthand!

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T and C Day 2 – A Day of Rest

Our first real day in T&C started out with us sleeping in to around 11!   We were greeted by this from our balcony:

Our agenda for the day was pretty extensive: hit the beach and go to dinner.  We headed on down the beach around 1, and grabbed a couple chairs and umbrella.  The weather was in the 80’s, humid, and it was mostly cloudy.   Generally the wind was calm but occasionally gusts would blow through.

The first thing that struck me about the beach is how white and fine the sand is.  It feels great on the feet.  After laying out for a bit, it was time to hit the water.  I was expecting the water to be bath tempature, but it was more like a warm swimming pool, which is actually better.  It provides a nice break from the heat.  Still very comfortable.  The water is extremely clear, you can walk out to your neck and still look down and see your feet just fine.  Here’s a pic where I’m above my waist and you can see how clear the water is:

It is tremendously relaxing to just hang out in the water here.  I am used to beaches where the water is either cold, or rough, but here it is neither.  In fact, I found it amusing that Heather had been looking forward to surfing, it would be pretty tough to do in the two inch waves here!  We had a good long time in the ocean until a few 3 inch white fish started swimming around us.  That sent Heather running for shore, but I hung out with them.  It reinforced my desire to get a snorkel to checkout the reefs and other fishies.

After our very ambitious day at the beach, it was time for dinner at 7 at Coco Bistro.  We caught a taxi over, which by the way, all the taxi’s here are really vans which takes some getting used to.  And there is no meter, they just have different flat fees for different distances that you trust is the right amount.  Anyway, the restaurant is considered one of the best on the island.  It is a really cool setting, as you sit outside in a courtyard ringed by palms.  The wait staff is what you would picture, very friendly with an island accent, a mix of English and French.   Dinner was excellent, I had the conch (pronounced “conk”) ravioli and Heather had the seafood pasta.  Many thanks to Tim & Mirjam for sponsoring us for this delicious meal, it was great!

After dinner, it was back to the hotel and an early bedtime.  All this relaxation can be tiring!

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Turks and Caicos Day 1: Getting There

Hello from Turks and Caicos!

I thought I would keep a daily blog of our honeymoon trip to T&C.  Mostly to help Heather and I remember this great trip and time in our lives, but if anyone wants to follow along, even better!

I thought I would start by getting everyone caught up from the wedding to where we are now!   It was really just an incredible, awesome experience, the best of my life.  I could write a whole separate chapter about it, and I probably will, but suffice it to say that we are so thankful to be married, and especially so thankful to all of our friends and family who helped make it possible, whether at the wedding in body or in spirit.  Here’s a link to some pictures from the wedding along with a video (scroll to the bottom of the page): http://www.bluephoto.biz/blog/2012/08/san-luis-obispo-wedding-photography-heather-and-kelly-weddings/

The day after the wedding was great, going around Avila Beach and bumping into all of our wedding guests before they hit the road.  We got coffee at Joe Momma’s and breakfast burritos at Avila Grocery, our favorite thing to do.  We then hung out on the beach with Kevin and Christi for the afternoon, and then a nice relaxing dinner in our room with Kris and Sammi, who were staying that night.  I wish I could say I got a good night’s sleep, but I would wake up and start thinking about all of the great things about the wedding and wouldn’t be able to sleep.  Generally I have trouble sleeping due to stress, not happiness!

Monday was our day to pack up and drive home.  Heather’s mom & Dick, and her dad and Lisa hung out with us as we packed up our room (no small feat).  Her dad brought over a frozen batch of his world famous spaghetti sauce for us to take home.  They also brought their four dogs along which was fun.  We got packed up and then headed over to Alex at Avila Beach Golf Resort to pick up items from the reception (she was great with all she did for the wedding).  By this time, the FJ cruiser was packed to the gills, I don’t think we could have fit anything else (see pic).

We had a quick visit with Rabbi Jayne prior to heading out and gave her the marriage license to sign and file for us to make it official.  Rabbi Jayne said our wedding was one of the top 3 she had done which we took as a tremendous complement.  She also told us of her stress of having just done a couple of funerals that week and how life is precious and short so that we should enjoy it.  A very good reminder.

We were then on the road back to SF for a nice, if exhausted, drive back.  We picked up Brady from the dog boarder, and Heather was thrilled to see him again (as I was).  Then back to the house and unload the FJ cruiser, but not unpack everything, and then to bed.  The rest of the week was pretty much a blur, as I was working a lot of hours on a potential M&A deal.  No relaxation yet!

Saturday quickly arrived with the alarm clock going off at 3:30 am, and we were up and off to the airport.  The airport was surprisingly busy at 5am on a Saturday, but we got checked in quickly thanks to our priority access, and thanks to Karen’s parents, Eldon and Nancy.  They very generously gave us the plane tickets for our honeymoon so we owe the incredible view I have as I write this to them, and we are very very appreciative.

Our 5 hour flight to Miami was pretty smooth, though we did have to circle for 15 minutes before landing while a storm passed through, which is common for this time of year.  We then had 4 hours in the Miami airport where we got lunch at Don Shula’s restaurant, and I spent my time furiously wrapping up work items (which I will not be doing this week).   We then took off on a full 737 to T&C and landed just before 9.  Our flight over was fun as we could see so many different islands out the window, and the water was a cool aqua green.  Landing wasn’t quite as fun as it was pitch black and we went through a couple of clouds that were like riding a roller coaster.  You always know it’s a bumpy ride when you land and everyone starts clapping!

The weather when we landed was around 85, and humid, which is very normal for this time of year.   We were quickly through customs and caught a taxi van over to our hotel (only $11 each!).  We checked in to the hotel, well actually a resort named the Alexandra.  This was a time of trepidation for me, a) because I wasn’t sure how nice the rooms would be, and b) I had procrastinated and didn’t call and get a beachfront room reserved.  Well good news on both fronts, they gave us a 4th floor, beautiful room with a fantastic view over the beach.  And the room, or really a suite, was recently redone, and the bed was very comfortable (a very important requirement for Heather).  So phew, I got lucky!  And speaking of lucky, I should take this opportunity for thanking my folks, Roger & Synoia, for their generosity in donating the room for us.  It really is spectacular (pics to come later).

By now though, it was almost 10pm, so we hustled down to the resort’s restaurant, the Mango Reef, before it closed and had an awesome dinner basically on the beach.  I had a mahi mahi crab crusted entree that was great, and Heather had a vegetable curry that she said was the best she has had (see pics below).  We have Chris to thank for the dinner and his very generous donation for us to the Mango Reef restaurant (we’ll be having several more meals there on him).

Back to the room to pass out, we have been going non-stop since weeks before the wedding, so can’t describe how great of a feeling it is to go to bed not feeling like anything has to get done!  It has been a while for me, with wedding, cpa exam studying, looking for work, and M&A stuff, and for Heather with wedding and work, that we have felt that we can just kick back, relax and do nothing!   So good night, we look forward to seeing you tomorrow!

 

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