A few months before our trip to Providenciales, Turks and Caicos I planned a day trip, thinking we needed a way to break up endless days of beach and pool time. I didn’t appreciate how blissful beach and pool time would be, especially in the midst of building our home and a chaotic work season. Nonetheless, my best and my worst trait is that once I start something, I finish it. We’d booked this day trip, so who cares that we were perfectly content loafing around Turtle Bay, we were going to Middle Caicos – damnit.
Damnit. It was incredible. It wasn’t as relaxing as, say, sitting poolside at our villa or a massage at Amanyara (which is, by the way, an entirely separate post. Wow). It was, though, stunning and quirky and just ambitious enough to make me feel like we earned the stamp in our passport. A week at the beach never seems like enough work to justify a page in that little blue book.
I booked the 8:30 a.m. ferry from Providenciales to North Caicos through Caribbean Cruisin’. I booked my car through them as well. We arrived about 30 minutes early, which was 25 minutes earlier than we needed to. Our Greek ferry experience gave me ferry anxiety, which has now been completely eradicated thanks to this ferry experience. We showed up, signed some papers, sat at a picnic table and eventually Captain Matt pulled in with a double-decker boat with three 250-horsepower engines. About three dozen people calmly boarded, save for one pushy Russian mom who wanted her son to sit up top (on my lap, apparently, as that was the only space left), and then we were off – bound for Middle Caicos across a seemingly endless expanse of pristine turquoise waters. The Captain pointed out some dolphins along the way and maneuvered us around and through very shallow waters typical to an archipelago like Turks and Caicos. Almost too quickly we pulled into North Caicos. The marina there was slightly more deserving of its name, home to a few dozen smaller motorboats. We jumped off and our adventure began.
It began with me asking, “Excuse me, where is the Caribbean Cruisin’ rental car office?” A tank-topped teenager pointed to another man holding a clipboard with an arrow, as if to say, “Lady, you don’t read arrows?” We followed the clipboard to a row of beat-up cars and a kid in a Philadelphia Eagles jersey hooked us up with a Camry that didn’t have any license plates. He also seemed to think I was not very intelligent, because who worries about license plates more than they worry about air conditioners? “The air conditioner works! Fill it up to the same line when you come back,” he said, ignoring my repeated questions about the license plate situation.
Matt took the man’s word and the keys, and off we cruised. The air conditioner did, in fact, work well, after we deciphered the Chinese characters for “AC.” Our first stop was Wade’s Green Plantation.
Wade’s Green was established by a British loyalist in 1789 as a cotton and sisal plantation, and I’d read it was quite well preserved. Google Maps took us to the turn-off, then we followed a dirt road figuring eventually we’d see a parking lot or a sign. We saw no such thing, but we did come to a place where two older women sat in two older cars with their ACs running. One woman got out and asked if we were there to see the Plantation. She took our $20 and told us to follow the other lady in our car. “Mind the road!”
Her warning was apt. For about a mile we dodged car-sized potholes while following the second woman in her car, fervently hoping the Camry’s tires were as good as its air conditioner. Eventually we parked and got out at what used to be the main gate entrance to Wade’s Green. The stone wall was in remarkably good condition, and the wall continued through the dense tropical woods about a half mile to the plantation home. Our tour guide had quick answers for questions about things like common flora and fauna, less easy answers about Mr. Wade and his family’s time in Turks and Caicos.
The Plantation only operated for one generation. Inexplicably I was fixated on the massive fence and repeatedly wondered aloud at all the work that went into building that fence – cutting and carrying thousands of stones miles on foot – just to serve for three decades. This wall somehow reminded me that history, time, is so short.
It was powerful to think about the more than 380 slaves who lived and died there, and seeing their work standing more than 200 years later as a manifestation of the truly backbreaking labor they endured.
The home itself seems modest, unlike plantations in the American South we’ve visited before. This felt more fitting, somehow. We didn’t find ourselves gasping at the beauty of the home, instead we focused on what happened there and how people lived, worked, loved and died. Because the house wasn’t overwhelmingly elegant or lavish it was easier to focus on what really mattered.
When Mr. Wade left his property to travel to Providenciales where he died, and after the British abolished slavery about 12 years later, the land around Wade’s Green (known as the Kew settlement), was apparently given to former slaves. Our guide told us you’d see a lot of those families’ last names around town, and meet many people with them. Again, we appreciated that history is short. In 200 years a home disintegrates in the island climate, but a family thrives.
The tour is supposed to take 30-45 minutes, but we stayed for nearly 90 minutes. Since it was just the two of us on our tour, I wasn’t shy abut asking questions and our guide indulged them, for the most part. As we got to the end of the tour she really got going, pointing out the inaccuracies in the labels (the slave quarters are improperly labeled, and there’s a certainty in the ceramic signs that it seems no present day archaeologist would be comfortable with).
Our brains filled, we next had to fill up the car with gas. Afraid of the remoteness of the island we stopped at the first filling station we saw. The yellow cement block building proffered plastic bottles of brown liquor, cold Turks Head beers, a shocking variety of Pringles, a similarly wide assortment of condoms, a few Halloween costumes, and plungers and household repair items. Just like the gas, nothing was priced. The beers seemed to be much more reasonable than the fuel – less than $4 apiece, but $30 of fuel barely moved the needle on the gas gauge. Pro-tip – there are plenty of gas stations along North and Middle Caicos, go to one with fuel prices listed out front. Unless, of course, you’re in need of a slutty devil costume in December.
With –hopefully— a half tank of gas, we continued upwards across the causeway bound for lunch at Mudjin Harbor. The drive is stunning, straight, and pretty devoid of traffic (the latter two are particularly nice since you drive on the left side of the road in Turks). We cruised by the viewpoint at Flamingo Pond, skipping the overlook because the women at Wade’s Green told us the pink birds hadn’t been seen much that week. Wade’s Green and the Flamingo Pond, along with a few other sites, are run by the Turks and Caicos National Trust. Our tour guide at Wade’s said she preferred to work at the Flamingo Pond because she didn’t have to walk as much!
When Google Maps said we’d arrived at our destination I winced because of an overly gaudy sign welcoming us to Dragon Cay Resort. I worried I’d taken us not to a charming beach café but instead to a Eurotrash resort, which was not at all what I’d promised to Matt. I needn’t have held my breath; the sign was the only thing gaudy – besides a sinfully over-the-top beach view.
Mudjin Harbor is lauded as “the prettiest beach in the Caribbean.” I think it deserves the honorific. The rock formation that slightly resembles a dragon sits at the breaking point where dark blue water crashes into crystal clear turquoise water. Waves break over the dragon, making it look, if you squint after a few rum punches, like the dragon is breathing water.
Mudjin Bar & Grill is the only restaurant on the beach, which is fine because it’s got great food, good drinks, and a large deck. We sat on the patio and ate perfect conch fritters – our favorite of the trip – before more conch and a line fish and chips entrée. A couple we’d met on the ferry was also at the restaurant, and we compared notes about what they’d seen and done.
A tour guide waiting for his group at the bar came over to chat with us. Cardinal Arthur (like the King, he said), was raised on North Caicos. He told us about sailing to the Bahamas with his dad, and how different life was before the causeway between Middle and North Caicos was built in the 2000s. He encouraged us to go to Bambarra, his favorite beach in all the Caicos.
We finished our rum punches and followed his advice. We should have gotten better directions, because we found ourselves on a deeply rutted road filled with deep puddles and after much consternation and a little bit of shouting, we agreed to turn around and give up on Bambarra. So I can’t tell you if it’s as mythical as Cardinal said it would be. I also can’t tell you if Cardinal’s tale of its founding is true, but it’s a good story. He said Bambarra was founded by shipwrecked slaves.
When my driver (ahem, my husband) consented to turn around and give up on this foolish Bambarra mission, we found ourselves back at Mudjin Harbor to do exactly what I’d wanted to do – nothing. We shared the beach with about six families, explored the tidepools on the dragon rock formation, and lazed in the sunshine enjoying our gas station beers and a book and drone flights (guess who enjoyed which).
On the way back to the ferry we tried to find the Crossing Point trail. This little path shows up both on the car rental map and Google maps, but the trail head was invisible to both of us. Instead we wandered around a bit, flew the drone on the causeway, and lazily drove back to the ferry.
We arrived for the 5:30 ferry about 30 minutes early (again with the ferry anxiety). We left the keys in the car and were promised that was sufficient, no paperwork required. A day in the sun made me more inclined to accept this at face value, and happily go sit on a picnic table to watch the other 5:30 passengers arrive. The full restaurant staff – all three of them – showed up to pick up supplies that came across from Providenciales, and we saw a variety of household and restaurant goods get offloaded from the speedboat.
My earlier grouchiness about the overpriced goods at the gas station diminished a bit as I watched guys hustling all kinds of items on and off the ferry amidst tired day trippers like ourselves. From diapers to shower curtain rods, everything you need to live – and plenty you don’t need – comes over with Captain Matt and his team.
The sun set as we flew across the water back to Providenciales. The sky turned from periwinkle to pink to purple and the first stars appeared as we pulled into the dock. This unexpected sunset cruise alone would have made the ferry ticket cost worth it. A less-than-perfect, full day of sunshine, dodgy gas stations, mud-filled potholes, rum and conch made it even more worthwhile.
Recovering journalist who discovered a life outside of news leaves you time for things like getting angry, cooking and traveling. Plus, hopefully, writing. I’m a wife, dog mom and Washingtonian.