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Reflections from a week-long trip to a sparsely-populated Caribbean paradise 

Growing up in California, my family vacations usually entailed destinations close to home. We often made weekend trips up to San Francisco, as well as the occasional East Coast venture to visit extended family members. As far as the archetypal "tropical getaway," I was fortunate to visit Hawaii with my family. But for my East Coast-dwelling cousins, their close-by, warm-water destination was always the Caribbean.

click to enlarge MIND-BOGGLING BLUE The ocean surrounding Middle Caicos was unlike anything I've seen before—the most vibrant, naturally occurring turquoise ever! - PHOTO COURTESY OF MALEA MARTIN
  • Photo Courtesy Of Malea Martin
  • MIND-BOGGLING BLUE The ocean surrounding Middle Caicos was unlike anything I've seen before—the most vibrant, naturally occurring turquoise ever!

This land of crystal-clear oceans and conch shells always intrigued and mystified me, especially as a kid that grew up watching Pirates of the Caribbean (which, funnily enough, was partially filmed in my home state of California). But being a West Coast gal, I never thought I'd have the chance to visit. Lucky for me, I was invited on my boyfriend's family trip to Turk and Caicos over the holidays this year. Needless to say, I was very quick to graciously accept the invitation!

With three flights and some lengthy layovers, the 21-hour trip to the island quickly reminds me that this is international travel, despite being so close to North America. At the Turks and Caicos border, we're hit with our first and only major hiccup: Due to some misinformation at the airline, Dewey the family dog doesn't have the extensive clearance needed to be allowed on the island. While an unfortunate situation, it's an important reminder that respecting local rules and customs is a key part of being a guest in a foreign country. Luckily, since United Airlines was the reason for the miscommunication, they refunded the flights to get Dewey back home.

Speaking of dogs, another first impression is the number of stray pups running free on the island. After our initial dog debacle, our local cab driver explains that the strict laws about foreign animals are part of efforts to keep the island rabies free. Once we make our way from Providenciales (one of the bigger islands we flew into) to tiny Middle Caicos (where we are staying), the number of signs for animal rights groups is striking to me. Even on an island with a population of fewer than 300 people, Middle Caicos has far more signage and advertising for their local advocacy groups than I've seen in most densely populated cities.

I also notice signs for child abuse prevention groups and various other activist groups. It's neat to witness grassroots organizing and community activism in a place where people are spread so far apart (driving around Middle Caicos, we typically see a house every half mile or so, with just a sprinkling of multi-home neighborhoods).

As for the beaches, it truly is everything I dreamed of as a kid. The ocean at Barbara Bay is as warm as a bath, has virtually no big waves, and is turquoise blue. Perhaps not the ideal place for a surfer, but it's pretty dang idyllic for someone like me who is satisfied with floating around and looking at colorful fish.

When the week comes to an end, we pack up our carry-ons and drive to catch the 7 a.m. ferry over to Provo, where we are flying from. Despite an almost flat tire, our trusty white rental van gets us there in good time. I feel nostalgic saying bye to the beat-up vehicle that we relied on for the past week. It's humorous to control a car with the left-side driver seat that we Americans are used to but drive on the side of the road that we're not used to. Turks and Caicos is a UK territory, so the British roads are in many ways a relic of colonization.

Juxtapositions like this also remind me that tourism teeters on the line between something that can empower residents and sustainably contribute to the local economy versus something that can bring more harm than good (I say this generally—I am not educated on the particularities of Turks and Caicos tourism).

click to enlarge CAVE ACCESS ONLY Another ocean view, this time from inside a cave. This beach is only accessible via a tunnel through the cave. - PHOTO BY MALEA MARTIN
  • Photo By Malea Martin
  • CAVE ACCESS ONLY Another ocean view, this time from inside a cave. This beach is only accessible via a tunnel through the cave.

As someone who is privileged enough to travel occasionally, it's a topic I want to continue to dwell on and learn more about.

The last noteworthy moment of the trip happens just as we get to the Provo Airport to fly back home: A celebrity sighting! Laverne Cox, an Emmy-nominated actress who I admire greatly, apparently has a plane to catch right before ours. Seeing her, even from afar, is a real treat for me.

Despite some unexpected bumps in the road, this was an unforgettable trip that I savored every minute of, as I'm not sure if I will ever get another chance to travel in the Caribbean. It was also a much needed break from work, a necessity that can be so easy to push aside. It was pretty weird to have zero obligations for an entire week, and the time away was the perfect refresher before 2020. Happy New Year, folks! Δ

Arts Writer Malea Martin is daydreaming about oceans warm enough to swim in. Send arts story tips to mmartin@newtimesslo.com.

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