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(Click below for some great underwater shots)

If you’ve never, ever even heard of the Turks and Caicos (pronounced kay-kose) island chain you’re not the only one! The first time I ever heard the name was on a flight from Miami to San Juan on the way to Antigua in 1974. The captain came on the PA with an announcement that went something like this: “Ah ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain speaking. We’re currently at our cruising altitude of 35-thousand feet and those on the left of the plane have a good view of the Turks and Caicos island chain down below, etc.” We looked out the window and saw the most beautiful stretch of streaked, blue sea that we had ever seen.

When we got back home we immediately checked on these elusive “Turks and Caicos” islands and found that accommodations on the islands were not very good and no major airline flew there.

For years after that we flew over the islands, always marveling at the incredibly beautiful water. Then one year I got wind of the fact that a “major” jet airline had started service to Providenciales or “Provo” for short. Provo is the capital city of the Caicos islands but the entire country consists of the Turks and Caicos islands. The airline was Cayman Airways and we booked a trip. By this time they had built a new hotel called the Radisson Turquoise resort and it was nice. Even had a small casino. The hotel goes by another name now.

The Turks and Caicos islands are located midway between Miami and San Juan in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. They’re about an hour and 20 minutes out of Miami by jet. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines now serves Provo and  Cayman Airways has pulled out.

Fortunately these islands are not on the main tourist maps yet. The people are simple and friendly and the water is beautiful. There’s even a famous bottle nosed dolphin named JoJo who makes the rounds. We didn’t see him while we were there but we heard stories about him cavorting with people on the beach. And this is not a tame dolphin. Nor is this a critter that has been “reformed” and turned back into the wild by some aquarium. This is just a friendly dolphin!  Read more about JoJo here.

The Turks and Caicos are famous for their conch farm on Provo. They take these giant sea snails (which taste GREAT) and farm raise them and export them. When I buy conch (pronounced konk) at Superior Seafood in Royal Oak in the Detroit area in the five pound box (frozen), I always check to see where they came from. Sometimes they come from Provo and other times they come from Jamaica, Haiti or other countries. Conch from Provo is best, I think. Cracked conch is my favorite food in the world. The animal is removed from the shell and pounded flat for tenderization purposes. It’s then breaded and pan fried. A large conch will yield a pounded out piece of meat about the size of a medium to large dinner plate. A little tartar sauce and freshly squeezed lemon or lime and I’m in heaven. I’m even deeper in heaven if I have some conch chowder (New England or Manhattan) and some conch fritters prior to the main course!

A couple of great little restaurants we sampled to catch the local flavor were Bonnie's (our review) (web site here) and Dora's (our review) (web site here).  Both featured great conch.

While I don’t usually drive a rental car where they drive on “the wrong side” of the road I did give it a shot in Provo and it wasn’t hard. That’s because there aren’t many cars at all on the island. Our mini-van suffered a flat tire about 3 miles from our hotel and we couldn’t get the spare out of it’s mounting bracket under the seat. Local villagers came over and helped us. We tipped them 20 bucks and they were so grateful. We were the talk of the village that night, I’m sure. When they first approached we asked if we could use their phone and that brought a laugh. Many islanders are poor people by our standards. No phone, no indoor plumbing or any of the modern conveniences other than electricity!

I mentioned the casino at the Ramada Turquoise. It was the only casino in the island chain at that time and since my son, Rob, loves to play games of chance we made a bee line to the casino after checking in. There were just a few people in the casino and most of the action was centered at the craps table. I looked over as Rob and I played slot machines and I said: “Rob, look over there. That guy with the blondish-gray hair. That’s gotta be Jerry Van Dyke of “Coach” fame on t.v.” Sure enough it was. He was a very nice and very funny man. He took a liking to Rob and taught him how to play Caribbean Stud, whatever that is! I’m not a big gambler. Rob also learned craps from Mr. Van Dyke.

Provo isn’t the most beautiful island you’ve ever been to but it has very beautiful water. The people are very friendly and I found it quite curious that on the national flag of the Turks and Caicos you’ll find--are you ready for this--a dildo! Yep...the dildo cactus is the national cactus and there’s a reason it got that name!  They also have plenty of golden shower trees on the island.

Do go to the Turks and Caicos islands but as the tourist books caution, do it soon. Islands are never the same once they really catch on and it’s only a matter of time for the Turks and Caicos islands!

Currency is the American Dollar although you will find two local coins--the crown and half crown. They’re used primarily in the handful of slot machines you’ll find outside the casino at local restaurants, etc. Driving is on the left.  with raised seal.

IMPORTANT:  All Americans visiting Turks & Caicos need a valid passport.

  Click here for above and below water shots of Provo


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