Friday, January 9, 2009

Island Time

aerial view, departing from TCI

The more I try to avoid regret, the more regret I experience. I am terrified to not go to a place like Turks & Caicos if I have the chance, but the only chance I ever have is for work – whose busy schedule prevents me from exploring and doing the many activities that people go there for. So I get to say that I went. But that’s about it. And I think about all the things I didn’t get to do.

Given the local culture and what they call “Island Time,” everyone and everything moves so slow that you just can’t cram very much in.

If I were to ever come back, I probably wouldn’t stay at Beaches again, and I don’t really like resorts anyway given my two experiences with them. But TCI actually seems like a great place to visit, nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, with still waters that make the clear ocean tremendously swimmable. There are explorable caves on one of the islands and even a ghost town, with standing relics from the plantation that once occupied the land. There is also an abundance of fish (not only conch, but also grouper, snapper, dozens others) and gentle, man-ignoring sharks that makes snorkeling and diving popular – two things I have still never gotten to do.

Still, a day in the sun in 80 degree weather while New York City becomes a winter wonderland and my colleagues are stuck in the office isn’t too bad. I may not have been able to take advantage of the many included amenities that Beaches offers, but whenever there was a slight lag in the production schedule, I got to intermittently tear off my new board shorts to run into the ocean or take a dip in the pool where I swam up to the bar for a frozen strawberry daiquiri.

A woman on the beach offered to cornrow my hair but I declined.

I skipped out on the shoot a little early to get cleaned up once the sun was going down and the pools were closing, catching a minute on my balcony with a Red Stripe and a tiny lizard watching me. There were plenty of those on the island – the kind you’re afraid to step on because they blend into wood and grass, unlike the big iguanas that bathe in the sun in St. Thomas. I scooped up an orange fuzzy caterpillar from a blade of grass and let him explore my finger for a minute while the kids I was working with watched in delight and horror. We all tried to pet the skittish cats that roamed about the resort, usually sleeping on rattan chairs but occasionally rubbing against your table legs at one of the many outdoor caf├ęs.

We spent a lot of time working in the French Village, which reminded me of my experiences in Vegas and at Disney. These resorts focus on approximating other exotic locations rather than celebrating the one they’re in, or, in the case of Orlando, creating something completely unique. In the case of the Beaches Resort, I actually preferred staying in the Caribbean Village, which was built 20 years ago but at least reflected the culture and the style of the place I was actually in. And to expand their property to even more far away lands, Beaches is about to open a whole new Italian Village later this month, which I got a special preview tour of today. True, it’s gorgeous, with marble fountains and lofted arches and tiled floors and a whole “piazza” you can walk through. There are even suites that come with their own butler. The huge pool has a swim-up bar like the one in the French Village, though the operations manager noted that they don’t have swimming waitresses yet. Still, it’s not Italy, and it’s not really an Italian theme park either. I guess it’s a welcome escape for tourists who can afford to take advantage of all the Caribbean has to offer – weather, palm trees, ocean, water sports – and then escape to a place that seems more sophisticated and elegant than, say, a hut.

I might rather stay in a hut.

TCI is still early in its development. It’s fairly Americanized already (using U.S. currency and voltage), but it’s only become a popular vacation destination in the last 10 years or so. Many of the islands only have a couple hundred inhabitants. I doubt if there are many or any actual huts here, but the running water is still incredibly sulfuric, making restaurant ice water undrinkable to my palate and my dirty, chlorinic hair preferable to the smell of rotten eggs. Everything has a slight fishy taste and smell to it, too, like the inside of a conch shell. Still, I think nowis the time to visit, before tourism really takes over and makes the islands unrecognizable – and ghettoizes the more urbanized areas like what’s happened in Jamaica or Puerto Rico or even St. Thomas.

It was nice to escape to a warm climate this week, but the humidity continues to plague me. I look forward to my return to the California desert in February, where dry, desert life is celebrated and, unlike Vegas, not veiled or lacquered as something else. Bring on the roadrunners!