Friday, September 28, 2007

Driving around town, Leeward, Goodbye to Gilley's

I know everyone has seen more than enough photos of the house we are having built,. I am honestly trying to exercise some restraint in posting more. I did find one view I had not put up yet. It's looking at the house from the Graceway complex on Leeward Highway. Our future home is the bump right in the exact middle of the photo. You can get an idea of the little hill it's on, and how isolated it is from the rest of the island. It's just a low causeway connecting it. It would be an island during a big enough storm.

Some more photos randomly around town. Not so clear, shot from the window of a moving Land Rover. What strikes me, when driving around, is first how many churches there are. It seems like there's one every mile or so. Baptists are big here, but there are other denominations as well. And after churches, we notice there seem to be an inordinate number of hair styling places. We have beauty salons all over:

(must be working, she's sure getting checked out...)

We have barber shops ( and New York Style Variety Store)

(just curious, but what kind of merchandise do you New York guys stock in your barber shops?? I never go into them..)

And for those who don't know quite what they need, of course we have combination Beauty Salons AND Barber shops

(the sign by the door actually says "Saloon" I believe....and that wouldn't be out of character, by any means)

This is one of the local car washes, blurred cause we were moving and the road is rough. These are all over town, too. Typically, two five-gallon buckets of water and four guys with rags.

(This one is easy to find. It's right next to, well...its next to Shorty's Barber Shop.)

There IS a new, recently opened, automated car wash in town,too. But every time we go by I notice the automatic part of it seems to be shut down, and what I do see are about six five gallon buckets of water, and twenty guys with rags.

And I thought I would put up another underwater one, to mentally knock some of the dust off. More blue fishies, if you can spot them. And a couple bigger fishies near the bottom.

We've been in the 'big city' of Provo for several days now, getting things done that need doing. While driving around, we are constantly amazed at how fast this island is developing. Two days ago, I drove past the Hey Jose Mexican restaurant and the property across the street was as it has always been, a rocky little hill covered with scrub. (It's not really scrub, I think it's classified as a 'dwarf tropical forest', and it's dwarf because there is not much rainfall and hardly any topsoil. Give it nutrients and water, and these are actually mahogany and cedar and lignum vitae trees. But it looks like scrub)

Yesterday, we drove through the exact same place, and that hillside is gone. It's flat, covered with broken up rock and a big yellow bulldozer. This seems to be happening everywhere we go around here. When it really hits us is when we have been gone out to the little island for a week, and then come back. There are foundations going up everywhere.

We understand about progress, there's no stopping it. Things change. It's not all bad. We have friends here who inherited worthless, arid, land you couldn't give away twenty years ago who are now multimillionaires. Progress is bringing money, and options to these people. But things are changing pretty quick.

I have posted a lot about Leeward-Going-Through. It's been the maritime center of activity for local people for a long, long time. It's been a favorite hangout of ours. We have a lot of friends there. It's changing very very fast. Too fast.

This afternoon we decided to go to Gilley's restaurant, one of our usual Friday afternoon things when we are on Provo. We typically would get some conch fritters and drinks, and watch people and boats for a couple hours. Would see lots of people we know, and get caught up on the latest news from North Caicos. We would find out who was catching what kind of fish. We'd hear the local scuttlebutt. A nice place.

This afternoon, it was closed. So here's a photo of it back in July, with yours truly enjoying a quiet afternoon:

This is what the layout of the Leeward Marina area looked like on Google Earth when we started going there a few years ago:

You can see the single floating dock where we tied up, and where others tied up. The blocky concrete dock is the fuel dock. there was the Dockmaster's (Dwayne) office, then a jet-ski operation. Then a little beach where locals tied their boats off to the mangroves, and a parking area.

Today, if you stand on the fuel dock and look across Dwayne's old office, you see the new Condo/Resort headed toward you like a bad dream, where mangroves used to be:

The little beach, the jet-ski rental....gone for a year now. And starting Monday, the wrecking crews will be demolishing these remaining buildings as well.

Where the little floating dock has been, nearby signs tell us bigger things are planned:

The smallest "yacht slip for sale" here is for a 65 footer. That is gonna be a bit beyond what we need for our 22 footer. Its beyond the needs, and budget, of anyone we know living here. All the home-made conch boats in that sat image...they tied up here for free. Who ever heard of paying money to tie your boat to a mangrove and drop your anchor off the stern? Well, those days are gone. Who are these customers buying slips for 65 ft. yachts? They don't live here.

This fuel dock has a lot of stories it could tell. This has been a central spot here for many years. Locals hang out here. We have seen a lot of laughter, fishing stories, and some tragedies take place right around here. It's been the only place to get fuel for many many people. We've watched people leave this dock with groceries, new brides, and funeral wreaths. It's all happened here, the full range of life for island living people.

Now, all the boats are already gone. The one in the photo is just picking up people and their luggage to take them to Parrot Cay. They will be gone in five minutes.

The Leeward fuel dock will be gone after Monday.

Someone told me Gilley's Restaurant has been here for 20 years, but I don't know if that's true. I do know Gilleys story, though. He came over from North Caicos to Pine Cay and got a job cooking at the Meridian Club when he was just a teenager. He did well, expanded his contacts, and eventually left Pine Cay and opened a small place here at Leeward. It did well. Gilley opened a second restaurant at the airport. He got involved in local politics, as he was in the same age group as other up and coming local businessmen. They helped each other out, and did well as a group. Gilley built a liquor store, and started importing beverages for the growing tourist trade. He got even more involved with local politics, and since everyone knew him and he was a good guy and he was a good businessman, he did well there too.
Gilley's is having a goodbye party on Sunday, and we plan to be there. We are very interested in finding out what the employees are planning to do with themselves. They are friends of ours. Elizabeth, for example, is Roosies wife. We don't want to lose track of them, but this is a small island. We know we will see them from time to time. Gilleys at Leeward:

I don’t have a photo of Gilley that I have taken, although we see him from time to time at the airport, the restaurant, on the golf course. You can find out about him if you want, by doing an internet search. Gilley is a nickname, his given name is Galmo W. Williams.

The Honorable Galmo W. Williams

He just won re-election for his second term as the Minister of Home Affairs, Immigration, and Public Safety for the TCI.
How’s THAT for ‘local boy makes good’?

I have been trying off and on, mostly unsuccessfully, to get some moonlight photos. Pretty sure the problem is that my little digital cameras just don't have enough glass. This newest one (Olympus 770SW) for all its strengths, is the worst of the bunch for movement and low-light. I want to figure this out, because when we get into the new house there are just going to be some really neat images to try to catch. The sun rises from the sea, and sets over some small islands when viewed from that hilltop. The moon is going to be pretty neat when low on the horizon and the clouds are right and the water glassy.

Last night La Gringa Suprema suggested I haul out my old Sony DSC-F707. Its only 5 mp, and its slow, but its got a lot of Carl Zeiss optics on it. She was right, again. It does a better job. I got a couple shots before the battery died and then the moon moved on up out of the trees. I was hoping to get something to use as a background on the computer, with dark around the edges to put all my desktop icons, etc.

Its not there yet, but it's looking more promising:

The tree is blurred because it was windy last night and it was moving. On a calm night, I think I can do it.

What I am really looking forward to, though, is trying to catch some of the absolutely spectacular electrical storms we get in the tropics. They are absolutely awe-inspiring to watch. Unless you're a nervous little dog, of course.

Now it's Sunday morning. The lightning and thunder started at 2 AM. So constant and bright and loud it was absolutely impossible to sleep. So we got up and went out on the porch and watched it. It was incredible. Lightning bolts were hitting all around us, every few seconds. I had so many after-images burned into my retinas that when I blinked it reminded me of the 60's. Its been raining hard since about 2:30 AM. Everything is flooding. We wont be taking the boat out, dangit. Unless it stops before afternoon. Maybe we will cruise around town and show you what a couple inches of rain does to this place. They did a good job with the new streets and sidewalks. They didn't put in any gutters. They tried drilling holes in the low spots, but the ground here is solid limestone. So the drain holes just silt up and the streets flood. Things come to a standstill.

Sorry about the scarcity of new photos lately, we really need to get back on the boat. I fixed the tank leak ( I hope) and bilge pump yesterday. We are pretty well weathered in at the moment. The dog needs Thorazine.
This blob of nasty weather has kept us in most of the day. Finally, late afternoon we managed to get out of the house. First we went down to Leeward to see what was happening at Gilley's last open day. There were maybe 30 people there,drinking beer and rum and eating snacks. But it was still early. I suspect the crowd increased after dark. The mood varied from the happy drunks to the not so happy soon-to-be-unemployed. A lot of melancholia..

Circling around it all were a bunch of Filipinos getting sloshed on beer and totally missing the point of the whole thing. At one point we heard one of them talking to one of the musicians with the reggae band. The local guy was dressed in a striped suit, and plays a carpenters wood saw with a butter knife. Anyhow, we heard the Filipino tell him that he was from the Philippines, and then he asked where the TCI guy was from. Reggae man just looked at him blankly, and he then guessed....."Africa'? Talk about clueless. We only hung around about an hour or so. The mood was a little forced, and somber for us. Besides, we wanted to check out the new house before dark.

This is Gringa with our friend Duran. He was in charge of the pumps and distributed two-stroke oil and advice from the fuel dock. He loves the dog, and was a little disappointed we didn't bring him with us today. He was also contemplating being out of a job tomorrow. And he was getting semi-blistered on white wine...

La Gringa Suprema was, of course, forced to commiserate with him, and to that end accepted another rum punch. What a trouper. Lotta commiserating going on today.

The Hon. Galmo Williams aka Gilley was there, of course, shaking hands all around and overseeing it all. Drinking beer and smoking Cuban cigars with his buds at the restaurant one more time. He must have some sad feelings about seeing the place where he got his start come to an end. I know we are sure sad about it. We're gonna miss this place.

La Gringa managed to get him posing outside for a pix, and got it for posterity, or something, before he went back inside with the music and his regulars;

I noticed this Filipino guy sitting out on the dock fishing with a hand line and watching the party develop. Then I noticed the registration numbers on the back of the yellow panga...

It should be "OFV and then a three digit number. It can NOT be "OF VoOO"
But I doubt anyone ever checked.

Then we splashed through puddles on our way over to the house. It was a dreary day. Maybe tomorrow we can make the boat trip. I am getting itchy, too long on dry land.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Island life, underwater

I needed to renew two fishing licenses and register the boat. All my paperwork is in order, I have the old licenses, and clear title to the boat. Shipping documents, duty paid, no paperwork complications whatsoever. Cash in my pocket. About as straightforward as it gets.

The TCI government office that issues fishing licenses and boat registration is exactly 4.8 miles by road from where we are staying. So, you would figure I would drive 4.8 miles over, and 4.8 miles back to the house with my new certificates in hand, correct? A total of 9.6 miles. That sound about right?

Now here's another number to consider. If you drove from one end of Providenciales completely to the other end of Providenciales, lengthwise, it would be about 17 miles. It's a small island. But that's it. You can only drive about 17 miles on this island in one direction, before you find yourself facing the ocean on the other side. And you would have to put your rear bumper up against the ocean at whichever end you started from to even get that far away in your 4x4.

I drove a total of 48.9 miles today to get the licenses renewed and the boat registered at the place 4.8 miles from where I am sitting right now. It took me from 10:00 this morning, until 4:00 this afternoon. I drove 48.9 miles on an island 17 miles long end to end.

If it had been a 48.9 mile boat trip, it would have put me the other side of Big Ambergris Cay, across the entire nation from here. Its a small nation.

And the scary part? This is beginning to seem normal to us. We actually expected it. I was proud of myself to get it done all in one calendar day.

While we are in Provo taking care of mundane and uninteresting stuff, I thought I would stick up some more photos from Sunday's trip;

How bout that water clarity, eh?

Ever notice that when you dive down fifteen feet or so to try to take a photo of the hull of your boat from underneath, and you roll over belly up to get the picture that sometimes the seawater gets in your nose and makes you snort and all the bubbles get in your photo? Don't you hate it when that happens?

Little blue fishies doing whatever it is little blue fishies do when they get together:

La Gringa definitely gets involved:

Might as well get my new hot chili-pepper doo-rag in here:

I'll look around for some more "in-town" photos today.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

House, Provo town photos, marinas

We are now back on Provo, again. Back and forth, back and forth, that's a big part of our life down here. Went by the house on the way in, to see if we could spot anything new from the water. The crew seems to be putting gutters up, so they must be starting on the tin roof. I noticed something that I hadn't really paid much attention to, before. We came in at low tide, and the entire shoreline in front of our place is honeycombed with small sea caves. I could spot some flotsam or jetsam or whatever you call it caught up in there, fishing buoys, etc. It's gonna be fun to walk along in the water from time to time and see what's washed up. The caves will keep it out of view until I look inside them. I am a hardcore beachcomber. this is great. I have some more pix to put up, but we are running out to the house now to see what's new in the two weeks since we have been there.

Here's a closer view:

(We just got some fantastic feedback from the THT forum. I am going to post it here on the blog, too. This kind of stuff makes us smile and go looking for something else we can tell y'all about. Thanks)

Good afternoon Gringo. I was directed to this thread by [a friend]. After going from beginning to end, I've been trying to figure out how to communicate to you the impact you've had on me through your pictures and narratives. I just don't seem to have the words. I did send a email to my Wife and two sons with a link to your thread. I'll share the text with you as it's the only way I can think to let you know how special this "thing" is. Wouldn't even try to name it yet...

This is going to sound like just "lip service" but I am completely sincere when I say that this link is one of the most incredible things I've ever run across in my experience with the internet. It's a thread on a boating forum. A fellow who goes by the screen name of "GRINGO" started it in June and it now is 29 pages long. The pictures he posts along with some very good narrative are without words to describe. I predict that you will become "hooked" and "addicted" once you start browsing. Some folks have indicated that it took them 2 hours to go from the start to the current tail end of the thread. GRINGO and his wife have purchased some local property and are building a house. They have befriended most (if not all) of the locals who live on the island they are a part of. His pictures cover a wide range of interests from the construction of his home, to boating, to fishing, to interaction with the local folks, cleaning a conch, exploring the various islands surrounding his location, and sharing the historical information from the 17 and 18 hundreds that he runs across, etc, etc. I hope you find it as consuming as I did and I plan on checking back from time to time like most of the other fans of his postings. ENJOY! Dad.

Hello Gringo,

I too was directed to this thread by [a friend]. I was totally taken by the beauty and all the narratives you have given with the photos.

I will definitely have this thread bookmarked to look upon daily.

I also would like to say I truly admire the courage that it had to take to totally uproot your family and change your life. In many ways though, you will have actually lived two lives....

I also will post a line that I had on my website honoring Steve Irwin after his death, but I also have to say this applies to men like you.

"Every man dies, but not every man truly lives"

Thank you for what you are doing. One day, my wife and I hope to purchase and retire on a trawler, and your island will be on our list of stops....Hope to meet you then.

Man, that's some strong support right there. Thank you very much. Its very gratifying to find out people are getting a kick out of these photos. Here's some more.

We got back to Provo early afternoon. Cruised by the house to check on it. Its only a few hundred yards from the entrance to the marina where we rent a slip here. First thing we found was that they had replaced the Stamas that was our "slip neighbor" with a BW...which is about a foot wider. Makes for an interesting docking approach, especially with the jet ski operation behind us. Gets pretty tight when the wind is up, too.

Polishes up the old single engine boat handling skills, I guess.

We actually chose this slip, because its close to the liveaboard catamaran people. We really don't worry much about theft around here, but its still nice to have people we know living literally twenty feet from the boat. They were not "home" today when we got in. I am sure Roger and his wife were at their respective jobs, and they have two elementary school children all living on the boat here

At the house,I went into the office/computer room, and held the camera about where La Gringa Suprema will be sitting at her desk when she is doing her software development thing. This is the view she will have when the french doors are open, looking through two sliders out to the South. Without the ladder, of course... She says it beats the cubicle view she had in Livingston, New Jersey. And she had a good one, with a pine tree.

We took about a dozen more photos of the house, and talked with all the crew. I won't post them tonight, you guys have seen all the views already, anyhow. Several times. The windows are on island ( yahoo) and the tin roof guy should be done in a week. Things should really start happening fast after its all weatherproof with a roof, doors, and windows in. We may hang around here long enough for all that. Depends on how long we can take the hustle and bustle and stress of big city living.

We found out we needed to go talk to our builder, he had some concerns about the coral stone we were planning to use for the floor. Since he was at his office, we got the chance to snap a couple normal town scenes on the way over.

We got our typical big city Fire and Rescue folks over in Unit # 6 at the Industrial Park:

I read they have several additional big fire trucks on order. No doubt they will have their own building, soon. Fire is not a big problem here,with no home heating systems to go berserk.

You can get your clothes washed, while you get your shoes repaired, and shop for some Dickies work clothes all at the SuPerior mat and Shoe RePair, and duck in right next door for a cold beer while you wait:

right across the street is Kishco The Music Man store. You can get garden implements, compressors, clothing, lighting fixtures, beer, a variety of tools, boom boxes, speakers, dishes and silverware at Kischco's. You can get furniture, cigarettes, shoes, and insecticides and your cell phone topped up at Kishco. You can find canned goods, rugs,underwear, coffee makers, and air conditioners at Kishco's. But you know....I am not sure I have ever seen any actual music for sale here:

Then we were at Coralin's office. We had a nice long meeting with him. What a great guy. I would recommend this man to build a house for you anywhere in the world, and would trust him to do it right. We talked about money ( he needs some) and flooring. We are going to scrap the coral stone floor idea and go pick out some tile tomorrow. Know where we are going to find a couple thousand square feet of tile already on the island ready to go? Yep, you guessed it....Kischco's.
(Here's a hint, everyone who works at Kishco speaks fluent Urdu..or is it Pushtu..probably both.)

We did stop at our mail box at the islands only Post Office on the way home...

Nothing there, of course. There rarely is. We'll check it again in a couple weeks.

So, sorry but I am afraid any photos I take over the next couple days would be this kind of stuff. If I do see anything I think might be of any interest, I will post it. Can't wait to get back on the boat, already.

In the meantime, I may just have to climb down the rocks and check out some of these places, though.

Yes, the only boat dealer in the country handles Boston Whalers, and about five or six other brands. He has no competition. We bought a Dauntless 180 from him last November. And DMartin, this roof we are getting is also painted, white in our case. Its got these vertical ribs running up the side on 16 inch centers. Probably exactly the same thing as you have. I'll probably just wait until they put it on this week and then take a photo of it.

Gonna be a busy day today. I have to deal with two TCI Gov't departments, and they are usually good for a day for each one of those. There's usually a sense of humor and some laughs about it. Just totally inefficient. Nothing to get upset about. We have to get some registration numbers on the boat. We have been running it unregistered for six months. Imagine that in the US. But since we plan to spend some time way out on the Caicos Banks over the next few weeks we expect to get checked out at sea. Once they have to officially take notice of a boat in the area, radio in the contact info, etc. of course they have to ask for the paperwork. We understand how that works. Most of the maritime cops here know us, anyway. But they have no reason to hassle us for registration, etc. when we are near Provo or Pine Cay or in a marina. If they run across us out at French Cay, they will.

Up until now we have pretty much run on the north side of the islands, and now we re going to be operating out of sight to the south. They have to patrol the south more heavily, that's the direction the illegal immigrants and foreign lobster-poachers come from. Don't get rickety sloops full of Haitians coming down from the North. Besides, we have bankers and politicians to keep watch to the North.

Its Looks like a good morning for it:

Yesterday while we were driving around we stopped at the Turtle Cove marina to see if there were any liveaboards around. There was only this little one down from the States:

The marina there was as empty as we have ever seen it. It will be packed in mid-winter. Of course now is mid-Hurricane season, too.

I also took a photo of the water-side of the SharkBite restaurant, one of our hangouts when we feel like going to Turtle Cove for a meal or to look at expensive boats. The Tiki Hut is another one, can usually find our architect and Ross (Maritime Heritage Federation) there at Happy Hour. There are several more restaurants on the water in Turtle Cove, but we probably spend more time at Sharkbite than any other:

I imagine we will be hanging out there more, since they are closing Gilleys at Leeward next week. And we like being on the water, (in case no one has noticed that yet.)

There was a question on the forum about La Gringa's work. She is not a programmer. She's a business analyst. She designs medical software. She is in daily contact with programmers in India, and clients in the US. Once we figured out that she could work anywhere in the world with a good internet connection, it was the final piece falling into place for us to live where we wanted. I suspect many of you could do the same thing, if you really wanted to, badly enough.

As for picking the TCI, well, its close to our home country ( hour and fifteen minutes from Miami), the language is English, the currency is the dollar, the government and legal system are under British rule, still ( as opposed to Spanish or French), which is pretty stable. Its not overly commercialized nor developed. Foreign citizens can own land here, and title is guaranteed by the British Crown. Its got a tax structure more like the Caymans. And its got some of the most beautiful water, and the nicest people on this planet. I cant think of too many other places with those attributes. And the ones I do know...I am keeping to myself.

I hope y'all don't mind, but I have invited my better half, La Gringa, to join in here. Obviously some of you have entertained the idea of trying this kind of life, and she has her own perspectives on it. Perhaps some of the female forum members would like another woman to communicate with about life in the islands. She is also right beside me through everything we do here, and keeps me honest. She has taken a number of the photos I have posted. It was her idea to add more descriptions to the photos in the first place. I am sure she could add something to anything I write, but has shown remarkable restraint.

Why do I feel that's about to change?

She's also the computer guru of the family, and if this did go to a blog or website, it would be her doing.

(There was a forum question about taxis)

The whole jitney license thing here is a current bone of contention. There is a list of legal occupations that are reserved for the native born. Taxi owner and driver is one of those. The Haitians have introduced a system similar to what you describe, and the local taxi guys are up in arms about unlicensed taxis eating into their business. A ride from the airport to, say, Leeward marina to catch a boat might cost you from $ 20-40 in a licensed taxi. It would be most likely a full size van, with AC, etc. However, you can catch a ride just about anywhere on the island with an unlicensed jitney driver for $ 2-4 in a small car with three or four other passengers. There is also a bus service, the Gecko Bus, that runs routes for a few dollars. But they only stop at set stops, along the major routes. A jitney driver will load groceries in the trunk and run you right to your door for about what the bus charges to drop you at a bus stop, with limited luggage. The tourists tend to use the licensed taxi's, of course, and pay top dollar. The locals support the illegal jitney industry, riding in beat up cars with no markings, and as you noticed, in the back of pickup trucks.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Underwater shots, conch cleaning,

I am having problems with gasoline leaking around my sender, and I need to get it apart and see what I can do with it. So yesterday morning I suggested we take the boat out and run it for a couple hours to get the tank level down a few gallons. Give me some clearance to work with. We grabbed the rods and headed out. The fishing offshore was still lousy. We only took some lures along, no ballyhoo, but we were not planning to stay out for long. Expected to be back by lunch.

That never seems to happen to us. Once we are on the water, we tend to keep cruising. We trolled an hour, crossing back and forth across the major slope from 250 ft. down to thousands. Not a strike. So, we kept going, of course. One hour led into two, etc.
La Gringa loves the water. Watching birds, sea turtles, looking for weedlines...she doesn’t get bored on the boat:

Having music on the boat, finally, really makes for a nice day's fishing.

So after a couple hours we found ourselves all the way back up near that old wreck sitting on the reef off North Caicos. We were still a mile offshore, but decided it was a good turn-around-and-give-up spot. Besides I wanted to check it out closer, still thinking about going right up next to it on a calm day. I scoped it out through the 7x50's, and its in really bad shape. Of course I couldn't get a pic of the image I had through the binocs,, but these are from closer than before:

I have found that the little Olympus doesn’t seem to do very well in auto-focus mode when using the zoom function. I need to figure out how to force it into infinity focus and stay there. (I am sure it would do better from a stable platform, but a panga at 7 knots in 2-4 ft. swells is just not anywhere near a stable photo platform.)

I still want to go up next to it, but it was still breaking pretty good yesterday and we were already over our "lets just fish for two hours" idea, and miles from the marina, so we turned around and headed back. Since we were not getting any hits whatsoever off in the big blue, we thought we would troll the 100 ft. contour coming back and see if we couldn’t at least pick up a couple 'cuda for our local friends. They always really appreciate it, and catching fish to give to someone who you know is going to appreciate it is more fun than not catching anything at all. Right?
We did hook up a few on the way back, two barracuda, two jacks, a yellowtail snapper, and finally, La Gringa caught a small Cero Mackerel;

Not a monster, but along with a salad its dinner for two. Besides, it beats the hell out of getting skunked.

We threw back the two jacks, kept the snapper,barracuda, and mackerel. Put the Cero on ice, and filled up the livewell and kept the cuda in there, alive. Its something I have been doing lately. The entertainment value of giving away live barracuda is worth it. We get some mileage out of asking people if they would like some "freshly caught" fish, and then trying to hand them a flopping snapping toothy critter, too.
And of course having two fish swimming under the clear livewell cover keeps the dog entertained out of our hair. Well, La Gringa's hair, anyhow. I don't have any.

We hadn't been diving for conch in a long time, and I wanted a chance to try the little Olympus underwater. So we headed over to a site we know just inside the reef and dropped the hook. It sure felt strange to drop over the side with a digital camera in my hand, no underwater housing on it. It felt like one of those "OH $HIT!!" moments when you watch a camera, cellphone, etc. splash into the ocean. But it wasn't. Gonna take some getting used to.

There were plenty of conch. We grabbed six in maybe five minutes, max. She-who-understands me stopped me as I was headed for a couple more. She said "Six is more than enough for two of us. Besides, its going to be late when we get in and you have to clean fish AND conch....and its gonna be about 'bug-thirty'..." so, for once I actually listened. Could have had thirty conch on the boat in fifteen minutes, though...

Here's what a live conch looks like on the bottom, in about 15 ft. of water:

first u/w photo with the new camera. These things are always pretty well camo'ed. Sometimes they have moss, or even entire plants growing on the tops of them.
Then I took the photos of the boat I posted last night, then we just swam around a bit because it felt so good to be in the water. It is 85 degrees at the surface. And something that always comes as a little bit of a surprise, when you dive down to right next to the bottom in 15-20 ft. of water there is a very distinct and even warmer layer right on the bottom, up to about three feet above it. I think its from the solar radiation heating the sand and rocks through the clear water, but its several degrees warmer and you cannot help but notice it. It always gets my attention, because I am used to the water getting colder as you go deeper. But not on the reef. Its always warmer on the bottom there.
I snapped a bunch of photos just to try out the camera:
Small coral head, about fifteen feet down. This one is only about 3 or 4 foot tall. They get a lot bigger, and they come up to within three feet of the surface at low tide. They knock holes in boats. They been knocking holes in boats since man first started running boats over coral heads. The coral head survives it. The boat sometimes doesn’t. There are a lot of old Spanish and English sailing boats still in these waters three hundred years after finding one of these guys the hard way.

This is one I took last year. Its about 9 feet deep here, but the coral head goes up to within 3 ft. of the surface. There are ballast stones scattered in a pile about ten feet behind where I was when I took this photo. You can see the "scar" on the coral head, on the left hand side. This is the direction we figure the ship was moving from when it hit this coral head.....about 1720 or so. Coral grows really slow, a couple hundred years is nothing to this guy. Its also fragile, and scars last a long time. This is from the wreck site we discovered, where we got the bricks, etc. We have just about decided to spend the $ 1200 for a decent underwater metal detector. We know if we don't do it, we will always regret it, and wish that we had. Its good to head regrets off at the pass, before they get that far. Once something becomes a regret, its usually way too late to fix it.

Soft fuzzy-looking things that wave back and forth with the surge, but brush up against one with bare skin and you will still be feeling the angry red welts two hours later:

These are not soft fuzzy things that wave back and forth. Live coral;

Looks kinda like the top of my head...except this is about three feet in diameter:

Come to think of it, La Gringa might say that's about the same size as my cranium. It's also almost as hard, and a lot more colorful.

We swam around and I snapped a bunch more photos. stuff like this ( playing with the camera mostly. I now know I need to get down with weights and the hookah, its too hard to hold still for a good photo when you are kicking to keep yer fat butt near the bottom)

I took about thirty photos like this. The 1 gig memory card was a good idea.

The light started failing, and we noticed that the weather was starting to do its afternoon thunderstorm thing. Dangerous Dawg was pretty nervous, trying to keep track of where we were swimming and watching the thunderclouds approaching. I think he wanted me to at least come on board and open the console so he had a place to hide. I can see by his ears that the wind is picking up...

He had already spotted me, and was now keeping his eye on Mama to see if she was coming back to the boat too. I see the rain was already falling about a mile behind the boat. I am absolutely positive that dawg knew that, too.

We took our fish and conch to the marina, and found Pump and Harry hanging around doing their Sunday afternoon hanging-around drinking beer and fishing thing. Pump was excited about the barracuda, and he got REAL excited when I started handing them over to him. He got a carboard box to put them in, he wouldn't touch a live one. I think they were getting a thrill out of me sticking my hands into the livewell with swimming,agitated 'cuda. Notice Harry is hanging well back, and you can read Pump's body language on it, he pushed the box toward me and kept his hands well clear:

Come to think of it, I wasn't exactly blase' about it either,but it was worth the shock value. This story will get around. Eventually we will hear the current version of it from Preacher, who is three islands over at this point. Its amazing, but it works like that here. Small community among the locals, and people who grab live barracuda with their hands are not considered normal. wait a minute, I should probably think about re-phrasing that, but its the way they will look at it.

By the time Preacher hears it, I wouldn't be surprised to find out it was a six foot killer barracuda that almost knocked me overboard before going for Pump's throat...

Even a little barracuda like this is amazingly strong after he gets rested up and royally PO'd in a livewell for a couple hours. They were a handful to hold without a leader and hook to grab on to.

So, next, I got the conch to deal with:

A pitiful pile, by Harry's standards. But he sells them to restaurants, while we only take what we need for a meal. My conch hammer went missing, so I used a nail bar. Its no good, too springy or something. Doesn't feel right. Need a mason's hammer.

The underside of the conch shell is prettier than the top, until you clean it all up. Harry wanted the shells, for some reason. I couldn't understand what he was saying.

You hold the conch a certain way, and count up two rings and over three bumps,

and that's the spot where you whack a hole in it:

Then you slide a knife down along the inside of the shell right where the conch attaches to it, and if you get it right it comes loose and you grab the little claw and pull the whole thing out of the shell in one glob. ( Like I had just done in the photo below, all pleased with myself about how good I was getting at it, finally.)
I was planning on getting a photo of the knife thing on the next one, but Harry was watching this whole thing from the dock. By the time I pulled the first one out of the shell, it took me maybe a minute and a half. Before I could do the second one and La Gringa could get the photo, Harry walked over to his boat, got his hammer and knife, and cracked the other four in less time than it took me to write this sentence.

Saved me some time, for sure. I got him to show me just how he did it. He's really good at it. But then Harry has been doing many thousands a year for sixty years...

(I noticed he got a new watch to replace the ones the Jamaicans took from him at gunpoint)

So, all that was left at this point was to clean up the boat, clean and fillet the mackerel, and head back to the house. Sure was good grilled with Italian dressing on it ( the mackerel, not the house) And then the universe dimmed the lights for us. Bout fricken' time, too. Whew.

Wow, what great feedback we have been getting on the forum. Thank you all for the nice responses. This is actually very little trouble for me. I take photos anyway, always have. I just never did anything with them, other than look at them and maybe email one to a relative from time to time. Finally, I have justification for taking photos!

Writing the descriptions of the photos takes near zero effort. Gringa said "write more", while my inclination is to write less. I am a little self-conscious about putting my impressions with the images.
The new camera is working out pretty well. The underwater photos are going to get better, that was the first pass with that camera, and the water was a little stirred up Sunday. Key to that is for me to fix the hookah so I can hold steady and let the autofocus, etc.stuff on the camera work. got the new carb for the compressor sitting right here, will take me fifteen minutes once I get off my butt and just do it.

Someone mentioned moving to a place like this with kids, well, we came down here with a 12 year old. There are some really good schools here for younger kids. We also really believe the experience of getting to know kids from other places and other cultures is an invaluable education in itself. It sure turned my stepson into a different person. He learned some British discipline he wasn't getting in New Jersey. He got serious about his school work. He's now outgoing, and makes friends very easily. He has no preconceived notions of race or nationality as a result of his year here. He's in boarding school up in New England now, rooming with a Korean and doing great. Its good for the Korean kid, too. He's with an American who is totally comfortable with a foreigner and different customs. I think living here gave my stepson a real head-start on how to get along in life.

We know, firsthand, how hard it is to overcome all the objections to moving to a foreign country. We know a lot of people who say they wish they could do it. We were people who wished they could do it, and it stayed right there, until we sucked it up and just did it. Life is short. Inertia is a bitch. Island life in a developing country is not for everybody, that's for sure. But so far, we have not regretted it for a second. One of the cool things is that we meet a lot of other people here with the same experience, they also made the decision to make a try at changing their lives, and moved to a small island nation. Means we already have something in common with the other expats we meet. We just seem to hang out more with the locals, for some reason. They are great people. They seem to like us, too.

Last night we had a great meal of the conch. Sauteed with onions, red peppers and cream, over angel hair pasta cause we are out of rice. I was thinking of taking a photo of a bowl of it, and was just too lazy. Didn't think anyone would be interested. It was absolutely delicious. We used to just fry it, make fritters, or cracked conch, but we cook it different ways now. Evan showed us how his mother used to roast it in the oven,and sometimes we do that. We got a great recipe for conch chili from our friend who owns Sip Sip restaurant on Harbour Island, Bahamas, and we like to put it over Texmati rice. We love conch, and can always get it. I use a little technology to identify good conch habitat from Google Earth, and am batting a thousand on finding heaps of the little critters. Its not hit or miss like fishing....I KNOW where they are.

As long as people are interested, and as long as I keep getting positive feedback, I will probably keep posting. For people up north who like the tropics, I would think it might be fun to see fresh photos from here during the winter months.
I am trying to keep this thread about the TCI and the people here, and not about us. Its not easy to do that, because of course everything is through my perspective.
But as long as there's interest, I'll give it a try. I am not always sure what people will find interesting. Its all become "normal" to us. We need more adventure, but we got some planned.

Last night we came up with a list of things we really have to address over in Providenciales ( the "big city" something like 18,000 people!!!!) and we are going to take the boat over this afternoon and probably be there for the rest of the week. Maybe longer. We have to register the boat, renew fishing licenses, buy a refrigerator, new gas grill for the Pine Cay house, check up on our own new house, find a local dentist for the first time ( I am not looking forward to that). We will be there for the closing up of the Leeward area prior to it's demolition. We want to be in our slip at the boatyard when they finally run all the small boats out of Leeward....they all have to go SOMEwhere, and that affects us.

I need to buy and install a new float switch for the bilge pump on the boat. The gasoline that leaked into the bilge turned the plastic into a Salvadore Dali sculpture, and it's so deformed it no longer works. I need to do a few other things to get the boat ready for the Salt Cay trip following Preacher over when he delivers the catamaran. That SeaFox is in Provo for repairs and we would likely leave from there anyhow on the way to South Caicos. Where we have never been.

Actually, the boatyard is a better location to base out of for most of the places we haven't explored yet in the TCI. French Cay, the Seal Cays, Big and Little Ambergris, Six Hill Cay, etc.

I want to cut out and install a bigger access hatch in the splashwell. I still want to run over and check out that "X" on the little cay south of Provo. We will take the fishing stuff with us this time, so we can try a run over the Caicos Bank to the French Cay area and see what the fishing is like on the south reef side of the country. Thats also where the most shipwrecks are. I will make a point of taking photos of the town over the next week or two.

Also, just looked at the sat images, and its looking like that blop of bad weather is forecast to go north of Hispanola, which puts it in our backyard, and we might as well be getting stuff done if the weather is going bad for a few days.