Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Blue Hills Conch restaurant

The long stretch of perfect beach at Grace Bay on Provo is the center of the tourist industry here. Its where most of the hotels and resorts are located. We seldom go there, either to the beach or to the restaurants. In the winter, which is the 'high' season here, they cater to the vacation crowds. In the summer, which is our favorite time here, many of the restaurants close, and re-open in November. Its not that they are not good restaurants, because they are. Some of them are excellent, in fact. I will even name one of our all time favorites, the Caicos Cafe. It's run by a French guy, and the food and service is just first rate.

We don't like crowds, or noisy places, and vacationers tend to whoop it up a bit. That's good! We have been known to get noisy. But its not us on an every night basis. We are quiet people, part of the reason we moved to a small island.

Today one of our best friends stopped by the house, and we decided to go get some conch at a restaurant( for a change), and show him the new house. This is Evan, sometimes called JR (which stands for Jr.) or on the VHF radio he's known as HardCore.
We almost consider Evan an adopted son. He feels like family to us. The JRT considers him family as much as our own five sons. The dog stayed with him for two weeks last year while we were in Alaska. He has house sat for us. He took my 25 year old son under his wing while he was staying here alone for two weeks. He showed my son the side of island life the Beaches and Club Med crowd are never going to see. My son has not been the same. It took three days before he quit grinning, and we know that HE knows things about this island we haven't run across yet.

Evan hasn't had the easiest life. His parents broke up when he was young, and he was raised by his mother and grandmother, and was the only boy in a family with several younger sisters. Yeah, only boy growing up in a house with five women. I think two of those complicated creatures would be my max. Jesus.

When he was 12 his favorite uncle was instantly smashed from his life, killed by a speeding drunk driver. He was literally gone in a heartbeat, his last words the beginning of a sentence that he never completed to his nephew as the two of them walked side by side along a road one sunny summer afternoon. Evan still remembers it like it just happened. He will always wonder what his uncle was going to tell him, and sometimes at night he can still hear the sound of the impact and feel the wind of it happening. The memory will never leave him. That set him back a bit. Years.

He eventually got back on track, graduated from one of the better schools here, and did well enough to get a government sponsored scholarship to an aviation school in Moncton, New Brunswick. Some of the stories he tells us of the young black Caribbean kid adjusting to the Canadian winter and college life have had us laughing ourselves to tears. Evan tells a good story.

While he was in Canada, his mother was killed here in an automobile accident. I am not exactly clear on the sequence of events, but somehow the paperwork he was expecting to be completed to renew his Canadian student visa did not get processed as a result of the collapse of his support network at home. Not long after the 9/11 attack, the Canadians clamped down hard on any foreign students that they could identify being in the country with expired visas. They arrested Evan and he spent a month in prison while the bureaucracies slowly ground their way around and he was deported back to the TCI. They kept him in isolation, being a young, slender guy who was clueless about prison life. I guess they did him a favor, in that regard. He did not finish his aviation scholarship, but he still speaks glowingly of Canada, the people there, and sometimes of a girl he had to leave in New Brunswick. He kept in touch with her by phone, for a while. She's married now. He told us today he hopes to go back this December to visit his old friends. He's always smiling, and I have never known him to be rude, nor ever heard him whine. He's a good kid, and a good friend.

But back to lunch:

For the past couple of years we have tended to stop at one of the more popular spots at the beginning of Front Road in Blue Hills called "Da Conch Shack". That's a good place, right on the beach, and becoming popular with the vacation crowd. We actually haven't been there in a few months, possibly because we are not really interested in places where we have to wait for a table. There are also some political issues about Da Conch Shack that we were unaware of when we first came here. Long story.

So, we asked Evan where he liked to eat in Blue Hills, since that's his neighborhood. We went to a place called Sailor's Paradise. Its further down the road away from the busy part of Provo. A series of very colorful buildings right on the beach. The entrance:

You walk out onto a porch that is literally a few feet from the high water mark. Several local sailors keep their wooden Caicos sloops moored here (hence the name of the place?):

They are never shy about hauling a boat up on the beach when it needs to dry out or be scraped and painted;

The restaurant is simple, clean, and the food is excellent. The conch we ordered was 'bruised' in the kitchen with a wooden mallet. Bruising is what they call tenderizing it. The conch meat is tough when you first cut it up, its all pure white muscle. It reminds me of abalone, its the same sort of thing. Some of the old timers use a round piece of lignum vitae wood. That stuff is so hard its incredible. I read that they used that wood to make main shaft bearings back in WWII. I plan to pick up a lignum 'conch bruiser' when I get a chance. Might as well be authentic, if I am going to continue to get into 'going native' thing. Once the conch is tenderized by pounding, coated with light batter and deep fried, its called 'cracked conch'. Man, is it good. Some days I would rather have conch than grouper or snapper.

Conch being cleaned at a conveniently located work station close to the source of supply. If anyone is interested, I will take a series of photos of how to clean a conch:

In the middle of that sandy area just to the right is a conch pen. Fishermen bring them in, and they keep them there until someone orders a meal. Then this guy wades out, brings the live conch back to the table, and cleans it.

The owner of Sailor's Paradise, Chris, is a hoot. One of his tricks is delivering a fresh beer to the table:

He's not above a little 'soft-shoe' if he's got an appreciative crowd.

This mob stopped by for a few beers....I don't think it was their first stop of the day, either. We found out later that it was the staff from Club Med. That speaks well for Sailor's Paradise as a nice out-of-the-mainstream place. We will definitely be going back.

You can maybe make out all the resorts over on the other side of Grace Bay from here.

Thankfully, there are no resorts in this little neighborhood. No t-shirt shops. No souvenir shops. No sidewalks. There are a few restaurants, some beach side bars, a couple schools, several churches...and a lot of local people.

This is another Haitian sloop, falling apart in Blue Hills. We see these from time to time. They are built just barely well enough to make a trip from Haiti to the TCI,sometimes with over a hundred people on them. They are not constructed anything like the Caicos sloops, which will last for years and years. These things are knocked together from scrap wood, usually with a tree trunk for a mast and boom. They pound rags between the planks as caulking. They are death traps. They sure do a nice job with the paint, though.

Blue Hills is a pretty decent part of Provo, relatively safe, but to be honest, there are a couple local 'gangs' in this area, and the Blue Hills name does make the paper from time to time as the result of a break-in or confrontation. Its a neighborhood, like the Bight, or Five Cays. Blue Hills is definitely not a good place to be too stupid in at night, unless you are known there, or have friends there. We have Evan, and his cousin Anthony, and now Chris at Sailor's Paradise. Its not hard to make friends here. And people remember you here. Especially if you take the time to talk to them, ask their name, be polite. I think many people who come to places like this for a brief vacation miss a lot by not taking the time to get to know the locals. It only takes a few minutes here and there out of your vacation week. And it will change your perspective about how the rest of the world lives, and about how they think. Maybe some of it will stick, if you do it often enough. Doesn't hurt to try.

Evan introduced us to Chris, we talked about us being residents here, and he was different toward us than he was with the Club Med crowd earlier. He pulled up a chair, and we talked about where we were from, how the country is changing, how we liked it here. What his plans were. It was nice to feel accepted, and he was very happy when we told him this was going to replace Da Conch Shack as our favorite hangout in Blue Hills, but only if he could guarantee "Baked Mac" on the menu every day and bigger rum punches. He agreed, told La Gringa, "you can call me, Sweetness". Then he shook my hand and said "But you still call me Chris." But I did have to say to him "See you later, Sweetness" as we left. The guys at the bar had a laugh about it. So did Chris.

Great hammock trees, huh?

I have been thinking about prying the transom boards with the painted names off the Haitian sloops and using them at the house for color. Decorations. I think this one says "Good Luck-Morning Star" on it.

Someone on the boating forum asked me about the beers here.There is only one locally brewed beer here, called Turks Head. They have about three versions of it, light, amber, and dark. Most favorite beers here are Presidente and Corona (Mex), Red Stripe ( Jamaica), Heineken, and the usual basic US beers.

Oh, almost forgot, Kalik is popular, and several of the UK brews. This is a British Overseas Territory. I am not sure what that was Chris had on his head...I will take a look on the orig. photo..

Okay...I did, and it would appear to the untrained eye that the silly booger is dancing around with what appears to be a cold bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale balanced on his sweaty bald head:

I suspect that this is not the first time he has done this.

(Now the obligatory house progress photo. I am sure you realize by now that this is a huge deal to us. We have been living like vagabonds out of our suitcases and backpacks since we got here, in borrowed vacation homes. Almost all of our belongings are in a dusty, non-climate controlled storage bin. We are very much eager to get our own place again. Especially one we have planned from the selection of the site onwards. So, please, bear with me, and be understanding if I stick a house photo in the middle of a post from time to time. This tendency should moderate after December.)

Oboy. They got the little office/computer room framed in, as well as part of the small loft.

All interior framing is specified to be steel or pressure treated wood. Its all about termites. We don't want them.

The 'fun stuff' parts should pick up a bit in a few days. We are planning a trip out to French Cay, and another to East Caicos later this month. The trip across the Columbus passage to Salt and Big Sand Cays is still on... We will probably pick up an underwater metal detector sometimes in the not-too-distant future for some other stuff we want to do. I bought a new carb for our diving hookah compressor last week when we were in the States ( Brownie's is a great company to do business with, btw, great support) and we want to get that started again. Along with the helium balloon photos. We just don't seem to have time to do everything we want to do. We run into 'priority paralysis' quite frequently. Many times, the weather decides for us. Flexibility is the key, there.

I've been reading that wahoo season is coming up....That's something I could get into. Can you jig for those guys?

September is a slow time here, a lot of people take off on vacation to cooler climes. Then we start having visitors late October, family and friends coming down for their one or two week vacations in the tropics...we turn into part-time fishing and tour guides and an airport pickup and water taxi service...the cycle continues.

Maybe some of these tropical photos will start to look good to people up North again once winter sets in, and the snow falls.

Once you leave this section of Blue Hills and continue Westward, first the little businesses, and then the houses thin out quickly. Within just a couple miles of here you are faced with the choice of turning left and keeping to the paved road, or shifting into four wheel drive and following a rough road that follows the beach out to NW Point. There is one resort condo complex way out that way, but not much else made by man.

Starting out at the edge of this photo, the reef starts to curve out away from the island. Out where the shoreline turns to the South, it gets out to almost two miles between the waves breaking over the first edges of coral and the sand. The rocks and sand defining the island turn back roughly east, while the reef continues southward toward the island of West Caicos. Outside the reef, the depth quickly drops to over 5,000 ft.

Somewhere in the general direction of this photo, (I am being vague on purpose) it is suspected that the remains of two US Navy ships are on the bottom.

This photo was taken at Malcolm Rodes, an old name. It is on the south side of the island, looking the same direction as the first photo above,on the north side. If you started walking down this beach, and rounded that point in the distance, eventually you would end up in the other photo.

On the evening of 12 December, 1816, while patrolling for pirates and en route to the Gulf of Mexico, the USN brig "Chippewa" grounded on a coral reef off the "Providence or Blue Caycos" (present day Providenciales). The brig heeled over on its starboard side, stove in, and the captain gave the order to abandon ship. Very little was recovered by the crew, which is understandable since the reef is two miles or more offshore in that area. As far as records go, the ship has never been found and identified.

On 21 June, 1848, while sailing from New York to Chagres, Panama, the US Navy schooner "Onkahye" was shipwrecked on one of the fringe reefs that border the Turks and Caicos Islands. The ship had been modified to carry extra cannon, and was also outfitted with a number of heavy boats and other "cumbersome equipment" which severely impaired its sailing ability. For political reasons, the ship had been ordered to sail through the Caicos Passage at night trying to reach Chagres by the 26th of June. After losing anchors in attempts to pull the schooner off the reef, high seas and strong currents drove the wreck further onto the sharp and unforgiving coral. Two days later, after repeated attempts by the crew to save her, "Onkahye" was abandoned to her fate. Another victim of the pretty but ruthless reefs of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

"Onkahye" and "Chippewa are two of only a handful of USN anti-piracy/anti-slavery patrol vessels whose approximate wreck locations are known. Court of Inquiry records indicate that only the most essential items were salvaged from either vessel following its loss. A lot of stuff went down with the boats. It doesn't take long to break up a wooden ship once its foundered on a reef.

It looks like there is a move afoot to look for these boats. I received an email last night from a marine archaeologist who is coming down next week, and wants to get together to discuss some local search support. Sounds like something we might want to help with. Hot dang, more adventure. Just what we need.

Our first year here, we didn't venture too far offshore. We were using a 17 ft. Whaler, and I was not all that confident in the motor. We caught snapper, and grouper, and a couple Cero Mackerel, despite ourselves. Basically, we sucked at fishing.

Since we got the new boat early this year, and got confident getting out in the big blue, we decided to get more serious about fishing and I started asking a lot of questions here on the THT forum, and taking people's advice.

In the past few months we have started catching rainbow dolphin, yellow fin tuna, more Cero's, AJ's, and so far, one wahoo. Can pretty much catch grouper or snapper all year, and of course if we get skunked we can always jump in the water and grab all the conch we feel like cleaning. I think there are photos of a bunch of these various catches earlier in the thread. We have also given away probably 50 or 60 barracuda, which we may start eating. What we haven't done much of is grabbing lobster. We did pick up four of them one day last fall. We plan to refine that a bit too, although I personally am not a huge lobster fan. I do like the spinys here better than the Maine lobsters, for some reason.

So, while we still are learning, we are improving. I am really interested in getting better at jigging, and am gearing up for that. I am also learning everything I can find online about how to rig up for wahoo.

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