Friday, December 3, 2010

Conch Festival 2010

Every November now for the past seven years the island of Providenciales has hosted a Conch Festival in the Blue Hills section of Providenciales. We just attended this year's version last Saturday. Of course we took a few photos to show to anyone interested in this kind of stuff.

But first, another one of La Gringa's late November sunrise photos:

We started going to the Conch Festival in 2006 and have only missed the November when we were on a boat in the Sea of Cortez in Baja. We have learned a few things over the years. One is that if we drive all the way around the Blue Hills site and park on the far side it saves us about a mile of walking each way. It also means we get to stroll along a very nice section of Blue Hills. A lot of the local Caicos Sloop crowd live in this area. Boat builders and sailors at every turn. We were really impressed with this sloop, hauled up above the high tide line:

That's a real sweet looking boat and built by hand by Turks and Caicos Islanders:

Cruising on down the road we walked into the Conch Festival site. We have learned that it's a good idea to get here close to noon if you want the best conch tasting experience. We were there at about 12:30 and the "crowds" had not yet inundated the place:

I was about to write up a description of the kind of things going on here. Then I realized that I still have a brochure from Saturday all folded up. So I just unfolded it and took some photos. This should tell you most of what the event organizers want to say about it all. Spread open, this is the back and front covers:

And the inside two pages basically describe the history, purpose, schedule, judges, and's all right there!!

We were very interested to see the international flavor of the judges this year. A lot of travel writers represented here. Gosh, I just can't imagine why people from North America would want to be down here in late November...

I do have to admit that when we saw the Schedule of Events this year, we were a bit disappointed. In previous years there have been sloop races just off the beach, and this year there was absolutely nothing to do with the traditional boats. This essentially meant that a large number of sloop sailing and boating friends we were hoping to see did not bother to attend. The organizers wrote about the "history, culture and economy" of the conch fishing here. Well.... you really can't talk adequately about any of that and leave the boats out of it. Just my own opinion. The Conch Festival has basically become a showcase for the hotels and restaurants to sell their products. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's a great way to sample various conch dishes, but I don't see those conch dishes on the restaurant menus.. so I am not sure what the point of it really is, anymore. Compete for prize money, I guess.

It's still a good excuse for a lot of people to get together, get out of the resorts and spend the day at the beach. For the people who live here, without the boats it's not such a great deal. The local folks don't cook their conch like this and I have enough t-shirts.

The crowds were pretty light early in the afternoon while we were there:

And inside the tent there were samples from a lot of the local restaurants. Some of the presentations were pretty colorful and well thought out:

La Gringa braved the lines inside the tent to get these photos. I don't do well with crowds. She's the 'people person' on the team. I'm the boat guy. Lots of elbow room at sea.

We did manage to run into a few local friends, although not many. THIS guy is trouble, and that's all I am going to say about that.

Now that's a presentation, n'est-ce pas?

And back again this year, for a return engagement, bigger and better than ever.... I bring you..... Chef Goat!!:

We do remember him from last year, when he was also on the Simba stand.

Horse Eyed Jacks is a very local restaurant from right down the road next to Da Conch Shack. I guess they have added conch to their menu. It was never there when I was.

The number of different ways to prepare conch was amazing. It's really a very versatile seafood and probably one of the healthiest meats around. And it even goes very well with beer. I could show you some examples, I suppose.

Chef Franco Forbes is an old friend from his days cooking at the Meridian Club on Pine Cay. Franco is now at the Somerset. We had a lot to talk about when I found out he had spent time cooking in Texas and his assistant, Mark, at the time was from Guayana. I had spent several months working in Guyana, back in the 70's. Franco was probably a barefoot kid in short pants back then. (And now he's a chef, and I'm the barefoot kid in short pants. Ouch.)

The Point Grace presentation was among the best in a very competitive field:

Outside the main food tent and across the road on the beach the Bacardi bar tent was doing a pretty good business by early afternoon when we pulled ourselves away.

People were mixing up Mojito's by the dozens. Literally.

And this year there were a number of local souvenir merchants at the Festival, for the first time.

Even the trophies were colorful:

But those were not the only places where local flowers were on display:

And of course what would a tropical display be without coconuts? Those are certainly local produce. Maybe from across the street, even:

These guys were here last year, too.

Outside a 'rake and scrape' band was getting ready to take the stage. This was also where the Master of Ceremonies was organizing the conch blowing competition, just as we were getting ready to leave.

We found out the next day that a friend of Capt. Ray's (our previous post) had won the longest conch note blowing competition. Way to go! We missed that, but then we had not even met Ray at that point in the weekend so it wouldn't have meant much to us.

By mid afternoon we had enough and walked back to our truck. Here's another Caicos Sloop photo from along the road. I think this one might have reached it's expiration date:

The further we got from the noise and crowd, the better I liked it. Yeah yeah, I know. Sometimes I am a grumpy old........ uh..... puff of warm air. Well that's close enough to what La Gringa calls me, anyhow.

And there's a reason for it other than the crowd and noise. First the sailing events were dropped, and then I was disappointed when the DECR people did not show up. At least they hadn't as of 3:30. I had looked forward all week to talking about the Lionfish infestation problem with them. Oh well.

We like this part of Provo. It's a totally different scene than where we live or Leeward or Grace Bay. This is one of the oldest settlements on the island, and also the first road ever built here. We've seen photos of people sitting and breaking up conch shells to cover the path and prepare it for paving.

Here's a nice shady spot... a tree covered in vines overlooking the reef:

A word of caution, though. Not every tree here is safe to sit under. We have this tree here called "Poisonwood" that is supposed to be bad news. Strangely enough, it typically grows near its antidote, the Gumbo Limbo tree. Funny world.

I don't know why I was looking at trees on this day. But I also liked this one, that clearly shows you which way is North East.

In North America, I remember the Boy Scouts teaching me that I could find North by looking for which side of a tree the moss grew on. Now here I can see that the trees can tell you which way the trade winds normally blow. Makes me wonder why I spent all that money on a wristwatch with a compass built in.

So, this is our "second installment" of the trial plan to start writing shorter but more frequent posts. How's it working out so far? I've got some DIY stuff sitting here unused as yet. We still need to go take some underwater photos at Coral Gardens for the snorkelers amongst us. And we should have the new kayak to play with early in the week. That should be a hoot.

And this time I can finish with one of La Gringa's sunset photos. Any of these taken from here will be over a couple of the neighbors' roofs for the next few weeks. Unless we hop in the truck and drive somewhere else at sunset.

But this looks kinda' tropical' with the palms and colors, doesn't it?


Anonymous said...

Hey gringo, its Capt. Tyler from Love the idea about shorter post more frequently, reminds me of the old post from the hull truth.
Might be headed your way shortly to look at a possible development in south caicos, i will shoot you an email if it pans out.

Keep posting!
Capt. Tyler

Caitlyn said...


I'm an avid reader of your blog, (and fellow sailor) from Montreal! I found it- can't remember how- when we were researching a land purchase in Turks at the beginning of this year. We've now bought that land in Turtle Tail and are thinking of making the switch to the TCI lifestyle full-time, much as you did. We'll see!

Thanks for the great posts and pics. Keep it up! Gives me something to daydream about while I scrape the ice off my windshield.

Joy said...

Wow, that last shot looks like a postcard. So, how was the conch? Did you guys taste any of the contest entries? I'd never heard that about conch being a healthy protein. It's so lean, though, so I guess it makes sense. We had fresh conch right from the ocean ("caught" by us) on our Caicos Dream Tours snorkeling trip. It was delicious- like the freshest, most tender scallop imaginable. They made some of it into conch salad (oddly served with Pringles), which we also enjoyed. Then we had *great* cracked conch at Conch Shack, and terrible cracked conch at Hemingway's. (it was so rubbery, it was truly inedible.)

Today someone was asking about Smith's Reef on the TripAdvisor forum. I posted a link to your post on that.

Thanks for all of these posts! It's such a treat to be surprised by new ones so quickly!

Anonymous said...

How're you doing so far? Pretty darn good! Keep it up - please.


Anonymous said...

wow, three comments already. It's really nice to get the feedback. Kinda like getting an reply to a message in a bottle. We love to know where these posts are being read and how they are received. Thanks.

Joy, La Gringa did sample a bunch of the conch dishes. When you pay your twenty bucks you get a scorecard to rate the various dishes. Perhaps she'll chime in here with her impressions of it all. I couldn't take the jostling crowd, myself, and spent my time out on the beach watching the zoo.

And we got some pretty nice sunrise and 'smooth ocean' photos yesterday morning. I'll stick them in the next little post.

We, too, have found a wide variation in the quality of the cracked conch here. The main factors that seem to affect it ( in my opinion) are how much effort was put into tenderizing it, and the freshness of the grease it was cooked in. Conch is a foot muscle, a lot like Abalone. It really needs to be pounded to be tender, unless it's going in ceviche or conch salad. And cooking the cracked conch is like frying scallops or clams. They taste best if both the fish and the ingredients are fresh.

Capt. Tyler, let us know when you are coming down. It's encouraging to hear that development is starting up again somewhere in this little nation.

La Gringa said...

Yes boss! ;-)

Joy, I tasted a variety of conch dishes ranging from the traditional conch salad (ceviche) to more noveau concoctions like conch tacos. My favorite, hands down, was a curried conch presented by Aqua Bar and Terrace which is located in Turtle Cove. It was sweet and very, very tender. The biggest mistake made with conch is not adequately tenderizing it. Also, a special shoutout to Point Grace for the tasty Mojito samplers!!

sr said...

Always enjoy your pictures and posts. However, where is Dooley the dog?

sr said...

Where's Dooley?

Anonymous said...

At the moment he's looking up at me and whining for lunch. We didn't take him to the conch festival because he's a past master at scamming food handouts, and we don't need a 200 lb. JRT with an attitude.

If you check the previous post, I think there were some photos of him on the "Treasure Seeker".

Didier Dufresne said...

See, conch and sun... I prefer shorter posts more frequently too ! The feet in the french snow, the head in the blus sky of TCI...
AmitiƩs de France.


Tommy Kenner Louisiana said...

Always looking forward to your posts. They are like a special treat that I can't wait to get to! Even the DIY stuff!!
I still think Gringo is a professional writer, sneaking in some work on the side!!
This would make a good book! With pictures!!

Anonymous said...

Hello again from sunny downtown Newman Western Australia. I too love the more frequent posts....oh but they can be large ones too I surely don't mind that! When I saw there was another one so close to the last, I thought maybe you had reposted, but it was a nice surprise to get a new one so soon! Love reading about the different festivals and going to the older posts via the little link. I can't get over how even in the laid-back islands, all the foodies are decked out in chefs hats and silly long sleeved uniforms! Thought this only happended in cities.....
It's also nice to see more photos of you two humans in the mix. Regards to DTD (Dooley the Demented)
Cheers from Jan O

Joy said...

Thanks, La Gringa for the info about the conch! I will make a point to get some curried conch from Aqua. Sounds great!

Tommy, I totally agree about the quality of the writing. I think I've made the book suggestion before, too!

Bill said...

The conch sounds tasty, and the weather looks great! It's getting cold even here in Florida.

I too like the shorter, but more frequent posts. Thanks for taking the time for putting these together, I think they would make a great book or travel guide to the TCI someday.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the feedback, this is great. I am thinking I should be asking y'all if you had any favorite posts. That would be good to know, and give us an idea what people like to see.

We just had an interesting morning. The missionary schooner "Star of the Sea" docked today and we have been visiting those guys on the boat. On their way to Haiti, via Gt. Inagua, to pick up and deliver supplies to orphans. Inspiring stuff.

We'll put some photos up in the next few days. They could use some help to keep this program going, if any of you guys are interested in worthy non-profit charitable contributions. (And yes, they have 501(C)(3) status for US taxpayers.)

Wow, I just realized that we have enough new material and photos to keep this 'post a week' experiment going for a while.

As for the writing...I don't nothing bout writing no books. I guess you call this a hobby, But thank you for the kind words. I am just glad you enjoy it.

Jim Ashworth said...

The new format is easier reading as there isn't a lot to lock you in front of the computer reading pages. This shorter format is easier and new ones just seem to keep coming. You guys are having too much fun. The temps her are down in the 20F's this morning and the boat is sitting on land.
New jersey

Anonymous said...

So....more pictures....smaller captions?

works for me!!

Jim Ashworth said...

The next time I am in Provo, I owe you guys a dinner at the Baci in Turtle Cove. You keep me remembering the good times on Provo. We love sitting down my the dock at Baci to eat dinner and drink a couple bottles of Luna Di Luna wine. Watch the boats come in as the sun sets and just unwinding after a day of diving and sailing. Thank you again.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post and pix. Yummy stuff down there. Posts I like had to do with that rusting ole hulk of a ship. Great contrast and interesting history behind it all.

What type of camera are you using? Pix look so sharp and clear.

Thanks again...keep the posts coming and I'll keep following.

Joy said...

Here's the donation link for Star of the Sea:

Thanks for making us aware of a way to help. God knows the need has not subsided there...

Joy said...

Oh, and you mentioned about favorite posts. I like all of them, but one of the most interesting ones to me was about Cottage Pond, which led me to read about the dive accounts, and just gave me an interest in island sinkholes, in general. (Wow, does that sound dorky!) It's a fascinating topic, though. We do have an awesome Creator who made a very complex and beautiful Earth with seemingly endless marvels.

But back to sinkholes... National Geographic did an in-depth article on Bahamian sinkholes recently, which I wouldn't have known to even be interested in if I hadn't originally learned about them on here!

You also talked about the Bermuda triangle in that post, the failed Whitby hotel, the shipwreck just off the coast... and what can I say, I think I'm a sucker for an eerie mystery, too!

So, more geological wonders and island mysteries. ; ) Please.

Unknown said...

I saw your comment on my blog-- and thought I'd take a look at your blog. As an avid diver (since 1965), a boater, a photographer...well, a lot of things. Love your postings. Always love reading anything about my favorite parts of this world...tropical underwater. I've sampled conch stew and fritters in a lot of places. And, according to my critics, aka family and friends, the recipe on my blog is a real winner. I have yet to learn how to make fritters to my satisfaction. Of course, I have only found one place that they were as good as I want to make. And, that was in Freeport. Their Bahama Mamas were pretty good, too. But, those...I can make.
Keep up the good work, and...should I get lucky and end up in your neck of the woods, I'll look you up.
Raeford Brown