Quietly, I waited without a move. The next attack on the castle walls was imminent, but I didn’t know exactly when it would be. Locked and loaded, I aimed and was ready to fire.
I sat entrenched on the beach; butt firm in the sand, knees up, heels dug in. My elbows sat on my knees, hands firmly grasping my camera, camera plastered against my face. I barely breathed, waiting, watching, as I did my best to impersonate a human tripod. It was a slow shutter speed, and I didn’t want to shake the camera.
The target: a castle, a bulwark on the island of Grand Turk, made of sand. The attacker: the evening tide, coming in the swallow anything that dare stand in its way. My challenge: capture the attack, the waves climbing the castle walls, timing the shot just so.
It took a few tries. Usually, the wave coming in wasn’t big enough to have an impact. But finally, a dreadnought of waves, a castle killer rolled in and I fired my shot.
(Click on any picture for a larger view)
The castle survived the wave, but much diminished. The next morning a visit to the spot showed no sign of it. Time and waves and erosion erased it, a fast forward version of the relationship between nature and man.
* * * * *
I stormed Grand Turk in other ways as well. I’ve already written of diving its reefs, and of hanging out with its whales, its stingrays, and its Queen Conch. But there were other excursions: walks into Cockburn Town, a drive around the island.
You might think from what I’ve written so far that Grand Turk is the Garden of Eden.
In some respects that’s true. But it’s not all beauty and sunshine. While at its core there’s a pure nut of goodness, it has its pricklier aspects.
The reality is many of the natives aren’t well off. While there is a mix, not all neighborhoods present a resort-like countenance.
Donkeys roam wild. They’re a leftover from earlier days, when they used the island to harvest salt.
Earlier still, the island may have been the original landfall for Columbus and his crew. Historians don’t know for certain what island he actually landed on; the natives called it Guanahani. A more popular theory has Columbus landing on Salvador Island in the Bahamas and one of his ships, the Pinta, making an excursion that landed on Grand Turk.
In either case, the original people were the Taino and Lucayan tribes, who also populated the Bahamas and other islands in the area. As Columbus wanted to believe he’d made it to India he called these natives Indians, a moniker new world natives have sported to this day.
I’m not sure what real Indians think of this.
Getting discovered wasn’t the happiest of accidents for the natives. Because of slavery and disease, Grand Turk’s native population was wiped out by the early 1500s.
Things were quiet for the next couple hundred years, when the Bermudans (settled by England) decided Grand Turk was well suited for “salt raking”. Initially, this was a seasonal thing, but eventually the Bermudans, both slaves and freemen, settled the island. Other slaves were imported for sisal farming. The descendants of these folk are today’s natives.
Salt harvesting was brutal, but profitable due to its use as a preservative, and harvesting continued until the 1960s.
Salt is harvested by letting sea water into shallow ponds via sluice gates. Trade winds evaporate the water, and the remaining salt is raked up. They used donkeys to transport the harvested salt to ships. The island was deforested to make evaporation more effective, and it remains flat and deforested today.
Because of the value of salt in this era, various European and local powers vying for it made for a messy political history. From the sound of it, it’s still a mess. These days the Turks and Caicos are autonomous, still a British Commonwealth country, and use US dollars for currency. Go figure.
Some ponds remain, but others work them.
From 1950 to 1981, the United States had a missile tracking station on Grand Turk. After his three earth orbits in 1962, American astronaut John Glenn successfully landed in the nearby ocean and was brought back ashore to Grand Turk island.
Tourism has become the main driver in Grand Turk’s economy. Cruise ships drop in regularly. Folks like me come for the diving. And some come, looking for a quiet place to stay with a nice beach and clear, warm waters.
And at day’s end and at trips end, when tasks and excursions are done, it is good to sit back, relax, and contemplate the good things in life.