Grand Turk... Cruise Day #7

We knew little of Grand Turk before we arrived. Interestingly, several important historic events have taken place around this small island, including being the likely spot of Columbus's first landfall in the New World, and the first land Astronaut John Glenn stepped foot on after orbiting Earth in 1962.


Our first stop, geared toward 'the historically inclined', was the Turks and Caicos National Museum, located on historic Front Street. For such a small town, we were surprised to discover a wealth of fascinating displays, including items from the ancient Lucayan culture, and artifacts from the Molasses Reef Wreck, which was the oldest European shipwreck excavated in the Western Hemisphere. Armed with information, we headed out to put our newly learned history lessons into action.
Sea salt production is what initially put Grand Turk on the map. Many islands in the Turks and Caicos have shallow salt water ponds, and these ponds, occasionally replenished by abnormally high tides, would naturally produce sea salt due to evaporation. The ponds were developed into salinas, with low stone dividing walls splitting the brine into different stages of salinity. Windmill pumps and gates controlled ocean water input and movement. It was pretty interesting to stroll on a salina.

Dwarfed by the demand and other producers, and unable to expand pond acreage, mechanize loading, or achieve economies of scale, the salt industry in the Turks Islands finally collapsed in the 1960s after 300 years of production.
Donkeys, and horses, first introduced in the salt industry days as a means of transportation, are still on the island, roaming freely. They, and evidence of them, are everywhere.


Since we had rented a car, we were able to explore areas that most tourists might not see. One such place was North Wells, which gets its name from the old large diameter shallow wells that were constructed to water livestock. These wells are still lined with giant limestone blocks that were installed during the salt industry days, around the early to mid-1800s.
In the early years of the 1800s, ship commerce increased throughout the Caribbean. To access Cuba and the Gulf ships had to pass the Turks Islands and traverse the dangerous Turks Island Passage. Poor maps, uncharted reefs, and strong currents in the area resulted in numerous shipwrecks. Eventually the much-needed lighthouse was built (1852). Constructed in England, it was shipped in pieces and reassembled here. Steve read in the museum, that at one time, a large amount of the economy came from salvaging shipwrecks. Turns out they would turn the lighthouse "off" causing ships to crash on the shallow reefs.
One estimate is that there are over 1,000 shipwrecks in the waters of the Turks and Caicos Islands. What we know about most of them are cryptic mentions in obscure records, details in shipping records, records taken at the time of hurricanes, and so on.
What a cool tie-in to our recent visit to the Kennedy Space Center. In 1962, Grand Turk hit the international news with the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel John Glenn. Glenn had earlier been launched into space from Cape Canaveral and became the first American to orbit the earth, doing so three times in just under 5 hours. His craft, Friendship 7, was part of the Mercury program and after re-entry it splashed down in the Atlantic close to the Turks and Caicos Islands. Glenn was picked and taken to Grand Turk. Here he underwent a medical and two days of debriefing before being flown back to America. Big news for such a small island.
In 1966, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited Grand Turk, a British Overseas Territory. We learned that this event still stands out as one of the country’s most historic Royal visits. While touring, they were shown models of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecrafts and informed of Grand Turk's role in the Space Race. Cool stuff.
We went back into "town". Originally founded by settlers from Bermuda as a site for sea salt production in 1681, Cockburn Town has been the official capital of the country since 1766. Many of the country's main government offices, such as the Supreme Court and Governor's Residence are here.

We stopped briefly at the Victoria Public Library. In 1887, this public library was dedicated to Victoria, the Queen of the United Kingdom, to celebrate her golden jubilee. It's a pretty sweet little library still- over 200 years later.
A must for me was a visit to the Post Office. Found on the picturesque Front Street, it is housed in this beautiful British Colonial-style building, right across from the beach (currently the building is being retrofitted and it was closed). These stamps are highly decorative and illustrate the nature and history of the Islands. Grand Turk's first stamps were issued in 1867 and carried the portrait of Queen Victoria.


We did frolic at the beach for a bit, too. The colors were like none we had ever seen before. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
I'm holding a conch shell, several of which were scattered along the shore. Conch is a type of edible marine snail popular here. Conch tastes similar to clams, although it is a lot more ‘rubbery’ with a more defined texture (so I read). Conch is an important symbol of the Turks and Caicos, being one of three symbols on their flag (the other two being a spiny lobster and a Turks head cactus).

This is the top of a Turks Head Cactus. It is strangely beautiful.
A highlight of our time on Grand Turk was seeing Flamingos in the wild. This was a delightful first.

The biggest surprise was seeing one fly. Wow!

I have no idea what kind of bird this is, but isn't his face the sweetest?
Our day was exceptional. We were surprised by all the history and all there was to discover on this 6.9 sq. mi. island. AND it ended with another spectacular sunset. This was our final port of call and it could not have been more wonderful.


“I am not the same having seen
the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
―Mary Anne Radmacher

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