Celebrating the holidays the tropical way in Turks and Caicos
by Alan E. Lewis
Entry: January 2011
Holidays wouldn’t be same for our family without a sandy beach in Turks and Caicos.
You’d think with all the traveling we do that we’d really just like to hunker down for the holidays and avoid the busy roads and packed airports. Well, yes and no. We have a holiday tradition that does require an airport—but we leave behind the busy roads and, for that matter, busy anything! For 11 years in a row now, we’ve slowed down the pace of our lives to spend our holidays in a relatively undiscovered corner of the Caribbean—the Turks and Caicos Islands.
A self-governing British protectorate, Turks and Caicos are actually two groups of some 40 islands and cays (only eight of which are inhabited). And this tiny slice of paradise is home to crystal-clear waters and mile upon mile of flawless white-sand beaches.
Our hometown of Boston, as many of you may know, is renowned for its cold, snowy winters. So you might think our escape to these tropical islands is all about the weather. But you’d be wrong. The true reason for our trip is that it gives us the opportunity to focus on what’s really important this time of year—family. And we’re thrilled that our children still think highly enough of these get-togethers that they break away from whatever they’re doing to join us. Charlotte, our daughter, immediately adjusted her busy schedule to meet up with us. And Edward, our son, flew in all the way from the snow-clad mountains of Utah just to be with us and his sister for this season of family time.
We love exploring the stunningly beautiful coral reefs that surround the islands.
Of course, Christmas on a tropical island isn’t exactly like the Currier & Ives images of years gone by. The “blanket of white” this time is sand, not snow. And beach fire-pits are far more common than traditional yule logs. But these getaways are very much like the celebrations of my own childhood in all the important ways—the family is together, stockings are hung, and Christmas morning begins with a big family breakfast that we enjoy even before we open presents.
But the rest of the day (the entire week, in fact) is all about the gifts of nature. Sometimes we take to the beaches—and there are lots of them here. Or we charter a 25-foot boat and cruise among some of the smaller islands, many of them deserted and others home to small villages which we may spontaneously visit. But our favorite activity of the day is diving—and trust me, you’ve never seen holiday lights as dazzling as the colors of the reef-dwelling fish, or Christmas trees quite as remarkable as the vivid brain coral we’ve discovered off Providenciales, our favorite island in the Caicos grouping.
Diving really is a family tradition for us. In fact, it’s one that goes back several decades—and not just at Christmas. I still vividly remember coaxing Harriet into her initial dive all the way back in 1973. And she was a great sport, agreeing to a 60-foot dive on her first try! I needn’t have worried that she might not be as passionate about it as I am; she loved it so much that she immediately sought her diving license. Thirty-seven years later, we’re still diving together—now with our kids—and seeing the beauty of the world below the surface. The hustle and bustle of workaday life on land recedes when we descend into the quiet, thrilling blue.
Another tradition we love celebrating is gathering with the family to enjoy dinner plucked fresh from the sea.
One reason we love diving in Turks and Caicos is that the isles boast these marvelous “walls”—vertical drops of up to 6,000 feet down to the ocean floor. Lined with coral and flashing with tropical sea life, they provide some of the most dramatic diving anywhere. In fact, the islands of the Turks and Caicos are home to the third-largest coral reef in the entire world. I just love seeing eagle rays glide by, their spotted “wings” stretching wider than my outstretched arms. And seeing coral groupers flash by in rosy schools, their chins thrust forward like bullies, while angel fish seem to swim in two directions at once, with predator-fooling false “eyes” near their tailfins. Sometimes we witness nurse sharks circling to look for the next meal and, when we’re lucky, even humpback whales passing this way.
Eventually, as much as we love our undersea odysseys, we have to surface. And when we do, we’re hungry. It’s become a Christmas tradition to eat dinner at Coyaba, a local Caribbean restaurant. Sitting in the gazebo—enjoying breezes that couldn’t feel less like a Boston winter—we settle in for bowls of fresh conch and seafood chowder, and specialties like pan-fried filet of grouper. (I often joke that we’re dining on the very fish we observed earlier that same morning.) But the real meat of things is conversation, as we compare notes on the blessings and rewards of the year that has just past.
As you might imagine, we’re pretty content to pass the entire week this way, staying on the island until we ring in the New Year together as a family. When we head back to our respective homes, we’ve revived and refreshed, and ready for the adventures ahead. I hope that you’re carrying with you joyful memories from your own recent holidays—and are just as ready for all the discoveries of the New Year ahead.
Alan E. Lewis