Turks and Caicos Is Not the Island Paradise the Tourism Board Would Have You Believe

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In early December I took a week’s vacation in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). This British Overseas Territory in the West Indies is known for its crystal clear water, white sand beaches, and consistently good weather. And that’s all there is. For some it may be the perfect vacation, but I prefer locations with some history and culture, and TCI has none of that. The low, limestone islands are covered in scrubby vegetation and are generally featureless. Besides tourism, the only local industry is conch, a rubbery and tasteless shellfish. Everything else is imported, even the palm trees and the people. Most islanders I met who looked like they may have been native turned out to be from Haiti or the Dominican Republic. Or even Nepal! To its credit, TCI supposedly has beautiful coral reefs, but since I’m not an underwater photographer, that was lost on me. Luckily I was vacationing with a group of friends, and despite my frustrations with the photographic environment, I had a great time.

I did some online research to get a feel for the photos I might make, and all I found were vistas of endless sand and water. So I took it as a challenge to find something interesting to photograph. It wasn’t easy, and I found myself shooting a lot of marine detritus and footprints in the sand. I didn’t come home with any cohesive body of work, just some individual images that I like. I’ll explain their stories below.

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In early December the tourist season was not yet in full swing, so the beaches were relatively empty. It was easy to get shots like this of a lone person staring toward the horizon.

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This photo represents some of the most interesting flora to be found along the beach.

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Our hotel had a fleet of beach cruisers, and one day we took a leisurely bike ride around Providenciales. We stopped into the Gansevoort Hotel for a look around. That day I left my heavy equipment behind and brought my Canon G10, which made sense for its ease of carrying on a bicycle. The scene was perfect for a panoramic photo, and I remembered that I also had my iPhone 5 with me. So I made this shot with the panorama feature and further enhanced it afterwards in Photoshop.

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This close-up is also from the Gansevoort Hotel. I found the green and brown colors distracting, but the beautiful artistic qualities came out with a high-contrast, black-and-white conversion.

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Aiming to travel light, I brought just two lenses with me, a 16-35 mm (intending to do lots of landscape photography) and a fast 50 mm for everything else. While on a boating trip, I saw this double rainbow with a sailboat perfectly positioned within it. My camera was fitted with the wide angle lens. I snapped a few frames, and while changing to the 50 mm lens for a slightly closer shot of the sailboat, the rainbows vanished. I’m lucky to have gotten what I did.

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This pile of discarded conch shells was behind Froggie’s on da Beach. Froggie’s was the intended destination on our bike ride, recommended to us by a waiter at a restaurant where we ate two nights before. The place was actually pretty scary, so we pedaled on and ended up having lunch at the famous Da Conch Shack. I highly recommend it.

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Our boat ride included some snorkeling. All my friends dove in, but I held back only because I knew I’d be frustrated not being able to see much without my glasses, and I don’t do this enough to own a prescription diving mask. With the large expanse of water, my wide angle lens, and the tight cropping, I made this life preserver look a lot lonelier than it actually was. My friends were snorkeling just outside the frame.

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The day after cycling with my friends to Froggie’s and Da Conch Shack, I rode on my own in the other direction. This time I took my big camera and lenses hoping to spend some time making interesting photos. By the time the road ended, I hadn’t passed anything interesting, but just ahead there was a sign advertising tours of the world’s only conch farm. How could I resist? This is one of the land-based holding tanks with the pens in the ocean just beyond. On the tour I learned more about conch anatomy than I wanted to know.

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These are some examples of the marine detritus I found washed up on the beach. I think these three individual photos make an engaging composition when presented as a triptych.

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This gentleman demonstrated how to butcher a conch behind Da Conch Shack. While conch doesn’t have much taste on its own, the conch fritters, cracked conch, and coconut conch stew I sampled for lunch were delicious. The rum punch didn’t hurt either!

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And last, it’s been a long time since I tried night photography, and all I’ve ever done has been urban scenes in New York City with plenty of artificial light. I wasn’t prepared to stay long enough to photograph star trails, but I had some fun getting this shot.

I’m saving one interesting thing I found to photograph for my next post. I hope you’ll come back to read about it. Better yet, subscribe to my blog for automatic updates. The easiest way is with the email subscription you’ll find at the upper right of the top of this post.

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