Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Salt Cay Soldier Crabs

I think we may have found the smallest soldier crab (aka hermit crab) on the island of Salt Cay! This little hermie is so small it was not even curling up when Mike picked it up but kept crawling around all over his hands.
And this little guy was quick! The first couple of photos I tried to get were blurred because he just kept scooting around from one hand to the next. Salt Cay's smallest soldier crab is about the size of 1/2 of my baby fingernail! Amazing

From Widipedia -- "There are approximately 15 terrestrial species in the world, and of those, the following are commonly kept as pets: Caribbean hermit crab, Coenobita clypeatus, and the Ecuadorian hermit crab, Coenobita compressus. Other species such as Coenobita brevamanus, Coenobita rugosus, Coenobita perlatus or Coenobita cavipes are less common but growing in availability and popularity as pets. In certain regions of the Caribbean, such as Jamaica and the Florida Keys, hermit crabs are commonly used in a sport known as crab racing, where they are placed in the center of a ring and whichever crab reaches the outside of the ring first wins."

Salt Cay has some great hermit crab races! None this year, but with luck next year we'll be able to do a few races. The hermit crab races were used as fund raisers for the Balfour Town Public Library on Salt Cay about five years ago and for other community projects too. Lots of fun!!

If you're ever on Salt Cay when we have hermit crab races, be sure to ask for Soldier Crabs from Mike & Ann! This is a picture over our north fence of just a few of the hundreds of soldier crabs in our "stables"!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

To Market, To Market - Salt Cay Style

Grocery shopping on Salt Cay is not just a drive to the local IGA or supermarket. We have four small island shops that have potatoes, onions, flour, eggs and assorted other "staples" when you need them, but many people get on the Government Boat (aka Brittany Leigh) on Tuesday to take the 45 minute boat ride to Grand Turk to buy groceries. Grand Turk is the capitol of the Turks and Caicos Islands and is about 5 miles North of Salt Cay as the osprey flies.

I don’t do the shopping. Mike makes the trip every week or two to buy vegetables, meat and whatever else we need. Personally, I'm glad that Mike does the shopping. I don't really mind the boat ride, but the other end of the journey can be challenging. The Salt Cay boat used to pull up to a nice small dock with stairs going up to the main dock in Grand Turk. Then, about five years ago the configurations changed and now there's a horrible ladder that you have to climb up to or climb down and jump onto the boat. Not me! The Government keeps saying things will get changed, but I am not holding my breath on that. I suppose one of these days someone will really get seriously hurt (people have already been hurt) and they might think about giving Salt Cay back a dock that works for the small boats.

I used to go shopping with Mike, it was fun. We’d take the plane or boat over, go to all the stores (you can’t shop in just one store because each store has different things) and then go for lunch before heading back to the Salt Cay dock to get on the boat home. Those days are over, even if the dock was fixed, without a vehicle on Grand Turk to use for shopping Mike often walks everywhere and there is no way my short legs will keep up with his long ones! But hey, that’s not to say it can’t be done… just not by me.
I think Mike likes riding the boat with the ladies who do take the boat from Salt Cay to Grand Turk! The younger women will often go over to have their hair or nails done and visit their friends. Miss Netty is also a regular on the boat and he loves to tease her. (From what I hear, he knows just about every shopkeeper on the island!)
Salt Cay seems to have a bit of a problem when it comes to keeping a boat running. Some years ago, Shine (Alan Dickenson) bought a boat to ferry people and building supplies back and forth. One of those boats, the Lucky Lady, sunk in the Salt Cay harbor during Hurricane Ike, his other boat (the Buccaneer) ended up in a tree in Grand Turk (word on the street is that it has been turned into a tourist attraction.) There has been lots of talk about how to get Lucky Lady out of the harbor.
In the Adventures of Captain Mike I think I talked about how the dock at Salt Cay slid into the harbor on March 6, 2000. (the link will take you to that day!) The Government was going to fix it but never got around to it. Plans were drawn and budgets made, officials came over to inspect the damage but the dock still sits pretty much like it was after it collapsed - there is a wire frame filled with rocks to keep the rest of the dock from falling down.

This year, 2009, the government days for the boat are Tuesday and Wednesday. They’re called government days because the government subsidizes the trip for the boat owner those days. I’m not sure if that’s happening this year because the government is broke. Everyone pays to go on the boat – Round trip for men is $12 and $8 for women (don't ask - that’s just the way it is) Mr. Barber Selver collects the fees for the boat trip. When we first arrived on Salt Cay it was $4 for women and free for men because the men would help unload the boat but now that there's a crew to do the loading and unloading everyone pays.
Mr. Maurice Simmons (pictured here) collects for the freight on the boat - $1.00 per box, bag, cooler or packet on grocery day. Building materials and gasoline are charged at different rates. Seas willing, on grocery day the boat does not leave Grand Turk to return to Salt Cay until about 2:30PM.
There are no gas stations on Salt Cay, if you need gas for your buggy, propane tank or boat you send tanks and cans on the boat to be filled. Gasoline does not go on the boat on grocery day. If you don’t go on grocery day you can bring some groceries back on gas day but gas day is a short day with the boat leaving Grand Turk at about 12:30PM.
When you’re shopping on Grand Turk you take a pen to mark your boxes and bags with your name or mark. After all the passengers are off the boat, the crew starts unloading the groceries. They’re piled onto the dock and you’ve got to be there to put your stuff in a pile for Mr. Maurice to count and charge you.

In this picture, Miss Netty is making sure her stuff all comes off correctly so that she can transport it to her shop. Lots of flour, cartons of eggs, cases of coke and fruit juice, rice, canned beans and lots of other tins of food are brought over every week so that those who do not take the boat can purchase from the little shops on island. Even though we go to Grand Turk at least every two weeks, we still go to Miss Netty’s (Miss Netty’s Variety Store with our friend Coral Jennings in the doorway). or the Dickenson’s Store for eggs, flour and juice (Mr. & Mrs. Dickenson’s Variety Store – closed but I’ll try to get a picture of the lovely Mrs. Eloisa behind the counter before we go!) They have freezers with chicken, pork chops, bacon and a few other things to make it through until the next shopping day.

Even though it's been a long day, Mike and Carolyn manage to exchange a few laughs about the boat ride home. It’s usually a wet ride even on a fairly calm day and District Commissioner Carolyn made me promise to photo shop some of the water off her clothes. (and I did!)

Before leaving Mike makes sure that Mr. Maurice has the proper count and pay for our freight. (No they're not dancing, just goofing around!)

The buggy is loaded - it’s time to go home, unload and take a nap!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sounds of the Island, Salt Cay

Stretching slowly as I wake in the morning, I am greeted by the unique sounds of Salt Cay. Every day the sounds are different and every house on Salt Cay greets the morning with different sounds.

Often, the first thing I hear is the wind howling through the windows (screens & shutters, no glass windows) and the sounds of the Sea crashing off the walls and ceiling - that’s when the sea has kicking up and the waves are pounding the reef and beach. On other mornings I can barely hear the waves and my eyes fly open so that I get up quickly to take a look!

Those days when the Sea is almost quiet and just sending a small whisper through the house, it will be a perfect morning to put in my kayak for an early morning paddle to the cliff by the Lighthouse. When the Sea is quiet, I can also hear the sound of roosters crowing in the distance. Depending upon which way the wind is blowing, I can hear either the South District roosters or – even more faintly – the North District roosters.

South District roosters were elusive as I tried to catch a photo of them this morning. They were taking their broods into the bushes for a late morning bug or two when I happened to catch this one heading into Periwinkle Park. At 9:30AM, he was quite finished for the day – having started at about 4:30AM (possibly a little earlier) with the South District Salt Cay wake-up call that is kind of… “Caa Coooooooooo Coo.”

Not to be confused with the North District Salt Cay wake-up call that goes something like… “Caa Caa Cooooooo Ca”. Of course there are a few variations to the crowing depending upon – well, I’m not sure what it depends upon.

While I was trying to take a picture of Miss Netty’s rooster (North District) she was telling me the old timers on Salt Cay could tell the exact time by the way the rooster was crowing and which rooster crowed.

It does take a little while to get used to the call of the Salt Cay Rooster in the morning and throughout the day. Many homes both North and South (this is a picture of Miss Netty’s and her rooster) have resident Roosters. Mike and I had a Rooster that used to sit on the wall outside of our bedroom window one year. Thankfully he has moved back South – I don’t miss him at all.

Occasionally a donkey will stroll down Victoria Street and stop in front of our house to bray (at 4AM) because he can’t break our gate open to get in and chomp my flowers and plants. And there have been a few times that we’ve had to get up after hearing the donkeys hooves on our walkway because they’ve managed to get into the yard for a very, very early morning snack.

Sleeping in late (7AM) I hear workers on their way to work signing hymns or bantering back and forth among themselves. A bicycle squeaking past my house is not enough to wake me - but if I’m already awake, it’s enough to make me smile, stretch, and start another day with all the adventures it has to bring.

Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Churches of Salt Cay

Salt Cay is approximately 2.5 square miles with a population that includes Turks & Caicos Islanders, Dominicans (Dominican Republic), Haitians, Americans, French, Dutch, Grenadians, Canadians and a host of other countries. The population varies from about 70 people to about 150 people depending upon how many guests or workers are on island (or how many Haitians come snuck in). There are no resorts but a number of small guest houses and lodgings. You can find out more about all that at http://www.saltcay.org/. There are three bars (two with restaurants), one restaurant without a bar, four small grocery stores and five churches.
Beginning at the airport (North), The Church of God of Prophecy is the first church you pass when you arrive on right hand side. Pastor Antoinette Talbot (also knows as Miss Netty) presides over the lively, dedicated congregation. Any Sunday you will pass by (or stop in), the joyful sounds of song and praise fill the air.

Continuing down the road you will come to Salt Cay Methodist Church on the left side of the street. Pastor Noyal Hamilton has moved the small but mighty group of worshippers to the rectory after Hurricane Ike took off the beautiful roof on the church. The rectory building of the Methodist Church is also the emergency shelter for the island in case of another hurricane.

As you come to the intersection of Victoria Street and turn left you will come to St. John's Anglican Church on the right hand side of the street. Canon Been often comes to officiate, but in his absence Mr. Holton Dickenson is the Catechist. The picture on the right was taken by Michele Belanger-McNair (Compass Rose Guest Cottage) of Father Mark on Trinity Day in 2007.
St. John's Anglican Church also has a very old cemetery within it's walls that is interesting to walk through. Standing on the grounds of the church, looking out to Sea is most spiritual and peaceful.

Continue your walk toward South Town on Victoria Street, past the Balfour Town Government Offices, Mary Robinson Primary School and Balfour Town Public Library and just a little bit past The Folly and you will see Mount Zion Baptist Church. Pastor Gary Lightbourne officiates on Sundays with Miss Rosalie Glinton playing the piano as the congregation raise their voices in praise and song. Most recently the Mount Zion Baptist Church hosted an all-faith praise day on Easter Monday. Members of all churches and the community joined together to sing and listen to the Senior citizens and members of the Mary Robinson Primary School sing selections. This was the first time for the event that will continue every year! It was truely wonderful.
I don't have a picture of the fifth church on the tour... but if you continue down Victoria Street and turn left on Glinton Street you will come to the cricket field and Community Center. Pastor Luckner Mondesair presides over The New Jerusalem Church. Be prepared to speak Creole or French at this wonderful gathering.

Most Sundays you will find me looking out to Sea, thankful to be able to enjoy the beauty and peace of the day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Animal adventures on Salt Cay

Want to adopt a cat? Some years ago, a woman came to Salt Cay with a number of cats. Slowly but surely the cat population on island has increased until there are too many cats. It has become a problem that has been addressed in various ways. Porter (Island Thyme Bistro) uses a Have-A-Heart trap to help relocate the cats but it's a very slow process and hardly makes a dent in the overall Salt Cay feline population.

Nancy Connolley fell in love with one of the cats hanging around and came up with a unique way to transport the cat back to her home in Oregon State, USA. Mike (James) used a tackle box, drilled holes in the top of it and created a cat carrier for her to use to take Rebella back. Nancy contacted the vet in Providenciales to make an appointment to give the cat the necessary shots and international health certificate. Fortunately, Rebella is a female! The decrease in population may not be huge but every little bit helps.

Salt Cay's premier Animal Advocate and Donkey Friend, Pat Coe, has contacted Susan Blehr, the Director of the TCSPCA, and hopes to bring volunteer vet Dr. Rich Sefcik over sometime within the next couple of weeks to spay/neuter as many dogs and cats as possible. Debbie Bean (Say Cay Divers) is coordinating this effort now that Pat has gone off island.

It is illegal to have an unspayed female dog in the Turks and Caicos Islands, but it does happen. Salt Cay currently has a puppy population in need of spay/neuter services and we welcome the services of Dr. Rich to help with the problem.
I am happy to report that the new donkey, April Sassy, is doing well and seems to be gaining weight steadily. She is shown here with Pat Coe. April Sassy is extremely tame around humans but is learning the skills she will need to survive on Salt Cay. We hope that one day there will be an opportunity to round up the donkeys and neuter them. The hurricanes decreased the donkey and cow population quite a bit but it doesn't take long for it to get out of control again.

One population we don't want to decrease around Salt Cay is the humpback whale population! I wrote that we hadn't seen any humpback whales for a bit and they may have been heading North, but I was mistaken! Ollie (Salt Cay Divers) and Mike (Hawkins) have both spotted many whales all around the island. Yesterday at about noon we watched from shore off the West side of the island while a pair of humpbacks played for about an hour. They seem to be waiting for the weather to warm up before they head North again (hmmm, I must agree with that).

No article about about the adventures of animals on Salt Cay could be complete without a mention of a rare species spotted just after Easter at the Cyber Cafe in Island Thyme. Bunny Dive Master Dave, one of the great dive masters from Salt Cay Divers.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Picture Perfect Mornings on Salt Cay

My backyard changes every day. At the beginning of every day, I walk out the back door to the Sea and enjoy my first morning minutes watching the waves. The oyster catchers walk back and forth along the shore picking up little bits of food along the way. An osprey glides gracefully overhead with a sharp eye on the reef and a morning meal. Occasionally a little white crab will dig himself out of the sand and poke his head up before jumping out of the hole to skitter along the beach. It's just fifteen steps from my backdoor to the gate... fifteen of the best steps I take each day.

If the seas are calm enough I pull my kayak down into the lighter way and paddle North to the Lighthouse Cliffs and back. Lighter ways are places along the West side of Salt Cay that were cut out of the reef to allow lighter boats to load and unload salt during the salt industry days on the island. The lighter way in front of our house was maintained by the Morgan saltraking family.

Snorkeling out the lighter way toward the buoy is fantastic. (Click on the picture to view it larger and look hard to see the little red buoy out in the Sea). The lighter way ends at a little reef that is absolutely beautiful. Lots of the snorkeling places around the island are beautiful, but this always feels like my own little aquarium. The sea fans gently swaying while the brightly colored little fish swim in and out of the rocks.

I never tire of walking along the beach collecting bits of beach glass and little shells. And now that the beach deck is done I have a great place to put my treasures. The picture to the right is looking from the water's edge up toward the beach deck and the house beyond the gate. Every day brings a different shape to the beach and the hurricanes of 2008 really made some big changes... there is more sand going out further into the water. With a little less sand up toward the beach deck. It's hard to see it in this picture but there's a little step down from the wood walkway to the beach.

There were some songs I couldn't get out of my head all day from an album by Edie Brickell called Picture Perfect Morning... listen to it sometime if you get the chance - it's a good one.

The morning progressed wonderfully and by mid day we found ourselves having cracked conch at Debbie's Coral Reef Bar & Grill with a few friends who were headed back to the States. With soft trade winds keeping us cool, it was fantastic to relax while we watched the activity in the harbor.

Just as we were finishing our lunch, we watched the largest yacht any of us have ever seen cruise past Salt Cay! Debbie hailed the yacht on her marine band radio and invited them to stop by so we could buy them a beer. :0) They were very friendly but let us know they were headed to Grand Turk (to clear customs probably) and were just cruising. The name of the yacht is the M/Y Mayan Queen IV. Looking it up we found out that it is 301 feet long! Amazing!

We celebrate the differences and contrasts on Salt Cay! This was certainly a fun one to experience.

The rest of the day was spent snorkeling, laying in the sun, reading and a little light gardening. Okay, and I did a load of laundry and hung it up to dry. Regardless of what we're doing, at 6:30PM we head out to the beach deck every day to watch the sunset. A picture perfect evening begins...

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Salt Cay Dump, treasures to be found...

In March I wrote a little bit about The Further Adventures of Captain Mike or Another Boat on Salt Cay and I promised to write more about the launching of the boat and everything it took to drag the boat from South Creek to North Beach, fix it up... etc., etc. Well, it's just too darned nice outside to sit at the computer that long, so maybe I'll get to it on a stormy day.

Rain or sun, Mike keeps busy. Even before launching the "Sal Vage" he was thinking about what he would do for a trailer to pull the boat out. He had intended to build a trailer for the boat that blew away in the hurricane - it was a lot smaller. This new boat... well, it needs a big trailer.

Once a week we take the trash to the Salt Cay Dump and spend at least 15 minutes to 1/2 an hour looking around for treasures. FM Mike told me about a great chandlier and brought it to the house for me - I'm going to string it with sea glass for the beach deck. Mike's found some really cool antique stuff. But that's not what I'm writing about today, I'll take a picture of his find and write about that another time! I wanted to tell you about the giant boat trailer (well, pieces of it anyway) that he found. Exactly what he needed to construct a trailer for the new boat.

The frame was much too big and needed a lot of modifications. At the Salt Cay Dump, with the help of FM Mike (that's First Mate), Captain Mike cut apart the frame and brought home the pieces he needed to construct a boat trailer. He had an axel laying around that he was going to use for the other boat trailer and it's coming along pretty well.

He had to cut the frame and weld it to get the exact shape he wanted and now that the main part of it's done he's beginning to work on getting the rest of the parts he needs to finish the trailer.

It's heavy! Keeping our fingers crossed that our buggy (aka Kawasaki Mule) will be able to pull the trailer once the boat is loaded onto it. I'll be there to take pictures.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Donkeys of Salt Cay, a birth announcement

Louise Knucklehead, daughter of the late Thelma Knucklehead and sister to Stormy gave birth sometime between afternoon water and breakfast yesterday morning. The new Knucklehead is a gorgeous little gray female foal. Her name is April Sassfras Knucklehead (of the South District Knuckleheads) aka Sassy.

Premier Donkey Caregiver, Pat Coe, reports that both mother and daughter are doing fine. They spent their first day on the grounds of Compass Rose. Michelle (owner of Compass Rose) reported that the baby was nursing and Mom just ate a cardboard box. It is expected they will move on to other gourmet treats soon.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Deserted Island in the Turks and Caicos Islands

Exploring deserted islands is a fantasy that we enjoy fulfilling as often as possible in the Turks and Caicos Islands! It's fantastic to have Mike's little boat (the "Sal Vage") and the chance to explore some of the over 30 small uninhabited islands around Salt Cay and the Turks and Caicos Islands. On Sunday a small group of explorers ventured to one of those islands - about a 15-30 minute boat ride from Salt Cay. The Seas were calm, the sky was clear and the colors of the sea and sky were absolutely breathtaking.

(The boats at rest by the reefs we snorkeled.)

We arrived on the island (I know the name, but to keep in anonymous I'm not telling) at about 11:45AM. Unloaded a few coolers of food, water and beer and snorkeled around the little reefs off the west side of the island while waiting for a few more explorers to appear.
(Photo looking down from the small cliff above the beach with Salt Cay on the horizon)

After everyone had arrived we had a light lunch and took off to have a look around. As we hiked up above the beach we came to a small path made by local fishermen and started off toward the old sisal fields and ruins of a sisal farm.

(Mike standing in the ruins looking at the sisal plants beginning to bloom.)

Coming upon the ruin, we were surprised to find that the walls of the old place are in remarkably good repair for their age - it's fascinating to imagine what it was like when the sisal industry was active. We do know that there were small goats on the island brought to provide milk and food for the sisal farm. We did not have an opportunity to see any of them while we were exploring.

The island was too big for us to explore the whole thing. We hiked along the coast before returning to the beach for a swim. The skies were clear and it was hot - a little too hot for too much more hiking. The island had a little shade (we forgot to bring our urban umbrella) and the water was warm, clear and great. I think we probably spent at least an hour just swimming, snorkeling and floating around talking while we enjoyed the beauty of the day.

The day's adventure was almost over - climbing into our boats we made our way slowly back to Salt Cay, enjoying the changing aquas and blues of the sea and sky. The peace and beauty of the day were a special gift that we all enjoyed.

(Don't forget that you can click on any of these pictures to view a larger image.)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Platform Party on Salt Cay

Tim & Nancy Connolloy, long time Winter residents on Salt Cay, lost their home in Hurricane Ike - well at least the top half of it... and the bottom half was filled with water and debris. UGH! They have shipped down tons of building materials and are preparing to rebuild. BUT... no event can go without a party - and if anyone knows how to do that it right, it's Tim & Nancy! Knowing that the barge full of building materials was due to arrive on Tuesday (or Wednesday, or Thursday), they hosted the first (and last) Salt Cay Platform Party at Captain Morgan's Retreat on Salt Cay! It was strictly a BYOE (bring your own everything) event.

They had a stairway on the outside that went up to the "platform" but it was deemed too shaky and we walked through the bottom of the house to the inside stairway. Here's a picture of Mike James coming up through the stairwell to join the party. It was a bizarre feeling coming up the stairs to the open platform that used to be the second floor of the house!

What a view of the island from the "Platform"! You could see att the way to the South... and the views of the water and salinas were breathtaking!! Mike Hawkins brought a battery to plug in a converter and operate the blender, everyone brought snack foods and the Platform Party was on! Little by little more and more people arrived bringing their own chairs, food and drinks.

Tim (in his solar hat) and Don Shope took a little time out to study the plans for the new house. The Platform will be transformed into a wonderful kitchen, master bedroom, living/dining room and two beautiful decks (one on the south side and one on the north side of the house). I can't remember what the plans are for the bottom of the house, but if Tim & Nancy are on island, they'll be happy to show you the whole thing. And by next year it will be ready for the actual house warming party! WooHoo!

This is just one small story among many of the recovery efforts after Hurricane Ike. During the Platform Party, many people took the time to sit and talk about their own experiences with recoverying from the winds and waters that came through the island. Earl Talbot and Mike Hawkins sat and talked about the history of hurricanes on Salt Cay - it's fantastic to listen to Mr. Earl talk about the history of the island and what past hurricanes did to the island.

We were all a bit nervous about how many people could safely be in one place on Captain Morgan's Platform... but not so much that some of us didn't brave it and get together for a group picture to commemorate the event!
Tim & Nancy are fantastic... in the face of all of this they always take time out to remember why we were all drawn to Salt Cay in the first place. The sleepy, laid back atmosphere, the wonderful people who call it home (permanently or seasonally), the fun times getting together to celebrate (and needing very little reason for this!), the beautiful waters to snorkel, dive, kayak, swim and just float it - and so very much more.