Monday, January 21, 2013

Bugaloo's Conch Crawl

This post should see some more tropical-like photos uploaded for our  readers  in the far  north. For us that's anything north of Mexico and the Bahamas.  We still shudder when we remember those years of daily commutes in the frozen dark to spend all day inside under fluorescent lights.  I used to get what I called a sixty cycle headache from staring at white paper all day in the flicker.  We don't much miss any of that. I do believe that some people are born  attuned to four distinct seasons and they happily embrace the ice and snow for half of their lives. And I know for sure that some of us just need more sunlight.  We've tried both extremes and are 100% sure that we're tropically bent.   It still feels strange to think of us 'going up north to Texas' on a visit.  That's one of those little things that tend to reset the realization that we do indeed live in a foreign country.  But then... do we, really? Can any place that you've come to consider home still also be foreign to you?    I know that we miss this little island when we're away.  I suspect that's some kind of psychological litmus test.  If you don't miss some place, it's probably not home by those definitions.Well, whether  foreign or not, it's still pretty comfortable here in January.

I want to talk about a new restaurant that's recently opened up on Providenciales.  We've been there three times in the past month.  We don't normally flog commercial establishments, and have no incentive or stake in this.   No money invested.  We don't know the owners, or the bartender, or the staff. Other than what would be expected after being there several times as customers.  I do think they should advertise on this blog, but then I feel that way about everyplace in the Turks and Caicos.

Doesn't this look like the kind of place where you could stretch out with a cold one and just chill for a while?  Nibble on a couple conch fritters.   Put the umbrella up when you start to feel the heat.  The sea breeze keeps it pretty cool, but you do need to keep an eye on sun exposure here.

That's the beach in front of Bugaloo's Conch Crawl.   We took some of these photos on our first visit. I notice that we were there near high tide.  We pay attention to those kinds of things.   We liked the place.  We went back a couple weeks later at low tide, too.  There are photos from each of those lunches mixed in here.   I just gathered up the best photos of the lot and posted them.   The major difference is that there is a whole lot more beach at low tide.  So if you notice the big discrepancy in how much beach is exposed, now you know why.

I think  this structure is a band stand type of thing.  Could also serve as a speaker's or awards rostrum.  Looks like a Corona Beer advertising location. Or perhaps a good spot to set up some kind of souvenir stand.  I think I'll buy a t-shirt myself when they come out with them.  That distant view is also of some interest to us.  Those are familiar waters and very familiar hills and islands.

Did you notice the guy with a rake in his hand patrolling the beach in those photos?    We saw him constantly patrolling, picking up little bits of seaweed and trash. This has to be one of the cleanest beaches in Provo. It's certainly clean for a beach restaurant, no bones about it.  Yuk yuk.  I think the owner is making some statements, throwing down the gauntlet,  and looking for ways to make his place better than the competition. If you know of the history of Bugaloo and 'da Conch Shack', it's understandable that there is some competition here. You know we're big fans of the Conch Shack. Steady customers for seven years.  We've come to know the staff there and we don't need to see the menus.  And we love the place.  We were still very keen to check out Bugaloo's new restaurant in Five Cays.  It's pretty darned good.   Some of the people in our party would say that, so far, it's better.

This is what you'll see from the road  in front of "Bugaloo's Conch Crawl". It's the view after we passed the restaurant, drove down to Marty Mason's former fish operation at the end of the road, and then turned around and drove back.   I guess I shouldn't call the fish pier "former".  It's still there.  Just not currently in business.   We asked Marty about that.  It's another tale of a struggle to recover from hurricane damage.

A lot of  visitors  to Providenciales won't get to this part of the island unless they make a special effort to do so. Five Cays is on the other side of the airport from most of the normal sightseeing spots.  Some might say that it's also on the other side of the tracks.... in a country where the only railroads are ghosts.

Railroads aren't the only ghosts here, either. This part of town reminds me of some of the other islands, like North or Middle Caicos.  Where you sometimes find someone's business dream coming true next to the ghost of one that didn't.

 I suspect this might be another victim of our 2008 hurricane season.  The same thing happened to Marty's commercial fishing business down at the dead end of this road. It's never yet recovered from Hurricane Hannah.  A lot of small business owners here are self-insured.  This is a high stakes game in the Hurricane Zone of life.  I'm going to write my own version of some local background here,  so if you want to continue reading about Bugaloo's jump down to the next photo.

Most of the people who read this are not as familiar with Five Cays as they are with the Grace Bay and Leeward neighborhoods.  You really need to rent a car to get out to places like Blue Hills and Five Cays.  I might not make any local friends among the local cab drivers by saying this, but the big van taxis that you'll get from the airport or the Grace Bay hotels will charge you more for one round trip to the Conch Shack in Blue Hills  than it would cost you to rent one of those Daihatsu Charades for two days.   My advice is to rent the car for two days, which will be enough to let you see the entire island without rushing around.  Get out to South Dock, and Sapodilla Hill,  and try dinner at La Brisas, too, while you've got the car. Try to catch the sunset over Chalk Sound.  One simple rule:  Don't be stupid about leaving valuables in plain view in the car.  Oh, and another rule, fasten your seat belt.  The police here won't give you grief for too many things unless you're causing problems,  but they will come down on you for the seat belts. 

Remember to drive on the left. Driving styles vary widely on this island.  And rental cars come in both right hand and left hand drive.  Don't hit anything and you'll do fine.  You probably won't even see a policeman unless you create a problem. Do I sound like your mother? That's scary.  If you've got a mother like me, I mean.

Provo's Five Cays settlement is one of the largest residential neighborhoods in the Turks and Caicos. Near the nuts and bolts commercial part of Provo, where a lot of manual labor opportunities create jobs for immigrants.  There are not really too many tourism-oriented businesses visible in Five Cays, although the entire country essentially depends upon tourism in one form or another.    It's near the South Dock port of entry, customs, immigration, and all the shipping and courier businesses.   It's the island version of a working class neighborhood, complete with untidy gardens, children and dogs. There's usually some fresh graffiti spray painted somewhere.   If one were the type that mentally accumulates crime statistics, the name of Five Cays crops up in the local newspapers more often than anyplace else on the island.   Maybe in the entire country.   This is a very distinctive local neighborhood. You will definitely know that you're not in Leeward or Grace Bay.

But then when one really digs into the violent crime stories (as a lot of us expats do) they find that in almost all cases victim A knew perpetrator B and in many cases were either neighbors or related.  Maybe by marriage.   What you don't see are reports of holiday visitors  having problems in Five Cays on a regular basis.     Maybe those petty criminals are all over watching the beaches at Grace Bay for unattended beach bags and unlocked rental cars. Naive strangers carrying  obvious wealth create a potential opportunity for a certain mindset. It's the same everywhere. Your town, too. 

And now we'll return to our irregularly scheduled lack of an identifiable program.

This is the entrance to Bugaloo's.  That's a rabbit hutch in front, with a hand dug 'lagoon" alongside.   This is one section of a large parking area.   You can see a vehicle parked in the other secion, which is closer to the beach and tables, but then you totally miss the rabbit hutch.  We did that on our first trip.  This time I walked over to take a look.   While the rest of my party has stormed the outside dining area, claimed a table, and ordered a pitcher of rum punch.  They pretty much had the procedure down by this second visit.  The waitress remembered them.   I can't understand why.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch.  The Blog Doobie is taking photos of a rabbit hutch. Talk about feeling like a tourist.  And I grew up mostly rural.  I think the hutch is cool construction.  It's a conglomeration of local sticks.  The rabbits seemed pretty mellow.   I told them that I'd check the menu for it.  Find out if there was anything on there besides seafood.  I mean, if there's just ONE rabbit, it's a pet, right?  As in, two's a population explosion and three or more rabbits is starting to look more like a steady supply?

I found Bugaloo's sea water pond to be pretty interesting. It runs alongside the building.  I saw several large fish and a couple of sea turtles in there. The fish are to the left just at the end of the piling reflection.   I was pretty curious when I saw this. It was low tide at the time I took this photo. The shoreline had receded off away from the beach. The ocean is very shallow water here.  And yet this turtle still had plenty of water to swim in, slightly above sea level.  I wonder if turtles notice when the tide stops moving. They must feel part of that rhythm.  I'm no expert on marine biology, but I don't think you find sea turtles in places without tides.

"But I didn't ponder the question too long, I was hungry and went out for a bite" (to quote Jimmy Buffet) and  I stuck my lens in one of the open windows as I walked by the inside bar.   Looks pretty comfy, but I knew my crew freshly down from the north country  would be outside in the sun  if it were possible.  And here that's usually possible.

I think the ubiquitous cable-drum-conch-table has become a standard here. Kind of like the steel drum entertainment in some countries.   There were two guys out there working away cleaning conch.  I noticed they were tenderizing the conch out at their cable spool table, too.  That's a good idea.  This stuff has to be bashed with something hard to tenderize it.  Little bits of conch typically get splashed and flung all over the vicinity whenever I do it.   I end up with some pretty messy vicinities. Doing it out over the water makes a lot of sense. I wonder that these guys haven't put some lines out in the water.  All those thousands of bits of splashed conch must lure in some larger fishies.     The restaurant was almost empty when we got there for lunch  half an hour before noon. And these guys were already stocking up for the lunch crowd.   That struck me as a good way to minimize wait time, and also showed a confidence in the clientele.   Open the conch, and they will come?  We see that Bugaloo has also included an outside bar.  He seems well set up for hosting entertainment and crowds.  I was pretty impressed with the place all around.  And this was before the food got to us.

This is the same area as the early photos in this post, but from near where we parked.   A shortcut from the car to the nearest table without going through the bar.  yeah, that guy is still raking sand.  Slow and steady. I guess you don't want to wrap up a sweet job like that too quickly.

As mentioned, the place was sparse just a few minutes before noon.  But it fills up fast, even on week days.  By the time we left, there were only a couple of empty tables.   And no, we did not stay until dinner.   Although this could be a very pleasant place to while away a peaceful afternoon with good company.

Thinking of my incarcerated buddy Harvey in the hutch up front, I tentatively looked at the menu.   Whew.  No rabbit.  I was relieved.  (Don't you just hate it when you find a hare on your plate?)   I guess he knew he was safe.  Had that smug look in his beadly pink little eyes.

I know I'm starting to sound like some food critic, but we do like the decor here.   This is La Gringa's lunch of coconut cracked conch, cole slaw and fries. She wanted the Mac & Cheese, but they did not have any on either of our first two visits. Lost a couple points there with La Gringa.  We got the feeling they are still up shifting to their full potential, and haven't quite reached the stabilized operating mode of a smoothly managed and experienced operation.  (How was that for some euphemistic soft shoe?)  Anyhow that's  all small stuff.   The food is outstanding. I'm sure they'll have the macaroni and cheese issues sorted out in good time.  Or we'll just have to keep asking until they do.   (note: on our third visit, they had it.)

The service was good. The prices are within the local ' brackets' for similar fare. The view over Five Cays Bay  is great.  The decor is Tropical Warm.   I looked at the chart, and this body of water is labelled "Bermudian Harbour (Mudjon Harbour)"   Gosh.  Where have we seen THAT name before?

Why do I get this mental image of some terrified 16th century navigator frantically trying to convince his captain that he had indeed finally found Bermuda and the harbour on the chart must be around there somewhere?  Someone sure seemed desperate to find a Bermudian Harbour here.   They kept stating that they had done so. I wonder if that navigator ever saw Bermuda again....

These guys hated every bit of the Bugaloo's experience.   The conch fritters, the pitchers of rum punch, the sun, the sand,  the clear warm water, the beach. They would rather be in New England and Colorado in early January.   See their miserable faces? This is just one version of me doing sarcasm.

As things got busier, more and more people showed up for lunch.  Not only obvious visitors, but locals.   Some interesting looking characters around here.

At least he had his hair tied up behind him, in a 'frony-tail'.   (which character did you think I was talking about??)

Seriously, if they don't already have a Captain Conch, I think they should consider tailoring the position.  I have a candidate in mind.

I was trying to get a good photo of the rum punch pitcher with the dark rum "floater" on top.  I discovered that there was a brief window of opportunity  with the first pitcher before it got stirred up, which I missed.  It seemed that subsequent scuttles spent scant seconds in a state of stratification.  Silly me.

Bugaloo's has a very interesting location from our perspective.  Five Cays is near our favorite small boat sailing ground.   Big boat sailing ground too, come to think of it.  Here's the coastal radar station tower from the back side.   I wonder if they blank the radar transmitter when it's sweeping over  populated areas nearby?  We talk to these guys on the radio sometimes.  Maybe I'll remember to ask them.

I don't know exactly what this lady ordered, or in what language, but I know they brought her beer in a bamboo mug.   Without taking it out of the bottle.   I don't know if that's the regular way to serve it here. I could imagine some potential problems at around 1:00 in the morning, but that's just me.  I wonder why they would serve it like that.   I just had a thought.       Does anyone know if radar transmissions make beer go flat?  And does bamboo block microwave radiation?  Inquiring minds want to know.  Well, one of them does, anyhow.

We took a closer look at the sea water lagoon on the way by.  It's built with native stone and masonry sides. I recognize the handiwork of another inveterate sand castle and moat builder....who's managed to snag a budget.   I didn't notice any  conch in there.  Just the turtles and those fish so far.    I don't know if the fence is to keep the turtles in, or children and dogs out.  Dooley, for example, would be very interested in that turtle.  I think he was a big game hunter in a previous life.  Looking at the water level,  I was reminded of my earlier questions about the tide.

They've buried a couple of PVC pipes in the bottom of the pond/lagoon.   These are what allow the sea water to be exchanged as the tide rises and falls.   Someone has put caps on the pipes while the tide was high, preserving the water level during the low tide.    Someone has a pretty responsible job here. If they forget to cap those pipes just once during a low tide, they're going to have a problem with their creatures.
Looking at this, I had an idea for a flapper valve that might do the same thing.  I need to talk to Bugaloo about this.   I think we might be kindred spirits when it comes to playing with beach sand.

Bugaloo obviously cares about this lagoon.  I think that grass in there is the stuff that conch like to vacuum for their daily bread.   I wonder if he's thought about where the nearest gasoline powered pump is located.  I mean, if  those pipes were uncapped   all the water would flow out with the tide. It would be good to be able to fill it back up without having to wait for three or four hours.  I'm not sure about turtles, but fish can't handle that. A Honda powered 'trash pump' would do it, with a few hundred feet of intake hose.

Of course as soon as I started thinking about these things I had to go check out the intake for the pond.   I can't help it.  It's an affliction. Kind of like a hyper kid  in slow motion because he's older.    I don't think hyper kids ever discover older unless they discover slow motion first.  This was during our low tide visit to Bugaloos.   We had ulterior motives, which I'll talk about in a minute.  But the black hose is the intake that allows the pipes to admit the water that nourishes the sea life inside the lagoon that Bugaloo built.  The low tide shoreline is quite an appreciable distance from the lagoon intake.  If someone were to take   the PVC caps off the ends of those pipes in the lagoon right now, this would look like an artesian spring as the water drained out.   For a little while.

Someone has to keep an eye on the tide and the lagoon water and the PVC caps, day and night, year round.   It's not all fritters and Corona commercials, being Captain Conch.  You don't make that rank without showing some long-term reliability.  Oh yes indeed.  This is more than just a spiffy uniform on a sunny day.

Before I forget, I wanted to point out the little bitty dot of an island off in the distance just to the right of the  far land mass in middle of that photo.  That's the little cay called Cooper Jack Rock.   It's the first little island we get to when we sail out of South Side Marina.   So... this beach and restaurant is a little over a three mile sail for us in the Hobie.  This is one of the reasons we were interested in what this was like during low tide.  The water is deep enough for the boat, and there are some rocks just offshore there in deeper water to the right that we could anchor behind. We might have to try this out. A rising tide would be best for us.  It would be fun to sail up, drop the anchor, and wade ashore for some conch fritters and refreshments.   It would take us something like fifteen minutes to get here on the Hobie.   And over an hour or so to get back.  Typically.

Speaking of sailboats (notice how smoothly I moved to a subject closer to our hearts than even conch?) we've been visiting the S/V Twisted Sheets over in the boatyard on a regular basis.  We are planning to have the basic electrical mess caused by the lightning strike sorted out by professionals.  That project is underway now.   And after that, we hope to have them go through the engines thoroughly and rectify whatever needs rectifying.   We hope to be launching her again after that, with some sailing plans already in the works.   Future plans include replacing the hard top and dinghy davits entirely with a custom built top that incorporates it all into one structure.  It has to support the solar panels, extend out far enough to hang the dinghy, and accommodate two hammocks.  We've got some other ideas, too.  An arch with steps up the sides would help when tied to fixed docks at low tide.  We want to think about this one.  I've been doodling around a lot with ideas.  Any help greatly accepted on this.  I need a clean design that looks right, and uses a minimum of welding.  Basically replace everything in this photo from the fiberglass up.

Other than recovering from the holidays and surgery, we've been taking it fairly easy.  The longest  trips  we've made lately are the 10.2 road miles from the house out to the boatyard to check on the catamaran.   On one of these last week we noticed on the way to the marina that there are a number of "speed bumps" installed.  I've seen these called "Sleeping Policemen" elsewhere in the world.    Anyhow, to return to the subject, notice the sign going this way says Speed Bump Ahead.   And so it is.  There in the near distance with the usual ruts around each end where people who don't want to go over them go around them.

For some reason we noticed that on the way back the sign said Speed Hump Ahead.  Not Bump, but Hump.  So then we started paying attention.  Why are they bumps when heading in one direction, and humps  going the other way?   And it's not consistent.  I think it was something like Bump Hump Bump Hump Bump Bump Bump.  Has kind of a nice rhythm to it, when you look at it that way.  I'm not sure we agree that a bump is the same as a hump.   Obviously, if they were the same, we wouldn't need two different signs, now would we. I'm confused.

As you know I'm putting some knee rehab efforts in.  La Gringa and I have been walking a lot more than usual.  I take a camera along in case we see something newsworthy or photogenic.  So far, it's just been the normal kind of things.   I still take photos, though.  Lifelong affliction.

We've been looking at some of the native vegetation.  It constantly amazes me how some of this stuff can survive on the rocks facing into the almost constant trade wind here.   These are tough little plants. I don't have a clue what the name of them might be, but they remind me of dwarf trees.  A kind of natural Bonsai.   And they literally grow right out of the limestone rocks, just a few meters from the ocean, and no source of fresh water other than seasonal rain.  Where do these things get their nutrients?   Amazing.  I think we want to start seeing what we can come up with by giving more water to life that's already thriving here on just what it can find on its own.   If we suddenly disappear please tell the investigators that I only gave it nitrogen and some water.

We never get tired of walking the beach.   These are not the best beaches for finding lots of floating debris.  This area is tucked up into the southern shore of the island, is very shallow, and protected from the wind and long shore current. So it's not a good place for driftwood or flotsam. But it's not bad for a winter's afternoon stroll.

I  liked the look of those sand ripples, and wondered if they might be a good background change on my computer desktop.   I thought it came out a little bland.

So I used the software to generate a bunch of  suspended clear droplets.  Well, not really.  But you get the idea.  Voila.  Gringo Wallpaper.

I haven't mentioned Dooley yet in this post, but rest assured he's going along with us on these long walks.  Just a few days ago we were walking along the beach when I spotted some unusual rocks scattered under a tree on the beach.  These rocks sure resemble the blue slate ballast stones we recovered from an ancient shipwreck site we found out on the reef.  These are blue.  They are not native limestone.   They were probably brought here as ballast in a sailboat from the Azores.   That's based upon what Dr. Don Keith told us.  He's pretty knowledgeable in these early shipwreck things.   I believe him.    But the question here, is how the heck did blue slate get out here on this beach by itself?   Another mystery.  And of course Dooley the Distracted was no help at all.   That's the blue rock fragments that he's standing in the middle of.

He's actually quite a challenge to take on a walk.  He has an uncanny nose for the least molecule of edible garbage.  And people do fling chicken bones out of  automobile windows.  And he finds them.  And eats them.  And this causes us all digestive problems later.    He gets one whiff of rotten two week old chicken bone and he's on it like a duck on a June bug.    So lately I've been walking him using this leash I made from some of the black nylon coated shock cord I bought for the Hobie Tandem Island.    This has been an interesting experimental leash.   It stretches out quite a bit when he pulls hard.  This takes the constant shock out of the leash as he charges madly from one side of the road to the other in his version of taking a walk.   If we walk four miles, he trots for twelve.  And where it really gets interesting is when he stretches it out directly away from me as far as he can.   He is like shifted down into four wheel low, and his little legs quiver with the strain as he tries to get his nose one millimeter closer to whatever has his attention.  In this photo, we are going down a steep slope in the hill in which the road is cut. I am standing about six or seven feet above the road bed.  Dooley is headed down on this springy leash like a combination of rappelling and bungy-jumping.

I had to traverse down that diagonal cut to get to road level.  Makes for some interesting knee rehab with an excited Jack Russell on a big elastic band.  This will indeed test one's knee stability and strength.  This physical therapy stuff doesn't have to be a drag.  Does anyone make offroad inline skates?

Sometimes when he gets the leash stretched out all the way to the end on level ground it gets humorous. He will put everything he's got into pulling it straight ahead.   The resistance is along the center line of his body, and his thrust. He starts looking like a badger in a pulling contest.  He'll pull until he starts choking himself.  Then he gets tired of holding the strain, and turns to one side or the other.   The first few times he did this, as soon as he turned  off center line, the stretched shock cord yanked him into a fast 180 degree turn in the blink of an eye.   He's since learned that he needs to back down in a straight line before turning.   Or hold position stubbornly clamped to the earth with his teeth gritted and his muscles quivering until I give in and walk toward him. It spins him dizzy to try to turn under tension.  I was afraid it was going to give him whiplash.

This is just a photo of the road we walk near the dead end.   These rocks are embedded in the road, right in the tire track.  They would be great for stubbing a toe in the dark.  And a man would have to be a natural born fool to be driving around here fast with bald tires.  And we do have some of that variety here.  We definitely do.  Vehicle inspections here are largely subjective.

I still haven't located and repaired the leak in the inflatable kayak.  This has been limiting our boating, considerably.  I am avoiding pulling the skiff on it's trailer with the Defender.  The rear cross-members of the Land Rovers are crumbling to rusty hunks.  The trailer tow hitches are bolted to these cross members.  It's a problem for us, boating wise.  We may be making some vehicular changes in the near future.
Twisted Sheets is in rehab,  we don't trust the rusty truck bumpers to pull the skiff, and the inflatable has a leak.

Thank goodness we planned ahead and have the Tandem Island.   It's on a trailer, but it only weighs a fraction of the skiff.  300 lbs vs about 2,000.  We took the Hobie out last week when we had about 20 knots of wind.  It was a nice winter sail, although a bit wet at times.   Just another cold winter's day in the Turks and Caicos.  Makes one want to reach for the mukluks, doesn't it?

I haven't been very diligent about documenting my DIY stuff lately.   There's just too much of it going on, especially after all the time we spent away in the past three months.   You can't just walk away and leave things here and expect them to be the same when you get back.  A few days ago I was working away at the bench when La Gringa asked me what I was working on.  I told her it was open heart surgery on a croc flip flop.  She told me to take a photo.  This qualifies as DIY.    I cannot just trot down to the store to buy a new set of flip flops.   That would be an international flight to Miami.   So in the meantime, I play tropical cobbler.  That pad will get tucked back inside the shoe where the big nail is holding it open and glued with Goop. Sometimes it works.  Bought me some time, anyhow.

That's pretty much it for this post.   We really didn't have much in the way of new adventure, but this is supposed to be about day to day life here, too.  I wanted to change the scenery on the blog and move away from the holidays.  Also wanted to get the word out about Bugaloo's early in the season.   It's worth checking out. Conch Shack has competition, no doubt about it.  Hopefully they'll just improve to  match it.   They better. Bugaloo means business.

We didn't take any outstanding sunset photos in the past week or so.  La Gringa has been experimenting with her new tripod, and what she can finally get with her longer lenses.  This is a photo she took of the boatyard some 900 meters away, at dusk.   I think it's pretty good for an image taken with low light in the wind.   I think she's hoping to get some good full moon on the water images now, too.  One of those masts is Twisted Sheets.   It's the short one with the fried radar.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Happy New Year, 2013

It's beginning to look like this blog has made it to another year.  Wow. That amazes me. I'm not going to get all whiny with New Year sentimentality.  But if someone had told me back when we started this thing that it would still be going in 2013,  I would have laughed at the thought.   But yet here we are.

"Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans."
John Lennon

Here's the first La Gringa sunrise photo of the new year.   She  took some that are better technically, but I liked the way the reversed reflection of the sun  makes a kind of "smiley face" superimposed over the water.  The Year of the Smiling Sun?

I realize that it's been over a month since our last post.  Sorry about that.   We've had some external factors messing around with our life style lately.  We were out of the TCI ("off  island" is the local phrase) for big parts of October, November, and December.  I had a new knee installed in November.  I wanted to fit it in while the sailboat is out of the water for repairs. La Gringa also wore a few sutures home from our Oklahoma trip.  We're all recovering together. I'm pushing my own recovery about as fast as I can,  but it still takes some time.  I figure six weeks to get back to normal activity, 12 weeks to feel completely healed.    So basically, what I'm using as an excuse here for my laziness is that we've both been a little bit hobbled through December.   We've also had house guests for the past few weeks.  Yeah I know... Whine whine whine. Excuses.  The truth is that we love having our boys around for a few weeks. It gets lively here.

  But we have managed to pick up a few photos along the way, and I'll try to keep my descriptions and the captions brief so that we can get this blog moving again.   I think we have enough for two posts.   In order to get this one out as soon as I can, I'll try to limit my typing to just describing the photos.  That should shorten things up a bit, if I can control myself and keep my fingers quiet. We'll see how it goes.

So, Happy New Year from the south shore of Providenciales.

We returned from our sixth and last 2012 trip to the USA in mid December.  We had our first house guests arriving  two days later, the house was a mess, we had Christmas shopping to do, the yard was overgrown, the fridge was empty, the bugs had taken over, my knee hurt like the dickens (whatever that means) and well, I was feeling like the whole holiday season thing was really starting to get my goat...

I'm kidding (nyuk nyuk, kidding, get it?) because that's not my goat.  My goat looks exactly like an obnoxious little Jack Russell Terrierest.  That goat in the photo is a permanent resident of the Pampered Paws kennel here in Provo.  There are also cats and chickens in addition to the dogs and the goat..  It's a real comprehensive kind of boarding kennel.   We feel Dooley is getting a rounded and multicultural experience here while we're back in the Fatherland.  At least that's what we tell him. Did I ever tell you that he knows the sound of the Land Rover coming up the driveway fifty yards before we get to the kennel?  Even after we've been gone for three weeks, he recognizes the sound of that little diesel when we 'finally show up to bail him out' (his words).   By the time we get out of the vehicle, warily locate and then circumnavigate the goat, get up the walkway, and open the fence gate, he's worked himself up into a fine little lather.   I shot a short video of him and his big dog buddies when we picked him up this last  time.  Do you think he was glad to see us?  I swear, one of these days that tail is going to go flying right off of his butt.

'Excitable boy, they all said'.  Donna  is the owner of Pampered Paws (which Dooley the Delinquent refers to as "D Block") and she knows the little booger well after keeping him a few times over the past seven years. Donna tells us that he has a pretty active social life while he's there.  What she actually said was that "he runs the place".  We wouldn't ever expect him to admit it to us that he has a good time there.  He gets too much mileage out of the happy-reunion/huggy-body/licky-face routine. We do feel better knowing he's safe and happy while we're away.  I've been referring to the kennel as BSU.   The SU is for Sniff University.

Jacob has been doing a lot of beach combing while he's been here.  That's his arrangement of  rocks, shells, and flip flops in the "2013" photo up at the beginning of this post. This is a pretty good area for finding interesting stuff washed ashore, although it's not nearly as productive as West Caicos.   Flotsam gets channeled into little nooks and crannies in the rocks.  There are a few small beaches along the shoreline, too.   I thought this shipwrecked find would have made a better companion to Tom Hanks than "Wilson" did, in his Castaway movie.  Certainly a lot more cheerful.  Supportive.  Portable.  Easy to talk to.

There.  That's better.

Doesn't it make you want to boogie away the New Year on a beach somewhere?   Us, too.

And the boys went through with our unintended but now traditional tradition here of rounding up a "Christmas Stump".  We've managed to come up with a new one every year, without feeling responsible for killing a live tree on a lot somewhere in Canada.  They found one within walking distance of the house this year.   Sure made that little adventure quick and easy, and it saved me the pounding that a long ride in a small skiff does to tender knees. It still had some trimming to be done at this point.  It's amazing how nice it all looks once it's festooned with lights and tinsel, and ornaments, and viewed through the rim of a suitable cocktail glass.

Can't you just feel those blustery December winds whistling through the thatch palms?  It IS winter here, you know.

Dooley the Devious absolutely loves it when the boys visit, of course.  He gets in a lot of ball playing, lap time, and is very much aware of his vastly increased probabilities regarding untended edibles. Here he is staking a claim on Ben:

There might be a bit of time passing before we see young Ben again.  He's waiting for his NZ visa, and will be spending most of the next year on the South Island of New Zealand in skydiving school.  If I were his age, I'd be going with him.

Our Christmas was pretty good. We had a full house, with grown offspring coming from Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.  We all had lots of cool presents to open.  Some of them will hopefully improve this blog a little.  La Gringa got a new camera tripod included in her loot.  It's light years ahead of the ones we'd been using. Now she can use her maximum telephoto lenses without worrying about the wind shaking the camera.  We hope.   This should translate into clearer long-distance photos.    I got another Go-Pro camera in my stocking with the coal and sticks, and this one has a remote control.  I can attach it to the mast and turn it on and off to save battery life.  I can change modes without taking the mast down.   Now we can put  cameras on a boat and the dog at the same time.  I also bet we'll have Go-Pro mounts stuck all over the S/V Twisted Sheets eventually.  Hope you guys like the videos.  There may be more of them.   Please write us and let us know what you think.

We haven't been spending a huge amount of time on the boats yet this winter  but we have managed to get out and look around town a little.   We've been to two new restaurants in the past week (Bugaloo's and the Beach House) and we're going to check out another one next week.  And that reminds me... recently one of our readers wrote and asked the status of Bob Pratt's new restaurant down at South Side Marina.  We've been anxiously awaiting his opening ourselves, as we'd love to have a place to go in the neighborhood.   So we decided to head on down there to take a look.   Bob was kind enough to give us the tour.

As you might remember from previous photos here, the new bar/restaurant is built up on top of the hill overlooking the marina.

It's primarily set up as a long bar at this point.  It's open on three sides, with heavy shutters that secure the bar.  They lift up to form shade when it's open.  This is what they look like when closed and locked.

And this is a view from the end looking back toward the two long sides of the bar.  It will be all open air with the other shutters up.     I think I like this arrangement.   It controls the wind, and can be used to block it when it gets obnoxious.  And it does.   Most people at the bar will have a view  across the bar to the people and activities going on, and to the ocean in the background.  As you can tell, the plumbing and refrigeration fixtures were not yet installed when we stopped by right before the holidays.

See those two vertical steel poles supporting the middle of the roof?  Those are solid steel propeller shafts donated by 'Crazy George' of Turtle Cove.   This place strikes me as perfect for a world class collection of  beach combing goodies.  I'll ask Bob if he's interested in my plastic buoy collection.   I can see this also serving as an excuse to go check out West Caicos on a regular basis with an eye for good beach bar paraphernalia.  Gives our inter island excursions some purpose.  Not that we needed another excuse.

Bob went to a lot of trouble with the construction and details of his new place.  Solid beams bolted together, and the life lines are stainless steel.   I recognize the practical design of someone who's been living here a while.

Every place in the restaurant has a view of the marina, the canal, and the Caicos Bank in the background.

Bob showed us the bar chairs he had specially built in the Dominican Republic. They're sitting in storage at the moment, waiting opening day.

I don't know just when to tell you that he'll be officially open for business.  There are obviously still some fixtures to be installed.  Shelving to hold glassware.  Refrigerators and ice makers.  And as of these photos, Bob was still waiting for the local government to complete their review and approval of his restaurant and alcohol licenses. These things take time.

The clay light fixtures on the tops of the columns should make for some interesting patterns at night when the lights are on.

As I said, solid construction and stainless steel hardware.   We DO get some wind storms here from time to time.  It's a good idea to keep that in mind when planning construction.   This looks pretty solid to me.  Solid, simple, nothing there to corrode.  Easy to replace the major components. I love it.

This is a view up toward the Harbour Club Villas, which is next door to South Side Marina.    It also shows you the three basic levels of Bob's place.  There is room for a lot of tables, chairs, and people throughout.

We asked him what the official name was going to be, and as of this writing.....he still didn't know.   He's been playing around with different ideas for a name.   I don't think any of them have settled in as THE name yet, though.   If any of you guys out there have any good ideas for a name, please let us know!  We're still calling it Bob's Place, until further notice.

 This will be a really great place for visiting cruisers to relax and keep an eye on their boats.   We had Twisted Sheets right there in the slip to the left of that palm tree for several months last fall. The gazebo, and site of many Thursday night potluck cookouts, is the small roof next to that palm tree.   I don't know for sure, but wouldn't be surprised if the cookouts got moved up the hill once it's open.

While I suspect that a large percentage of the clientele will be from visiting boats, Bob was also thinking ahead for guests arriving by car from elsewhere on the island.  He's put in a huge parking lot.   And that nice strip of packed dirt there between us and the fence in this photo is a boccie ball court.    The last  (and only) time I ever tried my hand at boccie ball was at Jimbo's Place on Virginia Key about ten years ago.  I wasn't any match for the  regulars there.  Maybe this is an opportunity to  be one of the locals!!    I've never actually felt like I was a local in any of the places I've lived.   Well, except Austin and San Diego,  But this is a pretty small little expat community here.   .   It has possibilities.   They haven't thrown us out, yet.    Maybe I should Amazon up a Kindle edition of  Colorful Characters for Dummies.  I'm talking too much again, aren't I.

This is just another view down the Boccie Ball court, for you hard core boccieballers out there.

We took a lot more photos of Bob's Place, but I think I'll wait until I have some good ones of the place up and running.  Full of happy faces and cold bottles.   It's still a bit sterile at the moment.   I bet that changes in one weekend.    We'll let you know when he's fully open.  Any day now....

We've been walking a lot as part of the self guided physical therapy thing.  So be prepared for some walking type photos over the next few months. For example, this little opening is between us and the entrance to the Caicos Marina and Boatyard  or is it Shipyard?  I forget.   Anyhow, the water flows in and out of here with the tides.  This water fills Juba Salina, as well as flows through Flamingo Lake, Turtle Lake and into the Discovery Bay canal system.   This is the eastern outlet for this large Salinas system.   The western outlet is the canal that runs into South Side Marina.  See how it all fits together?

We take Dooley the Dip along with us, sometimes.   And as soon as we are close enough to sea water for him to get wet while keeping an eye on us at the same time, he's in.  Right up to his furry little neck.

I'm still finding it difficult to catch the dynamic motion of water in a still photograph.  In that photo ( above) it looks like there is some light chop at the entrance to the salina.   But it's more than that. The tide is rushing out at several knots, and the wind is driving the waves into the tide.  That's what makes those little waves so steep.  Here's a little video to show you what I mean.  Watch the water:

And yeah, this is one of the places Dooley likes to go swimming.   The water runs out of here at a pretty good clip.  We'll probably get a collect phone call from him in Haiti one of these days wanting us to come pick him up.  If  something doesn't eat him on the trip over..

In addition to walking as therapy, we've brought the inflatable kayak out of storage to help in the knee rehab.  It worked very well the first time around three years ago.   I had a lot of issues with glue letting go while it was being stored. I got things stuck together and the boat made three trips before springing a major leak.  I am SO glad we didn't strike out for West Caicos in it, again.   We would have sunk about a mile offshore.  Whatever were we thinking?  I confess that I might be changing my mind about inflatable boats in the tropics.

One of the good things about inflatable kayaks is that it exercises all the major muscle groups. Lifting it into the truck and out, pumping it up, and then kicking those Mirage Drive pedals for several hours.  I generously shared the excellent upper arm workout with La Gringa this time while I took photos, being the thoughtful kind of guy that I am.

On the boat's third trip, something came unglued somewhere inside the hull where the inflatable keel is located. Jacob and I were about a mile or so up the canal when it happened.  We made it back to the truck by pedaling like something from a Lance Armstrong nightmare for forty or fifty yards, then pulling over to the edge of the canal.  Jacob would gasp for breath and hang on to a shrub or rock while I turned around in my seat and frantically pumped in another fifty shots of air.   Then we did it again for another fifty yards.    So at the time of this writing, the inflatable kayak is awaiting surgery of its own.  I'm waiting for advice from Hobie, before I start cutting.  And I have a new appreciation of the cliche' about being up a certain creek without the proper means of locomotion.

But before the blow-out, we did get a couple of good trips in.   We followed the coast line, and again I was reminded of several places I've long wanted to explore.   This ledge is hard to access from land, but we can get to it easily in a boat.  There are several interesting caves along here, and I'd like to take a closer look to see how deep they go into the hillside, and if they are connected.   We don't tend to get this close to the rocks when sailing the Tandem Island.   The inflatable is perfect for this.   Except when it's leaking air as fast as I can pump it back.

We noticed that some small Casuarinas trees are taking hold along the edges of the long unfinished Cooper Jack marina.      The word we get is that someone considers them an "invasive species" and thinks they should be wiped out.   Well now, just..... wait a minute.   These islands were formed on the bottom of the ocean, and then the water level fell exposing them to the atmosphere.  Every single plant, animal, and structure on Providenciales is part of an "invasive species".    Coconut palms are invasive.  So are all the other plants here.  Yet we don't hear about any crusades to get rid of  coconut palms, or bougainvillea.

Speaking for ourselves, we LIKE the Casuarinas trees.   They grow anywhere, don't need a lot of care, and provide great shade.   They make a nice sound when the wind blows.   They're great for picnics.  The wood burns hot and clean and is absolutely great for cooking.  I'm thinking it's about time we planted a few of them, in fact.  But when I looked around to buy some good Casuarinas seedlings, I discovered that one of the local plant nurseries not only doesn't sell them, but is the prime force behind the effort to eradicate them.  Seems they sell OTHER types of shade trees, whereas Casuarinas are essentially free for the taking.   Hmmm.  Aren't ornamental things imported to the island and sold in nurseries invasive by definition?

Here's a photo taken back when I was still obsessed with using the kayak to rehab the knee.  It works, too.

And here's a brief video of Jacob and I on the inflatable's first trip out in two years.  Everything was working fine, at this point.    We even had Dooley the Drooler riding shotgun with us:

So, now the kayak is  sidelined, awaiting repairs.  This is probably going to end up being some kind of DIY post on here, I bet.  But in the meantime we're still taking our long walks.   And walking on this road isn't exactly the same as a stroll down a nice flat bike path or a paved sidewalk.  This is one of those roads where you can easily turn an ankle in a groove in the rock right in the middle of your lane.     These grooves were made by those big steel underbite 'teeth' that stick out of the front of bulldozer blades.   I would have thought they would have smoothed this out after the rough cut, but no.  Things don't always get the finishing touches in a place like this.  Functionality is as far as it gets, usually.  I have no idea how many years this road has been like this, but my guess is that it's been since it was first built.  We first saw it when we bought the property in 2005.

The upside for us is that this tends to keep the casual visitors from civilized places with pavement away from our neighborhood.  At least those who have read the fine print on their car rental contracts.   We all drive Jeeps or Land Rovers out here.   No wonder, eh?

Don't you know the car rental people just LOVE to rent the small cars to people who drive them out here?  You know, the automobiles they rent here with those little bitty 13" wheels?   We broke two of those cars when we first moved here.  It wasn't pretty.  Avis is still mad at me.

It actually makes the most sense to drive an SUV or better around here.  Most of our neighbors drive things with all wheel drive and rugged suspensions.  With tall tires.  We tend to think about things like fording depths and suspension travel.  Our neighbors all seem to trade cars in about every two years.   We've kept our two Land Rover Defenders going for a lot longer than that, but we see the end of those days coming, too. The road, and salt, have taken their toll, even on the mighty Defenders.    We're going to do it differently next time.  There might be a Jeep in our future.    Right now, it's looking like a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.  In white, with black top.  I should say, a black HARD top.  We're done with ragtops here.  Except for boats.   We're going to miss the inherent sense of adventure we get when we see that ball of black smoke every time we fire up the diesel Defenders.   But we think we can get by with a Jeep.   And I can get parts in two days from Miami.   This is a pretty big deal.

Even where we don't have ruts cut into the rock by bulldozers we have severe issues here with water erosion.  This is right down the middle of the road near our home.  Try running one of Avis or Hertz's little Daihatsu Charades over this at 40 mph.    You can break those little cars on this road.  Trust me.    Did I mention, this is a great section of road to search for loose automotive parts?  We've found entire wheel assemblies in the bushes near by.

Some of the erosion is from the torrential rains we get from time to time in late summer.  Others are from the sea.   In this next photo, you can see the high tide mark on the concrete bulkhead of the Turtle Tail marina.  You can also see where exceptionally high tides and storm surge go over the wall and start washing the surrounding dirt away.  This causes some problems.

That new arroyo continues right across the road after a storm.   The good folk that actually own this road have been doing a much better job of maintaining it recently.   They have been bringing in truck loads of fill, and have raised the level of the road for a long stretch that always flooded during times of high water and high stress.   Which seem to go hand in hand around here.

I really don't have much to say about this next photo. The Bight at low tide.  It was intended to be a view of the Five Little Cays with the sun glinting off the water.   The glint, I got.       This is one of our turning around spots for our rehab walks.

I just realized that this last series of photos made the place look pretty bleak.   And I can remember back when I first visited the Turks and Caicos, when I thought it looked pretty bleak, myself.   I fell in love with the ocean here primarily.  This is a wonderful place for someone who love tropical seas and all their trappings.  It took a while for me to start appreciating the land, too. It's fairly rugged. Harsh if you're low on water. Bad news on bare feet away from the beaches.  Of course the beaches are fantastic.    Now when I look at the rocks, I see that there is life everywhere around here.  Below the ocean.  Above the ocean.  In the water, in the air.    And the life here doesn't exactly have it easy by most standards.  There's no topsoil to speak of.   The limestone and dirt itself has about the same salt content as the ocean.    There's no natural source of fresh water other than sporadic rainfall.   And yet, stuff lives.  And thrives.    One just has to look a little closer.   We have trees growing directly out of holes in bare rock.  No kidding.

When the ants need to cross a road out here, it must be the scale equivalent of a month's hike in the Kalahari.  But these ant's don't  expose themselves for that long. They tunnel under it.

Yes, you're right.  I 've been out walking in the hot sun too much lately, when I start taking photos of rocks and ants.   Be warned that as we continue hiking around with a camera in had, there may be more of this kind of stuff.   But be calm.  It's most likely a phase I'm going through.   This too shall come to pass.

Oh, I had mentioned the new camera stuff.   I haven't done much with the new GoPro Hero 3 yet.   I've done a couple of time lapse experiments, and a two hour movie.  Nothing worth posting here, by the way.  If it was any good, you'd see it, believe me.    The thing is that I've run into the same problem with the Hero 3 that was essentially what stopped us with our original GoPro.   Remember, this is the camera we'd rigged up for the Dooley Cam (put your speakers on and watch that video) and the mast camera on the Tandem Island sailing kayak.

The problem is condensation inside the waterproof housing.  I'd bought several packets of the GoPro brand of little desiccant strips, and they failed to do much of anything useful with the original GoPro.  I was hoping the new Hero3, being smaller and lighter, would have some different characteristics.  But nope.   After about 45 minutes of shooting video, it was fogged up.   Looked like this:

And the lens area was REALLY fogged, almost to the point of being unusable.   The videos I got from this were basically useless.  Oh well.  Another problem to solve.

You KNEW there was going to be a DIY in here somewhere, didn't you?  After a month's layoff?     Hey, just be thankful I am keeping it short and simple this time.    I'm not even going to mention the other  DIY stuff.  Yet.

What I've done is to buy one of GoPro's accessories.  It's an extended battery pack that piggybacks onto the original battery and gives you twice the life.    And while that sounds interesting and useful for future considerations, what I REALLY wanted out of that kit was the extra deep rear housing piece that comes with the extended battery pack.   I took a piece of that same Starboard that I've been making so many things out of lately, and I cut it to the same dimensions as the extra battery pack.  Then I hollowed it out, and drilled some ventilation holes in it.    I didn't bother taking the workshop photos this time.   I figured the finished prototype was pretty self explanatory.   In this photo, on the left is the new, extended battery GoPro housing piece, with my little spacer, and a handful of better desiccants than GoPro sells.

I just got this completed a few days before the Holiday Invasion, so haven't really had a chance to try it out yet.  But I have great hopes for this solution.  The extended battery pack housing has plenty of room for four of the reusable desiccant packs. I need to do some repairs to Dooley's camera mount (the boy is hard on equipment) but that won't take long.   Hopefully, this time I've got it fixed.

And of course we've now got four hours of battery should we come up with an idea in which that would be useful.   I think it's going to have to be something where I can use the ventilated case, such as a really long time lapse.  We'll see.    The first order of business is of course to get the danged thing working as advertised.  I should say that yes, I did contact GoPro, and they did respond.   I can report that their customer service people are very nice and polite.   Not much help in this case so far, but nice to talk to.  That's worth something.

I've now realized that I've got more than enough photos for two posts.  With more on the way.  So I'm going to end this one so that we can get it out there while it's still early in January.   In our next one, I want to show you some photos of a new restaurant that's opened up on Provo.

And I can end this with a 'traditional' one of La Gringa's sunset photos.    This is another opportunity to show you how we attempt ( we strive, I tell you!) to improve our product here.  

La Gringa got her camera set up in about a 20 kt. wind, but this time using her new tripod with a 20 lb camera rating.  She used a common enough theme for us this time of year:  the sun going down over the house that belongs to the artist  who was once before and is now again known as Prince.   This isn't her best shot, as she was still waiting for the sun, but it's a good one to show you the improvement she got with a sturdier tripod.  I know you can't blow these up to the original size, as Google shrinks them down and they lose a lot of resolution.

We were losing light pretty quickly at this point, and the wind was howling.  When I was examining her photos trying to pick out the clear ones, I immediately noticed that these were definitely crisper than previous photos under similar conditions, on another tripod.   If you were able to look closely just to the left of the palm tree on the left hand side of the house, you could see this ship that was anchored off the South Dock area of Providenciales.    That boat is six miles from the camera.     You can see the motion blur from the wind in the palm tree leaves, but there's no shake in the camera at all.  I think this is going to work out well.

Okay, y'all.   That's the first post for 2013.  We're back on the island, with plans for some upcoming blog subjects we hope you'll like.    And I'll end this one with one of La Gringa's better sunset photos on that day.