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Two Gringos in the Caribbean: The Airs of Pine Cay Part 1
Published on May 8, 2013Email To Friend    Print Version

A personal journal of life as American expats in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

By Byron Selman

This post is going to be all about Pine Cay after my usual opening blather. I know you're probably ready for some warm blue water photos, especially as we read the headlines about another snowstorm in Denver this week. We've got some warm sunny beach images to share along with the results of our first few feeble fumbling forays into aerial photography from kites. We're still inexperienced with that but you can judge for yourself. That perspective between the surface and 200 feet above the surface is not the easiest to photograph. Aircraft can't fly that low (or close) legally over populated areas, and even if they could, photos taken from a platform moving 60 mph a few hundred feet away are not the greatest. We tried helium balloons here years ago. Got some decent results, but a lot of wind issues stopped that one. Well, we're back at it. We don't give up easily. But you already knew that, too.

The pure and elemental beauty of these little islands still grabs me right by the eyeballs and stops me after eight years of living surrounded on all sides by these kinds of views.

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That's a stretch of the beach at Pine Cay. Not another person on it, or even another footprint. The little white bits on the horizon are ocean swells breaking on the reef a mile out. The dark horizon is the Pine Cay Cut, a natural opening through the reef. I wish that I could do it justice with a photograph and I keep trying, but so far I can only capture snapshots like this. As nice as the photos look, the reality is much, much better. The photo doesn't have the audio, for starters. Imagine that the only sounds you hear are the wind through the trees and the waves ceaselessly nudging and rearranging that clean sand around on the beach. It's so fascinatingly dynamic, that ocean. It's spent billions of years going about the planet's business in the slow sculpting process that shapes islands, and atmospheres. And it shapes a specific type of people, too, this primordial ocean. If you're reading this and enjoy it, you might well be one of those people. Humans are about 70% water. How can we not feel the same pull of the moon that moves entire oceans? And all of the land on earth is on islands, if you step back far enough to view it.

Plant yourself in a comfortable beach chair in a shady spot with a good book here, and the sound alone will put you into nap mode before you realize it. And the light. It has some special summer luminosity that artists have sought and appreciated throughout the centuries. And it's always summer here, essentially. We're not artists, but we appreciate the creative efforts of those who are inspired by the beach.

Even Dooley the Debauched seems to be absorbed contemplating the natural beauty of his surroundings. What deep philosophical thoughts must be running through that hairy little head when confronted with all of this natural wonder?

The water is incredible and that's a weak description. It's much better than incredible. It's as clear as any mountain stream but that's where that resemblance ends. It's salty, for example, and that makes it buoyant. You can lie back and float in it effortlessly. I've dozed off while floating right down this very beach on calm days. Seawater snoozing only lasts for a moment, because as soon as my neck relaxes my head sinks down until Poseidon hits me with a super snort of salty saline solution. Talk about yer rude awakening.

I think that if one were to put on some dark glasses and a broad hat or visor for shade, and clamped on one of those inflatable airport gift shop neck cushion things for flotation, you could fall asleep thirty feet off Pine Cay and wake up on Grace Bay three islands west of here. You'd be fried like overcooked bacon on top and wrinkled up underneath, but I think you could make the trip using only breeze and the longshore current. If something didn't eat you on the way. I'm not suggesting that anyone try this. You'd be the food chain equivalent of a home cooked meal by the time you passed Little Water Cay, but you know what I mean. If I ran a glass of that ocean through a paper filter I don't think it would improve the clarity enough to notice. It doesn't get any cleaner than this. The temperature of the water is exactly what you would dial it to if you had a dial that could even do that. Hmm. I better get back to the blog post. It's supposed to be about Pine Cay. So I guess this is the end of the initial blather I mentioned early on. A bad habit of mine. As I was writing this, I also saw an article in one of the local online news sites about the homeowners of Pine Cay. I thought some of you might be interested in this. The expats here are very involved in the local community in a very big way.

We just recently decided that we needed a bit of a break from the daily routine of the "big city" that Providenciales seems determined to become. We hadn't spent a night on "the Cay" since bringing some assorted offspring out for Daniel's birthday get together over a year ago. We were way overdue. We miss this place when we don't visit for a while. It's a very special place among a whole country full of special places.

We were out walking the beach in front of the Meridian Club shortly after daybreak on Saturday. These little point-and-pray cameras we carry around don't handle subdued light well, but we snapped off a few early morning shots before any of the hotel guests descended to the sand. It's quiet here at dawn.

There are a lot of things to do around the Meridian Club. Snorkeling excursions, sailing, fishing, kayaking, paddleboards, swimming, tennis, I was wandering around with Dooley and saw some whimsical beach art planted around the edges of the little sand trap golf course laid out on the beach.

We've been playing around with some different camera techniques. We've also managed to get a few aerials. The GoPro Hero cameras are not the best choice for this kind of thing, since they're primarily video cameras and not intended to compete in the high resolution still image market. I've got another camera in mind (of course!) but we did get some shots that are at least good enough to see the potential of a better lens setup.

Once the sun got cranking we got the camera up a couple hundred feet and walked down the beach to the west, letting the little GoPro snap away taking one photo every five seconds. We ended up with literally thousands of photos of Pine Cay. We're still learning some techniques, but we did get a lot of stick time in on this trip. There are enough reasons to quit using GoPro for this, anyway. It's just not the tool for the job. The photos did get better as the light improved throughout the day, but not by enough.

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You can see all the way across the island to the Caicos Bank on the other side, including several other small islands. You can also see one of the little freshwater ponds on Pine Cay. I'm planning to talk a little about these ponds in a subsequent blog post. I need to do some historical research first, and don't want to delay getting this one out while I educate myself. I figure we got enough photos on this weekend for at least three short posts. If one could call what I do here 'short' posts, I guess. I can't help it, you know. I'd like to show you all thousand images we just took. It's pretty danged hard to throw most of them away and just use a few. I've turned into a photo pack rat and my hard drive is fast becoming unfast. Self control has never been a descriptive word someone would use in my behalf.

We wandered up and down the beach for a while in that early morning illusionary euphoria of having an entire island all to ourselves. La Gringa was using the internet link at the Meridian Club and eventually Dooley the Dogie and I worked our way back to the rendezvous. I sat down on a low wall between the pool and the feet washing stations to take a break. I noticed that something seemed to have instantly caught the dog's rapt attention.

I thought he must have spotted La Gringa in the distance, but that wasn't the case. He was downwind of the Meridian Club kitchen.

I'm going to throw another ground level photo of the beach in here, just because I think it's pretty. Can you see how hard it is to discard several hundred of these shots?

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We walked around the Meridian club to take a look at some inflatable stand-up paddleboards that they have for their guests. I've been interested in these things for our sailboat, Twisted Sheets. Actually I'd hoped to try one, but it wasn't to be on this trip. Maybe next time. But we did see an example of the 'reef balls' that are getting to be so popular here these days. The Pine Cay Homeowners group put something like 250 of these stabilizing habitats in the ocean offshore here and has one on display at the club. We want to come back on a regular basis and get underwater photos as the critters move in over the years. Wouldn't that be an awesome time lapse? One photo per hour for months. Somebody want to help me develop a solar powered underwater GoPro? A photovoltaic cell and a connector on the GoPro case to keep the battery up, packaged to be secure inside a reef ball. Coat the glass to prevent growth over the lens. Cool idea, eh?

We found La Gringa and her laptop finishing up in the outdoor restaurant area.

One of the local day charter catamarans came sailing by on a tack in toward the beach while we were there. This is a Wharram design named Beluga. I think these guys sail more than any other boat in the islands. It's a rare day that we don't see them tacking back and forth between the beach and the reef, taking customers for a nice sail and then returning them to Providenciales. If you find yourself down here looking for something nice to do, you might consider a sunset sail on Beluga. Tell them the Two Gringos sent you. Heck, take us with you! We'll put the photos here. They're a dog friendly boat, so no worries there, mate. We always exchange waves and barks when they pass us while we're in our little Hobie. They also have some nice photos on their website. I think they should advertise here, though. Of course I'm pretty biased.

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While Pine Cay is a privately owned island, the laws here permit public access to all beaches below the high tide line. Which the ocean conveniently re-draws twice a day. Sometimes we see different boats tuck in to some of the little sheltered areas in the lee of the island. They typically drop the hook (anchor for you non-boaters) and stay for lunch and a swim. We've done the same thing ourselves, and certainly plan to do more. To be honest, though, the diving is much better out toward the reef. Maybe they were collecting Sand Dollars. This is a good place for it. The Meridian Club logo is a Sand Dollar. That land sticking out is named Sand Dollar Point, in fact. We've used them for Christmas decorations.

I was flipping through the photos looking at all the images we took on this little microvacation and found one that shows where the airstrip on Pine Cay is located relative to the Meridian Club. I know there must be a few other pilots out there reading this. It's paved, with pilot controlled lighting. The airstrip is the runway there on the left side of the image. That's a better view of the fresh water pond there, too. A rarity in the Bahamian chain. And geologically this is the southeastern most part of that chain.

We spent a big part of this day trudging up and down the beach, learning the fine points of KAP, or "Kite Aerial Photography" and there are definitely some techniques involved. It's a good hobby for tinkerers, too, as you pretty much have to build your own gadgets wherever gadgets are needed.

I found a use for my sailing gloves and have already learned not to become emotionally attached to the camera. It does become easier to emotionally detach from something that makes me look like a one string marionette doing a river dance. The kite pull in the trade winds is substantial. This is also something I am addressing by building a kite reel to take the forces.

We walked down the beach for about a mile west of the club, taking photos and playing with string and camera angles and techniques. I was kind of 'tied up' so La Gringa carried another camera for the earth-based shots. One of the homeowners has done a great job growing a Casuarinas tree trimmed specifically as a beach umbrella. You already know I love these trees.

We did have to keep an eye on Dooley the Delinquent. He has taken it upon himself to annoy the iguanas from time to time. He chases them until they dive down into their lairs, chuckling to themselves at how secure they are. Well, what might seem like a secure bunker to a Rock Iguana is just another cat's sandbox diversion to Dooley the Digger. Man, can that little dude throw some sand!

He started out at the entrance to a burrow just large enough to admit an iguana. Maybe 10 cm wide. By the time I got re-positioned and got the camera set up for video, he'd dug himself in by about a body length and then some. I had to grab his stubbly little tail and haul him out, his head and face totally covered in sand. Good thing he grew a handle back there where most dogs have a tail. He'd be in Shanghai by now if I hadn't grabbed him, and the airfare back just wouldn't be worth it.

He went from there directly to a much needed shower. We don't let him bug the lizards when we can help it. So far, all he's done is chase them around. They're just a little too quick for most dogs, and they dodge between the bushes and dive into their hidey holes. Terriers are a different kind of dog, though. If they can't find a fox or rat, they'll find a work-around with a substitute.

I can end with a sunset, although it wasn't one of our better ones. I had taken this thinking it was going to be the best timing. That usually happens when the sun is obscured by clouds and I could see that the horizon was clear. So I thought that was the end of it.

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Then as I was walking back to the house I turned around to see if there might be a chance for a Green Flash. Green Flashes aren't worth anything; they're just a rare sight. I've only seen less than half a dozen in my life and none of those were here. I didn't get one this time, either, but realized that the same sunset a few seconds later was still interesting enough for a photo.

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So I walked back on out there and took it. Remember carpe diem, and all that, y'all.

Click here for full article and pictures. Republished with permission.
 
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