The culture of the Turks and Caicos is that of a ship that is steadied by a strong religious keel. There is a very strong religious core to these islands, and the populace is friendly and welcoming, yet a bit reserved. Native Turks and Caicos islanders, or ‘Belongers’ as they are locally known, are descended from the early Bermudian settlers, Loyalist settlers, slave settlers and salt rakers.
There are a few expats lurking about calling the Turks home: Americans because of the proximity; Canadians because of the weather; and Brits because of the colonial heritage. Some have come to make their fortunes, some to bury their treasure like the pirates of old, and others to escape the fast-paced life that permeates much of the developed world.
More recently hundreds of Haitians have fled their impoverished island and landed on the Turks and Caicos Islands; for some this is only a port of call on their way to America, while others are happy to stay. Some Belongers are wary of these new immigrant communities, while some locals are sympathetic or even indifferent.
Nightlife in the Turks and Caicos is of the mellow variety for the most part. There are a few night spots in Provo, and some beachside bars on the outer islands. Those seeking a roaring party of a holiday should look elsewhere – having said that, the local rake’n’scrape music can really get the crowd going. For those not in the know, rake’n’scrape or ripsaw (as it is locally known) is a band fronted by someone playing a carpenter’s saw by rhythmically scraping its teeth with the shaft of a screwdriver; sometimes other household objects are used as percussion.
The art scene in the Turks and Caicos is slowly evolving. Traditional music, folklore and sisal weaving that evolved during colonial days have been maintained to this day. Paintings depicting the scenery are popular and the quality appears to be improving. The Haitian community has had a strong influence on the Turks and Caicos art scene.
There are a few shops in Provo that have a good selection of locally produced art; unfortunately, except for a few choice locations, most of the art that’s available outside Provo is tourist paraphernalia, made in China and slapped with a T&C sticker.
Landscape & Wildlife
Much of the Turks and Caicos can be described as flat, dry and barren. The salt industry of the last century saw fit to remove much of the vegetation from Salt Cay, Grand Turk and South Caicos; low-lying vegetation now covers the uninhabited sections of these islands. The larger islands are in a much more pristine state, with vegetation and a higher degree of rainfall prominent on North, Middle and East Caicos. Small creeks, inland lakes – often home to flamingos – and wetlands make up the interior of these larger land masses.
A flourishing population of bottle-nosed dolphins lives in these waters. And some 7000 North Atlantic humpback whales use the Turks Island Passage and the Mouchoir Banks, south of Grand Turk, as their winter breeding grounds between February and March. Manta rays are commonly seen during the spring plankton blooms off of Grand Turk and West Caicos.
The wetlands and inland salt waterways of TCI make it fertile ground for birdwatching, especially on the uninhabited islands. The more remote islands will naturally require effort and expense to reach, but those who do may be rewarded with sightings of ospreys, flamingos, Cuban whistling ducks and other species. The Birding in Paradise booklet series, covering Provo, North, Middle and South Caicos, Grand Turk and Salt Cay, is a comprehensive guide to birdwatching in the major islands.