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Several years ago I took a day trip to an island called Les Roches off the northern coast of Venezuela. The name of this speck in the Caribbean said it all – “the rocks.” The main attraction was snorkeling in a lagoon, but other than that there was nothing. I learned something that day – no island is an island. The Caribbean islands that I lust after are more than just lumps in the sea studded with palm trees. What gives an island its character are the people, the music, the language, the culture, the sound of blenders transforming native rum into something served with a slice of pineapple. Take all that away and you have Les Roches. When preparing for a visit to Turks and Caicos and a stay on Parrot Cay, a privately owned island, I thought about Les Roches. This trip was going to be different, I reminded myself. Certainly Parrot Cay will be picturesque and wonderful, but it will be out of character with the Caribbean personality. Owned by London-based Como Hotels and Resorts, Parrot Cay, I knew, was going to be a Zen sort of place. What there was of activity, other than walking the beach, would consist of hiking up a hill to the spa. Instead of bending an elbow at a beach bar, there would be body bends at yoga classes. Most of the staff was from the Asian Pacific or Europe, so there would be scarce native patois spoken. “No problem,” the classic Caribbean refrain, would not be heard. And I could not expect a reggae beat in the background as I walked the beach. There would be no Rastafarians patrolling the sand selling jewelry or shells, no noise other than the passing work boats island-hopping. Could I handle Caribbean Zen – the Caribbean without the Caribbean? Not that I’m obsessed with travel, but several weeks before the trip I dreamed about Providenciales, the Turks and Caicos island where the jets from Miami land. Dreams being what they are, I knew it was nonsense when my sleep conjured images of elevated commuter trains, like those in Chicago, racing above the streets. In fact, as we left the airport there, the taxi driver had trouble just finding a street. The reason was not because of sloth but because of ambition: You will probably be hearing more about Turks and Caicos in the future because the islands are working to develop a bigger tourist industry. Open roads were hard to find that day because so many were under construction or being paved in preparation for the expected boom. I didn’t know which would be bumpier, the drive from the airport to the boat dock or the boat ride to Parrot Cay. It was the former. The boat, a cabin cruiser, seemed to hover atop the choppy sea as it paralleled the island chain. Located about 575 miles southeast of Miami, the strangely named Turks and Caicos islands are a self-governed member of the British West Indies. Separated from the other islands by a passage, the Turks group got its name from an indigenous cactus that has a red crown, like the fez worn by Turks. “Caicos” is the derivative of an Indian name translating to “string of islands.” Once a part of the Bahamas and then briefly united with Jamaica, the island nation now sets its own course. Some islands are great for agriculture; others are not. Turks and Caicos falls into the latter category. Therefore, the strategy is to grow tourism. Grand Turk, on the island by that name, is the capital; Providenciales is where the international airport is and where resorts are popping up like cactus flowers. Technically the islands are situated more in the Atlantic than in the Caribbean, but they are Caribbean in culture, and that helps keep visitors coming. Then there is Parrot Cay – an island unto itself, culturally and physically. In another era, the island’s only occupants were two female pirates – a pair of charmers who lived in a stone house that still stands on top of a hill, from which they watched for passing ships to plunder. Contemporary Parrot Cay is far more passive. Very passive. Zen passive. Snoozing while on the massage table passive. Sitting at one end of the “infinity pool” – designed to appear as though the opposite end blends into the ocean – and watching the sun set passive. Walking the long beach and seeing no one else passive. Rescuing a stranded conch, still in its shell, by tossing the shell back in the water passive. There were outbreaks of violence though, such as when my tennis ball slammed into the net a few times too often. Most of all, there was the torture done to my body when I took a beginners yoga class. I was the only man in the group and by far the most ill-prepared, evident by my wardrobe of a T-shirt and a bathing suit as compared to my classmates in their designer yoga leotards. The instructor, a lithe Australian beauty, tried to put us through some anatomically impossible movements. The best I could do was to cheat when she was not looking; unfortunately, she knew to look my way. Nights consisted of dinner and then retiring to the villa where there were stars to be watched from the personal pool patio. (The same stars were presumably once watched by the two female pirates, but then how romantic could that be, when you’re a pirate living with a pirate? At least they didn’t have to do yoga.) Parrot Cay’s resort area is very lush, a triumph of gardening in a naturally arid island. The rest of the island is being developed for high-end vacation homes, including a pad owned by Bruce Willis and, in an act of benevolence, an adjoining mini-mansion for ex-wife Demi Moore. Those on the island get back to reality by taking the boat to Providenciales. After a few days of Parrot Cay’s tranquility, Providenciales seemed bustling by comparison – a Chicago of the Caicos. In a sense, my dream had been right all along. •

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