Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Eat Well, Travel Often

The view from the stunning Grace Bay Club in
Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

On our last night on Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI for short), we drove away from the gorgeous Grace Bay Club resort to have dinner at Bugaloo’s, a wooden conch shack that’s as popular with locals as it is with visitors. Bugaloo’s is perched at the edge of a bay in an area of Providenciales island called Five Cays Settlement, where little fishing boats bob gently with the tide and jetties piled with rocks and conch shells extend across the sand.

We arrived after sundown, when the restaurant’s open-air deck was packed with people and ringed with palm trees strung with white lights. Across the sand, a band played a mix of traditional music and island-infused pop hits.

The band plays at Bugaloo's.

Other performers wowed the crowd with tricks. One spun a flaming wheel on his foot and balanced weird combinations of items on his head, like a plastic deck chair and stacks of glass bottles. Another, dubbed “TCI James Brown,” took the stage in a glittering, sequined red jacket and danced frenetically, channeling the Godfather of Soul as he jerked and shimmied across the stage to songs like “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You.”

Couples danced barefoot in the sand. A little girl, who looked about 4, spun in gleeful circles on the deck, pumping her tiny fists and stomping her feet, just a little off the beat. A mangy, stray “potcake” dog—a mongrel breed found only on TCI and the Bahamas that’s named after the cooking-pot dregs that the locals feed them—hobbled between the tables, in search of food scraps and ear scratches. 

This potcake wouldn't stay still long enough for a decent
picture of his cute and crazy face.

It was a happy night. We ordered a silly amount of traditional island food, filling the table with plates for the five of us to share—coconut-fried shrimp; fried spiny lobster; rich, pepper-flecked mac and cheese; cool, crunchy cole slaw; peas and rice (which in the U.S. we might call rice and beans); and conch every which way: fresh and citrusy scorched conch; conch salad; cracked conch; crispy coconut conch; and conch fritters. We drank pleasantly bitter Turks Head beer, an island brew, and passed plates heavy with food, urging each other to “Try this!” We unabashedly ordered second helpings of mac and cheese. We gasped and applauded as the performer “ate” fire and sang along with the band.

Our delicious spread of fried everything.

I loved the amber beer; my new buddy Nick
opted for the lager.

I've always wondered how someone first discovers
they have a talent for balancing stuff on their face.

Later, I walked across the deck to look at a small jewelry stall that stood adjacent to the restaurant and noticed TCI James Brown sitting on a stool a few feet away. He put out his hand for me to shake, and I took it. Before long, we were deep in conversation, with him regaling me with stories about his life, his fame, his friends around the world, meeting "The Godfather" himself (James Brown), and his philosophy on aging (In a nutshell: Never retire). I’m not really sure how the conversation strayed that way, but I listened to his stream-of-consciousness chatter, only asking the occasional question. His eccentricity was apparent, and so was his genuineness.

“Hate and poison sound the same,” he opined. “But love sounds good.”

I nodded, unsure about what to say. Yes, love does sound good.

Aren’t people interesting and funny?

This is my favorite part of traveling. I believe with all my heart that the world would be an infinitely better, more generous, and more understanding place if everyone had a passport and eagerly filled the pages with stamps. They’d discover that the world is both exhilaratingly enormous and humblingly small. They’d discover that most people are good and are trying their best, and that everyone wants someone to listen to them. They’d discover that all of these good people live their lives a little bit differently (sometimes a lot differently) but in many ways—the most important ways—we’re really all exactly the same. We all get zits and headaches. We accidentally swear in front of our kids when we stub a toe. We share meals with family and sometimes have a few too many glasses of wine. We laugh so hard we can’t breathe (and maybe pee a little). We love our kids more than life itself and stare up at the stars and find pictures.

We are not alone in the world, which to me, is an exciting and comforting thought. I love the far-flung beaches and new flavors that come with traveling, but when I get home the moments that tend to stick with me most are the conversations with people whose paths I never would have crossed unless one of us stepped onto a plane and into each other’s lives, at least temporarily.

It’s a little piece of magic that I hope to chase all across the world. It's a healthy reminder that we're all in this thing together. And it gives you a chance to do stuff like this: 

Travel well, my friends. Love to all. 


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  2. Oh dear. You set me up. You relaxed me with your talk of good food around a table, with your turquoise snapshots and your descriptions of the beer. (Then suddenly it's an episode of Parenthood: there's background music and I think I might cry.) I'm reading this on Election Day, and thankful for you and your lovely insights and that you always take that outstretched hand. Well done, Alexandra Hamilton!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! I'm glad I wrote it when I did. Love you!