Story time: My first international trip was a family reunion abroad a cruise ship to Mexico. At one of the ports , me and a few cousins decided to go horseback riding. Our guide led us into a small town and down a dirt road where two men immediately started matching us to horses based on weight and height. After a brief introduction that consisted of four instructions ( left, right, go , and stop) we were off. A few minutes into the ride,my horse started going wayward and trotted away from the others. A cousin tried to come to my aid and set off after me. We went through traffic , passed a tour bus that most of our older relatives happened to be on, and only stopped when we collided with a rusty wire fence. We both ended up with bloody knees and elbows as well as permanent scars.
Despite this fail, I’ve always wanted to try horseback riding again so when I saw it was offered at our first stop at the Caribbean island of Grand Turk, I signed up without hesitating. I woke up early that morning and tried to dress without falling over (rainy days make for rocking ships) or waking the three other people in my room, watched the ship pull up to the dock while drinking my morning coffee, and then headed out to finally conquer the experience that went oh-so-wrong ten years before.
And this time, I was taking it a step further– I was going to ride a horse in the ocean.
This time there was a van to take me and four others to the stables. We enjoyed a scenic 15-minute ride through town in an open-air bus. It didn’t take long to notice a few things about Grand Turk: For starters, the ocean flowed into some central areas of the town , making it look like glistening lakes were everywhere. There were also wild donkeys roaming all over. Lots and lots of donkeys. The way I heard it , they were brought to the island to work in the salt mines and after that business folded in the wake of tourism, the donkeys were just left to themselves. I never got close enough to actually touch the donkeys but others did, so I assume they’re quite socialized.
The stables were adjacent to a beautiful piece of beach. We arrived just as the sun was starting to warm the sand. About ten safety instructors, all decked out in cargo shirts and straw hats, served as our guide. They gave us some directions and tips about riding and handling the horses ( again, the instructions were very brief), and , again, I was off. The first section of the tour was spent wandering around the island. The guide told us some tidbits about the island : it’s only seven miles long, the government pays for college students to study abroad and even provide jobs after their return, and , according to the guide, they rarely get hit by hurricanes because the storms are too hungry to bother with tiny Grand Turk; they prefer the larger islands nearby.
By the time we returned to the stables , I was a bit nervous. I’d once again been stuck with a wandering horse. My horse often fell to the back of the group to munch on weeds and wouldn’t get going again even though I made kissy noises and said, “Yah!” A few times the guides had to double back and cajole it back into line. After stripping to our bathing suits , we once again saddled up. This time I had a much bigger horse, and even though I only rode it down the beach and back, it was a much easier ride
In groups of two, we started towards the ocean. I was really nervous at this point( especially because I’m just learning to swim) and kept psyching myself up. I closed my eyes for the initial impact, and when I opened them I was doing it: I was frolicking in the ocean, atop a horse.
As soon as we hit the water, the horses started to gallop. It was cool but as we got deeper, it became much harder to hold on. I ended up squeezing the poor horse so hard that my thighs were sore for days. Not even a full minute later, I was back on sand. The experience was too short but I was still smiling from ear-to-ear.
Another adventure conquered.
The rest of the day wasn’t nearly as exciting but I was on a high and enjoyed it nevertheless. Our guide took us to the lighthouse, which is probably Grand Turk’s most recognizable landmark. I was more interested in the surroundings.
The lighthouse sits on top of a hill that overlooks the ocean. It’s surrounded by edible cacti that has become part of the local cuisine. The site itself is also historical. In 1841, a ship carrying an illegal cargo of African slaves crashed on island banks. The Africans integrated into the population and it is thought that many of the Turk Islanders are descendents of these people.
After the tour ended, I explored the port for a bit. I found a display dedicated to the Mercury 7 and John Glenn.The man was the first astronaut to orbit Earth and upon his return, landed on the shores of Grand Turk.
Instead of joining my family for another tour, I grabbed a book and finished the day reading and splashing on the beach. I was only there for an hour before the rain started to fall again, but as me and my sore thighs hobbled back to the ship I could not stop smiling.
Stay tuned for next port stop: La Romana, Dominican Republic