"Moana" sits at the top of my Netflix queue, its cheery poster glaring down upon my dark and air-conditioned Manhattan apartment, almost in judgment. "So much for following the movie's themes and connecting with nature," - Te Fiti probably. And yet, like the strong-willed Polynesian protagonist, the ocean continues to call me; a siren song that has lulled me for as long as I can remember.
I didn't grow up far from the beach. A Florida upbringing paired with Caribbean vacations offered me early glimpses of the world's sandy wonders, but there was always one locale that held a particularly special place in my heart: the Turks and Caicos.
Just after freshman year of high school, my parents purchased a condo on what was then a remote strip of islands celebrated for its spectacularly turquoise water, baby powder sand, and packs of stray dogs (known on the island as pot cakes, which I made a mission to care for during my stays). As a notoriously anxious teenager, the destination morphed from a forced family vacation spot to a sanctuary of respite, void of the hustle and bustle of suburban living and an excess of high school commitments. My mind was never more at peace.
Of course, no place so perfect would stay quiet for long.
16 years had passed since my parents sold the unit and, every year, I wondered what it would be like to go back. And then, out of the ocean blue, an opportunity to visit Club Med Turkoise presented itself; an anticipated reacquaintance to the home that got away.
As one of the first hotels on the island, boasting the longest stretch of property-owned beach in Providenciales, my family and I would frequently walk to Club Med just to pick up a fresh-baked loaf of their famous white chocolate bread (which I could now re-create three times daily, should my heart and stomach desire). I craved this reintroduction to the recollections of my childhood and, quite literally, counted down the dog days until my departure.
The initial excitement of returning, however, drastically waned and was met with equal parts hesitation and skepticism. Would the beloved island live up to my memories? Had it reached Nassau, Bahamas levels of commercialization? Would I be able to achieve a desired state of zen? After spending two and half hours in the airport's immigration line, the trip certainly didn't begin by eradicating these negative thoughts.
The car ride conjured another bout of uncertainty that sent my insides into a flutter. Nothing looked remotely similar to the uninhabited, green hills of my youth. But then, like a melted sapphire on the horizon, I saw the beach. The beautiful, beautiful beach. Quite frankly, the most beautiful beach in the world. And then my worries disappeared into the salty air, carried westward by a humid breeze.
Arriving at the Club Med brought more welcomed relief. The world's friendliest staff greeted me with juice and water in hand, guiding me through the bright stucco buildings that seemingly hugged the island's aquatic gem.
For three sunny days, my mom and I would relish in everything the nostalgic hotel had to offer, reminiscing about the times we'd snorkel, sunbathe, and sail, all while consuming embarrassing amounts of the famed white chocolate bread (though their black olive and blue cheese variety would soon become our new favorite).
When we decided to take a walk from the familiar and into the unknown, there was still an underlying fear that over-development would bring a sense of sadness and anger. Sure, some buildings were too tall and poorly designed, but our eyes never once lost focus on the ocean; intoxicated by a color that you truly can only find on this part of the globe.
It was at this moment that I realized no matter how much a place may change or be manipulated by the hands of man, it is the beauty of nature that will (or should) always remain a constant. No cement slab, gaudy paint job, or dated roof design could alter the gentle ebb and flow of waves, the softness of sand, the humming of seabirds as they skimmed the water's surface.
The idea of paradise is not a construct of our imagination, but an untouched offering from our very real surroundings. And as long as the Turks and Caicos' beach remains preserved, despite an increase in tourism and the resulting buildings that crowd its awe-inspiring shoreline, paradise it will forever remain and never be forgotten.
Joey is editor-at-large at Chowhound. When he's not writing or eating french fries, he's probably listening to Beyonce, playing volleyball, or practicing his stand-up comedy routine. You can order his debut cookbook, BASIC BITCHEN, at bit.ly/BasicBitchen.