Captain Calson ‘Rice’ Williams jokes that he’ll have to kill me if he tells me what the secret ingredient is.
And then, on my prompting and at risk of death, he reveals it’s Sprite.
Yes, a couple of liberal lashings of the soft drink is what makes the captain’s conch ceviche salad legendary on the Turks and Caicos Islands.
My wife, Kerry, and I and 18 other tourists are on Island Routes’ Seaside Scavenger Hunt excursion from the luxury, family-friendly Beaches Resort Turks and Caicos.
The experience is billed as an exhilarating boat ride and snorkelling for your own lunch in the turquoise and translucent shallow waters off Shell Island.
Conch is the big and beautiful curved pink shell that contains what is essentially a giant snail inside.
Think escargot, Caribbean-style.
While conch simply lies on the ocean floor and is easy pickings, it is generally camouflaged by sand, seaweed and coral.
Therefore, our group of 20 snags only five conch during a half-hour snorkel.
Kerry and I are psyched to have found one each and contribute to the primal hunt-and-gather lunch.
The captain declares five conch enough to feed us all and proceeds to extract and clean the firm flesh from the shells.
He then chops it up to add to a concoction of diced onion, red and green pepper, salt, pepper, hot sauce, lime juice and the aforementioned special ingredient of Sprite.
The lime and Sprite effectively cook the conch without heat so we can devour the resulting delicious ceviche salad like an exotic salsa with tortilla chips.
Such a delicacy is best paired with a frosty I-Soon Reach light beer from Turk’s Head Brewery fished from the bottom of the cooler.
We enjoy this stand-up feast standing in ankle deep crystal-clear water at Shell Island.
At that moment, it clicks.
This is what Turks and Caicos is all about -- the signature food of the islands consumed on an extraordinary day on a deserted beach, the sun warming our skin and the Caribbean lapping at our feet.
We’d have similar revelations every day of our weeklong vacation at Beaches Resort Turks and Caicos, which is celebrating the return to travel with the #BackToHappy campaign.
Beaches is the all-inclusive, family-friendly brand of Sandals, the sumptuous adults-only chain of Caribbean all-inclusive resorts.
Both names are synonymous with taking the luxury all-inclusive to new heights.
As such, we are ensconced in an oceanview suite on the fifth floor of the Italian Village adjacent to the massive palm-treed main pool complete with swim-up bar and oodles of swim-up tables.
There are 700 other suites at Beaches Turks and Caicos, spread over four low-slung themed villages -- Italian, French, Key West and Caribbean.
The resort never seems crowded because guests find their own special spots at seven glittering pools or on Grace Bay Beach, the 20-kilometre crescent of white sand that’s consistently ranked one of the best beaches in the world.
Kerry and I happily split our days between the sugar-soft beach right in front of the Italian Village and the dune-edge Bayside pool, which is handy to the bar of the same name for glasses of champagne, frozen mojitos and water, as required.
Beaches also has 17 restaurants, so again it never feels crowded at snack and meal time.
They range from food trucks (Mr. Mac and and Jerk Shack), pizzerias (Bella Napoli and Dino’s) and a no-shoes-required eatery (Barefoot) right on the sand to a chic rooftop resto (Sky), fine French cuisine at Le Petit Chateau and sophisticated seafood at Neptune’s, Schooners and Sapadillas.
If you go…
For entry into Turks and Caicos, Canadians have to have proof of double vaccination, a negative COVID test within 72 hours of boarding the plane and complete a travel authorization form.
Beaches provides complimentary health and vacation replacement insurance in case your holiday is impacted by COVID-related travel interruptions and PCR testing for Canadians to return home.
Air Canada flies daily from Toronto and Montreal to Providenciales Airport in Turks and Caicos.