Treasure Hunts and Pirate-themed parties have been the root of much of my programming as a camp director over the years. There is really not much that gets children more excited than an old map, a Jolly Roger flag, and the possibility of finding buried treasure. In the Turks and Caicos Islands, where many tales of treasure and famed “local” pirates originate, it is only natural to learn about these historical hideaways, visit them, and create for kids (and teens, AND adults!) THE ULTIMATE TREASURE HUNT.

At SURFside Ocean Academy, TCI’s only outdoor adventure school, we are always looking at ways to add more fun and adventure into our programs. On this particular day, after visiting and learning about the Rock Iguanas on Little Water Cay, our ‘Aqua Adventure’ took us out to the reef. Here, on the third largest barrier reef in the world, we mastered the basics of snorkeling. Equipped with fish ID slates and interpretive books, we learned about the different types of fish and corals in the local seas, and responsible ocean etiquette. We then sailed off to our own deserted island to explore the seashore and learn about the coastal ecology of TCI. Nobody was expecting what happened next…

While marching down the beach, the group happened upon an old piece of paper. Although it was ripped and faded, we were able to make out the shapes and names on the paper, and determined we had actually found an old treasure map! The group formed a circle to investigate this old map which depicted a treasure chest of some sort, somewhere on this very island. I lent my experience as a Geography Major to the newly formed expedition and together we decided to head “THAT way!” (which was east) in search of buried treasure.

When we turned to face east, we discovered that, like magic, numerous Jolly Roger flags had appeared and lined the beach for about a half a mile. There were large footprints in the sand – proof that ‘someone’ had mapped this out for us to see. But we hadn’t seen a soul since we’d anchored. Was someone else here?

The group followed the black and white flags, one by one, to a wooded area by a bluff and remnants of an old fort. “This MUST be the spot,” we all decided and looked around for any other clues. An ‘X’ was spotted and the digging began! Slowly at first, and then faster, until someone rapped on what sounded like wood. Had we found a treasure box? Wiping away the sand, we uncovered a box and hauled it slowly out of the ground. Could we have actually found REAL treasure?

At firs, nobody wanted to open the box. “What if the pirates are still here?” “What if they’re watching us now?” What if we found something that belongs to them?” But our curiousity and bravery overtook any fear and we slowly opened the wooden chest. And do you know what we found inside? Arrrhhhh, you’ll have to join us on one of SURFside Ocean Academy’s ‘Aqua Adventures’ to find out!

Eerily enough, however, after we returned the box to its original spot and turned to head back, all of the Jolly Roger flags had miraculously disappeared without a trace. But we were the only ones on the island. They say the ghost of the pirate Calico Jack lives on, somewhere on these deserted Cays, but that’s another story…