Living the Dream

As the title of this blog hopefully indicates, I am a developer who lives on an island, a tropical island to be precise. North Caicos is a quiet island in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). Roughly a million people spend a fair amount of hard-earned money to vacation here, including the random celebrity or two, and I get to live here half of the year. A number of fellow developers have said to me, “You’re living the dream.” The photo in the header was taken from my back deck, so yes, life is good.

There are two questions that people ask me right away:

  1. What’s it like living there?
  2. How did you manage to make it happen?

The second question has a lot of answers which I’ll talk about in other entries, so let’s get to the fun part first. North Caicos is a relatively small (40 square miles), lightly populated (1500 people) island with an amazing beach, and hardly anyone knows about it. The photo below was taken during the middle of a beautiful day in tourist season. The most people we’ve ever seen on the 1 mile stretch are 20. Yep, 20.

Empty Beach

At times, I still cannot understand how this island can be so unknown, and why there aren’t a stretch of hotels and condos on it – not that I’m complaining. So, we have a world-class, secluded beach that we can walk without seeing another sole and crystal clear turquoise water to swim in. Yep, that’s not bad at all. That’s why we’re here, which is good because there’s not much of anything else here. Here’s the local food market, and furniture store. That’s right, food and furniture in a building the size of a convenience store. You can imagine the extent of the stock. Produce comes in Tuesday (roughly, maybe), and is gone Wednesday. More often than not, there is no Coke, and never Coke Zero. This is a major issue for me, btw.

KJs Food and Furniture

KJ’s Food and Furniture

My alarm died, so I went looking for a replacement. There are none. You’re a developer? There are no USB hubs, no headsets, no power adapters, no Ethernet cables, and a basic wireless router will cost $200. Bring spares with you if you want to live here. So, essentially, there’s no shopping here to speak of. So, how do we eat? About every three weeks, we pack up a hard sided suitcase, two duffel bags and three coolers, and catch the ferry to the big island, Providenciales. They have a real grocery store, and a semi-real home improvement center. On Provo, we rent a car, run around, buy everything we think we need or might possibly need, fill the car up to the gills, and catch the last ferry back to North. Packing the bags and the coolers in the parking lot is always fun, and on occasion becomes a spectator sport. Grocery shopping takes all day.

We go to the states every two or three months, and every time there is an online ordering frenzy. I’ve carried in my suitcase auto parts, well pump parts, satellite parts, dishwasher parts, cabinet hardware, tools, almost anything but clothes. You might notice that the list has a lot of parts for fixing things. On an island in the middle of the ocean things corrode – quickly. Our first outdoor light fixtures rusted in three weeks. The replacements are plastic. They aren’t as good-looking, but better than rust. Oh, right, they came in my suitcase. So to live here, you need to be handy and resourceful, because things will break.

Well Pump Parts

I now know too much about how well pumps work, but I am fond of water. So it goes.

Here’s the yard, nice huh?

Back Yard

We thought we we’re living at the beach, and would have sand for a “yard”, with a few palm trees, and a hibiscus here and there, nice and simple. When we first built the house, the landscaping wasn’t done at the end of the season, so we just left it as a construction site, figuring some weeds might pop up, but nothing major. Here’s the surrounding bush – see the problem?

Bush

Yes, we live in the middle of the bush, and it grows really, really fast. I know, duh. It can even grow in cement (no lie). We came back five months later to bush four feet high. Um, uh-oh, this may require a bit of work. I really hate yard work. This was definitely not part of the plan. Thankfully, Matis came to us, and loves the yard. Labor is not expensive here at all, so it all worked out – 3 years later. So, don’t expect a low maintenance yard in the tropics. Things grow all year round, all the time.

Matis' Yard

By the way, we designed and built the house. Don’t do this. Trust me, just don’t. There are no houses on North Caicos that are finished, and lots of fired builder stories. We happen to have lucked out, and we have a great, almost done house. I love the house, but the process was no fun at all. All I can say is thank goodness for Uncle Will or this would have been a train wreck. Oh, he’s not my uncle. He was the foreman on the job. It seems no one here has a last name, or they never mention it, anyway, and everyone is family. The first names are great, though. Three rental car companies are owned by Speed, Cheese and Poach. One of Poach’s brothers (there are 25) is named Bang Bang. I won’t say why.

Living here is also a cultural experience that I was completely unprepared for. TCI has only been developed for about 30 years. They didn’t have indoor plumbing here before then. Provo had a huge development run starting about 10 years ago, so you can imagine the changes the people here have seen. There’s also been a huge influx of immigrant labor, Haitian, Dominican, and Filipino. Turks and Caicos islanders are the minority in their own country. They don’t always deal with this well, and don’t necessarily like foreigners. The term for a citizen here is “belonger”. That would imply I don’t belong.

I’m a minority here, and that is a new experience for me as well. TCI is a British overseas territory, and there have been some issues with that recently. Quite frankly, the British have not done a great job here, and that has muddied the waters a bit for us white folks. Oh, sorry, talking about black and white is normal here. It’s not like there’s much confusion about it. All that said, islanders can be very friendly and refreshingly open once you overcome their suspicions about you. So, don’t be an idiot tourist, make a commitment to the island, learn about the politics, and don’t be British (kidding), and you’ll be fine. Islanders are very involved politically, with an over 90% election turnout, and they know the politicians personally. They have opinions, and stories, and more stories. The stories are great, and their way of telling them is always entertaining. It’s a pleasure.

So, what do we do here? Well, there really isn’t much to do. A visiting friend told us that she was most impressed by the amount of nothingness here. There is peace and quiet in abundance. There are very few distractions. There are no meetings and no managers. Sounds like living the dream for a developer, right? I can get tons done here. Of course, if you like cities, want entertainment, nightlife, and excitement, you need to go elsewhere. If you want an easy, convenient life, this is not the island for you. Living here can be challenging. The infrastructure is not great. You need to plan for problems. I have DSL, satellite internet and a whole house backup generator with 600 pounds of propane. You need backups, and sometimes you just can’t get what you need, and it can be frustrating. But then, this is 300 yards away, so yeah, it’s a dream.

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