There are people on work permits, usually brought in not through multinational corporations but by local employers. This large group includes workers from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guyana and other island nations as well as Europeans, Canadians and Americans. People from the latter three also come in as either temporary or permanent residents, often establishing businesses or building homes in the TCI. Other homeowners are snowbirds, enjoying about six months of nice weather in the winter before returning to their native countries for the summer.
North Caicos used to have a solid community of these snowbirds, but the group more recently has morphed into what I call shuttlers, and I’m one of them. We are homeowners who spend chunks of time on the island in whatever months are convenient for us. Winter still sees the arrival of most of us, but we also come and go in all other seasons as well, spending a few weeks to a couple of months.
There appear to be many reasons this has happened. Some retirees who started as snowbirds have felt the pull of grandchildren and become shuttlers. Some new homeowners are still working and can’t get away for a six-month period. Others just prefer the arrangement, balancing in-season activities and socializing with the lazy, off-season “It’s my own beach” vibe.
Either way, there are tradeoffs. True snowbirds spend their first week opening up their homes and getting things back into order, then their last weeks prepping to leave again. Shuttlers are more likely to spread out house projects or hire help, but they face challenges at each end of their trips. Empty refrigerators and dirty domiciles in two countries are only the beginning of it.
There are, for example, constant cultural adjustments. After a month on North Caicos, I find myself re-learning how to live in the U.S. Driving on the right, using point-of-purchase or self-service gizmos and elevator etiquette (i.e, ignoring people) need mental refresher courses. On North, I must remember to plan meals while shopping instead of before (so I can see what’s available), and the etiquette while doing errands is the opposite: It’s rude to just launch into your hardware, grocery and liquor needs without first exchanging pleasantries. I sometimes get confused. Once, in Virginia, Tom caught me waving at the driver of a Land Rover because I thought he was someone I knew … on North.
Shuttlers who have animals also go through lots of guilt, whether they decide to fly the dog or cat with them or leave them with a sitter or at a boarding kennel. Tom and I choose to shield Daisy from the stress of flying (all that noise, all those people), but others schlep the animals with them, deciding that familiar people are more important than familiar surroundings.
And then there’s the packing! One thinks that, with a house in the islands, it should be easy to travel light, but the opposite is the case. Given the unavailability of many things on North, and the high prices and hassles of Provo, we bring all kind of weird things with us, pushing baggage weight and customs limits to … well, their limits. I have traveled with drills, car parts, faucets, shower curtains, printers, water filters, reams of paper and endless sets of bed linens and batteries. TSA always opens my checked bags to inspect them.
Okay, I can hear you now. “Oh, you poor thing, complaining about having a place in the islands. Let me get out my violin.” But I did not intend to complain, just explain. We shuttle; we don’t vacation. There are lives to be lived on both sides of that flight, and it’s different from being on vacation. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.