When you’re standing completely alone on a white beach, looking out across crystalline blue water, a reef line and the horizon, it’s easy to think that nothing ever changes on North Caicos. But that’s not true. In my 28 years of association with the island, I have seen plenty of changes, good, bad and neutral:
In infrastructure, roads that were once pockmarked paths have been paved. The once-busy airport is now nearly void of traffic, while boats come and go from an improved Bellfield Landing and a marina at Sandy Point, which used to be just a sandy point. The once-a-week ferry to Middle has been replaced by a causeway that carries cars fueled at gas stations (instead of siphoned from a bucket drawn from a neighbor’s tank).
Communications have changed. Once, there were just a few telephones, but two post offices to handle the Royal Mail. Now there are mobile phones, the Internet, email and no post offices. Television, once rare and pirated from the U.S., is legal and everywhere.
Plans for resorts to rival those on Provo have come and gone. St. Charles on Horsestable Beach opened, took a hurricane hit and never re-opened. The towering hulks of Royal Reef have been useful only as a way for survivors of Hurricane Irma to get a phone signal. An older and more modest resort, The Prospect of Whitby is quickly succumbing to nature.
There are more places to have a meal out, more places to rent a car, more grocery shops, more apartments to rent. There are fewer banks (once one, now none), fewer people who know who to turn fanner grass into baskets (and less fanner grass), and fewer gatherings to eat “green corn.” Fewer people fish or grow food for a living.
And now, Pelican Beach Hotel is for sale.
That change is difficult for me. It was my introduction to life on North Caicos, and it has been my bellwether for what I saw as the island’s superiority to other overdeveloped places.
The brainchild of North Caicos dreamer and personality Clifford Gardiner, PBH was also a symbol of island self-determination. As the islands’ first native pilot (another dream achieved), Clifford flew all over the Caribbean, seeing small hotels elsewhere and thinking, “Why not here?” He built the place in 1984, creating a “boutique hotel” before there was such a concept.
PBH was where Tom and I first met North Caicos, and where we stayed for a decade until we finished our house nearby. It was small, local and friendly, and Susan Gardiner has always been a better source of info than any Google search could be. That hotel and those people are the reason Tom and I are a part of North Caicos today.
And now it’s for sale. $3.5 million. Such a bargain! I have at least 3.5 million memories there.
I fear this change. I am afraid that some developer with only a passing knowledge of North Caicos will buy it, bulldoze everything and replace it with another high-rise moneymaker with foreign employees and a vaguely Italian or Indonesian style.
If I could buy the hotel to prevent that fate, I would. Instead, I offer only this plea to a potential buyer: Think first. Think about what makes North Caicos different and special. Think about sustainable development. Think about island history. Think about creating 3.5 million memories that cannot be created anywhere else.