Plenty of tropical islands are vacation resorts, but few such islands are actually deserted while at the same time being only an hour or two away from civilization. It’s good to enjoy miles of empty beach with waving palm trees, white sand, turquoise sea, warm sun and a total absence of other vacationers. That’s the kind of empty beach where Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday would not feel out of place. On the other hand, one must have a fine US hospital within easy reach in case of emergency and one can do without flying to the ends of the earth. However, these limitations rule out most of the world’s deserted tropical islands.
So let me tell you about the ideal deserted tropical island. It’s called Middle Caicos. Pat and I took our children there in 2005 to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary. Middle Caicos is 48 square miles in size and is the largest of the Turks and Caicos Islands, which are located at the southern tip of the Bahamas chain, not far from Cuba. Despite being the largest island, Middle Caicos is the least populated island with less than 300 residents. Vacationers are few. There are no hotels or restaurants in the accepted sense of those words. There are little villas for rent, some grouped and some isolated. There are one or two small cafes, but that’s all. There are three communities on Middle Caicos, all located on the northern shore. They are called Conch Bar, Bambarra and Lorimers. Bambarra was created in 1842 by the survivors from the shipwreck of a Spanish slave ship en route from West Africa to Cuba. The ship was called “Gambia” and the survivors were Bamberra people, who had formerly lived along the River Niger in what is today Nigeria.
We had taken a short flight from Miami, Florida to the international airport of The Turks and Caicos Islands on the island of Provinciales. Provo, as the island is commonly known, is the gateway to these islands and is on its western end. The great majority of islanders live on Provo, although the capital is Cockburn Town, which is located on the island of Grand Turk at the eastern end. From Provo, we took a 15 minute flight to Middle Caicos in a tiny single engine plane barely large enough for our party. The plane landed in Middle Caicos on a very short and deserted airstrip quite near to Conch Bar. There was one little building near the airstrip and that was closed. A cab was waiting to take us to our villa, which was isolated and by the beach quite near to Bambarra.
The next week was a delight. The island really was deserted. We had the beach to ourselves. We barbecued fresh lobster, caught for us by the local fisherman, and it melted in the mouth. The sea was warm, gentle, clear and perfect for swimming and snorkeling. What few islanders we did meet were smiling and friendly.
Near Conch Bar is the largest and most famous set of caves in the entire Caribbean, containing some unique Lucayan artifacts. Lucayan sites on Middle Caicos date back to the early 15th century.
Finally, it was time to leave and we waited at the deserted airstrip for that little plane to take us back to Provo in time for us to connect with our flight back to Miami. Yet that little plane did not arrive!
It had forgotten us. What a disaster! Then one of the islanders offered to save the day by taking us to Provo by boat. We accepted and raced to the quayside to embark. Then we saw the boat. It was a tiny dinghy with an outboard motor! After we had loaded with our party and our baggage into the boat, it sat very low in the water. Then the voyage to Provo began and the boat literally bounced across the ocean at top speed. Moving in a westerly direction, we soon left Middle Caicos behind. Then we traversed the whole width of North Caicos. Then we passed a bunch of tiny privately owned islands.
They included Parrot Cay, which was in the news this week when the wedding of film actor Bruce Willis took place at his home there. Finally the island of Provo came into view. We leapt out of the dinghy as soon as it reached the quayside, took a short cab ride to the airport and made our flight to Miami with minutes to spare. Middle Caicos is truly a deserted tropical island within easy reach.