A Caribbean vacation turns into a private island dream
It was about fifteen years ago that my wife, K.T., and I discovered the benefits of a true vacation; the kind without worries, without schedules, and without kids. We hadn’t been away alone together since our honeymoon in Hawaii four years earlier. K.T. had heard from some co-workers about the Caribbean and the small island of St. John. It felt like we had just paid off the wedding and honeymoon and were trying to save for a down payment on our first house. So, the added cost of a vacation coupled with the challenge of finding someone to watch our two young boys, Kevin (3) and Matt (1) seemed impossible. K.T.’s stepfather, who worked for the airlines, was able to score some non-revenue airline tickets, in first-class no less, and her mom offered to watch the boys. We found a house to rent for a week and scraped together a little spending money. The house wasn’t much, but what an island! We were both hooked and decided we could easily live in the Caribbean. We came home from that trip with a severe case of island fever that burned for years. It seemed that everything reminded us about something on that trip.
Four years passed before we were able to get away again, due in part to the addition of our daughter, Haley. This time we managed to squeeze two trips into one year. The first was a short visit to Puerto Vallarta. We stayed at the La Jolla De Mismaloya. The service at this hotel was incredible! We couldn’t believe how attentive the staff was. If we took a sip from our water glass someone would step up and top it right off again. We felt like royalty. The resort area was beautiful but the outlying area and the people were very poor. Unfortunately, we both acquired a nasty case of Montezuma’s Revenge as soon as we got home. It had the strange affect of erasing almost all the happy memories of that trip. Needless to say, we’ve never been back.
Only a few months after Puerto Vallarta we were back in the Caribbean, this time to celebrate our ten-year anniversary. With the help of a travel agent, we learned about a romantic island getaway called Petite St. Vincent which was, by far, the most beautiful place we’d ever seen. It was practically dripping in romance. The rooms were cozy and private, the food and service were amazing and the surrounding waters a perfect blue.
The more we explored the island the more impressed we became. I’ve always been fascinated with how things work, so I was probably looking a lot closer than most of the other guests. The challenges of power, fresh water, septic, mechanics, laundry facilities, gardening, and food preparations had all been conquered. And, to an extent, they all nearly disappeared into the landscape.
It was at this point that real thoughts were born. This environment would be the perfect retirement for us. We certainly wouldn’t get bored. There would be constant challenges to face, always something to do. We both enjoy working with people. What could be better than meeting people during the happiest moments of their lives? Why couldn’t we do this? Well, for one, we don’t own an island nor have any money to buy one. Maybe, just maybe, someday
This time, after returning to work, kids and reality, the island fever was almost incapacitating. I was thinking about it constantly. I didn’t want to wait until 65 to enjoy this full time! I wanted this to be our retirement. But, our retirement needed to be sooner rather than later.
K.T. had started selling real estate and was doing well. I was still working in the car audio business and had just become a regional manager. Life was good! We were making a decent income, had just purchased our second home and for the first time in our lives we were, with the exception of our mortgage, debt free. Much to our surprise less than two years later, the company I was working for closed their doors, leaving me unemployed. Over the past several years, I had grown increasingly tired of retail and corporate structure. So, after about a year, I finally decided to join K.T. in the real estate business. We’ve worked together ever since. Looking back, I can honestly say that this was the second best decision I’ve made in my life. The best of course would be marrying my wonderful wife.
Being self-employed and working from home has been great for us. It has allowed us to sustain a very busy business while also maintaining a normal family life. As the business has grown, so have we. We have learned to trust our instincts in real estate and take risks when we think they’re worth it. As a result, over the years our investments have begun to payoff. Now the island dream has become more of an island plan. We even started sharing our dream with people. Years before, we kept a tight lip, because it seemed so far fetched and unattainable. But at this point, we actually get a little charge out of the “yeah, right” and “that’s a nice goal to have” responses we hear.
In 1999 we both obtained our SCUBA certifications. We twisted the arms of our dive instructors, Butch and Bernie, to join us in the Caribbean for our final certifications and to make sure we didn’t kill ourselves. They recommended that we travel to Cozumel because of its affordability and incredible diving. They were right! To this day, nothing we’ve found has compared to the diving we experienced there. During this trip we learned that Butch also had an island dream, only his was in the South Pacific. He told us about the beauty of Fiji, the amazing diving and the affordability of the land. We made a decision right then that this would be our next vacation destination.
The following year we took the whole family, even my mom and sister, to Fiji. We decided to make this a two-week trip. The first week spent with the family and the second week alone. We somehow convinced my mom and sister to take the kids home with them, while we stayed in paradise! Although the first week was fun, the island of Taveuni was too humid and rainy for our liking. Plus, the house we rented during our stay was a real disappointment. The second week, however, was absolutely perfect. Despite the fact that we were only a few miles away on Vanua Levu, the climate felt completely different. We stayed at a fairly new resort called Rainbow Reef Resort. The owner had built the resort from scratch and had a fascinating story behind everything that helped him achieve his island dream. He had really done his research and knew precisely what he wanted and how he would accomplish each detail. He even found food dishes he liked and then bought the recipes from the cooks so he could prepare them for himself and his guests. Though Fiji is a beautiful place and the diving is great, K.T. felt that the location was just too remote and hard to get to. An eleven hour flight is tough. If we built our resort there, would anyone ever visit us?! A few days after we returned home, there was a coup attempt on the government. That finalized our decision against Fiji.
Although the usual island fever set in after this trip too, more important it helped to establish some ideas that we could incorporate into our own resort. I would find myself spending way too much time thinking about the smallest details of a resort and how we might overcome the challenges of living on a remote island. Would I have to eat fish every day? Ugh…I hoped not. Why do some resorts have grass everywhere and others just sand? Does it pay to have a dive operation within the resort or would it be more economical to subcontract it out? How much money could we make operating a resort? How do I get the answers to all these stupid little questions? I really don’t know anything about boats. And on, and on, and on...can we do this?!
Now we’re taking at least two trips a year to an island somewhere. We’ll usually take one trip with our kids and another one without them. In 2001, we rented a large house on Kauai for three weeks. We had a great time with family and friends coming and going at different times throughout our stay. Most people consider Kauai a small island, but to us it is huge. We looked at a few houses for sale there with the thought of forgoing the resort idea and just buying a house where we could go to quench the island fever. This may still be a possibility someday, but for now it just doesn’t fit the dream.
By 2003 we had managed to take diving trips to Cabo San Lucas, Cozumel, the big island of Hawaii, Maui and Cancun.
After all of this traveling over that last seven years, we wondered if we would have the same feelings about Petite St. Vincent. Was it so great before because we’d never experienced anything like it? Should we go back or try another new resort? We agreed that we both wanted to return and booked our second stay there. It was still just as perfect. While we were there, the owner of the resort took us on a behind the scenes tour of his island. He explained how he had overcome many of the challenges of a remote location by becoming as self-sufficient as possible. He makes his own little cars to get around the island and produces many of his own fruits and vegetables. We were shocked to learn that he uses eggs from his own chickens, housed right there on the island. The whole operation was hidden in the vegetation, yet right there in plain sight. Since tools, machinery and appliances are very difficult to obtain, he keeps at least three of everything. That way there is always a back up. Why couldn’t we just buy this place from him? It is absolutely perfect... which is why he’ll probably never sell.
We came home from this trip with a new determination to find our own island. We felt like we had to at least buy some land even though we knew we couldn’t develop it immediately. It became a nightly ritual to surf the internet and search every variation of “island for sale” that we could think of. As websites were found, we bookmarked and checked them daily. I would bet that my “favorites” folder contains nearly every island website available on Earth.
In 2004 our kids received their SCUBA certifications and we returned again to Cozumel. Later that year, we traveled alone to Belize still on the quest to find our perfect island paradise. We’ve noticed ourselves becoming quite the resort critics, always pointing out the little details that could be improved upon to maximize a guest’s experience, in hopes they return.
Our dream has now become crystal clear. The island needs to be the right size, in the right location, and in an affordable price range. We will buy the island, build as time and money will allow and, hopefully, over the next few years move in debt free. We will build a romantic boutique-style resort. It will include our personal home, about ten cabanas and a main gathering area with a bar, dining room and gift shop. Plus, enough staff quarters to provide at least a one to one ratio of staff to guests. We’ll cater to honeymooners and couples who want to escape the stresses of life. People, like us, who like to slow down, lay on the beach, snorkel, scuba dive and fish. No televisions. No cell phones. No computers. Just sharing the tranquil environment of a comfortable room with a gentle Caribbean breeze and the clear blue ocean lapping at the back door of your private island cabana. With some web advertising and networking within the travel industry, someday soon our island dream will become a reality!
Doug and K.T. Ingersoll - April 2005
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