As fate would have it, both of Amble’s first two development projects are private island projects. When I first wrote Thoughts on Islomania two years ago, my only extensive experience with an island that so perfectly captured “island-ness” was Isla Palenque. But now I’ve also spent a lot of time on Long Caye, Lighthouse Reef Atoll, in Belize – home to our project Zophora – which also feels like an ideal island. And while both islands reflect the Platonic ideal very closely, they each have their own distinct characters, revealing how an ideal can still take many forms.
Isla Palenque feels rough, wild, raw, mysterious, and perhaps even forbidding. Almost everything about the island contributes to this: it sits in rough Pacific waters, it is a rocky, volcanic island with boulders and bluffs, it is covered with all kinds of different ecosystems, mostly dense jungle and ancient lagoons, with skittering and sometimes noisy animals making their presence known. Almost every step and turn opens up a new vista, making it seem that something else is always around the corner.
But if Palenque’s essence is mysterious and wild, Long Caye’s is tranquil and cosmic. And you begin to sense this even before arriving on the island. Long Caye is located on an atoll reef, which means that the deep ocean waves break about a mile offshore. The island feels almost like it is sitting on a lake, and the waters from the beach are often so placid that you can see the sky perfectly reflected in them.
Long Caye is flat as well — an atoll island built up from sand deposits accumulating around mangroves and palms, it has almost no topography, no rocks, and the soil is all sand. In addition, the island primarily consists of one large ecosystem, a mangrove biome interspersed with the occasional palm grove and grassy brush; birds and small lizards are the only animal life on the island. Unlike Palenque, you don’t feel like surprises are always around the corner, and it’s very easy to feel safe. So tranquility comes to you very quickly on Long Caye; it feels like an oasis, a place of safety in the vast desert of the ocean.
In the most important ways, our development of Zophora on Long Caye is the same as on Isla Palenque. It’s very low-density, with small buildings nestled in largely unadulterated nature, and there is a large nature preserve covering the middle of the island. But of course, the resort will also be very different, in keeping with the nature of the island and the activities offered by the surrounding area.