Catching a little Cayman Culture

I took my own advice this rainy weekend and my Husband and I went to the National Museum. We’ve been a few times over the years, but the most recent was almost a year ago. The permanent exhibits are worth a visit, and we’re happy to take any interested visitors there. I’ve also recommended it to anyone interested in the history of the Cayman Islands. There is no charge for residents on the first Saturday of the month.

On this visit we only had time to see the current exhibit, Towards 2050, Living in a Sustainable Cayman, and to browse a little in the gift shop. I learned a little bit about the Blue Iguana, or the Blue Dragon as they call it. The Blue Iguana recovery program has a sponsorship or “adopt a blue dragon” program. I thought it would be pretty cool to adopt a blue iguana until I saw the price tag of $500 per year. I could name one for $1000, but what would I call it?

The Blue Iguana lives almost exclusively in protected areas. It is threatened by rats and feral cats, which eat the eggs, and feral dogs. They grow much larger than the common or green iguana and there are some distinguishing features to help recognize which is which. The blue iguana does not have black rings on the tail. They have no spines on the dewlap, the flap under the chin, and they never have the large circular scale on the cheek. Those features would all indicate a green iguana.

The population of the Blue Iguana was at one time estimated to be fewer than 50! It is the most endangered iguana on earth.

As for the green iguanas, I’m sure there are at least 50 living in this area right around our building and pool right now. I chased a very large green iguana away from the pool today. It was so big it could hardly squeeze itself through the fence, but it sure could move quickly. I’ve seen several smaller ones scurrying off through the shrubbery when I walk by.

The sustainability exhibit also mentioned the idea that Cayman culture is being replaced with the cultures of the many nationalities moving here. I see a very strong Jamaican influence, but North Americans are making their mark. There is a new “Thanksgiving” holiday to mark the end of hurricane season. The long standing Sunday “rest” day is currently under review to allow the opening of certain stores.

What really interested me was the promotion of and growth in the tourist industry. One flyer, describing the couple who had saved up for a vacation on their dream island, encouraged locals to give them a smile. You’ll find that friendly Caymanian attitude to this day! You don’t find people pushing you to buy things on every corner. The staff in the services operated nationally, such as the museum, Pedro St. James and the Queen Elizabeth Botanic Garden, are unfailingly polite and friendly.

I can’t help comparing Caymanian culture with the Blue Iguana. Both are fascinating and unique, like something time forgot, and both are struggling to survive on an island that is striving to accommodate thousands of visitors daily.


What else is there to do here?

When I look across the water towards George Town, I see…nothing! Everything is shrouded in mist, as if I were in the middle of a Gothic novel, or living in Scotland. The fact that it’s actually warm outside should reassure me that I’m still in my Island Paradise, but instead, it’s starting to feel oppressive!

The cruise ships that offer us some entertainment with their comings and goings may or may not be in port. Sometimes the rain lightens up enough to show us the outlines of what look like ghost ships.

It must be very depressing to come into port when it’s like this, or even worse, to be here for a vacation for a week when it’s like this. The thunder storms will prevent any water activity. NO stingrays, no snorkeling, no diving.

I know, because I’ve been coming here for four years and living here off and on, that there are things to do when it rains. It’s not “the dream” but it’s better than sitting in the internet cafe waiting for the rain to stop. I would like to offer a few rainy day suggestions.

Pedro St. James is a mostly indoor tour and includes a cleverly produced”multi-sensory 3D presentation” which covers the history of the building and in some ways, the island and slavery in the Cayman Islands. You can tour the grounds and building and if it isn’t too stormy you can look out over the ironshore and enjoy the sight of the breakers on the south shore.

The National Museum is another way to spend some quality time indoors. Your visit starts with a short film about the people and history of Cayman. They have several permanent exhibits and one area devoted to changing exhibits. The gift shop is a great place to buy jewelry made of Caymanite, the local stone.

The National Gallery is home to the National Collection of Caymanian art, as well as changing exhibits of local and international pieces. The outside entrance passes through a sculpture garden and to one side there is a labyrinth.

The car museum in West Bay, the Cayman Motor Museum, is unfortunately closed for renovations over the summer months. This is the private collection of Andreas Ugland, which he has chosen to share with the Cayman Islands and visitors to the island.  I’ve been twice and it’s a must see for car lovers, if you should be lucky enough to be here when it’s open!

I know you can see a movie almost anywhere, but if you’ve been to the museums, the gallery and Pedro St. James and it’s still raining, there is a cinema in Camana Bay showing new release movies. The Cayman Drama Society does a variety of live performances throughout the year if you’re looking for evening entertainment beyond the clubs. That said, many hotels and resorts do have regular entertainment planned, so check out what is going on at the various resorts.

I really hope you don’t need any more rainy day suggestions than that! I hope that if you’re ever on this beautiful island, that you will be blessed with the weather to do whatever you’re dreaming of doing and to enjoy the sun and sea!




TGIF still happens

Friday! There is something about Fridays that stayed with me long after I had to work Monday to Friday. When our kids were young, Friday was my day to get the paper, read the entertainment section and do the crossword. I’d go to the video store and pick out two movies: one to watch with the family and one for the adults to watch when the kids were in bed. We’d all make pizza together and set up the TV tables and have Family Pizza and Movie Night. We still do that sometimes, without the kids. It’s more like Couple Pizza and Movie Night. If either one of our kids is visiting, it’s grown up Family Pizza and Movie Night.

Fridays in our new life are a clean start, literally. For the past four years I’ve known when it’s Friday, because without fail, someone shows up and cleans the pool deck and all the sidewalks and landings. Later, a crew from a pool service shows up and cleans the pool. Somehow, no matter how dirty the pool may be, no matter how many leaves have found their way in and how many iguanas have had their way, those guys can get the pool clean! I so look forward to that first swim in the freshly cleaned pool.  Maybe I look forward to it a little too much.

Last week I had a busy week running errands and getting the car serviced while my husband was in Canada visiting family. I had big plans for Friday, or rather NO plans. I was going to sit on the deck for meals and do some writing while watching for the pool guys to come, so I could jump in as soon as they were done. I’d swim my lengths, then sit by the pool, reading a good book, occasionally jumping back in to cool off.

I should never plan anything here, or at least I should have a Plan B.

Last Friday, the pool guys didn’t show up. “It’s Friday!” I kept telling myself. I got a lot done, watching for them all day. When I finally gave up, put my goggles on and started my swim in the unclean pool, I had about 10 minutes before the rain started. I know, I was already wet, but I’m always cautious about being in water when there is a chance of lightning. By the time I got out of the pool, within seconds, my towel was soaked. I waited in the rain to make sure there was nothing electrical happening. When the sky cleared a little, I finished my swim. I didn’t sit outside with my book, which I’d fortunately left inside, or it, too would be soaked.  I came inside and showered, didn’t feel like driving to the video store for a movie and didn’t feel like making pizza for myself. My Friday was not exactly how I’d planned. It was okay, but why didn’t they clean the pool? It was FRIDAY!

All week I kept hoping they would come and clean the pool, maybe on a different day. By Tuesday, I gave up hope and watched the sheets of rain fill the pool to the brim.The rain has hardly stopped since then.  At least the rain water is diluting the filth.

Today the sky was clear in the morning, long enough for me to swim lengths. The pool hasn’t been cleaned yet, almost another week later, but no more iguanas have come to visit. The thing about rain water is that it’s pretty cool. The pool is heated by the sun and we haven’t had much sun for three days. I had to remind myself that I’m Canadian! I can take a little cold! The swim felt great, and oh, so refreshing!

The rain is coming down again. Every now and then it starts raining harder, just to remind me that it’s still raining. I’m pretty sure there are flood warnings, and the mosquitoes are going to be horrific when this rain stops. I’m trying to be productive while I’m “trapped” indoors. Still, I watch for my opportunity to be out in that pool. I can accept it when nature messes up my routine, but this is where spontaneity comes in.

Tomorrow is another Friday. Maybe the pool will get cleaned. If it does I’ll go out and bask in the cleanliness,  but I won’t plan my day around it. I will plan to pick up a movie and make a pizza, just for old times’ sake.



What do we do here?

What do you do there?

Sometimes it’s asked in a curious tone by those who genuinely want to know whether we are working here or how we entertain ourselves. Do we dive? Do we golf? Do we sit around drinking with pirates? (I do, he does and not yet.)

Sometimes it’s “What do you DO there?” as in how can you possibly fill your day on a small island of 50,000 people when you aren’t working?

I could say that we’re retired, so we do whatever we want. I could reply that I do the same thing I did in Canada, but without being cold or battling snow and ice. Neither is strictly true.

Let me first of all say that I never have problems filling my day, no matter where I am. True, I’ve never had to live in a small jail cell with no access to books or internet, but if I did I could do yoga and meditate. I would write stories in my head.  I can be as sociable as anyone, judging from my latest off-island trips, but alone time is what keeps me sane. I read, write, swim, work out, and I do yoga. I don’t have enough time in a day to do everything I want.

My perfect day would start with a swim or yoga, followed by breakfast and coffee on the deck. I could easily stop there.I could sit on the deck for hours, watching the boats coming and going. We can see the cruise ships heading to George Town and check the port authority schedule to find out their names, where they’ve been and where they are going next. We see dive boats scattered across our horizon. Sometimes I’ll stay outside and write. There is something inspiring about the water, whether it’s calm and still or crashing onto the ironshore. The colours change with the light during the course of the day, making for fabulous photo opportunities. I wish I could paint it.

I could spend most of a day sitting on the deck on iguana watch, chasing them away when they get to the pool area.

If the internet is working well, I might take advantage and catch up on news, especially to do with football(soccer), tennis and speed skating, and any TV shows I’ve missed. If we have errands to run or if it’s a market day, I find it best to head out in the morning. If there is a game or sporting event that we want to see on TV, it’s usually in the afternoon.

During the course of running errands we’ll often go out somewhere for lunch, stop and check the mail at the post office on the way home, and pick up anything we need at the grocery store. We still have video stores here, so we’ll sometimes rent a movie.

We can even go to a movie at the theatre  in Camana Bay if we want to catch a new release. We have to be quick, though. Movies don’t stay at the theatre for long here, unless they are animated or action movies. That’s just a reflection of the island demographics.

If I’m really lucky, I’ll have time to do yoga or a workout in the afternoon, followed by a swim if I didn’t go in the morning. There is always something to do around our home, as in any home. We have laundry, bathrooms to clean, floors to vacuum and meals to prepare. We don’t eat out as often as we did as visitors. We love to find local produce and prepare our own meals.

We try to keep up with what’s happening on the island. We go to the parades during Pirate Week and Batabano, we take part in A Taste of Cayman, we try to see the new exhibits at the National Museum and the National Gallery, and we attend the plays performed by the Cayman Drama Society. The island is full of talented people. We already have our tickets for the first international film festival to be held in June.

The island is also full of fun things to do, especially in the water. I love to dive, and we’ve tried kayaking, paddle boarding, and my husband’s favourite, snorkeling. If it’s calm behind our place, we’ll go for a snorkel. If we have our hearts set on going out, and it’s too rough at our place, we’ll find another spot nearby or make a day trip to the north side. Sometimes we’ll go for a walk on the beach.

What we do also depends on the seasons. Yes, we have seasons! Flexibility is key! There are days, like today, where the sun doesn’t come out for hours. We watch the sheets of rain until gradually we begin to see some definition in the horizon.  Instead of the vivid tones of green, turquoise and navy, we see variations of grey and white giving way to dull green and charcoal seas and pale grey sky. Those days are almost as fascinating to a prairie girl as they are depressing. Today, we woke up in semi-darkness, surprised to find it was already after 9 AM! The rain was pouring, not in drops but in a steady wash. My first thought was “I guess I won’t be swimming this morning.” I then spared a moment to sympathize with the cruise ship passengers. If this rain continues, I have some sewing projects I could get started on. Flexibility!

Every day at sunset(well, except maybe for days like today!) we go outside and enjoy the glorious pink and red sky. Sometimes it just gets dark and the clouds cover the sunset completely. The sunset moves throughout the year, from over the water to behind the trees, but it’s always  around supper time. After a lifetime in Canada, where the length of a day varies by several hours between seasons, this is still a novelty to me.  In the evening we can look at the stars or enjoy an unexpected display of fireworks.

A lot of our time is spent just getting things to work, or finding things we need, like the right light bulb or the right replacement part for an appliance. Sometimes we have to be patient with the pace of life here, whether it’s getting a credit card or getting the internet to connect. At those times, it’s best to turn off the computer, get something to drink and go out on the deck to watch the birds and the boats. Oh, and once we get to know them better, maybe we will spend more time with the pirates!

And what do you do where you are?




A Rabbit or an Iguana? How about a chicken?

Blue IguanaThe Blue Iguana

Green Iguanas: too many to count.Green iguanas


WARNING: The following post contains content that may be unpleasant or disgusting to some.

In Calgary we had rabbits in our neighbourhood. Where there are rabbits, there are many rabbits. They made themselves at home in our yard, ate our flowers, our lettuce and anything else that may have been otherwise successful at growing in our garden. They curled up in their own indentations in the yard where they thought we couldn’t see them.

In Cayman, we have chickens and iguanas. The chickens are  annoying when they crow all night, but they are just part of life here. They don’t go in the pool and they never come up to my deck.

We have the native blue iguana, which is rare and is protected. I’ve never seen one outside of Queen Elizabeth Botanic Garden.  We also have the invasive green iguanas, which I’m told were brought from Jamaica as pets. If you come from colder climates, as I do, they at first seem very exotic. However, they have no natural predator here, although dogs seem to be adapting to that role,  and they multiply at a much faster rate than the blue iguana. They multiply like, well, like rabbits.

The green iguanas eat foliage. They can climb walls and they love to come out in the sunshine and relieve themselves on warm patios, pool decks and in swimming pools. They carry salmonella. They are not my pets. They are not my friends. They are no longer exotic to me. Imagine your yard and outdoor living area,( keeping in mind that most of our living is outdoors), overrun by dogs. Iguanas do not poop little rabbit pellets. The gifts they leave are like those left by dogs, but unfortunately, there is no conscientious owner following the dozens of iguanas around with little plastic bags or pooper-scoopers.

There are those who say that the iguanas are beautiful and historic creatures; that they should be left alone to thrive in nature. Would they say the same of the lionfish that is destroying the Caribbean reef? Maybe those same people would enjoy eating their breakfast on a feces covered patio. This is not their natural habitat and some feel that the green iguanas are taking over from the native blue iguana.

We used to arrive for a visit and find our deck covered in iguana poop. We have a second floor condo,  but they have no problem climbing up to our deck. I have seen the iguanas crouched over the swimming pool about to use it as a toilet. I don’t care if they are in the grass and the trees. I don’t want them where I live. I don’t want salmonella in the small swimming pool that I use and that families with children use. It is very difficult to clean iguana feces out of the pool as it disintegrates and disseminates.

Our condo pool and the surrounding deck and sidewalks are cleaned once a week. The iguanas seem to be most attracted to the area about 5 minutes after the cleaners leave. I have chased away many an iguana with our trusty broom. Running out the door and down the stairs, waving my broom at the offenders, has become a new form of recreation. I’m sure the neighbours think I’m crazy.

I’ve been reading about iguanas, as in “know thine enemy”, and learned that they are creatures of habit. It is my mission to break them of the habit of coming to the pool or coming on our deck, or to stop them from forming those habits in the first place. It’s a big job, but who better to do it that the crazy retired lady with the broom?


Planes, planes and automobiles

I’ve  just returned from a short visit to our families in Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC.  I have been in six different airports in six cities in under two weeks. I’ve been through security seven separate times. Yes, security! Seven times! Is it any wonder I am randomly selected for special screening so often? I expect it now. It’s no longer enough to pack so that my hair clips or keys don’t resemble a knife on the x-ray image. It doesn’t matter that my miniature toiletries are carefully placed in the appropriate sized clear zipper bag, or that I remove every piece of metal, wearing jeans that stay up without a belt. What I do doesn’t really matter when that “random” signal goes.

It’s not easy to get to my island, unless you live in the Centre of the Universe, or Toronto, to you non-Canadians.  There are both West jet and Air Canada flights from Toronto to Grand Cayman. To reach these morning flights from almost anywhere in Western Canada, an overnight flight is required.

After my overnight flight from Calgary, which arrived at 5:40 AM, I  waited in the chilly boarding area, surrounded by other red-eyed travelers from Vancouver, Edmonton, and possibly Winnipeg. Sometimes the seating area fills up just before the first boarding call, everyone fresh from their good night sleep in their Toronto beds. This time I wasn’t the only one that had been waiting since 6:30 or 7 AM for the 9:30 flight, so I didn’t feel quite the same resentment towards my fellow travelers.

The red-eye flight to Toronto is always full, and cold. For some, this makes sleep impossible. I have no trouble falling asleep. It’s the waking up every half hour with my head in awkward positions that gives me problems. Still, I continue to travel through Toronto,  because it means only one stop,  and no customs and immigration until I get home.

I went  to Canada through Houston. That meant that I had to clear customs in Houston, stay at a hotel overnight, re-enter security, fly to Calgary,clear Canada customs and re-enter security for the flight to Victoria.  In order to see family, I flew from Victoria to Saskatoon via Calgary, and later from Saskatoon to Calgary. I am still working on finding the best connection to allow the least disruption to my sleep and the fewest trips through security. I haven’t found it yet.

When I arrived home in Grand Cayman (and it still gives me a little thrill to say that!) I had to find our car, which my husband had parked in long term parking a week earlier. Did I mention that we seldom travel on the same itinerary but our trips usually overlap? He left for Canada a week after I did and would be coming home a week later.

Yes, it’s our car, but I had never seen it, and it was in the short term parking instead of the long term lot. The same day I left for Canada, my husband took the car that had major transmission problems and traded it. I had the key for the new car and a little ticket that said the car was parked in the short term lot because the long term lot was full. I stood in line with the people waiting for taxis, paid the attendant there for parking and waited for a different lady to bring change. I took my change and a receipt to show the parking attendant. I proceeded to the parking lot with my large roller bag and my small roller bag and my receipt.

One look and I recognized the car I’d never met before, my Amigo! It looks so much like the old Amiga, but without the transmission problems. My roller bags both fit in the trunk.  I only needed to wave my receipt at the parking attendant to release the gate and I was on my way home.

I felt like such a local as I turned right out of the parking lot instead of left, and made my way home through the almost non-existent Sunday traffic. If you’re new to the island, or staying on the South side or Eastern districts, it’s probably best to follow the signs. If you’re hungry, go right and stop at the George Town Yacht Club, which is what I should have done!

I have found as I get older that the overnight flights are taking their toll. I feel like I have jet lag when there is only a one hour time difference. On the other hand, it was nice to arrive home in the early afternoon and have time for a swim and a nap. My last meal was my 6 AM breakfast at the Toronto airport, so before the swim I needed a snack.

I bought my favourite Alberta cheese to bring home with me. Yes, this extra aged Gouda has even won gold medals at national competitions. I was going to test the regulations and see if Customs would let me bring it in. Unfortunately, I forgot the cheese in the fridge at my family’s house: the low sodium household.It’s not low in sodium.

Oh, did I mention that it was Sunday? Our stores are closed on Sundays in Cayman. The flight from Toronto is almost always on a Sunday. I arrive home sleep deprived and hungry. What I wouldn’t do to have my Alberta cheese right now. I found apples and a squash in the fridge, which I suppose was a healthy complement to the eggs Benedict I had for breakfast.

Still, I am very happy to be home. That was a week ago. A week later, I was very happy my husband  was on his way home, following the same  itinerary, He took a red eye flight to Toronto, where it was cold and raining, just as it was when I was there. He also ate an unhealthy breakfast. He would be arriving soon! There are some differences, though.

When he arrived, I’d be there waiting for him. I would drive him  in our newly serviced car to a home well stocked with food, including fresh local mangoes. He would be so happy to be home, and if I was lucky, he’d have my cheese.

Birds, Boats and Ironshore

IMG_5642Escape the Canadian winter forever and live a simpler life! That’s what we’ve  talked about for our entire married life.  I heard it from my husband before we were even married, and over the years his need to leave the cold behind has become more and more pressing. Like many northerners and Canada Geese, we tried to take annual winter vacations. After our birds left the nest, almost thirty years after we first started to dream about it, we decided to move permanently.

Birds, boats and ironshore are what I see when I wake up. If you’ve ever been on a Caribbean cruise and stopped at a beautiful island, surrounded by clear, turquoise water, you can picture my home. In fact I’m probably watching your cruise ship as it arrives in the morning and leaves at sunset. I also watch the birds. Some of those birds are like the cruise ships, just passing through. Some stay a little longer, like our winter residents. Some live here, like us.

This wasn’t my idea, but I supported it. Why not? Who doesn’t want to live in paradise?  Over the years, we vacationed on many beautiful islands, always in summer when school was out. They were family holidays and we snorkeled as a family, explored as a family, and had “pool days” where we’d stay at our temporary home and play or read by the pool as a family.

For our children, these were summer holidays. For my husband they were reconnaissance missions. Could we live here?  Would we want to live here? What is the cost of living? What are the residency requirements? How safe is it? Are the locals hostile?

So here we are in the Cayman Islands, empty nesters,  living the dream as my daughter puts it. Happily Ever After is for fairy tales, though, and we are not living in a movie. What happens after the protagonists sail off into the sunset? After all, the ironshore landscape may very well have inspired the name of the district known as Hell, and it does get very hot!

Don’t worry, this is not a horror story. I often feel like the luckiest person in the world, but luck had nothing to do with moving here. You could pack up your car and move to any number of warm places without any planning or preparation and if it all works out, that’s luck! Our move to Grand Cayman took years of planning, research and paper work. I am lucky in my family, friends and choices in life, and in the fact that I think I could be happy living almost anywhere.  Will that be true of my new home? Stay with me through this adventure and we’ll find out!