Cayman Islands, a great chapter of my life. How I miss this little piece of sand…
August 29th, 2012: I left a piece of sand. I left behind my island jeep, my snorkeling gears, my oceanfront condo full of stories. I left my friends. I left my life in the Caribbean.
From working solid hours to diving everyday, to swimming to the reef in my front yard, to cruising around the island in my roofless car, to the late night life chats on my balcony looking at the stars, to the simpleness of life under a tropical sun… Cayman Islands you were a paradise in all!
Why did I leave? Well, there was the end of the lease. I only planned on staying for 6 months… 14 months ago. And my roommate, the best roomy ever, was about to leave. Signing a new year lease, finding a new roommate, that was way too scary for me. It was like doing it all over again. Plus, I had friends, dogs and a job waiting for me back home. It was time for me to go… Was it?
I miss the island everyday though. I left when I finally made the place feel like home. I had new opportunities opening up to me. I had good friends. I was constantly doing something new. Being on the water everyday reminded me how important this element is to me. I got offered to be an underwater photographer apprentice. I also got offered to operate a watersport business…
So why did I leave? When you feel something in your heart pushes you to do something, sometimes you might hit a stomp, sometimes everything make sense. My heart needed to be back and catch up on the important people of my life, to see my dogs grow and to see the snow fall again. I wanted to be cold. I wanted to experience my home in the mountains again.
I am happy to be back. It is still summer here and the reflections of the snowy mountains on the lakes look fantastic. I caught up on my friends, spend quality time with my dogs and breathe the fresh air. It is good to be cold!
I think of Cayman everyday. I will go back for sure. Either to visit or to stay and work and play. We’ll see. The Cayman Islands chapter has arrived to its end. Now, I need to get to know home.
The rich and famous life on the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, Cayman Islands.
Our 20 seat aircraft put wheels down on the deserted landing of St-Thomas’ only airport. Our friend greets us as we step down the stairs of the small plane. Sebastian is a friend we met in Grand Cayman. He moved to St-Thomas after he was offered a very attractive position within the Marriott hotels. As a matter of fact, this will be our home for the next few days (remember I am vacationing and not travelling this time, so I can indulge myself with this extravagance).
St-Thomas is a small island of the Caribbean, neighbouring to the east of Puerto Rico. Along with the islands of St-John and St-Croix, it is known as the US Virgin Islands, an other unincorporated territory of the States. Even with its bitty size, St-Thomas has a ton of activities to do for everyone. From sailing, scuba diving, sightseeing, shopping or dining. Families, honeymooners or vacationers like us girls will find something to suit our holiday wants and needs.
Before anything else, we need to cheers to our reunion with a refreshment. We stop at Hooters to try one of their famous cocktails. I choose the Tropical Rum Punch (of course I did), and am astonished by the quantity and quality of the 5 different local rums (yes, I did said 5) that this generously voluminous Hooters girl pours in my giant ”to go” cup (it is common to walk from bar to bar with a beverage purchased somewhere else. How convenient). The drink is tasty and is perfect to celebrate. We import our sippy cup to a local bar next door where we meet up with some of Sebastian’s friends. Again, to honor the moment, we cheers with a colossal shot of jager (it seems the smaller the island gets, the more the portions expand..)!
We wake up to a beautiful morning in the US Virgin Islands. Staying at the Marriott is indeed a real treat. Comfy beds, mouthwatering breakfast buffets, infinity pool with stunning views and of course, the pool bar. Amber and I decide to play the lazy tourists for a day and soak in the pool under the Caribbean sun rays, sipping on delicious tropical cocktails here and there, snacking on finger foods now and then and just splurging in every second of our amazing vacation.
When the night comes, we put our evening dresses and wander around the resort. The air is warm but fresh and we admire the lights beautifully reflecting on the outdoor pools as a cruise ship pass by. The Frenchman’s Reef and Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort is a destination itself. With its 4 pools, a luxurious sea spa, great dining options and stunning views of the ocean and the island harbour, it is easy to forget about the outside world. After all, we are on vacations. We hang out at the Rum Bar, an area overlooking the harbour. It is a gorgeous evening.
But the bars in St-Thomas close late and the evening is young. Why not step outside of the resort and explore the local hangouts. We drive east, to the opposite side of the island and stop in the area of Red Hook. A few open air bars host a blend of tourist, expats and locals.
Today, we decide to go visit St-John. Aboard Sebastian’s roofless Jeep Wrangler we cruise up and down the hills of St-Thomas and catch the ferry towards the sister island.
The Global Marine Tug’s life offers us a picturesque 25 minute cruise towards our destination. At arrival, we roam through the roads of St-John. The drive is spectacular: the waters are electric blue, the trees are vivid green, the sand is perfect gold. Just another piece of paradise on Earth!
Obviously, a day in St-John wouldn’t be complete without stopping at one the open air bar and enjoying their Happy Hour. From a variety of beers and cocktails to choose from, it is easy to get stuck there a whole afternoon sipping on 1$ bevies. Our stop to warm up the seats was at Woody’s where we enjoyed yummy… well you know, Rum Punches.
The time has come to say farewell to our friend. We thank him for his generous hospitality and for the opportunity he gave us to touch sumptuousness. We definitely had a luxurious stay and could have not asked for more. We crack a bottle of red at a local pub to close our visit. Oh and of course, a shot of rum!
This Caribbean island hopping was brief but surely filled with surprises and laughs and undeniable smiles. From the people we met and became friends, to the roads that lead us to the unexpected, to the vivid colours of the natural landscapes and to the true cheers to life we made, this vacation, with all its luxury, has been one of the finest!
After living on the pancake island of Grand Cayman for the past 15 months, I am starving for mountainous sceneries, elevation sensation and ocean curls. And might as well take the advantage of my current living location to explore the surroundings. On the menu this month: island hop the Caribbean!
Puerto Rico is a beautiful tropical island of the Caribbean located between the Dominican Republic, the US Virgin Islands and BVI. It is a destination for outdoor enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies. Perfect for me! I plan on driving around the island, from East to West coast and energize my body while hiking waterfalls, surfing the waves, walking around the old town and dancing to reggaetons.
Arrival (San Juan)
We land in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. Amber and I have booked our first nights accommodation at El Canario Boutique Hotel. We unpack a few clothes, freshen up then stroll down the streets of our new neighbourhood. Our first impressions are promising: clean streets, authentic eateries, nice boutiques, plus we blend in.
We pass a corner where stands an open air local pub. We stop for a beer. We get approached by two gentlemen, late 20’s and discuss floating topics like profession, homelands, passions and interests. One is a professional athlete, surfer to be precise, and the other works in the industrial sector, electronics to be exact. One beer turns into a few until we decide to head back to our temporary home and catch up on some sleep. We say goodnight to our new Spanglish friends and go back to our hostel.
We wake up to a beautiful morning in Puerto Rico. Amber and I, both living in Cayman Islands where shopping is a true nightmare, are very excited about hitting Plaza Las Americas today, Puerto Rico’s largest indoor mall. While getting information about the transit system from the lady at the desk, we meet 2 fellow male guests visiting from the States, also looking for a shopping adventure. They are bright and showy with a humor to die for! We decide to tag along with these bubbly pals and share a cab to the mall.
It’s big, it’s huge, it’s fantastic! (…I’m talking about the mall here).
We meet up again with our new friends for the cab back home. Arriving at the hostel, we line up our purchases on the beds and parade to each other. Might as well celebrate with a few cocktails! We cheers to our new friendship and for the good times to come!
Old San Juan
We spend the day wandering the cobble stoned streets of the old town. With colourful 16th- and 17th-century Spanish colonial buildings, historic Old San Juan is a pleasure for both eyes and camera lenses. We dispose of our map and get lost in the old streets following smells, people and attractive sites.
The food here is absolutely amazing! It is a unique blend of Spanish, African, Taíno, and American influences. Combining tasty indigenous seasonings, ingredients, cultures and recipes. My favourite: the mofongo. Known as the signature dish of the country with African origins, the mofongo is a delicious mix of fried and mashed yuca filled with your choice of meat, seafood or veggies. With 24-hour restaurants offering authentic food and beverage service, no wonder why I gained 10 pounds!
Skip the tourist trap and hit the local clubs. It is the best way to understand and get introduced to people’s lifestyles. Located just a few steps from our hostel is The Small Bar where many locals hang out to the late hours of the nights (or early hours of the morning). The tiny trailer shaped bar which hosts regulars nightly offers a large variety of beers and liquor and succulent, although extremely expensive, Blue Long Island Ice Teas (you really only need a few of these generously sized deliciousness).
Because we brought our friends to our favorite place, it was up to them to bring us to theirs. After a cab ride through the darkest street of the town, we get dropped off in front of this:
Nonetheless to say where we are going.
Impressions: interesting, different, perhaps ”checked” and let’s-not-do-this-too-often (and thank me for not posting any further pictures).
We bar hop a few gay clubs and finally end up the night back at the Small Bar. Actually no. We end up the night at the local eatery by our hostel for another mofongo and a Pina Colada. Yum!
El Yunque Rainforest
The next day we decide to rent a car and drive to El Yunque Rainforest with our new friends (note: if you plan in advance a trip to the island, book a car in advance as it is a true mission to get a last-minute deal, especially with a hard hangover).
The rainforest is beautiful. The group is content with cruising aboard the car explaining that forests and their creatures are not so much their cup of tea. We accept to abort the hike and stick together. We journey through lush forest, tree orchids, giant ferns and wild flowers.We pass breathtaking waterfalls and admire the views of the northern coast. The air is clean, the smell is fresh, the scenery is splendid. The oxygen slowly cures my morning after.
Puerto Rico was populated for centuries by aboriginals, until it was found and claimed in 1493 by the Spanish Crown. After the Spanish-American war, the island was conveyed to the US after 4oo years of colonial rule that nearly exterminated the indigenous population. With the introduction of African slavery and the large number of European immigrants, Puerto Rico has a blend of ethnic groups, which offers a very diversified population.
Puerto Ricans are a generous kind. They will go above and beyond to spice up your experiences and mesmerize your stay. This is what I love the most about travelling: the people (well the food is up there too). Okay, okay ”don’t talk to strangers”, I get it. But this is not America (although PR is an unincorporated territory of the States). For me travelling is interacting with the people and being submerged in their culture. I like to reach out for inspiration and learn from different values. Of course you have to be vigilant, but sometimes you have to follow your instincts and take risks and chances. Call me naive or innocent, but I still have some faith in humanity.
Our local friends offer us a ride to other side of the island. We say farewells to our new lifelong friends from the States and hit the road towards the West Coast.
Wow, what a road trip! The road to Rincon from San Juan is an approximate 3 hour drive. We sing reggaeton songs from Don Omar out loud, windows down, passing farms, little towns and open air stores. Our friends inform us about few aspects of their enchanted island, talking about politics and their open and dependent economy. Overall, they seem pretty content citizens. We communicate in English, a language that they learned in school and practice at home. Like most of their neighbours, they come from educated families and are now young entrepreneurs.
Rio Camuy Caves
Although informative and entertaining, the ride is long and a stop is well needed. Our hosts propose to stop in Arecibo and explore the Rio Camuy caves.
A miniature train drops us at the entrance of a large network of natural limestone caves and underground waterways that have been carved out by the Camuy River, the 3rd largest underground river in the world. We wander around this spectacular piece of art from nature, exploring caves and sinkholes. The whole Camuy cave system is believed to hold over 1,000 caves. However, only a fraction of it has been mapped and only a small section is open to public.
We arrive to our destination. We have a room booked at Casa Verde. Cozy, a few steps away from the beach, with a tiny bar and a refreshing pool. Those vacations me like! We say goodbyes to our generous friends who hit the road again.
Rincon is Puerto Rico’s surf town located on the West coast of the island. It is an ocean paradise where the sun sets over the horizon and the palm trees sing through the wind. Catch a surf lesson in the morning, hang out by the pool in the afternoon and listen to reggae at night sipping on an authentic Pina Colada (official beverage or PR), watching an electric sunset painting the sky of its warmest details.
Oriented towards tourism, Rincon is also known as one of the best surf spots across the globe which attracts a lot of people from around the world. If you want to surf, chose your season wisely. Unfortunately for us, August isn’t the best time to show our skills on a board. Unpredictable waves and unstable pattern keep us on the beach instead. But the scenery is pretty and laying around on vacation is always a rewarding treat.
Once again, the generosity of the people absolutely amaze me! The bartender of our hostel takes us under his wings and show us around his town, bringing us to local hang outs and introduce us to the local and expat crowd. We spend our short time in Rincon socializing with beach bums and inspiring life connoisseurs and then realize our time is out and we need to go catch our flight back in San Juan. Also realizing that it is pretty primordial to rent a car in Puerto Rico and that there is no public transportation available back to the East Coast, our new friend offers us a ride from his father, a long-term Puerto Rican resident from the States.
The ride back was interesting. Learning about this man’s journey from working a professional 9 to 5 job in the States to migrating to the land of enchantment and being a happy beach bum. ”I surf everyday. I don’t need that much. And I am happy. That’s all that matters”. We stop at a waterfall to freshen up. The 60-something-year-old man tells us he hasn’t been there in 20 years and he appreciates our presence so he can revisit the places of his younger years. While we explore the underwater caves and just fool around, we see him climb up the waterfall… a good 50 feet! Oh boy! With a few local families around asking us if grandpa knows what he’s doing, all we can do is hope for the best. With one hand on my camera and the other one on my eyes, fingers spread, I look at grandpa going for the big jump… Thank goodness, he is safe and alive! Ouff!
It is time to leave the ground of the island of magical landscapes. I haven’t rented a car, nor hiked a waterfall, nor surf the waves, but I have walked the old town and definitely shook my booty at the sounds of reggeatons. I also leave with amazing memories and new friendships. The highlight of the trip? The people. Their warmth, generosity and openness made our stay lively, vibrant and unique. Oh and the mofongos too 😉
Now, it is time to embark in our small plane, direction St-Thomas where we will be visiting our friend from Grand Cayman.
Puerto Rico, I was enchanted to meet you.
I got here on a 4th of July. Like many islanders I came here to search for a new light, try to brighten up on some points in my life, try to escape the mold; try to create life experiences; try to build a new chapter of my own.
This whole experience was never planned. It came up randomly as an opportunity. Call it luck or not, it came perfectly in a good time in my life, where my heart was looking for recovery and my soul was searching to hold on to something new.
I never really put any thought before into the Caribbean. I mean it is touristy, easy to travel to, very modern and built with big hotels and amenities. All the opposite of what I am looking for when I travel. But this time was not about backpacking. It was about leaving home, on my own, at an older age and moving into the unknown. I was there to work and step away from my reality to get a better understanding of it. I had no expectations. Just a work permit, a one-way plane ticket and an open heart and soul.
With hesitation at first, I took courage by the horns and entered in a whole new adventure. The first couple of months were cruel. I missed friends and my puppies growing up. I missed the family that I built in the past 9 years. I missed the mountains, the lifestyle, the fresh air of my homey Canadian West Coast. I missed home. But there were reasons why I was here. I needed to put aside loneliness and the feeling of longing for home and start living this island experience. After 2 months residing in an old hotel room, I found a cozy condo on the beach. And when my co-worker Jo from Whistler came down on the same opportunity, I felt that a part of me found home. Now, it was time to start that island life!
14 months later I am sitting on my balcony drinking my latte overlooking the Caribbean Sea and I remember those days that went by. I remember day one when the taxi dropped me at destination and the humidity attacked my hair permanently; I remember when I first dipped my toes in the ocean and marked (literally) the Caribbean as my new territory. I remember my first kiss with a stingray, my first dive in the clear waters of the Antilles, the first time I went wakeboarding under the sunset light and trying so hard not to fall and be a prey to sharks. I remember jetskiing the angry sea and holding on to my dear life. I remember the crazy parties, theover consumption of Jager and the nights that once were to forget now became nights to remember. I remember the friends I met, the ones that left, the ones that stayed, the ones that inspired me in future projects.
I remember the pride I had to welcome my mother and my friends from home in my paradise. I remember leaving home with no shoes and going for lunch to restaurants on the beach. I remember walking home from work while the sun sets over the horizon. I remember going for a snorkel right in my front yard. I remember meeting up with my mother in Cuba for a weekend. I remember grabbing my mask and fins and going diving in the morning and clocking in at work with a massive mask mark on my forehead. I remember cheering my roommate on the beach between 2 bottles of Riesling after deciding to purchase a Jeep (with 2 months left to our journey). I remember the with great DJ’s, the boat parties, the famous Sunday Fundays. Like a captain stirring his vessel, I drove my island life through memorable experiences, a bottle at hand (eh, no judgements, I live on an island)!
It surely has been a legendary rollercoaster and a hell of good time! No regrets, only great memories that will last.
Cayman Islands, I raise my glass to you today: cheers to you and thanks for the good ride! Ya Man!
So when does it start to feel like home? Is it by the number of pairs of shoes that you collect in your condo’s entrance? Or with the number of swimwear that accumulates on your towel rack? Or is it by the repetitive salutations of acquaintances that you encounter at the grocery store, local pub or just strolling down the beach at night? Maybe you realize that your skin surprisingly started to toughen up to the daily absorption of tropical UV rays and the bombing of mosquito bites, fire coral burns and jelly fish stings? How much and how long does it take to really consider yourself… at home?
I recently found a different taste to the island: the adaptation to the constant hot, humid and sunny weather, the homey comfort of my apartment, the growing circle of friends and acquaintances (at the end, you pretty much met the whole island), and the feeling of being ok with living far away… But do I feel like home?
I still miss my friends, my dogs, the mountains and my life back home. It will almost be a year that I landed foot on this rock. It was interesting to see the emotional progress. I came from being scared and lonely, to feeling comfortable and at ease. And as this Caribbean chapter is about to end, I am not sure if I am quite ready to let go of it yet.
The first 5 months of being away, I still starved to go back home. And then a friend told me: ‘’you JUST got here. This is a new habitat for you. It takes time to mark territory, build amenity and create contentment and assurance. Don’t run back to comfort zone and security. Experience and learn about those feelings you have and grow out of it. Be strong, be confident. This island has a lot to offer, be kind and heart open and go forward. Give yourself the time to be completely submerged with the venture that you gave yourself and get out of it enlightened and accomplished. Don’t give up, just not yet’’. He was right. I came back home on vacation for the Holidays and it was hard to come back to the island. But weeks went by and I committed to my ‘’Cayman To Do List’’. I kept myself busy not only with work and social gathering (which literally were 2 full time jobs during my first months) but I started to fill my time off with stimulating activities. I really got into scuba diving and I try to go on the water at least twice a week. I attempt to go to places I haven’t been, try a new restaurant for lunch or drive around the island in search of a Sunday getaway brunch. I want to take advantage of the Cayman Airways’ low airline fares to explore the islands nearby, like I did when I met up with Mom in Cuba for the weekend. I want to do it all and give this island experience a big and sincere ‘’check’’. I am even considering purchasing a car, just for the liberty and the freedom for my last months on the rock. But hold on a minute, wouldn’t this be getting closer to settling down?
So yeah… After those months of serenading loneliness and homesickness, here I am in Grand Cayman, living the Island Life at its fullest. With doubts at first, but no regrets at last, I stuck to the guns and battled through this separation anxiety that followed me all along. I realized that we all moved away from something, and we all felt lonely at first. But I had to remember that we are all lonely together. So there I go on this piece of rock in the middle of the Caribbean, telling myself: this is starting to feel like home…
I still can’t believe that I get to call this place my home… at least for now. In honour of this beautiful piece of sand, here are some images filmed during my time living in Grand Cayman.