What To Wear in the Cayman Islands

What To Wear in the Cayman Islands

When it comes to style, the Caribbean is an eclectic blend of luxury, casual beach vibes, and local island flavor. With all these seemingly contradictory tastes, it can be hard to know what to wear in the Cayman Islands. By no means am I well-versed in the world of fashion. However, I have identified eleven island girl essentials that have become staples in my Cayman wardrobe. I believe these could be welcome additions to your Caribbean closet as well. Whether you are preparing for a move, planning a visit, or are already living in this tropical paradise, I hope this essential list infuses your life and your attire with practical yet stylish island vibes.

# 1 Linen Pants

Effortlessly elegant, linen pants are a Caribbean wardrobe essential. I found the below featured pair at the Humane Society Thrift Shop (a recurring theme when it comes to my island attire). They are light, comfortable, and seem to pair with everything. Whether you’re chilling on the beach or adventuring around the island, these linen basics are a must have when you’re planning what to wear in the Cayman Islands!


# 2 Shades

Here in the Caribbean, we would be nothing without our sunglasses. Their practicality combined with serious style factor make them an invaluable accessory for island life. It is no secret that they can also be a great prop for a shameless brunch flex as well as the standard selfie. My featured shades were purchased in Camana Bay at De Sunglass Man.


# 3 Collective Swim Suits

When I was living in the Midwest, I literally purchased ONE swimsuit a year to wear throughout the few fleeting summer months. Here in Cayman, it is a very different story. There seem to exist infinite opportunities to parade around in swimwear. Even my frugal self has numerous rotations of one pieces, tops, and bottoms. My go-to bikini is Collective Swim’s black Kittiwake (named after the Grand Cayman shipwreck). Designed in and inspired by the Cayman Islands, I would recommend Collective Swim to any local or visitor looking for something uniquely Cayman and readily available on island.


# 4 Wide Brim Beach Hats

We love beach hats for the same reasons we love sunglasses — they are practical and timelessly chic. Something you probably did not know is that in a pinch, they make great shopping baskets! Warning: the cashiers may laugh at you but just tell them that you were inspired by Island Diaries. They’ll think it’s a movement…and that’s what it is 😉


# 5 Boyfriend / Button-Down Shirts

Prior to moving to Cayman, I would have never imagined that button downs and oversized boyfriend shirts would become such key players in my wardrobe. Coming from MinneSNOWta, I was dreaming of minimal-coverage island attire. I wanted the kind of tan I could never achieve in the Midwest. Months after moving, I find myself covering my arms every chance I get! Partly in an effort to block the sun but also because my body has acclimatized, no longer sweating profusely the minute I leave the AC. Boyfriend shirts and button ups are great for sun protection and provide a laid-back, beachy feel for any occasion. The Humane Society Thrift Store has quite the abundance of these styles. That is where I found the below featured tops!


# 6 Colorful, Statement Jewelry

The Caribbean invites a certain boldness in color and style than just wouldn’t make sense in other parts of the world. Since living in Cayman, I have unearthed the most unique, fun earrings (from the thrift store) that have become conversation pieces at every dinner or event I wear them to. Don’t go searching for this kind of jewelry though…it is best to let it find YOU.


# 7 The Iconic Kirk Grocery Bag

What costs $1 and serves as the perfect beach companion? Why, a reusable Kirk Market bag of course! While not the most luxurious of accessories, it gets the job done and adds local flavor to your island wardrobe.


# 8 Ultra-Versatile Denim Skirts

Leave it to the American to call the denim skirt an “island essential.” Say what you want, it truly goes with everything and is great to throw on over swimsuit bottoms. And yes indeed, both the below featured skirts are from the Humane Society Thrift Store.


# 9 The Romper

Back home I swear I considered buying a romper once every couple of months and they never made it past the dressing room. Living in the Caribbean, rompers have a certain je ne sais quoi that just works for the island lifestyle. Light and airy, this style offers a beachy, boho vibe that can be dressed up for a brunch or left casual for a beach day. Check out more of my thrift store finds below!


# 10 Head Scarf / Bandana

Beach-waves are a highly-coveted hairstyle that are quite achievable when living by the ocean. As lovely as this style is, it can lead to some pretty unruly hair. Not to worry, I have the perfect fix for this. Head scarves and bandanas are a simple and chic way to keep your hair out of your face and appear effortlessly beautiful wherever your island adventures may take you!


# 11 Comfy Slip-Ons


If my students didn’t ask me to tie their shoes on a daily basis, I may have forgotten how to do it by now. That is how infrequently I lace up because practically all of my shoes here are slip-ons. Flip-flops are an obvious essential if you are beaching on the regular; however, I would also recommend investing in comfortable sandals that can come on and off at a moments notice. This style is perfect for impromptu beach walks, beach restaurants, boat parties, and every occasion in between. Featured below are Viscata Menorcan sandals and an island-found pair from No. 1 Shoe Shop. Ideal shoes to wear in in the Cayman Islands!

Fun, beachy, and practical — those are the three words that describe my island wardrobe and I don’t see myself deviating far from this style anytime soon. The 11 island essentials I described today add comfort and lightness to the Caribbean lifestyle. Next time you are wondering what to wear in the Cayman Islands, take a page from Island Diaries and be sure to consult your local second hand stores! Happy shopping!

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Preparing For Your First Ever Cayman Boat Party

Preparing For Your First Ever Cayman Boat Party

Attending a boat party in Grand Cayman is basically a right of passage for island newcomers. Within a couple weeks of moving to the island, you’ve probably been invited to a handful, each one sounding more exciting than the last. At first blush, a boat party may seem like an ultra-fun, and dreamily tropical adventure. Don’t get me wrong, they really do have the potential to be all of that and more! However, there are certain aspects of a boat party that one must prepare for in order to maximize fun and minimize calamity. Today I will share a basic outline of what to expect as well as my top pointers that will allow you to experience all of the good and none of the bad on your very first (or 100th) Cayman boat party. 


What to expect on a Cayman boat party

Cayman boat parties have become a pillar of the island’s social scene, most commonly taking place on Saturdays and Sundays. The boats vary in size depending on the organizer. For example, the annual Gaelic party is hosted on a double-decker boat suitable for hundreds of guests whereas a small, birthday party boat may hold space for around 20 guests or less. No matter the occasion, the boats’ tried and true itineraries don’t vary all too much — the destinations predominately include Stingray City, Starfish Point, and Kaibo. Boats typically come equipped with either a sound system or a DJ so your maritime merriment is well-accompanied with energizing soca beats. Boat departure is typically around 1 pm with arrival just after sunset. Many organizers will also suggest a spot for after-party drinks but, quite frankly, I’ve never had the stamina to make it to those!


Tips for a Cayman boat party

Choose the right people: The overall vibe of a party is even more crucial if it’s taking place on a boat…quite simply because there is no escaping! Once you’re on, you’re on for 5 hours or more. It is important to consider who will be in attendance and if you can survive an afternoon at sea with them. Come to think of it, this is actually a great concept for a reality dating show. 

Pace yourself: This is a piece of advice that even the most seasoned of Caribbean party-goers may fail to abide by. Salt-water and sun create certain conditions that warrant chugging down a cool beverage. When most of your liquid supply contains some level of alcohol, it can be very easy to overdo it on the booze. Not to mention, these parties are not well-known for food options. All drink and no nosh is a recipe for disaster. That being said, know your limits and drink less than you would on land. Of course, this is easier said than done. 

Pack smart – water, snacks, sunscreen: Following up from number 2, part of staying in control on the boat involves nourishing your body with snacks and water (no, Truly’s do not count). Not only can you feed yourself, you can share with others! A surefire way to make life-long friends — offer up some chips and salsa and BOOM — besties for the resties. Also, we know you want to get a lovely island tan but 5 hours without sunscreen and someone is sure to confuse you for a lobster. Do yourself a favor and apply once before boarding and once more after Stingray City.

Attire – keep it simple: A boat party calls for similar apparel to that of a beach party. Here, we don’t complicate things — It is most fitting to wear a swimsuit, a swim cover-up, sunglasses, and flip-flops. Remember, one of the possible stops is Kaibo, a beach restaurant at Rum Point. While the scene is quite casual, I would still recommend wearing your cover-up and shoes off the boat for drinks and appetizers.

Respect the ‘rays: As mentioned above, one of the quintessential boat party stops is at Stingray City — a group of sandbars located 25 miles off the shores of Grand Cayman. It is here where they feed wild Stingrays, hence the large population of these overly-affectionate sea beasts. Although apparently gentle creatures, they can give quite an intimidating first impression. Have no fear! They are not aggressive and seem to be very accustomed to humans. At the same time, do remember they are wild animals and should be treated with due respect.

Save the starfish: A much less intense alternative to Stingray City is Starfish Point, an isolated beach on the north side of the island. Here party-goers are once again free to roam through the shallow waters, combing the sandy bottom for star-shaped critters. While you are allowed a bit of light interaction, do NOT take them above the surface. They are unable to breathe out of the water and can die within minutes. Certain educated individuals WILL tell you off which is not the vibe you want to attract.

Avoid seasickness: While there are many people who do not experience seasickness, there are an unlucky few, myself included, who cannot even go on a paddleboard without feeling nauseous. If you are prone to these symptoms, make sure you take a non-drowsy Dramamine or consume ginger in some form an hour or so before the trip.

Carry cash: This day in age we seem to be very reliant on card payments; however, there is a definite advantage to carrying cash while at a boat party. For one, belongings can get jostled around on the boat and losing cash is not as bad as losing credit cards. Additionally, if you make a stop at Kaibo with a large group, having cash on hand is an easy way to pay your share of the tab as they do not split checks. Lastly, the boat staff will leave a tip container at the end of the trip and it is a nice show of appreciation to leave cash gratuity on your way out.

Do not overcommit: This is true for any activity in Grand Cayman but especially with drinking-centered events like boat parties. Cayman offers an incredibly lively social scene. You could easily fill up every single weekend with parties and brunches but remember, it’s okay to turn things down as well. I promise, there will always be more boats. It is best to wait for one with the right people for the right occasion in order to truly enjoy the celebration to its fullest!

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What To Wear in the Cayman Islands

Plan what to wear in the Cayman Islands with these 11 island essentials that are sure to become staples in your Caribbean wardrobe

Island Hacks: 20 Tips & Tricks for Life in Cayman

Island Hacks: 20 Tips & Tricks for Life in Cayman

When moving to a new place, especially a tiny island in the Caribbean, it can take a while to get the lay of the land. In my first year of living in Cayman, I have picked up many lifestyle tips and strategies that allow me to live with ease and enjoy island life to the fullest! In this blog I share my 20 essential island hacks that can help optimize your day-to-day living in Grand Cayman.

1. Keep a swimsuit, flip-flops and towel in your trunk at all times – Island life 24/7/365 people! The ocean quite literally has us surrounded. You may be sweating bullets at a Tillies brunch and suddenly the water is calling your name. Do yourself a favor and prepare yourself a “go-bag” of beach essentials to always have in the car — ideal for impromptu ocean dips.

2. Always have cash on hand for fruit stands and group outings – While many businesses in Cayman happily accept credit cards, there are a few situations where you definitely want some cash in your wallet. Many restaurants on island are not keen to separate checks, creating a mathematical nightmare for large groups. However, if you have the right cash in your pocket you can pay your share of the tab smoothly without waiting on cards to be run. Additionally, the farmers market and produce stands are cash-only. The last thing you want is to see a juicy mango and not be able to buy it!


3. Sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses are the best and cheapest anti-aging “skin treatment” you can invest in. Save your money and invest in some top of the line SPF, ladies! (And conscientious men). 

4. DIY Beach Happy Hour – Most likely you are not taking enough advantage of this island perk. All you need is a travel tumbler and a trip to your local Tortuga Rum for your drink of choice — BOOM, you’re ready for a DIY Beach Happy Hour. A walking happy hour with friends, a seated happy hour in solitude, anything goes! But the best part is you are paying a couple dollars for your cocktail instead of $CI 12 + 15% gratuity. I’m just saying.

5. Detangler and brush — My long-haired sisters know the havoc the ocean can wreak on your hair, creating a nest of knots that a pelican may mistake for his home. For this, I always go to the beach with a leave-in spray that moisturizes my hair and prevents knots. Once I am done with water for the day I spray a bit more and brush it out before the knots past the point of no return. 

6. Grocery bags as beach bags — I love me a Kirk bag but Foster’s will work just as good.


7. Follow all of your favorite restaurants on Insta for deals and happy hours — If you do not have an Instagram, I would suggest getting one; simply to follow your favorite businesses on island. This is truly the best way to get exclusive updates and deals from the places you love to eat and drink. For some businesses, Instagram pretty much serves as their main website. 

8. Bug Spray — No one is safe at sunset. While I will say the mosquito situation has improved slightly since moving here, I would still recommend keeping bug spray in your “go-bag” so you do not become a delicious feast for the skeeters! 

9. Carry reusable produce bags with you to stop at fruit stands — They now sell these at Kirk right next to the regular plastic produce bags. They are only 99 cents per bag and are perfect to carry in your car. In the summer when you stop to visit Tony the Mango Man you can save some plastic and put the mangoes directly in your reusable pouch! 

10. Real Women of Cayman — I’ve said it once and I’ll say it forever… anything you want to know about Cayman or life in general can be found on this Facebook page

11. Let the ocean become your personal spa — The ocean is recognized for its aesthetic quality but a bit under-appreciated for its health and beauty benefits. Salt water helps combat acne-causing bacteria, skin infections, and speed up the healing process. Also, sand is a natural exfoliant, which rubs away dead skin cells and helps clear pores and acne. Cancel your next facial and make your way down to Seven Mile Beach! Your skin (and wallet) will thank you!


12. Keep an umbrella or poncho in the trunk at all times — I know I am asking you to keep many things in your vehicle but as we can see, they all serve a purpose! It doesn’t rain all that often in Cayman, but when it rains, it torrentially pours with no warning at all! Don’t let yourself get caught in these unforeseen weather messes without the proper rain gear! But hey, some of us like getting caught in the rain (and piña coladas). 

13. Shop at the thrift stores — Just do it already. In my first year of living here I have not made a single overseas order. Almost all of my clothing has some from the Humane Society thrift store and my savings account thanks me for it. Read my thrift store tips to get started!

14. Book loftSpeaking of thrift stores, there is one on island that is dedicated to just books. While we all want to support our local books stores, we also know that $CI 30 per book at Books & Books is not the most sustainable way to fuel your reading passion. The Book Loft is located above the Humane Society. Their donated books go for $2-$4 each. And after you pick up (or drop off) your books you can go cuddle a cat or walk a pup — the perfect feel-good weekend activity!

15. Coconut water — Sunshine and saltwater, as lovely as they are for our well-being, can dehydrate our bodies quickly. An effective and easy way to combat dehydration is by drinking coconut water which is packed with natural electrolytes — packaged does the trick but natural is obviously preferred! Coconut Joe’s has a $5 natural coconut water served straight from the coco itself!

16. Free workouts are everywhere — Gym memberships and exercise classes can be quite pricey. For many people they are worth the cost, but remember that Cayman offers many free workout options as well! Take a long, luxurious walk on the beach. Go for a swim along Seven Mile. Join a group that puts on free organized runs and workouts (Tuesday Night Bootcamp, Saturday Morning Run Club, and many more!)

17. Non-drowsy dramamine / ginger for seasickness – Whether you have been invited to a boat party or are preparing for a day of scuba diving, it can be a good idea to take some preventive measures if you are prone to seasickness. Non-drowsy dramamine does the trick but you can also count on ginger which comes in many forms (ginger-ale, oils, chews, tablets, etc.) I myself like to peel fresh ginger and add it to my smoothie before a boat adventure.


18. Meditate outdoors – No need to search “ocean sounds” on YouTube or download an app, you have the real thing right outside your door! Take a seat on the beach and let the waves guide your breathing. Few things are more relaxing than a seaside meditation

19. Buy a scooter – This tip is much more of a commitment than my previous suggestions but as a scooter-owner, I have to tell you it has made island life so convenient for me. Never again will you worry about parking or traffic jams, you simply flit in and out of wherever you need to go. It also gives you a unique and beautiful island perspective as you notice things you maybe wouldn’t inside a car.


20. Read Island Diaries! 🙂 Nice job, you are already using this tip to your advantage. Thank you for reading! Watch out for future posts to hear about island lifestyle tips, itineraries, activity ideas, and much more! If not already subscribed, enter your email below!

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1. Island residents pay hundreds (probably thousands) of dollars to stay at hotels that are 10 minutes from their own home. AKA Staycationing, somewhat of a COVID-inspired phenomenon. 

2. Ordering anything from overseas pretty much guarantees several weeks or months of waiting. That is, if it even arrives.

3. ALL supermarkets (and many stores) are closed on Sundays meaning weekly errands have to be completed on Saturday. Oh, the horror.

4. The island’s dump (Mount Trashmore) is located in plain sight and is literally the highest point on the island. In 2020 it started on fire and school had to be cancelled because of the fumes.

5. People feed and pet wild stingrays like they are puppies. It is even considered good luck to kiss them.

6. There is such an overpopulation of green iguanas that people actually go “iguana hunting” for a cash reward. Before you get too excited, I think the reward is only $5 per iguana.

When in Rome?
A green iguana chilling in the tree at the school where I work

7. There seems to be no system for returning shopping carts at the grocery stores. If there is one, no one is following it. As a result all the carts end up strewn throughout the parking lots, at bus stops, and on the side of the road. Yes, I am upset about it.

8. Driving 45 minutes to the other side of the island is considered a “get-away.”

9. Virtually no one has a personal mailbox. No junk mail. No bills. Everything is either dealt with electronically or mailed to employer P.O. boxes.

10. As there is no televised news station in Cayman, all pertinent information can be learned through a Facebook group called the Real Women of Cayman.

11. On any given moment it could be torrentially raining in one area and blue skies one minute down the road.

12. Nowhere else in this world is there a Tony the Mango Man. And nowhere else on Earth do the mangos taste quite as good!

13. At first I thought it was a myth but apparently people actually cook turtle meat and put it in a soup called Turtle Stew.  (Which is a bit appalling to me but we won’t get into that here).

14. Gaelic football, despite its inane rules, is somehow the most popular sport for both men and women on the island.

15. The famous, award-winning 7-Mile Beach is not actually 7 miles at all, it is about 5 and a half. But you can walk the entire length of it which is pretty awesome.

16. The right of passage for new island arrivals is to attend either a boat party or a brunch (probably both, many times over). Oh, and be recruited to play Gaelic football.

17. Chickens. Chickens everywhere. On the golf course, in the streets, at outdoor restaurants, at the beach, and anywhere else you can think of. They will be there…asserting their dominance.

18. Being able to live COVID free throughout the entirety of this never-ending global pandemic!

19. Paying $2,000 per month for rent is considered a “good deal.”

20. Nobody really knows where to buy underwear. Except the Real Women of Cayman… they might know.

21. A bag of romaine lettuce costs $9. *GASP!!*

(7.69 CI = $9 US)

22. People put on sweatshirts when it drops to 78 degrees fahrenheit. (Sorry, *jumpers* for the English folk)

23. There are over 40 dive operations and 365 dive sites. There is literally a dive site for every day of the year

24. NO TAXES 😉 (but the money you save in not paying taxes goes straight to your romaine lettuce budget)

25. Your friends group is so international that you begin to pick up an unidentifiable accent and slang that could be English but maybe it’s South African? Either way, it’s totally lekker bru!

As you can see, Cayman is quite a unique little island! It goes to show even tropical paradises are susceptible to certain eccentricities. But just like anywhere else in the world, the longer you live somewhere, the more these things become ingrained in your worldview. Cayman is an island that inconveniences its residents in some ways but spoils us in so many others! If you can get past the chickens and the $9 romaine, I think you’ll find it’s a pretty fabulous place to live.

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How I Celebrated Thanksgiving In Cayman

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While Thanksgiving 2020 was a strange one for many around the world, it was a particularly interesting one for me as I celebrated it away from my family for the first time ever in the least thanksgiving-esque setting you can think of…the Cayman Islands. 

To be honest, Thanksgiving was not even really on my radar. Living on this island is like Groundhog’s Day in the weather department. I realize that to most people 86 and sunny every day of the week sounds pretty darn good. No need to cuss at the weatherman with a forecast like that. And of course, it IS wonderful. However, for someone who is used to extreme seasonal changes, this Groundhog’s Day vibe has me very mixed up.

The other reason Thanksgiving wasn’t totally on my radar is because it is not really celebrated here. Cayman is a British territory and we know of course that Thanksgiving is an American holiday. Whereas in Wisconsin I would have enjoyed Wednesday thru Friday of vacation, here I had to work the whole week! (Poor me).

Alas, despite my lack of seasonal awareness, I must accept that the holiday season has arrived. However strange this year may be, 2020 has taught me to stop wishing for a different reality and simply make the most of what I have. While I wish I could have celebrated Thanksgiving at home with my family, I was able to take part in the next best alternative: Friendsgiving…Cayman style!

While I have participated in a few small Friendsgivings while living in the Midwest, Cayman Friendsgiving 2020 definitely will go down as the most special and memorable one to date. What really gave it WOW factor was the amazing lady who made it possible…my good friend and fellow American, Christine! I cannot tell you how many people I have met in Cayman that I initially suspect to be American but then later find out are Canadian. (Classic mix-up). The fact that Christine “sounds American” and IS actually American (New Jerseyite to be more specific) is such a comfort to me. Not to mention she is one of the most warm, kind people you will ever meet!

Christine hosted Friendsgiving at her place on Black Friday. When I walked into her apartment the first words out of my mouth were OH. MY. GOD. I thought for a moment that I had driven myself to the Ritz Carlton by mistake. She had rented banquet tables complete with linens, table settings, lights, and candles. She lined the living room with fresh flowers and added a finishing touch with name tags at every spot. While helping her with the final details, I spotted her open excel spreadsheet complete with guest names and their respective dishes. (Yes, she is an accountant…and also basically the Martha Stewart of Cayman).

I had signed on to prepare apple crisp (to honor my family’s tradition) and an autumn salad to add some green to the line up. My autumn salad called for sweet potato, a product I KNOW they have in Cayman. However, on the particular day I went to the supermarket they informed me they did not have the AMERICAN sweet potato but they DID have the JAMAICAN sweet potato. This was a learning moment for me as I never thought of the sweet potato as being classified by country. My ALDI days did not prepare me for this. Anyway, dazed and confused I purchased the Jamaican sweet potato as recommended by the produce man. Upon cooking it, I realized it does NOT provide a pretty orange color pop, but rather has an ugly yellowish, gray-speckled color. NOT something I wanted to put in my autumn salad. So, with a sigh of defeat I decided not to add it to the salad. But upon trying it a bit later, I can report that it DOES taste a bit similar to the “American” sweet potato and is rather yummy.

ANYWAY, back to Friendsgiving. Thanks to Christine’s spreadsheet, we all prepared something a bit different and had a wonderfully delicious variety for our Thanksgiving dinner. We were greeted at the door with welcome shots which we renamed “Gobblers” as their original name was a bit too explicit for a Thanksgiving celebration. They are made from Kahlua, Irish cream liqueur, and whipped cream. This really set the tone for the evening as we mingled about among our group of 14 friends. I even got a bit crafty myself in the mini bar department (AKA the washer and dryer covered with a festive sheet), preparing my brother’s Negroni recipe for a few people to try…shoutout Chase!!

After we had finished eating we migrated to our gender role areas: the men outside on the patio smoking cigars, the women sitting on Christine’s king bed in slumber party mode. In typical Thanksgiving fashion, we were too tired to move but were very happy to be chatting away in each other’s presence. And yes, that is a cup of coffee in my hands in the picture below as that is exactly what I would be drinking after Thanksgiving dinner at home 🙂

In total, there were 14 guests representing 8 countries: USA, Spain, South Africa, Slovenia, France, China, Canada, and England. I am so grateful to have shared Friendsgiving with this amazing group of people. We were first and foremost incredibly lucky to have the freedom of getting together freely and safely due to the near non-existence of COVID on the island. I also feel very fortunate to have made such good friends in my short time living on the island. Sharing with them the sentiment of togetherness and family that Thanksgiving brings during a time when I can’t see my own family was something I will never forget.

Thank you so much to Christine and to all the other lovely people who have made Cayman feel more like a home to me. 

Thank you for reading and stay tuned for the next edition of Island Diaries by Kate!

Happy Holidays!

Teaching by the Sea: My Caribbean Workspace

Teaching by the Sea: My Caribbean Workspace

4 min read

Many people when they think of Grand Cayman, or the Caribbean as a whole, imagine grand, luxurious vacations, surrounded by palm trees and turquoise waters. But something that may not come to mind is working. Or what’s more… teaching. Alas, contrary to my photos on Instagram, my time in Cayman has not solely been spent galivanting atop white sand beaches…I do actually have to work! Crazy, I know.

While my friends and family back home know me as a high school Spanish teacher, this year I am actually not teaching high school…nor am I teaching Spanish. I am teaching Physical Education at a Montessori school “by the sea.” It is a year-long substitute position and has so far been an amazing experience! While I continue to seek out a Spanish role for next year, I am lucky to be where I am and after you see my workspace below, you will be asking if YOU can teach PE at my school!

My Drive to School

The school where I work is about a 15 to 20 minute commute from our apartment, a “long” commute by island standards but a short commute compared to the 35 minutes I used to traverse across the WI/MN border to Somerset! Any given morning you will see me cruising on Esterly Tibbetts Highway and past the lonely airport in our baby blue Fiat 500 or atop our snazzy scooter sporting my pink helmet. With the morning light streaming through the palms and the warm Caribbean breeze, the ride to school is quite an enjoyable one! 

Outdoor Space + Weather

In the US, PE is a subject that is taught almost exclusively in the gymnasium. At my school in Cayman there is no indoor gym space for PE class; rather, we count on the weather being beautiful for the kids to play their sports outside on the grass or the court. Let me just say that the distrust I have garnered towards the weather while growing up in Wisconsin remains strong here in Cayman. While yes, we are currently in the tropical storm season, I swear it must rain 9 days out of 10…sometimes for an hour, sometimes just 5 minutes. But we are not talking about cute little sprinkles…we are talking full on torrential rain that results in screaming, running children with wet, muddy shoes. Everyone assures me that this weather is “not typical,” but I remain wary and always come prepared for the elements. My mom taught me well! 

The PE Shed

Though cute and seemingly innocent, let me just say that PE equipment is not the only thing residing inside this shed. While opening up the door in the mornings to take out what I need for the day, I have come across lizards, frogs, scorpions, and even snakes. Alas, I still go in and take out all of the equipment like the hero that I am!

My Office

Being that the great outdoors serves as my “classroom,” I do not have a room that belongs just to me this year. La Maisonette (named as such because it was previously the French classroom), serves as my office area and work space. It was actually made from shipping containers! I share it with another teacher and have a desk with lovely green views out my window. Most days I watch the chickens and iguanas graze in the yard and on particularly clear days, I can even spot a sliver of the ocean to the left of the blue classroom building. 

An Unbeatable Lunch Spot

In my experience working at schools, there are one of two places where us teachers choose to eat our lunches: hiding out in the peace and quiet of our own classroom with the door locked and lights off, or in the staff lounge with our fellow teacher friends. I never considered a third option…a picnic table on the beach accompanied by the ocean breeze and the occasional hermit crab. The third option I am describing is my current lunch lounge at my school by the sea. Somehow I seem to be the only teacher taking advantage of this space and quite honestly, I am loving it!

Walking Break

The school is situated on one of the most picturesque roads in all of the island. It is calm, quiet, surrounded by trees and beautiful homes, and runs right alongside the water. I often take walking breaks up and down this road for 10 to 15 minutes just for a quick respite from the work mindset.

My Go-To Work Snacks

Being outside all day every day calls for nutritional reinforcement. While the most obvious necessity while working in the heat is plain old water, I have also become a huge fan of coconut water. Not only does it provide amazing tropical vibes, it also restores hydration and replenishes electrolytes. Some of my other pick-me-ups that are widely available and cheap on the island are plantain chips and cassava chips. I think they are healthier than potato chips…at least that is what I tell myself.

Teaching in Paradise

I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about my Caribbean workspace and what it is like to teach by the sea! (Thank you Ms. T for the idea!) While I definitely miss my SHS family and the work I was doing there, I am so lucky to be at a school as lovely as this one and to be teaching in-person in this bubble with hardly any COVID restrictions. There is so much about my teaching adventure that I did not share in this blog. If you have questions about teaching or working in Cayman, please reach out! 

As always, thanks for reading! Subscribe below for the next edition of Island Diaries by Kate.

A Uniquely Cayman Summer

A Uniquely Cayman Summer

There ain’t no summer like a teacher summer. And there ain’t no teacher summer like one that is spent marooned on an island in the Caribbean amidst a global pandemic. Where to even begin? 

This summer has presented me with some experiences I would have never imagined I would partake in. Between getting stung by jellyfish in bioluminescent waters, suffering a turf burn while playing Gaelic Football, and accidentally becoming a “VIP” at one of the hotels on island, I barely had time to process! 

Let’s start with the jellyfish fiasco. In the northern part of the island around Rum Point, there is a bioluminescent bay. Bioluminescence is the emission of light from the high concentrations of bioluminescent phytoplankton that live in the water. When you move the water (with your hands, feet, or a paddle), they activate and emit a beautiful blueish-green light. There are professional,, organized excursions in Grand Cayman that take people kayaking and snorkeling through these waters at night so as to experience the amazing glow-stick-hued water. But why pay for a tried and true, organized excursion when you can go on a DIY bioluminescent tour on a friend’s inflatable raft? 

We set off after sunset with our two friends from Argentina; drinks, sandwiches, and our inflatable raft in tow. After driving around 40 minutes to Rum Point we unloaded and proceeded to douse ourselves in bug spray as the mosquitos had graduated to the level of “savage” as we like to say. With the raft inflated and refreshments on board, we flopped ourselves onto the raft sporting our sexy water shoes and headed out to sea. With only 3 paddles amongst the 4 of us, I found myself in the “princess role” sitting at the top of the raft looking out at my dark ocean “kingdom”.

Our DIY excursion started out beautifully with all crew members in high spirits. Our friends showed us how it was done and took the first turn snorkeling in the bioluminescent waters. Amazing, I thought. Can’t wait! Once they had climbed back into the “boat,” it came time for Bryan and I to take the plunge into the night sea. 

Showing no fear, feeling on top of the world, I curpluncked myself into the water and as soon as I did, my feet abruptly hit the ocean floor. What! It’s so shallow! I had been warned about the jellyfish that lurk near the ocean bottom in this bay so I immediately bounced up, lifting my feet to tread water. Nope…too late. Ahhh! I screamed out. The jellyfish had gotten me. I felt a shooting pain up my leg and immediately propelled myself forward wanting to swim in the other direction as quickly as possible. I was afraid I would encounter more of them in my path.

I yelled for Bryan a few times, trying to get his attention, thinking maybe it had happened to him too. Bryan was unreachable, he had his head in the water as happy as a clam and totally oblivious to my sudden distress. I swam to the raft and let our friends know I was coming back on board. Hurling myself onto the raft, I exhaled and shivered at the breeze –our friends deeply concerned, me deeply embarrassed, and Bryan deeply enthralled by the bioluminescence without a clue that I had left the water (at least one of us had fun in there). Finally, Bryan got light of the situation and boarded our “vessel.” He had mistaken my thrashing movements for me having so much fun with the bioluminescence that I wanted to create as much light as possible. Ay-yay-yay. 

After my traumatic run-in with the jellyfish, I resumed my princess duties of sitting at the front of the raft, nursing my “wound” (a few angry red slashes on my calf) and waving at the village people. (Just kidding, we were the only crazy people in the bay that evening — there was no one to wave to.) There we were, in the middle of a dark bay, wet from snorkeling in the jellyfish infested waters and hungry for our gourmet sandwiches. We began eating them there on the raft when suddenly we realized we were being blown away out to open water. The wind, while subtle, was powerful and if we didn’t act quickly, we would be well on our way to Cuba. 

The three amigos jumped into action with the paddles (the princess poised at the front of the boat) and booked it back to shore. An easy task it was not…at least I don’t think. I did not partake in the paddling. After a hard fought effort, the raft bottomed out on the sandy shore and the now disheveled members of the DIY bioluminescent excursion deboarded onto solid land. 

Thankful to be alive we celebrated our return to the shore with more sandwiches, a round of sparkling seltzer (for badasses only), and some more bug spray. We made ourselves at home on someone’s dock and parked our butts there to drink in the starry night sky and glassy black water…a peaceful end to an exciting night! 

In reflecting on this experience, here is what I will tell you…if reliability and safety are your top concerns, you should probably pay the money for the organized bioluminescent tour. BUT, if you want a kickass story and some hilarious memories, find someone with an inflatable boat and have yourself an adventure! Major thanks and shoutout to our friends Pablo and Lu for an unforgettable night!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more stories from this Summer 2020! 

Ok, but no one mentioned sharks

Ok, but no one mentioned sharks

If you have been keeping up on my blogs, you know wildlife has been front and center during the larger part of my island adventure thus far. Between mice, lizards, chickens, crabs, and the many colorful reef fish, I have truly bore witness to the good, bad, and the ugly of this island. However, just as I would have never anticipated seeing mice inside my hotel room on Seven Mile Beach, I also never anticipated what I am about to share with you in today’s blog. Keep reading for an exciting installment of Island Diaries by Kate. 

You could say I am becoming something of a snorkeling enthusiast. I actually went to somewhere other than the supermarket to purchase a new mask and flippers. They still are not what you would call the top shelf when it comes to snorkel gear, but they are a step up from where we started. Anyway, I have been doing a bit of research online on what spots on the island offer the best snorkeling conditions – pretty reefs, lots of marine life, safe for beginners, etc. One such place is Eden Rock that can be accessed from Eden Rock Diving Center in the center of Georgetown. They rent scuba and diving gear but anyone can go there with their own equipment and use their ladders for water access. This is where I decided to go one Monday afternoon around 3 or 4 pm. I swam out about 5 minutes from the shore toward the buoys and quickly found myself in an underwater maze of coral formations, dark, eerie caves, and impressive drop offs. I was surrounded by a wide array of fish, some more intimidating than others. Barracudas and tarpon, as cool as they are, are still not my favorite sea critters to hang with. But they do take my breath away when they enter my field of vision.

With no real end-goal or sense of time, I flippered aimlessly, suspended over the stunning coral formations. I peered down into the dark crevices and grottos with a twinge of unease as I imagined what could be lurking in their depths. Can you imagine that people willingly swim down into those passages? There are freedivers who even go without oxygen. I can’t even watch that play out in the movies. I still feel a sense of panic when I think about that scene in Miss Congeniality two when Gracie is trying to save Cheryl and Stan from the sinking Treasure Island pirate ship and they all go like 10 minutes without breathing somehow. 

As I was swimming, I could see a point in the distance where the coral dropped off and formed a deep and dramatic cliff. I neared its edge and marveled at the contrast of the jagged coral and the smooth sand some 30 feet down. I ended up being very grateful for this space that separated myself and the sand below. As I scanned the ocean floor, my eyes caught something dark and rather large. A barracuda? Another massive tarpon? An inoffensive sea turtle? No, no, and no. Kate… that is a goddamn shark.

I froze. I yelped into my scuba mouthpiece. All alone, “far” from shore, just me and the shark. This is where an experienced snorkeler would have gotten excited or curious and stayed to investigate and take in the scene. This is also where I, Kate, someone who can count the amount of snorkel sessions she has completed one one hand, booked it out of there as quickly and stealthily as humanly possible. Before turning to flee, I was able to make out the shape and size of the shark. It wasn’t huge but it was significant in size. It had a wide head and long body, maybe 5 o r 6 feet. My brain did what it could to record a mental image but all my energy was focused on “escaping.” 

My flippers started pumping, my freestyle arms were put into action (thanks Reedsburg Raging Rapids for preparing me for this day), but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I swam smoothly and quickly, constantly checked over my shoulder to ensure this aqua beast was not actively pursuing my human flesh. Of course, this shark most likely did not even see me and if it had, it would not have been the least bit interested in eating me. But try telling that to sole-snorkeler Kate who had been immersed in anti-shark jaws culture from a very young age. The Kate who is scared of swimming alongside muskies. On my way back to shore, about a 5 minute swim with flippers, a couple more barracuda darted in front of my strokes and I mentally communicated to them “don’t f*ck me with me guys, I am very fragile right now.” 

Finally, I made it back to the ladder, climbed up, and saw another group of snorkelers. I went to chat with them and timidly broached the subject of sharks. “Oh yes, of course. Many sharks have been spotted in this area.” As if it were the most obvious and well-known fact. “In fact, someone just spotted a hammerhead here the other day.” I described to them what I saw and they responded with “Wow, you are so lucky!” What? Did they say lucky? What are these people smoking? 

After the conversation with the other snorkelers and a little search on Google, I tried to figure out which shark it was that I saw at Eden Rock. Honestly, it very well could have been a hammerhead as I noted how wide its head was and its overall size. However, It is probably more likely that it was a nurse shark which is commonly spotted around coral reefs. While these two types of shark look nothing alike, my memory is already so warped from this little traumatic siting that I honestly couldn’t tell you for sure. Next time, I will bring my GoPro and try to capture one on camera! 

You may be thinking, “What? You’re going back there?” On my frantic swim back to the shore I thought the same thing, that I would never go snorkeling there again. But after a bit of research, it is clear to see that these sharks are not dangerous. As long as you don’t do anything stupid like try to feed them or touch them, you are more than fine to share the reef space with them. While I was mightily terrified by this experience, I also felt excitement and exhilaration. I totally get the appeal. While snorkeling (and hopefully one day while diving), I totally lose sense of time and stream of thought. It is as if I am operating solely on instinct and curiosity…just like a fish! I am exploring an underwater world that would otherwise be completely unknown to me. I have to understand that if I want to be a part of that world, I have to accept that sharks are sometimes included in the deal (but only for the lucky ones!) 😉

Thanks for reading and keep swimming people! 

My First (True) Week As An Islander

My First (True) Week As An Islander

Gone are the days of cohabitating with rodents at the Comfort Suites. I am free! And so are all my fellow travellers. Everyone at the hotel tested negative for COVID and we were released on Monday, June 2nd after 17 days in government quarantine. The staff and volunteers who took care of us during our stay were very kind and helpful but I was beyond ready to bust out of my fifth hotel room and finally see Bryan up close and not from a hotel window! Now that I have spent a full week outside the walls of quarantine, island life is feeling a bit more real to me. Cayman still has many regulations in place to prevent the spread of COVID but even so, Caribbean life has been treating us well. In this blog I will share with you what life has been like reunited with Bryan in my new home!

New country, new hobbies? 
I don’t know about you guys, but I have never in my life lived within walking distance to a beach with a reef where you can snorkel. In St. Paul I lived next to a Super America which was cool. In St. Cloud I lived near a convenience store called the Slide-In Mart where they sold gyros alongside bongs…also pretty neat. But never have I been able to leave my house in a swimsuit and flip-flops, carrying only a towel and a snorkel. Well, I guess I could have if I was going to a themed party or something. MUCH stranger things have occurred in St. Cloud, MN. Anyway, snorkeling is one of the new hobbies I am referring to. I never thought it was something I would love doing ever since the Disney Cruise in the 2nd grade when I didn’t realize that snorkeling was not the equivalent of scuba-diving and I basically inhaled a gallon of salt-water. 16 years later I am finally ready to try it again and now I can’t get enough! Literally a three minute walk from mine and Bryan’s current apartment is Smith Cove — a small beach with a reef that is just a short swim from the shoreline. It boasts all kinds of beautiful marine life! As a lake girl, I kind of forgot that fish can actually be other colors than that grayish-green lake color. So far, I have seen: parrot fish, surgeonfish trunkfish, yellow jack, four-eye butterflyfish, blue tang, a needlefish, and many more! Of course prior to this week I didn’t know the names of all these. When I was leaving the beach the other day some beach-goers asked me what kind of fish I saw and I told them “blue fish” and “long pointy fish.” Rookie mistake. I went right home to explore http://www.snorkelstj.com/index.html where Caribbean fish are indexed by color, shape, and size. Very elementary but good for someone like me! I feel like I should create some flashcards and quiz myself before and after snorkel sessions 🙂

Snorkeling is definitely the safer and easier of the two hobbies Bryan and I have been trying out in Cayman. The second hobby is…(drum roll)… Skimboarding! It might as well be called “skin-boarding” as my legs have not been this scraped and skinned since my soccer days playing on artificial turf. A skimboard, (pictured below), is basically a shorter, wider version of a surfboard. But instead of starting in the water like a surfer would, you take a running start on the shoreline. To be honest, the end-goal of skim-boarding has not made itself apparent to me. I think you are supposed to stay on your board long enough to catch a little wave and hopefully not fall in the process. We have been watching some YouTube tutorial videos and hopefully can gain a better understanding in the coming weeks and months. But for now it is kind of fun just to run and jump and fall in the water (if we are lucky). The scraped skin has been the result of falling on the sand and pebbles on the beach. The best part of an afternoon of skim-boarding you ask? Rewarding yourself for falling 50 times by watching the sunset from Veranda Seven Mile Beach accompanied by some cocktails and ceviche. Worth it! 

Not ALL new

Moving to a new country doesn’t mean you have to reinvent yourself. My preferred form of exercise is still going out for a run. However I have traded Mississippi river views for ocean views. And instead of running in a comfortable, cool climate, I am powering through 90 degree tropical heat. That means running a quick 2 to 3 miles instead of 6+ … Cayman does have a marathon in December and I am contemplating signing up. But after only 25 minutes of intense sweating, I am wondering how in the world I will ever adjust and run 2-4 hours straight on this island. I have until the end of August before they hike up registration fees, so we shall see how I progress this summer! 

Being that I am not working (in the traditional sense) this summer and international travel is still closed indefinitely, there are no major upcoming events to anticipate and no set schedule I need to follow. This means that my days will be filled with snorkeling, reading, and spending too much money at the grocery store. Not a bad way to spend a summer, right? One thing that IS on the agenda for Bryan and I is moving to a new, BIGGER apartment on July 1st that is MUCH better suited for two people (AND for visitors…wink-wink, nudge-nudge)! We are both very excited about this new place as it will be great for the both of us as far as location and amenities are concerned. Until then, I will be taking full advantage of our proximity to Smith’s Cove and filling my days with sun, sand, and booze…oops, I meant books. See you soon — much more to come! 🙂 Happy summer my beautiful friends and family <3